Spoilers ahead for “Luke Cage” and “The Defenders.”
Last week, Netflix released a very metal first full trailer for its upcoming Marvel TV show, “The Punisher.” Jon Bernthal’s performance as the titular antihero in “Daredevil” season two was a highlight, so his return in a solo series should be cause for celebration, right?
That would be the case if half of “Luke Cage,” the entirety of “Iron Fist” and 90 percent of “The Defenders” weren’t total snooze fests. As such, I’m forced to approach “The Punisher” with cautious optimism. That being said, here are some ways that Marvel’s latest TV show can rise above its peers
1. No more villain switcheroos
Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali was a villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So was three-time Academy Award nominee Sigourney Weaver. Let that sink in for a second.
Then, consider how both were killed off halfway through their respective shows in twists that infuriate more than they surprise — Ali’s Cottonmouth was replaced by Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) whose superpowers included being corny and lame, while Weaver’s character was replaced by Elektra (Elodie Yung), who deserves to be her own villain, not a secondary one. This narrative choice is akin to killing off Heath Ledger’s Joker 50 minutes into “The Dark Knight” and replacing him with Jim Carrey’s Riddler.
It makes no sense to erase six episodes’ worth of character development by killing off a show’s central villain, only to grind the show’s pacing to halt by establishing a brand new big bad. This narrative choice makes 13 hours of TV (requisite for Marvel’s solo Netflix shows) feel excruciatingly long. Since “The Punisher” is once again 13 episodes, one can only hope that Marvel and Netflix wouldn’t repeat the same mistake.
2. For the love of god, no more ninjas
Is a phrase I never thought I’d find myself typing. The Hand have been the primary antagonists in half of the seasons of Marvel Netflix shows. They’re a shadowy organization of immortal ninjas, but they’re about as threatening as Finn Jones doing kung fu, and even less exciting, since its members are faceless cannon fodder with all the personality of Finn Jones doing kung fu. It doesn’t look like “The Punisher” will feature the Hand in any capacity, since the titular character seems more concerned with taking vengeance on those that murdered his family, but throwing in the Hand to spite us seems like just the thing that Marvel Netflix would do.
Nevertheless, all signs point to “The Punisher” sticking to the villain formula of Marvel Netflix’s days of yore — one relentless, despicable villain, this time in the form of Prince Caspian himself, Ben Barnes. Here’s to hoping that Barnes can join the ranks of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, David Tennant’s Purple Man and Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth.
3. Give Karen Page a compelling arc
Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) was a prominent character in “Daredevil,” especially when her arc in season two highlighted the humanity in the Punisher. Later in that season, however, she became needlessly entangled in a love triangle between Daredevil and Elektra, and her role in “The Defenders” didn’t amount to much at all. Since Thursday’s trailer confirms Karen’s involvement in the show, one hopes that this time around she’ll get a proper heroic arc — I’d personally want to see her dealing out some justice of her own. At the end of “Daredevil” season two, she uses her platform as a journalist to stand up for the Punisher, so hopefully the writers of the show will tap into her heroic side and write an arc that doesn’t sideline her.
4. Don’t make another Punisher origin story
In films such as “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” and of course the graveyard scene in “Daredevil” season two, Jon Bernthal showed that he doesn’t just look the part, but that he can also bring the emotion that it takes to play the traumatized former-Marine, Frank Castle. The writers of “The Punisher” would be wise to let Bernthal have moments of introspection and repose, but the real challenge is to do so in a way that doesn’t retread his arc in “Daredevil” season two.
In that season, the loss of Frank Castle’s family was still a fresh wound, so we got to see the character process his grief in real time. In “The Punisher,” it would be more interesting to see what the character does with fully embracing his role as a merciless vigilante. Frank Castle brooding over the loss of his family is essential to the character, but the key is to find other, fresher wellsprings of emotion.
One possible route is to explore the theme of dealing with PTSD, which “Daredevil” season two gestured toward, but never fully delved into. “The Punisher” has the opportunity to discuss PTSD in a mature, complex manner, and it is almost obligated to do so. Keep in mind that the Punisher has appeared in three live-action films and one season of live-action TV — his origin story has been covered pretty well. If “The Punisher” can pull a “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and deliver a story that doesn’t use his origin as a crutch, we might be in for Marvel’s best ever television outing.
5. Action, and lots of it
“Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist” and “The Defenders” all sorely lack in the action that distinguished “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones.” At the moment, gone are the clean choreography of the former, and the gore of the latter. “The Punisher” has the chance to bring back quality action scenes to Marvel Netflix, and from the footage seen in the trailer, it seems like the show is taking a page from the “John Wick” playbook, preferring a steady camera and wide shots that showcase Bernthal’s physicality.
After the shaky, quick-cutting blurs that marred “The Defenders,” a good, old fashioned Marvel Netflix hallway fight would be more than welcome in “The Punisher.” It doesn’t even have to be in a hallway (I guess that’s Daredevil’s thing) — the hallway fights of “Daredevil” were effective because they were claustrophobic, which amplified the intensity of every punch. That means that the onus is on the stunt team to find some other setting that conveys a similar claustrophobia. To refer once again to “John Wick,” a train car, museum or car lot would work just fine.
6. Cat sidekick
I want the Purrnisher, and I know you do too.
Contact Harrison Tunggal at [email protected].