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Netlix's 'The Punisher': One Part Antihero, One Part Vigilante
November 16, 2017  | By David Hinckley

The latest video incarnation of The Punisher reconfirms that underneath a few recognizable Marvel trappings and nuances, what we really still have here is Charles Bronson.

Marvel’s The Punisher, with Jon Bernthal in the title role, launches Friday on Netflix.

Bernthal is terrific as Frank Castle, whose wife and family were killed by the Mob because they witnessed a murder.

Frank, who is ex-military and has every combat skill known to man, vowed he would find anyone involved in those killings and make them pay.

If along the way he found a few other people who also deserved to pay, well, he’d cash their checks, too.

The Punisher first resurfaced in Marvel’s Daredevils, where he reminded us he has several classic characteristics of a Marvel protagonist.

He’s tormented, for starters. Man, is he tormented. And okay, with good reason.

Accordingly, he’s not a classic good guy in the same sense as, say, Superman. He’s chasing his own demons as much as he’s chasing bad guys, and he accepts no accolades for his work. He lives a brooding life, alone with only his memories and his mission.

All this would seem to cloak him in that Marvel aura of ambivalent morality, sparking debate over the true nature of his passion and what he represents in this flawed world.

Someone who meets him for the first time in this series, however, could come away with a simpler take: He’s a vigilante who deals with very very bad guys the way many people secretly wish they could be dealt with. 

He doesn’t apprehend suspects and read them their rights. He finds criminals and exacts revenge, often making them suffer the kind of pain they probably inflicted on innocent victims.

It’s Old Testament justice, an eye for an eye, and while that approach has officially been subsumed into a criminal justice system, a whole lot of folks would admit there are times and cases when they wouldn’t mind having it done old-style. 

The Punisher first surfaced in 1974, right around the time Bronson was placing vigilante justice at the heart of popular culture with his Death Wish films.

Bronson’s Paul Kersey was a non-violent man who changed sides after, yes, his wife was murdered. He went out hunting bad guys and it struck a chord with viewers. Death Wish spawned four sequels and a remake with Bruce Willis, now scheduled for release March 2.

It also spawned a whole genre of films starring big, strong, decent men who took on bad guys that the police and the justice system wouldn’t or couldn’t stop. Steven Seagal built a career on those films, and was joined by the likes of Jean-Claude Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Brian Bosworth.

The Punisher has more dimension than many of those characters, which isn’t necessarily saying much. Bernthal makes us feel his isolation, and it’s clear vengeance doesn’t fill the empty places.

Fortunately, The Punisher doesn’t only have its title character. He’s got a couple of friends, including fellow vets Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore, right) and Billy Russo (Ben Barnes).

There are also people who meet him professionally, including Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah). Seems The Punisher’s work sometimes draws the attention of actual authorities.

At least up front, The Punisher has markedly fewer laughs and wry moments than your average Marvel series. But it’s got the Bronson formula down, and Bernthal does a fine job of showing what haunts him and what sustains him.  

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