Spencer’s Soapbox: The Importance of The Punisher in the MCU

(Author’s note: Spencer’s Soapbox is a weekly column here on SHH where yours truly tries to spur a conversation on specific topics. Dive in to the latest installment below and check out the previous ones by clicking here.)

If there’s one thing that Marvel Entertainment knows how to do, it’s casting. There’s yet to be someone put in a role that had viewers scratching their head after the fact, and more often than not, it’s the kind of so obvious choice that it has people very excited. Case in point, this week’s reveal that Jon Bernthal will play Frank Castle on the second season of “Marvel’s Daredevil.” Ever since Marvel got the rights back to The Punisher, fans have been clamoring for his return, but with their commitment to family-friendly movies and Fiege’s own admission that they will never ‘go dark’ in the films, it seemed unlikely. Now that he’s here, it’s a giant deal for a myriad of reasons.

The Punisher needed to be rebooted. Three attempts have been made at bringing him to life on the big screen, all with varying degrees of success, and none of them have really gotten it right. Whether it’s bogging Frank down with a ton of other side characters, getting him wrapped up in an overcomplicated plot, or trying to make him a sympathetic truth-seeker, there are big problems with all of the other movies. Frank is a total psychopath. A mass-murdering machine that has racked up (as of two years ago) 48,502 kills according to Marvel, which is certainly not indicative of a healthy person. Every role that Bernthal has inhabited has featured a level of being unhinged, willing to jump to a conclusion over talking it out, which is what we need from a gun-toting vigilante in a world where aliens invaded New York.

Not only did The Punisher need to live again, but bringing him into the fold of Daredevil makes absolute sense. What separates The Punisher from the other Marvel heroes is that he’s just a man in this fantastical world, which makes him not all that different from Matt Murdock. The two have tangoed countless times in the comics and it’s easy to see why they make such great antagonists for each other, they’re two sides of the same coin. When Matt looks at Frank he sees a black mirror of himself. Daredevil is just one bad moment away from becoming Frank, they both know it, and Frank uses it to antagonize Matt. Since we’ve already seen Matt’s origins as a vigilante really explored in the first season, the second season should be all about challenging him as a hero and making him rethink about what he does and how he does it. The perfect wrench for that is Castle.

In the larger scope of “The Defenders” and the MCU, Castle is a necessary bridge to cross at this point. Like when Spider-Man was announced as joining the MCU, the character offers a new avenue that isn’t being explored by the other heroes in the world. While The Avengers are off fighting the aliens and robots of the universe, Frank gets his hands dirty and attacks the problems that actually affect the small scope of the MCU. Not only that, but he’s so small potatoes that he can’t go after every bad apple in the bunch, as much as he tries. Frank’s arsenal is also new territory in the MCU, because the only people that have really used guns up to this point are Black Widow, War Machine, WWII era Cap, and all the bad guys, but putting firearms and explosives at the hands of a potential protagonist is fresh ground. It will be interesting to see how they handle his panache for violence.

Within his comic book origin, The Punisher is a Vietnam War veteran, which would make him 58 years old at the absolute youngest should that translate, but lets be honest, it won’t. The Punisher’s origin will no doubt get new blood for his next arrival, and a post-9/11, post-War on Terror world is as good of a ground for his roots as any other. There’s also the matter of how Frank deals with the world he’s in, notably: the injuries he sustains. Some of the best Punisher comics have dealt with a Frank running on fumes and trying to heal. There’s beats in the other films where he tries to nurse himself but more often than not he’s semi-invincible. In a series where Daredevil has to get patched up, Frank should need to see a doctor too.

I’ve been very vocal about my feelings on “Marvel’s Daredevil,” which I maintain is a near perfect rendition of the character and series I love, so the fact that one of my other favorite characters is being thrown in the mix amps up my anticipation. Frank Castle is the kind of walking tank that adds a new flavor to this world, and since there have already been strikeouts in his name, perhaps it’s time to mix it up. Is a totally deranged Punisher too extreme for the MCU? I don’t think so, especially when you think about the ways some folks have died on screen in these PG-13 movies. What Marvel has here is a really good opportunity to deliver on something we have only seen glimpses of before, to expand their world in a new direction, and to challenge their established characters in exciting ways. Let the war begin.