My, what a prickly topic The Punisher is. Each time the character is reborn, in comics or on display, the dialog turns to the worth, and limits, of violence in leisure. The upcoming second season of Netflix’s Punisher collection is sure to rekindle these discussions as soon as once more, particularly in a time when mass shootings are an countless American terror and the talk over the boundaries and enforcement over the Second Modification rages stronger than ever.
With the thorny conflicts of the actual world set like a snare round it, the discourse surrounding properties like The Punisher grows pricklier in flip, and rising segments of the viewers demand nuanced, considerate content material. In its first season, The Punisher actively engaged in that starvation, defying expectations and delivering an formidable, pensive superhero drama about trauma, service, and the strains of mortality, which frequently triumphed within the gray space between vigilante heroism and villainy. The second season is one other beast completely, virtually indifferent from the uncooked emotional vulnerability of the primary season, delivering as an alternative a bloody, ass-kicking wild experience that’s extra trustworthy to the tone of the comics (followers of the MAX run will doubtless be particularly pleased) than the tone of The Discourse, swapping significant commentary for the everlasting sound of one other chambered spherical.
If the primary season of The Punisher was a meditation on the price of violence, The Punisher Season 2 is usually concerning the violence itself — and oh, what mighty violence there’s to behold. There’s no denying that the motion scenes are a few of the greatest you’ll see on TV, this yr or another; exceptional feats of choreography, results, shot composition, and efficiency that present extra kinetic thrills than most blockbuster movie franchises. Followers who discovered final season too sluggish and targeted on Frank’s inner warfare shall be thrilled to see that this season is full-tilt punishing. Typically, the movie’s set-pieces really feel like a gallery: That is how Frank punishes in a bar. That is how he punishes in a fitness center. Every new setting unfolding artistic alternatives for the choreographers to showcase what a beast Frank is.
And Frank is a beast. Jon Bernthal delivers one other rousing efficiency as Frank Fort, even when the script provides him fewer notes to play alongside the best way. Netflix’s seemingly kaput Marvel universe first launched Frank in Daredevil Season 2, unleashing his rage and grief, recent off the homicide of his spouse and youngsters, within the type of one the collection’ greatest antagonists, pitting Frank’s blood lust towards Matt Murdock’s martyrdom and ironclad resistance to killing. In that capability Frank made for the right foil, the important “What if?” All the time demanding the reply to what occurs when the regulation and good males fail. Is there room for a rogue man with a mission and a gun in civilized society? Daredevil didn’t precisely say no, however it definitely forged Frank in ambiguous mild, and Bernthal performed the highs and lows of the character for all they’re value. From there, The Punisher launched into his personal collection, and Bernthal tore via each scene like he was an errant piece of shrapnel, ripping each second aside with a searing portrait of unfiltered mess of aggression and regret.
Once we decide up with the bristly antihero in Season 2, he’s one thing else. A drifter, faraway from the fast tragedy of his loss (as he was typically depicted within the character’s most beloved comedian arcs) rolling by way of an all-American nation bar in his blue denims when hassle comes his means and he simply can’t keep out of it. His inner conflict has grown ever extra exterior, and likewise, the present places an emphasis on escapist motion over introspection to combined outcomes. The Punisher is not taking a look at Frank Citadel and asking “why?” or “what for?”, it’s merely asking “how much?” and “what’s next?”
When you’re a fan of rip-roaring motion within the vein of exploitation (as I, admittedly, am), it will be straightforward sufficient to forgive The Punisher‘s second season most of its bloody indulgences offhand were the B-stories not so slack. Whenever Frank is on screen, the show is alight with Bernthal’s livid power and a propulsive story befitting Frank’s pathology that simply. Gained’t. Cease. Kicking. Ass. Highlights embrace an early bar battle and police station siege that each showcase the thrilling heights the present is able to with its well-constructed motion. Nevertheless, returning gamers like Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) and Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) are left within the mud, circling the drain of narratives that ought to have been tied up within the Season 1 finale.
There are additionally sure decisions that make Season 2 really feel pulpier than the primary, and never simply within the broad strategy to the subject material. Foremost amongst them, the choice masks Billy in an intricately illustrated greenback retailer clean face for the primary few episodes, which isn’t as creepy because the present thinks it’s. When the masks is off, it’s even sillier. People ridicule and mock, telling Billy how he “ain’t so pretty,” however the factor is, even with the skinny scars on his face, Barnes continues to be prettier than most individuals you’ve met in your life.
