The Punisher is one of Marvel’s darkest, grittiest, most violent characters. The anti-hero operates out of grief, anger, and vengeance. His willingness to kill anybody on his path seems just a bit too dark for the MCU so far. Still, Marvel started incorporating darker, more violent characters and issues in the MCU’s Phase 4. So, when will the Punisher be in the MCU?
The Punisher will most likely return to the MCU as a part of the Midnight Sons, be it in Doctor Strange 2, Moon Kight, Blade, or some project later in Phase 4 or Phase 5 of the MCU. It needs to be a darker affair, though, because the nature of the character is dark and violent.
Fans are calling for Marvel to reintroduce Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle because he had done an outstanding job in the Netflix series. However, Bernthal is interested in returning only if the character is “done right” and if the MCU can keep the dark, challenging tone for such a tormented character as The Punisher. Let’s see what the MCU can do about that.
The Punisher’s Backstory
For those who are unacquainted with the character, I’ll quickly recap who the Punisher is and why it would be so challenging to introduce him into the MCU.
To start, you should keep in mind that there was never an R-rated movie or TV series in the MCU. The standard is PG-13. That doesn’t go hand-in-hand with what the Punisher is and what he represents. Even Jon Bernthal’s version was violent, aggressive, and unremorseful, killing criminals and others in his path like it was nothing. I’ll expand on that later.
So, who is the Punisher? Frank Castle was a Captain in the US Marine Corps, serving four tours, learning survival techniques, guerilla and urban warfare, etc. His superiors didn’t like him, so they frequently put Frank in situations where they thought he’d die, but the spectacular marksman always came out alive.
During his leave, Frank decided to take his family – wife and two kids – on a nice walk through Central Park. However, they ran into a mob killing instead. Worried about witnesses, the mafia killed Castle’s entire family cold-bloodedly while he survived the incident.
He ought to testify in court to identify the shooters, but he was never allowed to, as the police and the court were heavily connected with the mafia. The horrible trauma led to a ton of grief, anger, and hatred.
Castle vowed to spend his life unraveling the murder of his family and killing every single person involved in their death and the injustice that never saw the perpetrators punished. Frank took on the Punisher mantle and started his vengeance spree.
In most superheros’ eyes, the Punisher is a villain that needs to be stopped. However, he often serves as an anti-hero, even teaming up with certain heroes such as Daredevil or even Spider-Man.
His methods are brutal, and his morals are questionable, but that’s who the Punisher is – a war veteran suffering from immeasurable grief, severe PTSD, and rage that he can’t control. His life turned him into a beast, and even if he somehow managed to do what he planned and kill everybody involved in his family’s death, it could never fill the emptiness inside him.
Is The Punisher TV Series In The MCU?
Earlier, I’ve told you that the MCU never had an R-rated project. Well, that’s not entirely true because The Punisher series Is, in fact, a part of the MCU. All the Marvel Netflix shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Defenders, Iron Fist, The Punisher) are indeed in the same universe as the main MCU.
They refer to some major events in the movies, like the Battle of New York, the “big green guy,” clearly referring to the Hulk and many more snippets that indicate they are in the MCU.
However, the shows are usually contained to New York action, and the plots don’t really cross paths with any action from the larger MCU, so we tend to forget that they are in the same universe.
The Punisher series is rated TV-MA, which is the TV series equivalent to the movie R-rating. That means the MCU already has an R-rated project behind them. The question is, are they willing to implement the same amount of violence and gore in the larger MCU? I’m not sure, but let’s see what their options are.
When Will The Punisher Be In The MCU?
Before I even get into the possibility of the Punisher getting back into the larger MCU, we need to answer one question – does the character fit into what the MCU is doing? Well, not completely, but some projects could benefit from having the Punisher appear immensely.
First, let’s see why the Punisher doesn’t fit the larger MCU. Almost every movie and TV show within the MCU canon has been rated PG-13. Never have they had an R-rated project (apart from the Punisher series itself, which is in the same universe as the canonical MCU, but not quite a part of it).
