Marvel’s “The Punisher” might be set within the New York universe that features Daredevil, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, but it has almost nothing to do with superheroes themselves. You don’t need to have binge-watched this new Netflixseries this weekend in its entirety to know – the fact is evident from minute one. The Punisher is a ruthless vigilante, with a code of honor, albeit a very distorted one. But you can sense the disinterest in superheroes every time I address it with ‘Punisher’ showrunner Steven Lightfoot, previously known as a producer and writer on the dark, twisted and critically-acclaimed NBC show, “Hannibal.”
When I bring up the fact that Punisher is immensely different from “Daredevil” and the rest of the Marvel series, he shrugs. “What the shows all did for me was, they used their character as a starting point and they built out from that,” he said. “They all felt distinct and that was our approach. We started with Frank, the nature of the story we wanted to tell and everything flowed from that.”
That character is Frank Castle, one of Marvel’s nastier and grittier characters and yet still incredibly iconic in the canon of comics. A gun-toting vigilante out for revenge for his family’s death, Castle is an ex-Special Forces soldier otherwise known as The Punisher. And he’s not someone you want to provoke.
While there have been three live-action iterations of “The Punisher” so far on the big screen — 1989’s “The Punisher” starred Dolph Lundgren, 2004’s reboot “The Punisher” with Thomas Jane and then finally, 2008’s “Punisher: War Zone” starring Ray Stevenson — none of them have been celebrated and most of them have underwhelmed at the box-office. But the showrunner wasn’t interested in re-examining them.
“I’d seen the old movies in the past, I like action stuff, but I didn’t go back and revisit them,” Lightfoot explained. “Because I didn’t want to take anything from them unconsciously, I wanted [the series] to be its own thing.”
If there’s been a Punisher curse in the past on the big screen, that hex has certainly been lifted by the Netflix shows, as Marvel introduced the character in the second season of “Daredevil” to much acclaim. Played by Jon Bernthal (“Baby Driver,” “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” “Sicario”), Frank Castle on “Daredevil,” was arguably the highlight of all the Marvel Netflix shows thus far. That brooding, bottled-up rage and mood continue on in “The Punisher,” but it’s a different beast, with none of the aforementioned heroes or supernatural villains making an appearance, and with the focus on a violent man trying to grapple with a grief that still haunts him.
Lightfoot entered into a unique situation. The producer/writer was going to spearhead the new series, but the actors had been cast and the character had already been introduced on another show. But the producer embraced the cards he was dealt. “It was a gift,” he said. “If you get handed a character and actor as good as Jon is and as fascinating as Frank is, that’s a real head start.”
In fact, Lightfoot admitted he wasn’t intimately familiar with the character from the comics. What hooked him when the studio asked him if he was interested in the gig, was watching an early sneak peek at Bernthal as the Punisher on the “Daredevil” season two before it aired.
“I didn’t know the comics well,” he said, but once he saw Bernthal in action, “I was hooked and then desperate to do the show. I just thought he had such ferocity, but such vulnerability and that Jon gave Frank such humanity. I thought, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a guy and a character you can build a show around.’ ”
When I bring up superheroes, Lightfoot’s enthusiasm dips again. “Look, we took the character and story on its merits,” he said. “No one else on the show has super powers so it all evens out. We told the Frank story as best we could and so that superhero stuff didn’t factor into my thinking as much.”
Its a good thing and a bad thing. Yes, Punisher IS vastly different. You noticed it right away. It IS very good, but it is much fun to watch ? NO.
People don’t necessarily read, or watch comic books shows to have realism. They also may watch them for fun and entertainment. Everything does not have to be “Gritty & Real”. All science fiction does not have to be Cerebral. Take Stainless Steel Rat for instance. Lots of humor & fun with a little depth there, but mostly just entertaining. It’s funny no one has ever taken this on as a Sci Fi series or movie. Would be great. But not necessarily real.
Punisher is great, but a tough watch