Marvel’s new series on Netflix has an 18 certificate, and with good reason. There is plenty of brutal violence in The Punisher, violence that is occasionally gratuitous and stretches credibility. For all that, it is a compelling watch and actually has… heart (a bloody and eratically beating one, but one that just about keeps going) . You see, the writers have made it all character-driven and there are no throw-away characters. Each protagonist and antagonist has a moral dilemma and a rationale for how they behave. We pity Frank Castle (the war vet whose family have been murdered) as much as we root for him as he seeks a vigilante’s vengeance. There are bigger themes explored too, including how far two human beings should risk trusting each other, how society uncaringly uses people, how lying can protect others, and so on. All in all, then, it’s well worth the viewer’s time.
It isn’t perfect, of course. In addition to the graphic and voyeuristic violence (no, it isn’t doing something clever with this), the plot tempo suffers in individual episodes and there is a lot of annoying repetition (presumably to remind dumber viewers of what’s going on). Yet such things are entirely forgivable when there are genuinely moving scenes, neat plot twists and great acting from Jon Bernthal in the lead (you might know him as the Deputy Sheriff in The Walking Dead), from Ebon Moss-Bachrach (a humorous techno-geek side-kick who keeps Frank Castle in touch with his humanity) and from Ben Barnes as the baddie.
Those who are coming to The Punisher just because they’re Marvel fans won’t be disappointed either. There is crossover with Daredevil via the Karen Page character and with Luke Cage via The Turk (a fave petty criminal of mine). Certain plot moments figure significantly in the Daredevil series, but they are told from a different perspective in The Punisher series.
The ‘mood’ of The Punisher series is far closer to the gritty and realistic Jessica Jones series than it is to anything like the hammy/cheesy Iron Fist or The Defenders. (That’s a good thing, believe me.) And the plotting is far, far better than in Luke Cage. And the issues explored are smarter than in Daredevil. So… The Punisher is a definite step forward in many ways. Check it out.
So, in the Netflix movie Bright, we follow a human cop (Will Smith) who is partnered with an orc cop. Orcs are generally despised, and the film starts out as some sort of allegory concerning modern race relations. Then everything swerves off into a thriller movie about corrupt cops wanting magic for themselves. They all die and then the movie becomes a chase action movie of sorts. You see, there are renegade elves who have a magic wand with which they could have raised the Dark Lord (who died two thousand years ago), but didn’t because the wand was stolen by another elf. The wand and pretty elf then have to be protected by Will and the orc. Will, fortunately enough, turns out to be the Chosen One of prophecy (NOT actually a spoiler because we are told at the beginning by a crazy naked man that Will is blessed) and pretty much the only human capable of wielding the wand. The pretty elf can also use the wand, but only knows one or two magic words, so is therefore limited. Happily, Will doesn’t need to know any magic words to use the wand, so uses the wand to kill the evil elf who wants the wand to raise the Dark Lord, but didn’t choose to when she’d had the wand before. What a brilliant plot! Utterly superb. A work of genius. Such clever twists. No cliches at all. Not a waste of Will Smith (who does his very best) or Noomi Rapace (the evil elf who gets about five lines in the whole film).
Sheesh. What a load of old toss. It’s even worse than the derivative book called Elven Sacrifice that I wrote when I was 14. Bright’s plot doesn’t even have a basic logic. The whole thing is bogged down with exposition, exposition that actually undoes any basic logic or continuity (the Dark Lord was defeated by a human army two thousand years ago? but that means we’re not in the real world? why then attempt to set it in our real world?) There is no characterisation to speak of, except for Will and his partner. The wand is a terrible ‘mcguffin’, which Will uses and then ‘drops’ and forgets about at the end. Kill me now. Has fantasy really come to this? Netflix, what have you done? After all your fine work with Star Trek Discovery, Mindhunter and The Good Place! Argh. Want my advice? Go watch the old sci-fi TV series Alien Nation. Far, far better.
Described by critics as a cross between ‘Monty Python and A Game of Thrones’, the new show Norsemen is a refreshing and subversive take on the current Viking vogue. It has an authentic setting (period, place and Norwegian actors) but then has characters discussing the importance of team-work, leadership skills and modern relationships, even as they raid, pillage and slaughter. The juxtaposition is dark and hilarious. It’s also refreshing and does a lot to highlight/expose the tired cliches of A Game of Thrones (the first book of which was written back in the 1990s, remember).
And it’s not all dumb – for there are strong echoes of the Beowulf tale, both in terms of plot and value-system. The concepts of ‘money’ and ‘art’ are alien to the Norsemen in the show, and provide hilarious moments as a Roman slave tries to explain the bizarre notions of ‘theatre’, ‘statues’ and ‘a creative director’. Such moments give the Norsemen a certain innocence and likeability but also serve to satirise the contrivances of modern life.
Each episode stands alone, but there is also a series arc concerning a cowardly, murderous Viking intent on stealing the throne from his brother. Implicitly, the show questions the nature of heroism, adequacy and masculinity. Gender roles are challenged as are issues of sexuality. But, don’t let that put you off! There’s still plenty of wanton violence and mindless brutality. Phew. They wouldn’t be real Vikings otherwise.
Definitely worth a look. It’s available on Netflix at the mo and scores 9 out of 10 from me. (I’m not giving it 10 because there aren’t any actual dragons.)