REVIEW: THE PUNISHER – SEASON 2

Jon Bernthal in The Punisher (2017)

Starring

Jon Bernthal (The Accountant)
Ben Barnes (Westworld)
Amber Rose Revah (The Devil’s Double)
Jason R. Moore (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice)
Josh Stewart (No Ordinary Family)
Floriana Lima (Supergirl)
Giorgia Whigham (13 Reasons Why)
Deborah Ann Woll (Mother’s Day)

Ben Barnes in The Punisher (2017)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Royce Johnson (Demolition)
Tony Plana (Ugly Betty)
Alexa Davalos (Clash of The Titans)
Corbin Bernsen (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)
Annette O’Toole (Smallville)
Ilia Volok (Power Rangers Wild Force)

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Limitless TV)

Rob Morgan (Stranger Things)

Frank Castle doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who gets out to the movies very often, so we’ll probably never know what he thought about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But you have to assume he’d identify with Kylo Ren’s infamous monologue, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. It’s the only way to become who you were meant to be.” That pretty much sums up Frank’s struggle since losing his family in a hail of bullets and transforming himself into a remorseless vigilante.Amber Rose Revah in The Punisher (2017)That same struggle takes on a new form in The Punisher Season 2. Having finally tracked down and punished every single person responsible for the deaths of his family, Frank is finally a free man. But can someone who spent so long being defined by hate and a thirst for revenge actually find peace? Can Frank let his past die and rebuild his life, or is he doomed to forever be defined as the Punisher? It’s a compelling dilemma. But ironically, it’s only when Season 2 clings to the past that it becomes the show it was meant to be.Jon Bernthal in The Punisher (2017)Initially, Season 2 comes across as a major departure from its predecessor. The premiere touches base with Frank (Jon Bernthal) as he aimlessly wanders the Midwest and finds his true calling as a Shooter Jennings groupie. It’s a slow start to the new season, but one that sets the mood nicely. We see Frank coming so close to remembering how to live as a normal human being again, to the point where he even develops a romance with a local bartender. But the fact that Frank so quickly and recklessly throws himself into the first fracas he can find shows that he was only ever waiting for a new mission to come along. If the driving question of Season 2 is whether Frank Castle can find peace, the first episode alone makes it pretty clear that it’ll only be with a gun in his hand.Josh Stewart in The Punisher (2017)The first few episodes of the season attempt to make a fairly clean break from the events, characters, and setting of Season 1. Sure, the show touches base with old favorites like Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) and Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), but the focus in this early part of the season is fixed more on newcomers like wayward teen grifter Amy Bendix (Giorgia Whigham) and former Neo-Nazi-turned-God-fearing assassin, John Pilgrim (Josh Stewart).Jon Bernthal and Jason R. Moore in The Punisher (2017)Unfortunately, it’s here where one of the fundamental flaws of Season 2 becomes apparent. These newcomers struggle to measure up to the strong supporting cast seen in Season 1. Amy initially comes across as an obnoxious, conniving brat, as well as a crude attempt to replace both Karen Page and Micro in one new character. It’s a good four or five episodes into the season before she finally begins to gain some semblance of depth and forges a more believable bond with Frank.Jon Bernthal in The Punisher (2017)Pilgrim (who’s loosely based on a character from the comics called The Mennonite) often shows potential as a man whose struggle to leave his dark past behind him mirrors Frank’s own journey. But both Pilgrim and his handlers, the nefarious right-wing billionaires Anderson (Corbin Bernsen) and Eliza Schultz (Annette O’Toole) are badly underdeveloped. This season creates the impression that showrunner Steve Lightfoot wanted to create a conflict that could rip from as many headlines as possible. You’ve got your right-wing extremists, your shady Russians blackmailing politicians, and your rampant gun violence plaguing Middle America. But none of this material seems especially well thought-out or ever comes together as a satisfying whole. By the time the focus shifts back to New York and the renewed feud between Frank and Billy, the Schultzes and their dirty dealings become a light afterthought.Ben Barnes and Charles Brice in The Punisher (2017)Fortunately, at least Season 2 capitalizes on the foundation established in Season 1 where Billy is concerned. We see Billy Russo, handsome businessman, transform into Jigsaw, psychologically tormented killer. The series only loosely adapts the Jigsaw from the comics, however. Rather than depicting him as a hideously scarred supervillain out for blood the moment he escapes police custody, Season 2 takes a more understated approach to Billy. His scarring is less dramatic. Early on, he wants only to understand his sad lot in life