After months of waiting and relentless teasing from Netflix, Marvel’s The Punisher is finally upon us — and a string of recent interviews with cast members shed light on what we can expect when Frank Castle returns on Nov. 17 to dish out some bloody, bullet-riddled justice punishment.
Jon Bernthal of The Walking Dead fame reprises his role from Daredevil season 2 as the spin-off’s titular anti-hero, but instead of serving as a moral foil to an uptight blind acrobat in a red suit, the standalone series fully embraces Castle’s “the ends justify the means” approach, exploring more gritty territory than previous Marvel franchises. Gone is the stoic yet somehow sentimental Frank Castle, searching for meaning by taking out criminal underlords and their goons. Instead, we’ll see a man with nothing left to lose on a mission to dismantle a clandestine organization — and because The Punisher will be all about a gun-toting vigilante on a quest for revenge, there’s going to be a hefty body count by the season’s end.
“The show takes you on this journey of Frank becoming more and more human again and then shutting off and shutting off and going back to what works for him, and the place where he kind of belongs, and I think that’s a place of solitude and of darkness and destruction,” Bernthal told Entertainment Weekly in September. “It’s going to get into as dark and as brutal a place as you’ve ever seen in the Marvel world, I can promise you that.”
That doesn’t leave a lot of room for witty repartee, though there may be a few quips and jabs, bounced off Bernthal’s co-star, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who plays David Lieberman aka “Micro,” a tech-wiz who functions as Castle’s eyes and ears on the dark web. He’s essentially a bearded, one-man S-shop outfitting with all the data, support, equipment, and intel he needs to get the job done.
“I do think there’s a sense of humor to Frank Castle, but there is absolutely nothing tongue-in-cheek about [their interactions],” Bernthal said in recent Entertainment Weekly article about Micro and Castle’s relationship. “The last thing in the world he can give a sh– about is making someone else laugh.”
No wonder: A war hero and former Force Reconnaissance Marine, Castle returns home from service overseas, only to lose his family to what at first appears to be crime-related violence, but in reality, is a deliberate attack by faceless government goons. While Castle dons his grim nom de guerre and goes looking for those responsible, he remains, at his core, a tragic and complicated character with blood on his hands.
“I think these characters, even more so than in other superhero shows — which is why you don’t see a lot of guns in other superhero shows unless it’s a gun being kicked out of a nameless bad guy’s hand by a hero that would rather be nonviolent — but I think our characters are complex, particularly the character of The Punisher,” Bernthal’s co-star, Ben Barnes told Screen Rant in a recent interview.
While the show’s emphasis on violence, especially gun violence, has turned some would-be viewers away in the months since the first teasers hit the Internet, recent real-world tragedies have impacted the show’s promotional lead up, with Netflix and Marvel cancelling an Oct. 7 New York Comic Con panel in the wake of the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 dead and nearly 500 wounded.
“I think it was always laid out for us that the violence in our show was supposed to make you uncomfortable and you’re supposed to see the wear and tear on characters if they are violent,” said Barnes, who plays Billy Russo, a once-close friend of Castle’s from before the latter traded his MULTICAM duds — a uniform choice that left some scratching their heads — for his signature black attire and white skull logo. “Nobody, I think, in our show is violent and lauded for it, especially if they’re using weapons. So that’s definitely not a message that’s being put out there, and that was something that was talked about.”
For many die-hard fans of The Punisher, it’s precisely those complicated and, at times, morally dubious actions that make him appealing. Frank Castle is not a cookie-cutter hero or a Boy Scout, but he’s not an outright villain: He’s something inbetween.
“The thing about The Punisher is that he fights crime we can all relate to — street crime, quality of life crime, and things like that,” Chuck Dixon, a long-running writer on The Punisher series for Marvel told Task & Purpose in September. “You know, like when you see criminals getting away, not getting caught, or the justice system fails and you see this in the news, it frustrates everybody, and The Punisher is like an answer — an escapist answer to that frustration.”
Marvel’s The Punisher will premiere on Netflix Nov. 17.