Recently, Variety published a story that revealed that Jon Bernthal would return as Frank Castle, aka The Punisher in Disney+ Daredevil: Born Again series. Questions have already arisen about the tone of this new Daredevil show. The Netflix original was certainly dark and violent, but I think it can be toned down in a way that keeps the same spirit but without all the blood. But can the same philosophy be applied to The Punisher, the most violent character on Marvel’s roster? Let’s break it down.
Netflix’s foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been an odd experience. For one thing, we’re still not 100% sure if what we saw was in fact the MCU and that doesn’t matter. Wilson Fisk’s return to Hawk Eye featured a different personality than seen before and Matt Murdock was much clumsier in She-Hulk. So there’s precedent for Netflix characters coming back and not being quite the same version we’ve seen before. I think we can safely assume then that this version of Frank Castle will somehow be different from what he was on his own show and in daredevil season 2. In the case of The Punisher, I think the instinctive expectation is that the portrayal of the violence surrounding the character will be heavily altered.
But then the question is, why bother bringing Frank Castle back if you have to castrate him? By his very nature, Frank Castle is a horribly violent individual who believes that taking out the trash is the only way to secure peace. Contrast that with Matt Murdock, lawyer by day, vigilante by night, who despite beating the bad guys to a pulp, still hands them over to the courts at the end of the day to see justice done. Since Daredevil never kills, it’s easier to modify it for a Disney+ series. The black Knight showed us that we could do black without the need for blood. So I’m less concerned about the depiction of violence in Born Again. I’m ok with there being less blood, but hopefully we’ll still get some great hallway fight scenes.
But Punisher thrives on blood and carnage. Violence and chaos almost define this vigilante. It would therefore seem contrary to the character to see his violence sanitized. So there are a few options to consider for the character’s Disney+ debut. First, as mentioned earlier, Disney will be forced to tone down the character’s violence. They may even have to remove the iconic skull symbol from his outfit, as the Punisher’s skull has been reappropriated by hate groups and the far right over the years. Which is really ironic, at least according to Punisher creator Gerry Conway, who said neo-Nazis who chose to use the skull as one of their symbols goes against everything Castle stands for in an interview after Charlottesville. “They are despicable human beings, and Frank Castle would have them all in his sights. The fact that white nationalists and Nazis embrace it is a tragic misunderstanding. It’s a twist on character and a blatant disregard for reality. They literally don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.
So a less violent, skullless Punisher could very well be the result. But what’s the point of bringing him back if you do that? But I guess that’s the end result. That way, Disney can give fans a familiar Punisher, but keep it within what the streamer would allow. He can be dramatic and have action scenes, but he won’t be smeared with the blood of his enemies and he can just wear a black top. In the end, the spirit of the character remains.
The second option would be to kiss the Punisher. Kevin Feige recently said that Deadpool will be joining the MCU and that the upcoming third movie, directed by Shawn Levy, will be the first R-rated MCU movie. So maybe Marvel and Disney are toying with the idea that not everything has to be suitable for children, that it is acceptable to produce more adult-targeted content. So if Deadpool can throw F-bombs and shoot all the bad guys in bloody fashion with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine (last seen in his own R-rated game in Logan). If you’re bringing The Punisher back, why not just bring it back as is. Like Daredevil, it already has an established following that will expect some level of consistency with the character.
Personally, I think they should just accept the character. Disney owns the Punisher through its ownership of Marvel and by its very nature he is a controversial character, he always has been. But he’s popular enough, maybe sometimes with the wrong crowd, but enough that fans are excited about the prospect of his return. Maybe heads won’t roll, but as long as Punisher delivers compelling drama (similar to the rooftop episode in season two of daredevil), great action scenes like the prison sequence, I think the fans will be happy, even if it’s a hard TV-14. But if we can live in a world where the MCU will have an R-rated theatrical movie, there might be room for TV-MA as well.