and the skull-clad demon that haunts his dreams.Jon Bernthal and Jason R. Moore in The Punisher (2017)The result of all of this is that Billy remains a sympathetic figure throughout the season. Even when his dark, depraved side begins to burst forth again, we understand the pain and trauma fueling his actions and the profound sense of loss that plagues him. Barnes’ performance improves leaps and bounds over that of Season 1. At times it’s bigger and flashier, but often Barnes is able to bring a wounded subtlety to the character. In some cases, Barnes is even required to act from behind a mask for prolonged periods, showing a gift for using body language and voice to make up for his concealed features. Jigsaw may not quite rival the likes of Wilson Fisk and Kilgrave as the best of Netflix’s Marvel villains, but he’s close enough.The new season also further cements Bernthal’s Frank Castle as the best live-action incarnation of the character to date. To be fair, Bernthal has had far more time to make the character his own than actors like Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson. Regardless, the show really benefits from that crucial combination of nuanced characterization and Bernthal’s captivating performance. This season is careful never to paint Frank as either hero or villain. If anything, it’s preoccupied with the narrow line separating a soldier like Frank from a craven mercenary like Billy. Bernthal brings a wide range to the role, playing Frank as a roaring powerhouse of rage, a grieving survivor, and various degrees in between those two extremes. Season 2 is also kind to both Revah’s Dinah Madani and Jason R. Moore’s Curtis Holt. Both characters are able to take a more active role in the conflict, including directly joining Frank in his war against Billy. Dinah’s emotional gauntlet is one of the highlights of the season, as she continuously grapples with her profound betrayal from Season 1. As for Curtis, we see his loyalties tested and his life begin to buckle under the weight of being Frank’s friend, culminating in his decision to forge his own path and choose for himself what he believes to be the greatest good.Ben Barnes in The Punisher (2017)Season 2’s fundamental flaw is that it forces viewers to accept the good with the bad. It makes some significant improvements to Season 1’s formula in terms of pacing and action. Following the methodical “Roadhouse Blues,” the season’s narrative quickly builds momentum. Whereas it seemed like Season 1 was content to go multiple episodes without giving Frank a chance to do some punishing, pretty much every chapter of Season 2 includes at least one significant action sequence. There’s also a greater variety to the action this time around, with some fights unfolding as raw, gritty, hand-to-hand brawls and others ending with hundreds of bullets littering the streets of New York. Honestly, the best thing that can be said for Season 2 is that, unlike its predecessor, it didn’t seem overly drawn out at 13 episodes.Jon Bernthal and Giorgia Whigham in The Punisher (2017)But the flip side to this is that Season 2 leaves me wanting so much more in some areas. Again, so much involving the Schultzes, John Pilgrim, and that whole halfhearted conspiracy feels poorly developed. These characters disappear for multiple episodes at a stretch and even when they return, they connect to Frank’s struggle only in the most tenuous ways. More often than not, Pilgrim comes across as a refugee from a completely different show. This season may be more eventful than its predecessor, but it’s also far less focused. Krista Dumont (Floriana Lima) may be the biggest offender of all. This is a character who is obviously a villain lurking in plain sight from her very first appearance. Yet never do the writers make more than the most rudimentary effort to flesh out her background or justify her erratic behavior. She functions in her capacity as someone to shine a brief, fleeting light into Billy Russo’s demented life, and that’s it.Ben Barnes in The Punisher (2017)Looking back at Season 2 as a whole, it was like watching two completely different story pitches being crudely grafted together. And that’s to say nothing of some of the other questionable storytelling choices made over the course of the season. However little this season succeeded in tying together these loose narrative threads, it did at least manage to give characters like Frank, Dinah, Amy, and Billy’s story the closure they needed. “The Whirlwind” is both the most action-packed and most emotionally charged installment of the season. It’s here we see Frank take those final steps toward becoming the Punisher through and through. With little prospect of a Season 3, it’s heartening to see the series end on such a definitive note. The Punisher Season 2 improves on the first in some key ways, establishing a stronger sense of narrative momentum and giving fans much more action. At the same time, the series also falters in other areas. Its narrative is more unfocused, and its new characters struggle to measure up to the old guard. This season does capitalize on the foundation established by Season 1 in terms of the Punisher/Jigsaw rivalry, however, and it leaves Frank Castle in a good place in the finale.