Frank Castle is violent, dark, aggressive, and brutal. He’s suffering from incredible grief, emotional trauma, post-warfare PTSD, and mental issues that make Frank a very tormented individual. For the Punisher to work, the character must retain that brutality, violence, and other issues I’ve mentioned.
That’s why fans have a hard time seeing the real Punisher appear in the Disney-owned MCU. If the character has to be watered-down to a PG-13 level, then it’s better not to include him at all. As much as we love Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, and Jon loves playing the part, he said himself that he doesn’t want to be a part of a soft, watered-down version of the Punisher:
“It needs to be a level of darkness. I think if there’s any let up on that character, you do a disservice to the character, to every iteration of the character, to every comic book that’s come before, and to all of the unbelievable fans of the character. This character means so much to people in the military. So like I said before, it’s not about whether you do the character; it’s about whether you can do it right, and I’m only interested in doing it right.”
So, is there a place for such a dark character in the larger MCU? Well, there might be; at least, I hope so. You see, the MCU’s Phase 4 started tackling more serious social issues, making the stories darker and the characters more imperfect.
WandaVision tackled grief and anger. Loki tackled redemption and self-awareness. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier opened up on racism and social injustice. And now, it seems that the MCU is taking a much darker turn into the more horror-esque corners of the Marvel Universe.
Morbius is coming out soon – a dark, vampire-like character who’s more of an anti-hero than a superhero. A new version of Blade is coming out soon, and we know how bloody the vampire hunter can get. Moon Knight is hitting the small screens very soon, too, and he’s also a very violent, deeply mentally disturbed character.
Even Doctor Strange 2 will go deeper into the horror-like atmosphere than we’ve ever seen before in the MCU. With all that being said, it is clear that the room for a character like the Punisher is opening up.
If you asked would the Punisher fit into the MCU Phase 3, it would be a resounding “no.” But now, with Phase 4 and 5 turning into a much darker, more violent affair – at least with some of the projects – it seems that Frank Castle could easily get an introduction himself.
There are many rumors about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness gathering the Midnight Sons together and introducing the team into the MCU. The Midnight sones were a dark group of heroes and anti-heroes formed by Doctor Strange to fight Lilith, the Mother of Demons, and other threats later, such as the Hell-lord Mephisto.
Moon Knight is coming out in late March, and Blade is already announced, while Black Knight appeared in the Eternals. Ghost Rider was rumored to make an appearance in Doctor Strange 2 as well, which means a Punisher appearance would virtually complete the comics Midnight Sons Team.
If we go with that logic, the Punisher might also appear in the Moon Knight series. They worked together in the comics, and one could see how the darkness of both characters could gel together nicely in the series.
If Frank Castle were to appear in Blade, it would allow him to be completely unhinged and use all the violence, gore, and aggression that make Frank Castle the Punisher. I believe that would be the best spot for the Punisher to appear. However, the MCU doesn’t have to go all-out with gore to keep the Punisher “dark,” as Jon Bernthal said.
They can keep the darkness without too much gore, as they have done before with characters like John Walker (USAgent) and his shield-slamming scene, Ronin and his killing spree, etc. You can create a dark character without the gore. Hardcore Punisher fans might not be thrilled about it, but I can see it work.
If they can do something like that with Frank Castle, it would open new windows for the character to appear in other MCU projects, too. For instance, Jon Bernthal expressed a desire to work with Tom Holland, so the Punisher in a Spider-Man movie is not out of the question.
The two actors worked together in 2018 on a movie called Pilgrimage, and it seems they had a great time:
“I’m in love with Tom Holland, you know what I mean? That’s my dude. (…) That being said, there’s one character and one actor that I just have the utmost respect for in the Marvel Universe, and without a question, it’s Tom.”
Spider-Man movies are usually PG-13, created for all audiences, including kids, but who knows? With the darker, more socially challenged approach that the MCU is taking in this particular Phase, perhaps even a Punisher/Spider-Man collaboration isn’t out of the question somewhere in the future.