It has been long enough now since Seasons 1 and 2 of The Punisher aired on Netflix. If you still have not watched the show and are worried about spoilers, read on at your own risk. You have been warned. Is it possible for fiction to be realistic? Do Hollywood writers get an automatic pass when for getting it wrong? For this piece we will examine how Hollywood scriptwriters disgraced The Punisher.
As true fans of the character will be aware of, The Punisher first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man as an antagonist, a side character, in issue #129 in 1974. Side note: if you have a mint copy, it will fetch you north of $5000 online. Frank Castle was introduced as a USMC combat-veteran. Naturally, the most recent conflict at that time was the Vietnam War. The stand alone Punisher comics did not hit the shelves until mid-1980’s. Fast forward to today, Marvel and Netflix introduced The Punisher to the newest generation as a USMC veteran of the current Global War on Terror. Just as he did in the comic books, Frank Castle spent time alongside Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, before branching out with his own story.
Everyone Loves Nostalgia and a Good Vigilante
For viewers advanced in age, such as I, the revision of our favorite comic book heroes and their appearance on television was an easy sell. When Castle appeared on the Daredevil show we were excited. When the stand alone series was announced, we looked forward with giddy delight to the release date. The Punisher character feature in Daredevil was the Frank Castle we all remembered, with the exception of the modernization from the 1970’s. The vigilante with a code of honor, Castle executed judgement and sentence on evil men. The Punisher’s sentence was final, unlike that of a Daredevil or a Spider-Man who handed the bad guys over to the police in either a bruised or sticky condition. Those who crossed Frank Castle did not get bailed out or released from prison early for good behavior.
The creators of The Punisher freely admitted that they drew heavily from Don Pendelton’s “The Executioner” series of paperback fiction and the main character, Mack Bolan. I consumed Mack Bolan/Executioner books when I was in my teen and even into my twenties. The audience cheers characters like Frank Castle and Mack Bolan because they do the job no one else will do. They execute vengeance for the innocent. This was an extremely popular theme in the 1970’s when crime in cities like New York was out of control and citizens feared to walk the streets or ride the subway. Don’t believe me? Charles Bronson starred in Death Wish, a movie about vigilante justice in 1974. The movie grossed over $22 million. Calculated for today, that would be a box office of over $124 million.
Hollywood Ignorance and Apathy
I don’t know what it is about modern Hollywood screenwriting that virtually dooms every season after the first. Daredevil Season 1 on Netflix was, at least in the opinion of most fans, a very well done production. Vincent D’onofrio as the King Pin was an award-worthy performance. Personally, I think it was the role he was born to play. Then, Season 2 of Daredevil hit and the character and plot inconsistencies punched the viewer in the face like an our of control Leon Spinks. Karen, who snatched up a gun and killed Wesley, becomes anti-gun all of the sudden. Then later she changes her mind and starts carrying a gun. Foggy, the lovable goofball, suddenly becomes the moral compass and responsible partner. Hollywood’s schizophrenic need to swap directors for every episode created massive plot and character contradiction. It was as though the left hand was ignorant of what the right did last week. The saving grace of Daredevil Season 2 was the Frank Castle/Punisher storyline. We ate the excrement sandwich that was Daredevil Season 2 in order to get to what we really wanted; The Punisher Season 1.
While some purists might have had a problem with the current deviation from the original Punisher story; Billy Russo started out as a mafia trigger man, not a Special Forces operator, I understood the need to modernize the tale. All in all, The Punisher Season 1 was respectable. Though you might have to wonder how many times Frank would have to warn Micro about leaving the lair. Agent Madani, who was seriously annoying and self-righteous from the beginning, turned out to be tolerable. Also, despite her schizophrenic personality in Daredevil, any time Karen Page showed up on The Punisher it was like a breath of fresh air.
Then came Season 2. Apparently satisfied that they had made the sale, the writers just quit trying. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always good to see Frank Castle beating up a bully in a bar or shooting a mafia goon in the face. We begin with Frank on the road. He has put all of the vigilante work behind him and he just wants to be left alone. But, can the world just leave Frank alone? Noooooo, and that is what we expect.
The plot gets cloudy and unbelievable almost immediately after episode one. Amy, the misguided petty thief and blackmailer, who has not one person left in the world that she can trust, besides Frank, continuously lies to him and tries to escape and break off on her own. This despite the fact that she is literally being hunted down by the mysterious preacher. Sure, that makes sense. Also, in a world of openly gay politicians, we are expected to believe that forces are at work willing to murders dozens or more, if that’s what it takes, to keep a gay secret. What secret is that? A black and white photo of a senator kissing another man at a funeral. Dafuq?
Of course, this is a great time for typical Hollywood Christian bashing. The only Christians in the show are hypocrites at best and evil at worst. The hero is their gay son. Plot lesson: gay good, Christian bad. But that whole plot line takes more time than one might believe to be explained. It’s like they spent the entire season explaining a plot point that could have been done in one episode.
To be quite honest, I was excited about The Punisher Season 2, but by episode 3 I was a bit bored with it and truthfully, the plot was getting confusing and annoying simultaneously. I stepped away from the show for about six months and then, starved for anything decent, I returned and finished it. Again, everyone likes to watch vigilante justice dished out by Frank Castle, but the surrounding plot lines and inconsistencies the writers included were tiresome.
As someone who has carried a gun on numerous continents professionally for three decades, experienced combat, dealt with dead, dying, and severely injured people, the lack of a genuine military or firearms technical advisor on set was obvious. Well, it was obvious that, with or without a technical advisor, the writers had their narrative and were just going to go with that. In no particular order, allow me to point out the errors that bugged or bothered me.