REVIEW: THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER

CHRONICLES OF NARNIA 4

CAST

Georgie Henley (Perfect Sisters)
Ben Barnes (Dorian Gray)
Skandar Keynes (Ferrari)
Will Poulter (Son of Rambow)
Gary Sweets (The Pacific)
Bruce Spence (Legend of The Seeker)
Laura Brent (Anzac Girls)
William Moseley (The Royals)
Anna Popplewell (Reign)
Tilda Swinton (Constantine)
Liam Neeson (Batman Begins)
Rachel Blakely (The Lost World)
Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz)

Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, and Georgie Henley in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

Three Narnian years after the events of Prince Caspian, Lucy and Edmund Pevensie are staying with their irritating bookworm cousin Eustace Scrubb until the war is over. Edmund is still too young to enlist in His Majesty’s Armed Forces. At their cousin’s home a painting of a ship on the ocean transports Lucy, Edmund and Eustace into an ocean in Narnia.
Georgie Henley in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
They are rescued by Caspian, who captains the Dawn Treader. He invites them on a voyage to rescue the seven Lords of Narnia whom his uncle Miraz banished. In the Lone Islands, where people are sold as slaves, Caspian and Edmund are captured and imprisoned while Lucy and Eustace are sold as slaves. Caspian meets one of the lost lords (Lord Bern), who reveals that the slaves are not sold, but sacrificed to a mysterious green mist. They are rescued by their crew. Bern, who becomes the new governor, gives Caspian a sword, one of seven given to each of the lords by Aslan.
Will Poulter in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)At another island, Lucy is abducted by the invisible Dufflepuds who force her to enter the manor of the magician Coriakin to find a visibility spell. Coriakin encourages the crew to defeat the mist by laying the lords’ seven swords at Aslan’s Table on Ramandu’s island, but warns them that they are about to be tested. Lucy recites a beauty incantation she found, and enters a dream in which she has transformed into Susan and neither Lucy nor Narnia exist. Aslan chides Lucy for her self-doubt, explaining that her siblings only know of Narnia because of her.
Another sword is recovered from a magical pool that turns anything that touches it into gold, including one of the lost lords. Meanwhile, Eustace finds, and steals from, a rock pit full of treasure. While Edmund and Caspian look for Eustace, they discover the remains of another of the lords and recover his sword. A dragon approaches and is driven away from the Dawn Treader. The dragon is Eustace, transformed by the treasure after succumbing to its temptations. Reepicheep befriends Eustace, and Eustace is touched by the mouse’s kindness. He undergoes a change of heart and becomes helpful to the crew.
The crew arrive at Aslan’s Table to find three lost lords sleeping. As they place the swords on the table they realize one is still missing. A star descends from the sky and transforms into Lilliandil, a beautiful woman who guides them to the Dark Island, lair of the mist, where they discover the last surviving Lord, Rhoop. Edmund’s fear manifests itself as a monstrous sea serpent that attacks the ship. Eustace fights the serpent, but Rhoop wounds him with the last sword, causing him to fly away with the sword impaled in his side. He encounters Aslan, who transforms him back into a boy, removes the sword from his body and sends him to Ramandu’s island with it. As the crew fights the serpent, the mist tries to distract Edmund by appearing as Jadis, the White Witch. Eustace reaches the table and places the sword upon it, allowing the swords to unleash their magic and bestow Edmund’s own sword with the power to slay the sea serpent, the death of which awakens the three sleeping lords, destroys the mist and Dark Island and liberates the sacrificed slaves.
Eustace rejoins Lucy, Edmund, Caspian and Reepicheep, and they sail to a mysterious shore before a massive wave. Aslan appears and tells them that his country lies beyond, although if they go there they may never return. Caspian refuses, knowing that he has more duties to do as king, but Reepicheep is determined to enter, and Aslan blesses him before he paddles beyond the wave. Aslan opens a portal to send Lucy, Edmund and Eustace home, but informs Lucy and Edmund they have grown up and can never return to Narnia. Aslan encourages them to know him in their world by another name, and tells a reformed Eustace that he may return. The three enter the portal and swim up to the bedroom. Eustace hears his mother announcing a visitor, Jill Pole. The three leave the room, stopping to look back at the painting, which shows the Dawn Treader sailing out of sight.The special effects were very good and the action scenes were well thought out without being too gory for the kids. A very good end to the trilogy. Hopefully the rest of the Narnia books will be adapted.

