The slow boil and downcast vibe fit the skill set of its star, Jon Bernthal, who originated this version of the character in “Daredevil.” (Also crossing over is Deborah Ann Woll as the reporter Karen Page.) Mr. Bernthal does dour well, and he’s good at befuddled reactions and cloudy, churning anger. His expressive range doesn’t extend too far beyond that, but Castle doesn’t require much more.
In the post-rampage narrative of “The Punisher,” Castle is trying to recover from double traumas: the destruction of his family, and the lingering guilt from his mission in Afghanistan. A support group for veterans figures prominently, and when Castle isn’t talking about “the things we did over there,” he’s having recurring nightmares about his wife’s death and sledgehammering walls at a construction site deep into the night, like a really depressed John Henry.
The tropes of post-traumatic stress and recovery mesh with the topical elements of Mr. Lightfoot’s story, which are presented with more polish than nuance. Castle’s continuing struggle to decode his past — punctuated by those occasional eruptions of bone-crunching mayhem — plays out against a backdrop of enhanced interrogation, surveillance and the disaffection of embittered veterans, some of whom are eager to stage an insurrection to make America great again.
The action picks up as the season progresses, but “The Punisher” never quite gets in touch with the visceral roots of its material, something that all of the other Netflix-Marvel series do, no matter how much they distance themselves from their comic-book sources. It’s handsomely shot (on New York City locations) and smoothly assembled, and its naturalistic, psychological, more moody than pulpy approach may work for non-comics fans who don’t mind some gore with their procedural thrillers.
But if you want your Frank Castle to be a single-minded avenger, heed the words of one of his fellow construction workers: “He ain’t all there.”