News

12 Reasons Why the Punisher Should Be Your New Favorite Antihero

The Punisher star Jon Bernthal, his costars, and the series' producers make a case for this version of Frank Castle.

by | November 8, 2017 | Comments

Marvel's The Punisher - Jon Bernthal (Jessica Miglio/Netflix)

(Photo by Jessica Miglio/Netflix)

Ever since his introduction in season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil, Matt Murdoch’s complicated foe-turned-ally Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), aka the Punisher, has been one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best-kept secrets. Details on the tortured vigilante’s spin-off — even down to the release date — have been even more scarce than usual for Marvel projects due to a canceled New York Comic Con panel and more. But now, in the final 10 days leading to the debut of all 13 episodes of Marvel’s The Punisher on Netflix, the veil is lifting.

The entire cast and crew gathered in Manhattan on November 6 for the premiere screening, and Rotten Tomatoes was on hand to speak with all of them about what’s to come in The Punisher’s debut season. Stars including Bernthal, Deborah Ann Woll, and Ben Barnes, plus creator and showrunner Steve Lightfoot (of Hannibal fame), broke down why Castle — a war veteran who in Daredevil avenged the death of his wife and children and who now, while presumed dead, stalks the streets exacting justice on the corrupt and criminal — deserves every bit to be our new favorite antihero.



1. He’s as human as Marvel heroes come. 

Marvel's The Punisher - Jon Bernthal, Nicolette Pierini (Nicole Rivelli /Netflix)

Look to all other top-billed heroes of Netflix and Marvel’s world, and they’ve got one thing in common: superpowers. But not the Punisher. Frank Castle relies on his military training and tactical genius to take down the enemy.

Marvel’s head of television and The Punisher executive producer Jeph Loeb said that when developing the series, Marvel and showrunner Lightfoot “came up with an approach [that] lives more in the world of American Sniper and Jason Bourne.” The action is tactile and human — and in many cases, that makes it all the more brutal. But season 1 will really focus, Loeb said, on three questions: “Who is Frank? What is Frank going to do? And who’s going to try and stop Frank?”

The Marvel comics on which this series is based does, however, delve into the supernatural with its “Purgatory” installments. Lightfoot said that The Punisher— at least for season 1 — steers clear of that.

“Not this season,” he responded when asked if viewers will see any of those angels-and-demons plot points. “I think that what’s been great about Netflix’s shows is how grounded they’ve been, in a way.”

And Lightfoot aims to continue that groundedness.


2. Like the best antiheroes, Castle is complicated and plays in the gray areas of morality. 

Marvel's The Punisher - Jon Bernthal (Nicole Rivelli /Netflix)

(Photo by Nicole Rivelli /Netflix)

We got a taste of it in Daredevil, so we know that Castle’s methods in punishing are brutal, graphic, and unforgiving. At times, that may make it difficult for audiences to totally empathize with him, despite the fact that he lost his family — and that’s OK. That’s what makes a compelling antihero.

“The incredible thing about Frank is that simultaneously ,you will relate to him, and he will repel you,” Daredevil-turned-Punisher star Deborah Ann Woll said. “I think that that’s a really fascinating, hard thing to do.”

“He steps on the anti part of antihero, that’s for sure,” said actor Paul Schulze, who stars as Rawlins, a high-ranking CIA official who worked with Castle in Afghanistan. “I think he tests an audiences’ heart as far as it can possibly go. I mean, he’s so ruthless and so lethal, but at the same time, his code remains consistent.”

In that sense, “this guy sort of epitomizes” the natural, animalistic reaction many people would have if their family was killed in cold blood, Schulze said.

Michael Nathanson, who plays Homeland Security agent Sam Stein, called Castle “the antihero of our time” in that in some ways, The Punisher mirrors the reality of our “pretty messed up” world.

“I don’t think he’s someone that you have to necessarily root for,” he said. “I think you can disagree with him and that the show presents two sides to this issue. I don’t think it holds him up on a pedestal and says, ‘We should root for this man and his intentions are great and everything he does is great.’ He’s a complicated person.”


