The Punisher, played by The Walking Dead‘s Jon Bernthal, was as much the standout performance of Daredevil Season 2 as Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin was in Season 1. It was no surprise, then, that Netflix quickly announced an upcoming Punisher solo series.
So we’ve now had a chance to see some trailers for the Netflix series — premiere date unannounced as yet — so what have we learned?
Well, we’ve learned that Netflix knows how to score a trailer — the use of Metallica’s “One” here is almost as great as the use of “Made You Look” in the Luke Cage preview. We’ve also learned that they’re doubling down on the combination of brutal, industrial aesthetic and tacticool gun fetish imagery that we’ve come to expect from the modern Punisher. Again, nothing to be surprised by here: not only is that pretty consistent with the Frank Castle we saw in Daredevil, it’s pretty much the Punisher we see in the character’s most iconic modern incarnation, the Garth Ennis run that dominated the first decade of the 21st century.
What might seem a little surprising is that Frank Castle’s motivation appears to have changed slightly. When he first appeared in 1974, the Punisher was both an attempt to cash in on the success of pulp novel heroes and a response to concerns about a rising tide of violent crime. Traditionally, the character is motivated by his family’s deaths to put an end to all crime. Here, we see a different version of the character. The trailer implies that Castle’s family were killed as part of an attempt to get at Castle himself and suggests a more conspiracy-thriller version of the character.
This might seem like a radical departure, but there have been definitely been more conspiracy-oriented Punisher stories in the past; Castle’s special forces background makes him fit in well with these types of stories. It also fits in well with the previous Marvel Netflix shows — all of them have suggested sinister groups working behind the scenes, particularly Luke Cage and Jessica Jones.
It’s also an updating that makes sense for a modern context. A lot of vigilante interpretations of characters (like the “grittier” Batman of the 1980s) come from an era when people, particularly New Yorkers, were very concerned about the dangers of violent street crime. But although these themes are still present in a lot of media, crime levels have mostly been declining for decades. Creators seem to be taking the opportunity to make this more specifically a revenge drama.
That’s an approach that’s been taken with the Punisher before. As one of Marvel’s most popular characters in the 80s — it was an age of violent antiheroes — Frank Castle has enough name recognition to have made his way to film several times. In addition to Bernthal’s role in Daredevil, there have also been three movie adaptations: a 1989 movie with Dolph Lundgren in the title role, a 2004 version starring Thomas Jane, and Lexi Alexander’s criminally underrated 2008 Punisher: War Zone, which put Ray Stevenson in the skull-painted body armour. In these versions — none of them connected to each other — we see Castle alternating between being a general-purpose vigilante (as in War Zone) and being more specifically motivated by revenge (as in the 2004 film).
We don’t know much more about the series other than what you would expect: it’ll be 13 episodes long, and it’ll feature some new characters as well as recurring ones like Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page and Rob Morgan’s running-gag crook Turk Barrett. British actor Ben Barnes is confirmed for the role of BIlly Russo, the original name of Punisher antagonist Jigsaw, but the character’s background is so different that it’s hard to say whether this will be a genuine Jigsaw or another of the Netflix shows’ Easter-egg nods to the comics.
The Punisher‘s exact release date hasn’t been announced yet, but Netflix have confirmed it will be at some point in 2017.