Joe Bernthal is the definitive Punisher in my eyes. Much like Vincent D'Onofrio's casting as Kingpin or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, I don't see how anyone can pick up the Punisher character again for quite a while after this performance. He's absolutely perfect for the role, bringing a wonderful nuance to the character that makes you somehow empathise with his incredibly violent tendencies. He's still an antihero, never a true hero, but you wind up rooting for him.
As a show, though, The Punisher struggles a little at the start. The season feels a little shaky in the first few episodes, but ultimately finds its feet by about a third of the way through. Still, that slower start does allow us to get to know Castle a bit better and I was particularly fond of the whole construction worker with a work addiction angle. I also enjoyed the introduction to Micro; he comes across sinister enough initially to keep you second-guessing him and that means the he earns the audience's trust in unison with earning Frank's, which makes for a much less irritating piece of character development.
At its best, The Punisher is a nuanced and balanced critique of the American military complex, particularly around how the US both venerates and abandons its veterans, whilst also touching on the country's less-than-stellar record on war crimes. The acting is excellent throughout and the characters are all neatly fleshed out, leading you to care quite deeply about the outcome. It's also the tensest of the Netflix MCU outings, sharing their usual rapid pace with some surprisingly high stakes. It certainly doesn't pull any punches, often killing off characters and leaving those still alive with believable trauma, both physical and emotional. This is best felt with Micro's family, who play a clever role of both slowing down the pace of certain episodes whilst significantly boosting the tension. The relationship between Micro's wife and Castle, as well as the strain that it puts on our heroes relationship with each other, is a clever plot device and one which they concluded positively.
It tries to tread a fine line between superhero action and classic spy tension, not too dissimilar to The Winter Soldier in fact, and for the most part it pulls that balance off. On occasion, though, I feel like the gritty hero element perhaps plays a little too much into the story and there are moments which feel like Frank is being an idiot purely for plot purposes. The villain is also a little lacklustre, particularly when held up against the likes of Coppermouth and Kingpin, but the setup serves the messaging well enough to be forgivable. Still, overall it's a riveting series which slots neatly into the rest of the New York MCU that Netflix has built out, with some excellent overlaps through Karen Page and various other small cameos that help keep it grounded in that world. A welcome addition to the family.