The overwhelming praise for Marvel's premiere Netflix program [Daredevil](movie:47230) has shown that the mature comic-book content that the Netflix platform allows for is not only a legitimate standalone storytelling format, but also a worthy addition to the complex and beloved world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The dark and gritty Hell's Kitchen setting comes with largely uncharted territory for the massive Marvel franchise, and adds a new corner to the ever-expanding world of the MCU.
The advantage of the Netflix format is that it forgoes the pressures of network television and benefits from the added depth of serial storytelling, resulting in a sophisticated and tonally unique product. The increased popularity of this alternative television medium has resulted in a generally higher degree of artistry and quality in recent years, garnering professional attention from both A-list actors and prestigious creative talent/direction.
With the apparent resounding success of Marvel's newest creative direction and business plan, you can be sure that it's full steam ahead with the remaining four series that are already in development (AKA Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Defenders). These programs will retain a darker tone than their network television colleagues; their success will provide the precedent to continue to expand into increasingly mature territory. It is in this author's opinion that Marvel's latest experiment provides the criterion for introducing Frank Castle better known as The Punisher into the MCU.
Frank Castle is a man on a simple mission. Coming from a military and special forces background, Castle lost his wife and children to crime-family enforcers after they accidentally became witnesses to a mafia execution. Having survived the attack but robbed of his family and happy life, Castle dedicated himself to exacting swift and brutal revenge in the form of vigilante justice to all criminals. Adopting the alias The Punisher, Castle has used his black ops training and high tech weaponry to distribute his warped idea of justice where the law failed to deliver. His murderous rampage and blatant disregard for human life has put him at odds with many other costumed Marvel characters -- notably having crossing paths with Daredevil on many occasions but also including Spiderman, Nick Fury, Black Widow, and clashing with villains like the Kingpin, Bullseye, and more. Additionally, he had a significant role in the celebrated 2006 Civil War run as an anti-registration fighter. Castle's lack of true super powers or enhancements makes his relentless one-man-war on crime all the more impressive, putting him beside (or opposite, depending) other street-level heroes and high level operatives. Commonly thought of as one of the most dangerous and unpredictable players in the Marvel universe, it is long overdue that the Punisher make his way to the MCU.
Fans have been clamouring for the Punisher's introduction for years now, with even some of Marvel's in-house creative talent joining in the buzz (more on that later). A year ago, The Punisher's markedly violent and dark source material may have seemed far too different tonally from the established film and television world of the MCU, however with the arrival of Daredevil on the scene and the increasingly mature themes in the films (Age of Ultron is looking to be the bleakest entry yet), it is becoming increasingly easy to see Frank Castle assimilated into that world.
There have been a few unsuccessful attempts at bringing the Punisher to live-action, namely 2004's The Punisher and the 2008 quasi-reboot The Punisher: Warzone. Both films failed to nail the tone of the character, instead bordering on dated 80's action movie campiness. These commercial and critical failures have no doubt dissuaded Marvel from giving Frank Castle a slot in their film roster, however a more deliberate, character-centric, and atmospheric Netflix treatment could be the answer.
Introduce The Punisher opposite from Daredevil
Frank Castle shines the most when placed alongside other Marvel characters so as to highlight his moral discrepancies. The contrast between the righteous and incorruptible icon that is Captain America and the remorseless killer/anti-hero Castle is night and day. However as one begins to examine the expanded MCU roster, characters like Black Widow, Nick Fury, and new-kid-on-the-block Daredevil begin to fill in the grey area between. The moral conflict and uneasy alliances between these characters throughout the comics has been explored over the years to great effect. While speaking about the new show and his discussions with show-runner Steven DeKnight concerning the characterization of Matt Murdock, Daredevil star Charlie Cox had this to say:
“Steven DeKnight said that Daredevil is one bad day away from being the Punisher,”
The Punisher and Daredevil have both teamed-up and clashed many times in the comics and present intriguing similarities and differences in their characterizations. For instance, Castle and Murdock are both New Yorkers, coming from Sicilian and Irish heritage respectively. Consequently, both have wrestled with their Catholic identity and how it stands juxtaposed from their violent and oftentimes morally compromising vigilante activity. However, where Castle feels that the justice system has betrayed him and failed to honor his murdered family, Murdock to an extent still believes in the power of the law and spends his civilian life as a criminal justice lawyer. Both men have employed torture and other unsavoury methods to achieve their goals, but the Punisher is markedly less conflicted, and has earned a reputation for mercilessly slaughtering criminals rather than just incapacitating them. This key difference between Murdock and Castle has resulted in some fantastic character moments for both of them, and acts as a great source of tension in their interactions in the comics.