REVIEW: THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN

CAST

Georgie Henley (Perfect Sisters)
Ben Barnes (Dorian Gray)
Skandar Keynes (Ferrari)
William Moseley (The Royals)
Anna Popplewell (Reign)
Sergio Casellitto (In Treatment)
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Eddie Izzard (Hannibal)
Ken Stott (The Hobbit)
Tilda Swinton (Constantine)
Liam Neeson (Batman Begins)
Warwick Davis (Star Wars – Episode VI)
John Bach (Jack Irish)
David Walliams (Little Britain)

Anna Popplewell in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)1,300  Narnian years after the Pevensie siblings left, Caspian, a Telmarine prince and heir to the throne, is informed by mentor Doctor Cornelius that his uncle, Miraz, is plotting to kill him and seize the throne for himself and his newborn heir. Cornelius gives him Queen Susan’s ancient magical horn, instructing him to blow it only at his greatest need. Caspian flees into the woods where he encounters two Narnian dwarfs, Trumpkin and Nikabrik, and a talking badger named Trufflehunter, and blows the horn to summon help.
Liam Neeson and Georgie Henley in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) Only one year in England has passed since the Pevensie children returned from Narnia. The children are waiting for a tube train when the station suddenly starts collapsing and they are magically transported to Narnia. At first they are overjoyed, but soon realize that much time has passed since their last visit, and their castle at Cair Paravel is in ruin.  In the Telmarine castle, the lords of the council learn that Prince Caspian is gone, and Miraz, using Trumpkin, who has been captured, persuades them to attack the Narnians to retrieve Caspian while secretly plotting to kill him instead. Lord Sopespian suspects Miraz’s motives, and discusses his treasonous thoughts with his ally, General Glozelle.
Ben Barnes in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) The Pevensies save Trumpkin from being drowned by two Telmarines; he realizes that the four children are the Kings and Queens of Old and they continue on together. Lucy glimpses Aslan and tries convincing the others that she has seen him; only Edmund believes her. Nikabrik and Trufflehunter lead Caspian to a gathering of the old Narnians, where he convinces them to help him win his throne so he can return their land. They meet the Pevensies and Trumpkin, and all journey to Aslan’s How. Peter decides they will attack Miraz’s castle, rejecting Lucy’s advice that they wait for Aslan to return.
Georgie Henley in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)The Narnians raid Miraz’s castle, but Caspian ruins the plan by freeing Cornelius instead of opening the gate. He learns that Miraz killed his father, and confronts Miraz but is wounded. Overwhelmed, Peter calls for a retreat. Peter, Susan, Edmund, Caspian and the Narnians escape with heavy losses. Upon returning to Aslan’s How, Peter and Caspian argue, while back at the castle, Miraz is crowned King.
Skandar Keynes in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)Nikabrik, with the aid of a hag and a werewolf, offers Caspian his help to guarantee victory. The hag uses black sorcery to summon Jadis, the White Witch. From inside a wall of ice, the White Witch tries convincing Caspian to free her, when Peter, Edmund, Lucy and Trumpkin arrive. Peter kills the hag, Edmund kills the werewolf, and Trumpkin stabs Nikabrik when he attacks Lucy. Peter knocks Caspian aside to face the Witch himself, but begins to be entranced, until Edmund shatters the ice, destroying the Witch’s apparition.
As Miraz and his army arrive at Aslan’s How, Caspian suggests Peter and Miraz duel to the death, with the loser’s army to surrender, to buy Lucy and Susan time to find Aslan. Miraz agrees to the duel, not wanting to look like a coward in front of his men. The girls are attacked by Telmarine soldiers, so Susan remains behind to fight them while Lucy continues alone. Peter defeats Miraz, and gives Caspian his sword to finish him off, but Caspian spares Miraz’s life. Sopespian kills Miraz with one of Susan’s arrows and accuses the Narnians, leading to a battle, with the Telmarines gradually winning.Lucy finds Aslan in the woods and he awakens the trees, turning the battle in the Narnians’ favor. Sopespian orders retreat to a bridge, where they are confronted by Lucy and Aslan. Aslan summons the river god, who destroys the bridge, killing many of the soldiers, swallowing Sopespian and winning the battle.  Caspian invites the Telmarines to remain in Narnia if they will coexist peacefully with the Narnians; but if they wish, they can return to the human world from which they originally came to Narnia. Some, including General Glozelle, agree to do so, and Aslan creates a portal for them and the four Pevensies. Susan kisses Caspian, knowing they will never meet again, as Aslan told her and Peter that they will never return to Narnia. The Pevensies return to England, leaving Caspian as King.Prince Caspian drops the children’s fantasy feeling, in favor of a darker, more militaristic story. But despite its darker overtones, it never forgets the light side.