3. He’s not perfect, but watching him exact justice is still satisfying.

Marvel's The Punisher - Jon Bernthal (Nicole Rivelli /Netflix)

(Photo by Nicole Rivelli /Netflix)

In the same way that The Punisher reflects some of our world’s darker elements, Nathanson said that “some people definitely deserve” Castle’s brand of justice-giving.

“That’s probably why people for so many years have held onto that character,” he said. “I think [it’s his] no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners kind of attitude.”

Co-star Ebon Moss-Bacharach (previously of Girls who stars in The Punisher as David Lieberman/Micro) said that everyone in some way can relate to that kind of attitude.

“Listen, I mean, he’s about revenge, and everyone feels that kind of impulse,” he said. “It can be very therapeutic to watch him sort of exercise that.”

Aidan Pierce Brennan, who plays our protagonist’s son, Frank Castle Jr., put it a little more simply as to why his fictional father’s actions are appealing: “He’s totally gangster! He’s so cool, and he’s so tough, and if you like rooting for tough guys…you’re gonna love the show.”


4. He brings out new shades of Marvel characters we thought we knew. 

Marvel's The Punisher - Deborah Ann Woll (Nicole Rivelli /Netflix)

Daredevil fans may be excited to see how Castle and Karen Page’s relationship continues to develop in The Punisher. At the beginning of season 1, Woll, who stars as Page, said that she’s the only one who knows Castle is even alive and that he will continue revealing what’s under her “disguise.”

“Certainly, they’ve already established a really tight bond,” Woll said. “I think the thing that sort of intrigues me about it is that for each other, they’re the only person they can be truly honest with. She’s the only one who knows he’s alive, to start with, and also, she knows why he does what he does and what really broke him. And he’s the only one who really sees her darker side. You know, Karen puts on a disguise just as much as any of the boys do. I’m a pretty, blonde, smiling girl — don’t look too deep! But yet, I shot a guy and maybe something else, and [in Daredevil] Matt doesn’t know that side of her, Foggy doesn’t know that side of her, but Frank does.”


5. The Punisher gives us a Marvel villain’s origin story in unexpected ways. 

Marvel's The Punisher - Ben Barnes (Nicole Rivelli/Netflix)

(Photo by Nicole Rivelli /Netflix)

Billy Russo, who in the comics goes on to be fearsome and scarred villain Jigsaw, gets origin treatment in season 1 of The Punisher, according to Westworld alum Ben Barnes. Expect to see a Russo like you’ve never seen before.

“In terms of incarnation and portrayal of the character, there will be mostly surprise and mostly kind of a fresh take,” Barnes said. “What I loved about it is the idea that you look at some of these more obvious villains in the different shows, and they’re very much that [villain] from the outset. In this show, even I’m not quite sure exactly where he’s headed.”

In this case, Barnes said that the “main change” that was made for season 1 is that Russo is first introduced as Castle’s longtime war buddy.

“He was in the special forces with Frank Castle, so they have this shared history going back and this intimacy,” Barnes said. “He refers to Billy as his brother, and so they have this unity between them. That’s what this show will have above and beyond how they’re portrayed in the comics. We meet that relationship before the beginning, and I think that gives you an enormous variety of tangents that you could escape down, and I don’t know which one they’re going to choose in the end…. We don’t know exactly what we want Billy Russo to be and we expect of him. And so we have an opportunity to toy with it and make him a little bit unpredictable, which I really enjoyed.”


6. Castle has great frenemies like Micro.

Marvel's The Punisher - Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Nicole Rivelli /Netflix)

(Photo by Nicole Rivelli /Netflix)

Castle isn’t the only one undergoing deeper character development in this series. Keep your eyes on Moss-Bachrach’s Micro.

As Loeb said, “He’s so important to the story of the Punisher, but our version [compared to] what you may have seen before — I think people are really going to be intrigued by it.”

Moss-Bachrach concurred, revealing that “we get way more into [the] personal life” of his beloved comics character and Punisher sidekick.

