Of all the characters in the Marvel universe, Frank Castle, aka the Punisher, is one of the most morally gray. Neither a hero nor fully a villain. We saw that in Daredevil Season 2, when he squared off against the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. The Punisher kills, which makes him a bad guy. But he has reasons that make him sympathetic, almost heroic, in his quest to cleanse the world of killers.
Now the Netflix series The Punisher, starring Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, will drop on November 17. But critics have already seen it … and the reviews are finally starting to roll out. For the most part, critics praise Bernthal's acting and showrunner Steve Lightfoot's sympathetic view of war veterans. But they take the show to task for its overly long runtime. Put simply: It's mostly good, but not great. And almost certainly a bit too long.
Here’s what to expect when you’re expecting The Punisher:
"'The Punisher' transcends what it appears to be. Not completely, and not always; this is still a very violent show, saturated in tortured masculinity. (In just the opening credits, an array of semiautomatic weapons float in the air to arrange themselves in the skull-shaped logo of the Punisher.) But thanks to Jon Berthal’s seamless performance as the non-superpowered vigilante Frank Castle and showrunner Steve Lightfoot’s sharp, conscious storytelling, 'The Punisher' approaches the high points of 'Marvel’s Jessica Jones' by introducing a damaged, deadly character and telling his story as one piece of an unjust whole." - Variety
"Much of this season is focused on not just Frank’s return to civilian life, but his fellow soldiers struggling to find their place in the world, which is intriguing material, but suffers from being drawn out to the degree required when your TV show is set for 13 episodes a season. This is a common complaint about the Netflix/Marvel series, but feels especially true here — 'Punisher' could have been a fantastic six-episode season. The extra seven feel excessive." - IndieWire
"What makes Netflix’s 'The Punisher' series stand out is that lead actor and Washington native Jon Bernthal doesn’t need to wear a white skull or even have a gun in his hand for you to know that he is the Punisher." - The Washington Post
"Bernthal's Punisher is a perfect character for a four- to six-hour miniseries and then maybe to occasionally weave into other parts of Netflix's Marvel Universe. Unfortunately, whether the fault lies with Marvel or Netflix, this is a partnership that violates all of Netflix's 'Tell your story the way it needs to be told' rules for other shows. With the exception of The Defenders, which was always announced as a miniseries, each and every one of the Marvel/Netflix shows has been 13 episodes and they've all had comparable lags in pacing and stumbles in storytelling to reach that number. But Marvel's The Punisher is the first one that feels at least twice the length it should be." - The Hollywood Reporter
"What makes the whole thing work, though, is that 'The Punisher' defies expectations in terms of genre. It’s not action (though it occasionally does have action), but rather is a noir mystery. Frank’s story is not about hunting and meting out justice with his guns. It’s about unraveling the conspiracy and dealing with the specific people responsible. This Frank Castle is still super-anguished but, thanks in no small part to his partnership with Micro, he’s not reckless. This is not the unhinged Frank Castle we saw on 'Daredevil.'" - The Wrap
"Trying to ground this character is one thing; burying him six feet under turgid moral justifications is something else. The show has a gray color palette and wants to lean into some notion of morality deeper than 'Guy Shoots Bad Guys.' But it can’t ever get away from that last part, and by the time it finally embraces it, you’ll wonder where the hours went." - Entertainment Weekly
"Marvel‘s The Punisher is a work of artistic cowardice. Faced with the controversial topics of gun violence and veteran life in the U.S., it tries to find a noncommital middle ground. Instead of portraying Frank Castle as an interesting monster, it tries and fails to make him relatable." - The Daily Dot