Curtis, the combat corpsman who has saved innumerable lives, decides to shoot the veterans-gone-bad in the legs with his .308 Winchester rifle, “just to stop them”. First, no corpsman or medic with combat experience thinks a .308 Win. or 7.62 NATO cartridge is somehow less than lethal because it is fired into a leg. When Curtis realizes that he has shot through a femoral artery (Gee, there are fat arteries in legs, who knew?) of one of the men who was seconds earlier trying to kill him, he pulls off his belt to try and make a tourniquet. What?! The US military has been issuing ready-made, purpose-designed tourniquets to our troops since shortly after the beginning of GWOT. The idea that a seasoned combat corpsman, who has myriad battlefield saves to his credit, would not have a trauma kit or TQ on his person is insulting to all of the genuine medics and corpsmen out there. I call this one ignorance and apathy. The writers either don’t know or don’t care or both.
Next, the Year of the Press Check. Who in the H-E double hockeysticks decided that Frank and all of his buddies had to press check their pistols and rifles every ten seconds? They press check every time they pull a gun out, even if it has been stuck in a waistband for hours. Did Frank think that the round he chambered, before he put the 1911 in his waistband, some how disappeared, disintegrated or dissolved? Who told the screenwriters that actual fighters stop in the middle of a gun fight and press check their guns? The constant press checking became like I dripping faucet. You could play a press check drinking game. Though, depending on the episode, you might die of alcohol poisoning. Remember all the deaths from every time someone on the Luke Cage show said “Harlem” drinking game? Let us not forget the “Hell’s Kitchen” drinking game from Daredevil. Those poor misguided souls. Of course, in episode 13, Frank picks up the Kriss Vector submachine gun and pulls the trigger on an empty chamber. I guess he should have press checked it.
How about, gun carriers who don’t know how to carry guns? Let’s go back to Curtis and Frank, both seasoned combat veterans, Frank more so but still, neither one of them owns a holster. Curtis is constantly fidgeting with large and heavy M1911 that he keeps tucked in the small of his back held in place by only a belt and waistband. Frank, despite all his skill and experience, apparently has an inbred distaste for holsters. Perhaps when he was young a holster molested him. We apparently will never know. I do, however, know this, people who actually carry guns use holsters to keep them secure and attached to their bodies. Yes, I understand the battlefield pickup where you might have to just grab a gun off of the ground, but Frank and Curtis had ample time to purchase holsters for their M1911A1 .45 acp pistols.
Next we have Special Agent Madani, a seasoned veteran with overseas tours in combat zones. Agent Madani uses a cheap $10 plastic holster for her massive SIG duty pistol. I guess the Homeland Security budget was too tight for a duty-quality holster. Toward the end of Season 2, we witness Agent Madani enter her apartment and immediately remove her gun/holster combination and set it on her nightstand. Of course she did. That’s what all experienced gun carriers do. They play the on again/off again game with their pistols. Shockingly, Billy Russo walks out of the bedroom with Madani’s pistol in hand. Someone needs to introduce Hollywood to a good holster company, and a good technical advisor.
Of course there are other unrealistic, miraculous circumstances. Despite receiving multiple bullet wounds to the abdomen, Billy Russo can leave a trail of blood like a stuck hog, walk to a back alley surgeon, have the surgeon throw him in a dumpster (still bleeding), walk (still bleeding) to the recreational hall where Curtis counsels vets, and then sit there (still bleeding) waiting for Curtis, surprise it’s Frank, to show up, and somehow NOT bleed to death.
Frank and John Pilgrim can beat each other about the head and shoulder with steel car parts innumerable times and neither dies of the massive concussions and brain trauma that would happen if you got hit in the head just once with a discarded piece of drive shaft. I guess adrenaline covered up the concussions and brain swelling.
NYPD Detective Sergeant Mahoney, despite knowing that Frank Castle was set up in Season 1 and saved numerous people from a suicide bomber AND who Frank could have killed but spared and saved his life more than once, constantly drones on about arresting Frank. Mahoney an NYPD Sergeant, not exactly a high ranking official, feels that he has the juice and authority to threaten to arrest a Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge, for what, lying to him?
How about giving a teenage girl a sawed-off 12 gauge shotgun using high-brass shells as her primary defensive tool? Frank would have to know that the felt recoil from that gun would be severe and painful, even for a grown man. Of course, when Amy finally gets a chance to fire the hand cannon, she is only able to wound Pilgrim in the leg.
Can fiction be realistic and can we hold true to real world facts, despite telling a made up story? The late Tom Clancy was one of the great ones when it came blending military and firearms realism with a fictional story. W.E.B. Griffin was also a master at blending historical reality and genuine people in his fiction tales of heroes and villains.
Unlike Hollywood screenwriters living in their comfortable Los Angeles bubble, viewing the world through prism of a laptop, men like Ernest Hemingway wrote honestly and factually, even in fiction. Hemingway lived life, he traveled, took risks, hunted, fished, and even shot sharks with a submachine gun. Hunter S. Thompson, with his gonzo journalism, did not just sit behind a desk and pontificate, he went out and experienced life.
It is possible to produce stories, works of fiction, that still hold true to the practical and physical reality of the world. However, to do that takes time, effort, and genuine experience. Minus the previous, Hollywood screenwriters will continue to produce sloppy, inconsistent, and unrealistic tripe.
Nicholas Orr writes from 30 years of real world experience. His fiction novels are based upon genuine events and circumstances. If you are in the mood for action, adventure and a bit of romance, take a hard look at The Operator series. These books are enjoyed by courageous men and strong women worldwide.