Before ever becoming cautious allies, The Punisher and Daredevil have butted heads on numerous occasions. A quasi-antagonistic role for The Punisher on the all but guaranteed second season of Daredevil could prove to be an effective way to introduce Castle as a powerful player and demonstrate how he stacks up morally against Murdock and the other Hell's Kitchen characters. With the impending escalation of threats that Daredevil will face, it will be a trial for him to remember who he is and what he stands for -- with the Punisher serving as an example of someone who has let his quest for justice warp his moral compass. This will allow for plenty of awesome banter and inter-fighting before shifting the mid to late season focus onto a true main villain. Plus with the probable return of Kingpin and likely addition of Bullseye, there could be some truly iconic character moments from the comics recreated on-screen, along with some joyously savage battles of epic proportions.
Give The Punisher his own Netflix spinoff
After introducing Frank Castle in season 2 of Daredevil, audiences will be acquainted with the anti-hero and his wonderfully twisted ways. Having gotten a taste of The Punisher in the context of the greater MCU, it will be a smooth transition to his own spinoff series, with a newly bolstered fan base to boot. The Punisher is the perfect candidate for a Netflix series, without the astronomical budgetary needs of the more fantastical characters, but the moral flexibility and mature themes that Netflix can embrace.
In regards to Marvel's Netflix plans, Daredevil show-runner Steven DeKnight said:
“I’ve been a huge fan of the Punisher comics for years, I’d love to see him get his due on a platform like this. Nothing would delight me more than to see the Punisher get his own show and maybe we could convince Marvel to go Hard-R rating. If any character deserves an R rating, it’s the Punisher.”
The Punisher has had some incredible comic stories, notably Garth Ennis' fantastic nine-year run, which embraced Frank Castle as utterly an unhinged and unstable sicko with a fair share of darkly perverse humour sprinkled throughout. The Punisher's best stories are personal and deeply reflective, a far cry from some of the high-flying blockbuster action of the movies. This is not to say Frank Castle is out of place when placed side-by-side with some of the larger than life Marvel characters, he has time and again proven able to hold his own against Earth's Mightiest Heroes and most dastardly villains. However the most rewarding journeys with Frank Castle have been the grounded and yet poignant deconstructions of a very broken man. This is where the character really thrives and distinguishes itself from the reductive tropes of a two-dimensional action hero or trigger-happy psychopath. A mature and deliberate Netflix series could finally provide the conditions required for a faithful adaptation, while still maintaining ties to the larger MCU.
Daredevil's excellently choreographed and gleefully brutal fight scenes proved that an ultra-violent approach to on-screen action can be both an effective and legitimate treatment of comic material. Violence for the sake of violence can quickly lose the appeal of shock value --- however Daredevil skirted this pitfall and delivered on every level, nailing the gritty aesthetic and visceral nature of street level brutality, and torture. [The Punisher](movie:1007544) could turn this up another notch, and honour its source material, without feeling out of place or gratuitous in this newly christened dark corner of the MCU.
Aptly realizing The Punisher on Netflix would require bringing in some skilled and stylish directing talent. This author nominates David Leitch and Chad Stahleski, the gentlemen who made John Wick the dark horse hit of 2014 with their slick visuals and even slicker action choreography. The pair proved very effective at bringing a single-minded and hyper-violent protagonist to life, along with his infinitely cool and darkly humorous diegetic world. David Leitch and Chad Stahleski have contributed to some of the best fight choreography in the industry, having worked on the Bourne trilogy, The Matrix, and various other action masterpieces. They do gunplay and hand-to-hand combat like no one else, and have recently proven they have a keen eye for direction as well. With the backing force of Marvel's entire in-house writing team, and the non-instrusive Netflix platform, David Leitch and Chad Stahleski present an enticing prospect.