“We know Micro as, like, the man in the chair, and we just start to see a lot more of his motives and his sort of deeper needs and stuff like that,” he said.

That, too, comes with further development of his relationship with Castle, specifically.

“His rapport with Frank is, like, day-to-day,” Moss-Bachrach said. “It’s never on stable ground. They enjoy each other’s company, and then they want to kill each other. And then they’re [back at it], you know, which is probably true of a lot of roommates.”


7. The Punisher themes reflect human frailty in a powerful way.

Marvel's The Punisher - Jon Bernthal (Nicole Rivelli /Netflix)

Nathanson said that one of the series’ major themes is “about the frailty of human existence” — and we imagine he means more than just the mortality of those Castle is taking down in his wake.

“It’s a real thought-provoking show and people are going to be surprised by how it presents many sides,” Nathanson said. “He’s the most human of all of the comic protagonists — whether it’s Marvel, DC, any of the universes. People can relate to that. And him being a war veteran, too, makes it a very prescient sort of enterprise.”


8. The series packs an emotional punch.

Don’t be surprised if The Punisher  gives you the feels while binging next weekend.

“I think [audiences are] going to be surprised by how emotional the story is,” Loeb said.

“It’s brutal emotionally, [not] just in terms of action and the physical stuff in the show,” Lightfoot added. “We really put the character through a pretty deep emotional journey. He’s dealing with a lot of grief and loss and anger, so when those things are what the story’s about, it takes you into some pretty dark places.

“I think he’s going to move people,” Lightfoot continued. “I think people are actually going to really sympathize and feel for the guy because at the heart of it, he’s a guy dealing with loss. That’s something we can all identify with. I hope people are excited by the show, but I hope that they’re really moved by it, too.”


9. Bernthal’s performance. 

Marvel's The Punisher - Jon Bernthal (Jessica Miglio/Netflix)

The biggest point that was echoed across the red carpet Monday night was the fact that audiences are going to fall in love with Jon Bernthal’s fearless performances as Castle.

“Jon is so great in this part, and he’s so committed to it that I think that that’s instantly attractive, you know what I mean? There’s a fire there that’s really kind of hard to turn away from,” Moss-Bachrach said.

Loeb said that the series’ appeal rests “first and foremost” on Bernthal and his “extraordinary” performance.

“It’s a combination of the fact that he can be extremely intense and very in your face and very strong, and at the same time, has a vulnerability about him,” the executive producer said.


10. The Punisher goes deep on character. 

Marvel's The Punisher - Jon Bernthal, Deborah Ann Woll (Nicole Rivelli /Netflix)

Lightfoot promises that despite previous film incarnations of the Marvel hero, this series serves up something different.

“People will be surprised by how deep and who much of a character study the show is,” he said. “Having 13 hours to really get under the character of Frank, I’m hoping people will be surprised by just how human we make him and how deep he is.”


11. The series tackles real-world issues of warfare and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Marvel's The Punisher - Jason R. Moore, Daniel Webber (Nicole Rivelli /Netflix)

Through characters like Castle, Russo, and Daniel Webber’s Lewis Walcott, The Punisher doesn’t shy away from the aftermath of war and the effects of PTSD on veteran’s psyche. Walcott, for instance, is an ex-soldier who finds himself back on the home front and struggling to adjust to everyday society.

“He’s coming back from the war with a lot of scars and a lot of issues over what he’s done. He’s coming back still really reeling from the experience, trying to understand the experience, and then coming back into a society that doesn’t really have a place for him,” said Webber (previously of Hulu’s 11.22.63).In some ways, I’m a mirror to Frank’s journey. These characters really look at each other and they both go separate routes.”

Loeb said that Walcott won’t be the only character such PTSD is seen in — it’s a series-wide theme.

“There’s really an opportunity [here] to talk about veterans and what’s happening in this country with them, and what you do when you come home from war and how you’re still fighting a war but some of it is just in your head,” he said


12. Because Bernthal humbly leaves the question to the audience: Will you like him?

Jon Bernthal attends Marvel’s 'The Punisher' Season 1 New York Premiere Screening (Marion Curtis / StarPix for Netflix)

“That’s up to y’all! That’s up to you at Rotten Tomatoes — that’s not up to me,” Bernthal said, laughing, when asked if Castle should be our new favorite antihero.

