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Review: ‘The Punisher’ packs a punch tackling grief and revenge

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If Frank Castle sees someone committing an act of evil, he has no problem ending them.

Castle (Jon Bernthal) is The Punisher in Netflix's new Marvel series, spun off from another popular superhero series, Daredevil. The Punisher follows the former marine after he used his deadly combat skills to get revenge on those responsible for killing his family. Now he's discovered a dangerous conspiracy that goes beyond New York's crime rings.

We got a taste of what Castle is capable of in Daredevil's second season — unmatched fighting skills, an arsenal of weapons and nothing left to lose. Other Netflix Marvel characters have adapted strict no-kill policies, but The Punisher is no superhero.

The series picks up with Castle trying to disappear into a somewhat normal life now that everyone in the city thinks he's dead. His low-key job as a construction worker and scruffy beard help him blend in, but his severe PTSD haunts him wherever he goes and causes horrific nightmares.

Those horrific flashbacks serve as important pieces in Castle's origin story. There are also large chunks of the 13-episode season devoted to exploring Castle's time in a secret military unit alongside dedicated compatriot Billy Russo (Ben Barnes).

Castle keeps in contact with Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) from Daredevil, but she's now a star reporter who helps him track down people of interest in his missions. Newcomers include Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah), a Homeland Security agent investigating military corruption, and Ebon Moss-Bachrach as a character I won't reveal because it ventures into spoiler territory.

The first season is chiefly about origins and the complex web of secrets, corruption and crime that connect Castle to all of the characters on screen. He may not appear with some of them for many episodes, but the ties that bind keep pushing him to return to his violent, vigilante ways.

Bernthal is perfection as The Punisher. He brings a war-torn grittiness that exudes a "this man has seen horrible things" vibe. He's a man composed of visible grief, blood, black coffee and haunted memories.  Even his voice sounds like he's swallowing stones and smoke.

While the series asks us to consider the depth of grief, PTSD and the lengths one man will go to avenge his family, it also presents an opportunity to question our beliefs on power, corruption and violence.

The Punisher is an extremely violent series. Its comic-based character lives in steely gray shadows and gun-smoke filled alleys. Castle's chief story arc focuses on his punishing of those who wronged him, but often pushes the limits of TV violence into celebrations of weaponry and vicious brutality.

It's not a jab at Marvel or Netflix, more like commentary on the charged, mass-shooting filled world we live in. It's hard not to recall the horror of the Las Vegas shooting in October while watching Castle take out targets with a sniper rifle.

The Punisher is more than just about its brutish antihero. It's about the toll brutality takes on its victims and tormentors. It's about what violence means to men. And it's about finding the humanity in between the cruelty.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at ctatham@tampabay.com. Follow @chelseatatham.

Watch

The Punisher

The 13-episode first season premieres at 3 a.m. Friday on Netflix.

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