As for the titular role, the lead needs to be physically imposing and should be upwards of 6'1" with the chops to pull off an extremely disturbed yet nuanced psyche. Vikings actor Clive Standen comes to mind, though Marvel has casted impeccably thus far and surely would do the role justice in any case.
Let The Punisher fulfill his potential in the films
Frank Castle has an important role to play in the future of the MCU, but that doesn't mean he hasn't already left his mark in its continuity. One of the best easter eggs from Captain America: The Winter Soldier as teased by the Russo brothers (who will be stepping into a position of increased oversight at Marvel following Joss Whedon's departure) was concerning the Penske truck that threw off Nick Fury's pursuers in the fantastic car chase scene---the same truck that later painted it's grill with the traitorous Agent Sitwell:
“The man who drives that truck is very highly trained. He thinks on his own terms. He’s got a plan and a very specific skill set.”
Joe Russo went on to joke about the driver of the Penske truck going on to have his own Marvel One-Shot. For the filmmakers to imply that Frank Castle was the unsung hero of [Captain America: The Winter Soldier](movie:254973) is exciting in that it shows their support and passion for The Punisher as a character, adding to the growing list of vocal proponents on Marvel's creative team. However this nod to The Punisher does not need to be solely relegated to just a nod. It could be officially incorporated into the canon without creating any plot holes, and would strengthen the fabric of Marvel's motto: #EverythingIsConnected.
Before being attacked during the scene in question, Nick Fury (sensing that something was amiss with SHIELD) called Agent Hill and told her to come to D.C under "Deep Shadow Conditions". Off screen, he could have also reached out to a less trusted but more immediately available contact AKA Frank Castle, and requested him as overwatch/escort until Hill arrived. A man like The Punisher would definitely be on Fury's radar, and knowing Nick, he would probably not have any qualms with employing Castle's less savoury services. Those two men have an understanding of each other, which is why neither of them are afraid to make moral compromises in order to see justice done.
Of course things heated up pretty quickly with the mercenaries hired to knock Fury off, and so when the Punisher arrived on the scene, he made his abrupt entrance (with the Penske truck) in the only way he could. The Punisher Netflix series could open with this flashback scene: showing Castle's movements after being contacted by Fury (with a possible voice cameo from Samuel L. Jackson) and then everything leading up to him ploughing the truck through the intersection and possibly the immediate aftermath, with Frank mopping up (read: executing) the last of the injured mercenaries. Boom: Title screen.
This flashback could serve as a perfect introduction to the Punisher series and solidify his presence in the world of the films, having already been contemporarily established on the second season of Daredevil. Frank Castle is very much a character who viewers could believe has been covertly operating for several years in the MCU continuity without any sort of plot holes arising from his lack of references (he's a pretty private guy who generally doesn't step on SHIELD's toes). The series could therefore pick up a few years later in the current MCU timeline, where Daredevil left us off. Frank's operations since then could be periodically referenced to fill in his character and motivations, and to service the story and current mission. These additional flashbacks could even include other contracts for Fury who---being supposed dead by most of the world---probably doesn't have a lot of allies he can call upon, much less ones as effective as Frank Castle.
Looking forward, The Punisher could rejoin the films in an increased role. The upcoming 2016 event film Captain America: Civil War stands the obvious choice, as Castle had a substantial part to play in the comic. Even if this film is too close on the horizon, the possibilities are endless; Marvel's phase 3 looks to expand the MCU in every direction. For instance, it wouldn't be surprising to see The Punisher show up in the 2017 untitled Spiderman film (or the Kingpin for that matter) as Castle has an established history of run-ins with Peter Parker, and many of Marvel's other keystone characters. To see Frank Castle trade words (or blows) with Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nicky Fury, or any of the other silver screen characters would truly be a pleasure and inject a new personality yet unseen in the world of the MCU.
Netflix's Daredevil series has successfully and definitively redefined the boundaries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Critics and fans alike have spoken: demonstrating a newfound desire for serial storytelling and mature comic book content from Marvel. Having embraced a new range of subject matter and tone that was previously thought to be too different from what has come before, the important question for Marvel now is: what comes next?