“What’s interesting for me about this show is, you know, the Frank Castle you met in the Daredevil season 2 is really about a man who’s unhinged; he’s reeling from this unbelievably traumatic event after his family’s been taken from him. Ever fiber of his body is geared towards this mission, which is finding the people who were responsible for that and punishing them,” Bernthal said.

“I think what was wisely asked by the writers of season 1 of Punisher  and it’s been uniform in many of the combat vets that I’ve spoken to who have suffered real trauma,” he continued, “is that during the mission when you’re in the fight and you’re on mission, the training kicks in and you have purpose and you know what to do with yourself. The war inside you really begins when the fighting stops. Maybe it’s when you return home, maybe it’s when you try to sleep. And that’s really what we’re asking with this show, is once this fight’s over, once that mission’s over, what do you do next and how do you start to cope with the war inside? For those reasons, you know, whether it’s your favorite antihero or not, I think it’s a story worth telling and a story worth taking part in.”

So is it safe to say we can expect a psychological dissection of Castle in addition to the violence we see him enacting onscreen?

“I think it’s [psychological and physical]. I think there’s a real rhythm to the season. I think it starts out enormously meditative and slow and psychological, and I think that slowly but surely the mission sort of presents itself and starts to pick up.”

The Punisher begins streaming November 17 on Netflix.