That factor turns into much less related as Billy’s transition to Jigsaw completes (the identify isn’t correctly used, solely casually referenced), however what by no means goes away is the truth that his narrative simply doesn’t fairly work. He’s typically nonetheless hung up on the mysteries of season one — issues the viewers already discovered and moved on from. At greatest, Billy’s narrative is redundant, at its worst, it’s downright boring as a result of we all know every thing he doesn’t and his moments of revelation play like previous hat. His dynamic with therapist Krista Dumont (Floriana Lima) is supposed to hold a big chunk of the season, however their under-cooked tête-à-têtes not often hit the mark.
The season’s different villain, the born once more Christian hitman John Pilgrim, performs barely higher, bolstered by a dedicated and engrossing efficiency from Josh Stewart. Neither villain matches the tragedy we skilled with Lewis Wilson (Daniel Webber). Stewart provides extra to the character than the character provides to him, and although Pilgrim’s narrative turns into extra related because the season progresses, notably within the fascinating however unfulfilled methods his arc overlaps with Frank’s, Pilgrim is most of the time shunted to the aspect in favor of Billy’s taxing story line. When he’s unleashed although, it’s one thing to behold, and Stewart defies enjoying the character the way you’d anticipate at each flip.
What works greatest within the second season is the persevering with arc for veteran counselor and Frank’s brother in arms, Curtis (Jason R. Moore), who actually will get to shine this season, and the addition of Giorgia Whigham as a mysterious and manipulative teenage woman who falls beneath Frank’s (typically questionable) safety. Their interactions are the spark that retains the season alight between the set-pieces, and Whigham’s efficiency, particularly, is a delight, simply placing her on the map as a performer to observe. The age that Frank’s daughter would have been, Whigham’s firecracker makes an ideal counterpart to take Frank on the subsequent leg of his journey, and each second they share counts as one of many season’s greatest (Frank is lots of enjoyable in effed-up dad mode.)
Which makes it additional unlucky then that this season simply doesn’t appear to respect feminine characters in the best way Season 1 proved The Punisher is able to. Whigham’s character is repeatedly (and weirdly, unnecessarily) sexualized all through the season — although Frank would by no means consider her that approach, the script definitely positions her as the topic of gross theoretical threats now and again. On the similar time, feminine characters who have been hyper-competent within the first season appear to lack their earlier talent and acumen (in a very unpalatable occasion, a well-known character’s demonstrated talents are degraded to facilitate what quantities to a catfight), and new feminine characters are usually used as a props that propel the male characters on their journey… an unlucky step again for a present that’s already proven us it may be higher.
That appears to be The Punisher’s general course in Season 2; a regrettable step again from one thing that was as soon as extra; extra considerate, extra dramatic, extra thoughtful, and extra related. It’s extra in different methods — extra action-packed, extra brutal, extra plot-driven — however and not using a core emotional anchor to hook into, the entire feels lower than the sum of its thrilling elements. At a pivotal second, it appears prepared as soon as once more to interact with the robust questions surrounding Frank’s murderous punitive instincts however finally cowers, committing some of the egregious acts of letting a personality off the hook in current reminiscence. The Punisher Season 2 needs to have it each methods; needs you to absorb the prices of what it means to be a ruthless man of vengeance, but in addition needs to allow you to off as straightforward as its characters, placing apart the heavy questions in favor of pure, energetic spectacle, only a bit too left of actuality to be taken significantly.
The excellent news is that a backslide from nice means the present continues to be fairly good, particularly as escapist leisure. I’ve little question I’ll watch it once more, and luxuriate in it for what it’s, even when I’ll all the time marvel what a extra highly effective second season may need appeared like. Followers who needed extra basic Punisher might be thrilled to see Frank Citadel absolutely decide up the mantle and embrace his ruthless nature this time round. And there’s a spot for that in leisure. Escapism, even hyper-violent escapism, is legitimate. There are not any straightforward solutions with regards to what’s acceptable within the realm of violent cinema (why can we cheer John Wick and boo different gun-toting vigilantes?), and so far as that goes, The Punisher Season 2 is loads of enjoyable. You recognize, actually violent, extreme enjoyable. Your mileage might differ. However there’s additionally no denying that this time round, The Punisher has swapped bullets for brains, leaning into straightforward leisure over significant narrative.
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