REVIEW: THE PUNISHER – SEASON 1

MAIN CAST

Jon Bernthal (World Trade Center)
Ben Barnes (Westworld)
Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Suburban Girl)
Amber Rose Revah (Indian Summers)
Deborah Ann Woll (Daredevil)
Daniel Webber (11.22.63)
Paul Schulze (Zodiac)
Jaime Ray Newman (Bates Motel)
Michael Nathanson (The Wolf of Wall Street)
C. Thomas Howell (The Amazing Spider-Man)
Jason R. Moore (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STAR

Shohreh Aghdashloo (Star Trek Beyond)
Geoffrey Cantor (The Tick)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Limitless TV)
Rob Morgan (Starnger Things)
Kelli Barrett (Mr. Popper’s Penguins)
Tony Plana (Ugly Betty)#
Ripley Sobo (Batman V Superman)
Tim Guinee (Iron Man)
Nicolette Pierini (Annie)

The Punisher begins with Frank Castle believing he has completed his mission for revenge against the mobsters who killed his family and hanging up his skull-adorned costume. Six months later everybody thinks Frank Castle is dead and, having grown a hipster beard, he’s taken a new name and landed a job on a construction crew where even though more modern equipment is available, he’s able to take a sledgehammer to concrete walls. Frank is about to discover that he did a lot of punishing for nothing, or at least that his punishing was only partial, because it turns out that the death of his family relates to his black ops military service in Afghanistan and he’s going to have to start punishing again. This time, he has an ally in a former NSA analyst Micro, whose family thinks that he’s dead, too. Frank, who works better alone, finds himself in an unlikely partnership and almost a friendship. Castle has to reconnect with former brothers-in-arms Curtis (Jason R. Moore), now working to support soldiers suffering from PTSD, and Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), now the slick head of a private security concern. Meanwhile, the bad stuff that happened in Kandahar has attracted the attention of Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani, a child of Iranian refugees. Also involved, and providing links to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, is Daredevil regular Karen Page, whose status as compassionate, frequently endangered Marvel TV sidekick/innocent bystander remains intact.punisher-110The Punisher was a gritty, great start for the character. It helped build the character’s past while presenting a self-contained and intriguing story. There are some definite current modern themes explored and it feels very different from anything on the Marvel Netflix side of things in the past. It was nice to see a character in this series once again take pain and have many potentially fatal situations.  I enjoyed watching the season, fans of the character will find this captured the anti-hero very well though some may feel it’s rather slow to get going. Once it does all move quickly and things are all well developed it doesn’t hold back on the action or tension. The Punisher is a solid character so it’s nice to see a full season actually deliver on what potential there is for this badass within the universe.