Tag Cloud

Amazon Action aliens boxing mockumentary Horror Disney Plus RT History TCA ViacomCBS GLAAD Apple TV+ revenge vampires facebook 4/20 cats Podcast sequels superhero Broadway mcc Tumblr football Nickelodeon archives The Arrangement crime drama Polls and Games Neflix WarnerMedia Marvel Rom-Com supernatural Universal Pictures Thanksgiving romantic comedy First Reviews action-comedy stop motion romance Marvel Television crime vs. Film Festival reviews parents Star Trek Song of Ice and Fire werewolf Tomatazos Heroines cancelled french E! Sneak Peek travel IFC cancelled TV series independent Spectrum Originals spider-man Emmys Britbox Martial Arts kaiju PaleyFest Sundance Now movie critics YouTube Red book scary toronto dragons 2021 olympics book adaptation concert spanish political drama Starz elevated horror Paramount news Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt genre TCA Awards legend based on movie PlayStation Pop foreign OWN video on demand asian-american USA razzies SundanceTV art house Disney emmy awards cancelled television Vudu Turner anime Food Network scorecard Star Wars Avengers breaking bad young adult scary movies Biopics golden globes rotten movies we love The Purge Amazon Prime Video joker composers rt archives Academy Awards wonder woman Certified Fresh ITV Superheroes nature Dark Horse Comics australia Hear Us Out Anna Paquin Hallmark Christmas movies worst movies Rocky hispanic heritage month cults Acorn TV Freeform blaxploitation screen actors guild sopranos VICE international twilight Captain marvel sitcom science fiction rt labs critics edition Super Bowl TV Reality Brie Larson Comics on TV DGA Classic Film Cartoon Network dceu singing competition Binge Guide YA teaser diversity Lifetime slashers psychological thriller WGN live action Disney streaming service Animation rt labs Comedy IFC Films Trailer GoT dexter suspense children's TV psycho The CW kids Film aapi festivals 2018 90s period drama Esquire renewed TV shows slasher Box Office TV One deadpool HBO historical drama Pride Month Opinion Women's History Month award winner Wes Anderson Epix NYCC screenings AMC Plus History Stephen King dc Mary Poppins Returns Walt Disney Pictures Set visit Watching Series American Society of Cinematographers Year in Review Rock venice stoner police drama Mindy Kaling hist zombies halloween tv finale batman TV movies MTV AMC Fox Searchlight laika Tokyo Olympics robots fast and furious debate dark high school cops Cannes Paramount Plus cancelled TV shows 2016 zero dark thirty disaster Infographic TCA Winter 2020 ratings biography TIFF Masterpiece quibi Tarantino Family Premiere Dates rotten Interview Tubi TBS Paramount Network 1990s Netflix black comedy ESPN trophy die hard 72 Emmy Awards TCA 2017 television trailers National Geographic marvel cinematic universe The Walking Dead Quiz HBO Max adaptation CBS Holiday YouTube Pixar witnail true crime women Oscars Rocketman richard e. Grant Creative Arts Emmys remakes Awards Tour hidden camera FOX stand-up comedy south america TV renewals ABC Family TruTV comic book movies Mudbound comedies animated a nightmare on elm street theme song NBC know your critic tv talk japan crime thriller nbcuniversal Spike Kids & Family X-Men streaming CBS All Access satire blockbuster Elton John docudrama blockbusters prank new star wars movies Instagram Live Universal VH1 criterion Winter TV canceled TV shows justice league nfl movies live event fresh Apple TV Plus new zealand jurassic park Cosplay Arrowverse crossover jamie lee curtis obituary Exclusive Video heist movie BAFTA italian 21st Century Fox classics Crunchyroll Grammys 73rd Emmy Awards binge Comic Book casting Fargo Country zombie Endgame talk show A24 universal monsters critic resources 2020 Summer San Diego Comic-Con Peacock marvel comics Ellie Kemper natural history Syfy USA Network DC Universe war E3 BBC 99% Music social media SXSW Character Guide Awards Hulu Writers Guild of America scene in color Ghostbusters Photos Lionsgate cooking sag awards monster movies ABC Signature Western Alien LGBTQ leaderboard telelvision miniseries Trophy Talk Shudder Apple CMT Nat Geo FX halloween Extras The Witch New York Comic Con El Rey basketball toy story mutant HBO Go indiana jones ghosts Winners Image Comics 93rd Oscars Video Games unscripted Black History Month Fall TV reboot medical drama politics dogs lord of the rings Emmy Nominations Fantasy technology DirecTV Chilling Adventures of Sabrina VOD green book serial killer thriller black 2015 PBS target CW Seed new york Mystery The Academy spanish language MCU APB franchise President Pop TV Mary Tyler Moore LGBT king kong mob Shondaland series worst hollywood best Amazon Studios comic superman sports SDCC golden globe awards TCM discovery cars child's play 2017 all-time comic books cinemax name the review Warner Bros. Countdown BET Funimation Adult Swim FX on Hulu comics hispanic latino BET Awards 20th Century Fox adenture BBC One Nominations christmas movies Baby Yoda dramedy adventure popular rom-coms streaming movies BBC America FXX The Walt Disney Company Television Critics Association Red Carpet Teen Comic-Con@Home 2021 TV Land james bond Comedy Central Musical versus A&E Marathons biopic OneApp Trivia Logo mission: impossible YouTube Premium Election Spring TV 71st Emmy Awards Pacific Islander Legendary spinoff free movies TNT feel good strong female leads posters spider-verse Pet Sematary Showtime Disney Channel boxoffice Ovation anthology game of thrones royal family Chernobyl 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards transformers canceled DC Comics japanese spain MSNBC films Lifetime Christmas movies Sci-Fi Calendar ID Christmas comiccon First Look Crackle 24 frames Turner Classic Movies Musicals spy thriller See It Skip It Television Academy Holidays Schedule ABC doctor who DC streaming service Valentine's Day RT21 Fox News Sundance TV Toys Black Mirror gangster Bravo Best and Worst game show Superheroe Hallmark directors dreamworks IMDb TV chucky Columbia Pictures king arthur docuseries Netflix Christmas movies Sundance Travel Channel harry potter Mary poppins Discovery Channel 2019 007 what to watch comic book movie space video sequel cartoon NBA TLC Reality Competition Disney+ Disney Plus Drama pirates of the caribbean kong godzilla saw Lucasfilm 45 documentaries GIFs documentary Sony Pictures festival CNN Marvel Studios Pirates Amazon Prime indie