Ups and Downs and Loop-De-Loops, or, The Punisher

thepunisher

Spooky attack!

Do you like roller coasters?

Metaphorical roller coasters?

The Punisher, Netflix’s latest Marvel television series, is something of a ride. You know what it is before you go on it. You can look at it from the outside and get the gist, and you’re opinion of it, I suspect, will largely hinge on your eagerness to get on the ride to begin with.

The roller coaster in question? One of the oldest around: revenge. Straight-up, brutal, Old Testament vengeance.

Like any good revenge narrative, The Punisher isn’t necessarily a fun ride, but it’s one that is easy to insert yourself into because of the primal nature of the story and the out of this world portrayal of the titular vigilante Frank Castle by Jon Bernthal.

In many ways Castle is an agent of fantasy, of wish fulfillment. While the healthy majority of us hopefully aren’t chomping at the bit to have our families murdered, or to beat a guy to death with a sledgehammer, there’s likely a little Punisher in each of us. Whether it’s the feeling we get being cut off in traffic or the simmering resignation forced upon us when we see power abused without consequence there’s a universality to what The Punisher can offer: a world in which justice and one’s own righteousness are intertwined and absolute, in which they are elemental forces of sheer will tapped from a bottomless, primordial well.

Bernthal finds the fine balance between embodying those forces like a bloody monument and portraying the misery of a battered and broken human being. His grunts and silences and screams and scowls breathe life into Frank Castle so that we are able to not only tap into the aforementioned universality of his motivations, but his humanity as well. He is one of easily one of the greatest casting decisions the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever made. We can move through the story with him, in some respects we can move through the story as him. He is the car on the tracks of this rollercoaster and it is exactly the car you want to be in.

If, that is, you want to be on a rollercoaster.

Like any other revenge yarn, engaging with The Punisher is chasing a dragon of sorts. Fully immersing yourself in Frank Castle’s quest requires a suspension of one’s better angles in the hopes of achieving that sweet nirvana of vicariously reaping brutal revenge. Inconsequential means to an inconsequential end, given that we’re talking about watching a television show, but a bargain that still isn’t for everyone.

The Punisher is also fueled by the sort of superhuman masculinity at the center of many revenge yarns that may turn some viewers off, though it makes efforts to explore and subvert that trope and its potential toxicity

If you like the character of Frank Castle, smart money says you’ll enjoy Netflix’s take on The Punisher, and even if you aren’t a fan of the character there still might be a chance that Bernthal’s stellar performance could win you over. Like any metaphorical roller coaster, you don’t have to get on to get a pretty good idea of what you’re getting in to. It goes up. It goes down. It does loops and spins. If that isn’t for you it isn’t for you, but man if it is for you holy crap the ups and downs and loops and spins on this thing are insane.

 

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Daredevil Season 2, or, Turns Out I’ve Been Playing “Seven Minutes in Heaven” Wrong

daredevil season two

Marvel’s Daredevil

A quick note before the piece proper: while I don’t go into specific plot points here there’s perhaps “thematic spoilers” regarding Season 2 of Daredevil, which is to say I do go into how I feel some of themes of the season resolve. So, I don’t know. That happens.

In a summer blockbuster season poised to be a war of battles between superhero ideologies last weekend’s opening salvo may ultimately prove to be an early and decisive victory.

This week Batman and Superman will duke it out over “what it means to be a man” and in May, Captain America and Iron Man will clobber each other over government oversight, but Dawn of Justice and Civil War both have their work cut out for them, because the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil has the Man Without Fear and The Punisher waging an ideological fist fight between life and death. It’s a conflict that not only proves exciting for a Daredevil story, but ultimately necessary for the health of the superhero narrative at large.

There is no perfect superhero. Whether their code is one of great responsibility or sheer willpower or truth and justice there is no superhero that can take on every shade of evil world has to offer. For instance, heroic as he is there’s a cruelty to Hell’s Kitchen that Daredevil’s acrobatic beatings just can’t account for. There are crimes that a black eye can’t avenge. Rather than cover up this glaring hole in Daredevil’s modus operandi and let it slowly eat away at the credibility of the character and his world Daredevil Season 2 shines a skull-shaped spotlight on it in the form of The Punisher.

The Punisher is the kind of guy who’d call Batman out on his bullshit and blow the Joker’s brains out with a sawed off. He ends crime by ending criminals. Season 2 of Daredevil is largely built on top of the fundamental conflict between The Punisher’s more absolute methodology and Daredevil’s “Beat The Shit Out Of ‘Em And Let God And/Or The Criminal Justice System Sort ‘Em Out While They Recover In A Hospital Bed” strategy.

As a society we want to believe in Daredevil’s methods because in a sense civilization depends on Daredevil’s methods. Civilization depends on a belief there’s a good reason Batman doesn’t kill the Joker. We want to believe that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, but it’s an argument that never completely closes the loop around that last gnawing inch, that feral, animal cruelty of the world that defies logic and philosophy. There’s a certain inhuman brutality the world can display that Batman and Daredevil just can’t salve. A brutality that can seemingly only be punished with an equal and opposite severity.

Enter The Punisher.

Jon Bernthal turns in what may be his best performance, no small feat for an actor of his caliber, as The Punisher. His Frank Castle is the fourth live action iteration of the character but the first to really take on The Punisher’s larger mythological connotations – the personification of the Old Testament justice that stirs in our gut in the face of particularly pungent sadism. The Punisher’s world is one of absolutes. It’s a streamlined world free of checks and balances but it’s also free of accountability. It’s free of aspiration and hope and ascendance because it depends on reacting to the world we have rather than striving for the one we want.

Daredevil’s methods may leave victims wanting, and it may let the worst society has to offer off easy, but they also account for higher ideals like hope and redemption. Daredevil’s ideology hinges on a faith in the world that The Punisher’s doesn’t allow for.

Matt Murdock and Frank Castle’s philosophical fisticuffs boast no shortage of thrills and excitement but they also prove incredibly thoughtful. The master stroke of the show’s second season is that Daredevil is never proven right and the Punisher is never proven wrong. The end result is a nuanced and open-ended meditation on the imperfections of justice that proves to be one of the best stories Marvel has ever put on film.

The 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative, or, Dad Attack!

New Years is a time of renewal, both for the calendar industry and for hard working, red blooded Americans everywhere – myself included. This year I made it of particular self-importance to really take the beginning of 2013 and reinvent myself personally, professionally and spiritually and what better way to start than with a dogmatic adherence to a New Year’s resolution that will help me ascend the ranks of men and legend alike.

So yeah, I’m watching every Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson film that comes out in 2013, a.k.a. the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative.

Enter Snitch, The Rock’s first feature film of 2013.

Look. A truck.

Look. A truck.

Basically, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a really shitty son.

More complexly, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson owns a construction company and a Ford F-250 and is divorced and his estranged son gets snitched on by some dumb snitch and ends up in jail and the jail is all like “if you snitch on some other dumb snitch you can maybe not be in jail so much” and then Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s kid is all like “I ain’t no snitch” and then the Rock is all like “you are a terrible snitch and the worst son of all of the sons” and then decides that if his son won’t snitch then maybe he can snitch for him by infiltrating the world of snitches and snitching on them to the snitch master.

Also Shane From “Jon Bernthal” The Walking Dead is in it.

Snitch is a movie about fathers and collars. It’s a what-if that asks what actions a father is willing to take for a son whether those actions are beyond their financial or psychological means or not. The movie is at its best when it focuses on this paternal theme, particularly when paired with the juxtaposition between Johnson and Bernthal’s characters, a.k.a. Dwayne n’ Shane, a.k.a. the Snitch Snatch Boys.

The Rock owns a construction company that he built from the ground up. He may have been a blue collar worker back in the day, but his elaborate mini-mansion suggests it’s been a long time since his last Larry the Cable Guy Show. Shane, on the other hand, just left the orange collar world of prison behind to try to pick up the pieces of his family life. He works for The Rock picking up bags of things and moving them over to other places and stuff I guess, and he keeps his head down because at the end of the day he’s not just moving those bags of things for The Rock, he’s moving them for his wife and son.

So naturally, when The Rock’s “Son of the Year” ends up in jail the two dads “dad out” like no dads have ever “dadded” before. They drive trucks full of drugs and go to buildings full of drugs and sneak around parking lots full of drugs. Sometimes they even use a wire and talk about drugs.

Oh yeah, and then three-quarters of the way through the movie they just say “screw it” and murder basically everybody with guns and trucks and bigger trucks.

Unfortunately none of those murders are very awesome because at the end of the day Snitch is something of a political science paper disguised as an action movie. It’s a portrait of a justice system that leaves every entity caught within it a slave to someone else. As a convict Shane has to answer to essentially any employer that will have him. The Rock has to answer to a local prosecutor, played by a cardboard cutout of Susan Sarandon, who is running for Senate. The campaigning prosecutor has to answer to the fickle whims of the voters. The voters have to answer to a war on drugs that is broken and arguably causes more harm to innocents than it does to drug runners. It’s all interesting stuff and it makes for a great discussion – but it doesn’t make for a very exciting action movie.

Snitch made me think, but it didn’t make me pump my fists and kick the person sitting in front of me in the back of the head then pantomime pumping and firing a shotgun into the air. Not even once.

Also, one time, The Rock cried.

Two dads. Best friends. Dwayne n' Shane.

Two dads. Best friends. Dwayne n’ Shane.

Also, all of the Spanish subtitles were written in caps lock! I don’t think I’m reading too far into anything when I state that the creative powers that be behind Snitch are out to perpetuate a “kill the gringo” Tex-Mex agenda.

I didn’t see any English subtitles in Snitch – and they certainly weren’t in all caps!

I’m sure Snitch thought it could pull the wool over our eyes by blinding us with the sweat glistening across Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s pulsating biceps, but you’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to sneak a new world order of linguistic hierarchy by me.

Nice try “Dwayne.”

It’s this kind of perceptiveness that leads me to believe that my 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative really is paying off and making me a better person. I mean, look at how good I perceived all of the things in that movie. I knew I was on the right track.

G.I. Joe Retaliation – here I come.

I mean seriously, have you seen that trailer with the Seven Nation Army dub step? I think there may have even been an El Camino in there!