I would absolutely hate to be Frank Castle (played by Thomas Jane in this film). Not only would I have to watch my family killed, be shot at multiple times and become an alcoholic trying to erase bad memories, but I’d also have to endure being portrayed in a really bad movie. That would be the worst of it, because it would mean I’d waste two hours of the lives of the people watching it. And even though I sulk all the time, I’d care about this.

So, yes, Thomas Jane does portray our hero who eventually becomes someone named “The Punisher”. Although he only refers to himself that way, and only does so at the very end of the film, so I can only assume that this is an origin story for this character. Whatever. While he and his family are on vacation after his retirement from the police, (we see his last mission to begin the film), they are ambushed and shot by a bunch of people in black getups. All of his family winds up dead, and he’s shot in the chest and blown up. But he survives, somehow. And then he becomes sad and an alcoholic but still manages to be sober whenever an action scene is about to take place. Funny how all of that works, isn’t it?

That’s how The Punisher sets out. Frank wants revenge, even if he wants to call it “punishment”. There’s an entire line devoted to making sure that the audience knows that it’s not supposed to be “revenge”. But the set-up is all there: He ended up getting someone killed; the father of that someone, Howard Saint (John Travolta), tried to kill him and ended up killing his family; he wants to kill Howard Saint and his family. It’s a vicious cycle that should end when one of these two people dies. But man, does it ever take a long time to get there.

And when it does, when Saint and Castle stand toe-to-toe, as you know they will, it’s one of the most anti-climactic fight scenes I can remember seeing. You know Western standoffs? Where both characters have to reach for a gun that’s on their belt, and whoever gets their gun and shoots it first wins with an instant-killing bullet? That’s the kind of thing that happens here, except the characters stand there for maybe two seconds maximum, before they make their move. There’s no tension here, which defeats the entire purpose of the scene.

For an action film, especially an action film based on a comic book, The Punisher does have good characterization. We understand why Saint wanted Frank Castle dead in the first place, and we can actually sympathize with him — almost more than we can with Castle. Sure, Saint isn’t exactly abiding by the law, but since his son was just killed thanks to what Castle did, we can comprehend why he’d like payback. (And it’s not even his idea to kill Castle’s family, it’s his wife’s, who is played by Laura Harring.)

There are also some colorful side-characters. After our hero miraculously survives being shot and blown up, he goes to an apartment building that is populated by three other people. They all get screen time to develop and grow on us, so when the bad guys inevitably find where Castle’s located, we don’t want to see them get caught in the crossfire.

Of the action scenes, I’ll say this: They’re entertaining. While they aren’t as plentiful as I was expecting, they kept me watching and I enjoyed watching people get shot and stabbed even if it seemed like it was impossible to kill anyone. Castle himself takes several shots that would kill a normal man, but then again, he isn’t a normal man. He even gets stabbed and thrown through walls in one fight scene, but after lying down for what we can assume is only an hour or two, he gets up and is ready to storm the castle, so to speak.

Now, The Punisher is a very dark movie. Castle doesn’t smile after his family dies, the villains of the film are all gloomy and angry, and the entire film is painted with the brightness filter turned down. But there are a couple of scenes with levity, mostly coming from our boy Frank trying to break up the pairing of Saint and his right-hand man, Quentin (Will Patton). The lengths he goes to and the absurdity of the “how” makes the film almost worth seeing just for these parts.

But, alas, this is not the case. The movie is just too dull and drab to be worth recommending. While the action scenes are good and the character development is more than we’d expect, there’s not enough actual entertainment to make it worth watching. Maybe if its runtime was cut down by 30 or so minutes, then we’d remove the superfluous and have an enjoyable action film. But even then, the film’s tone would probably get in the way of us having fun, because it was clear that none of the characters were enjoying the experience.

The Punisher is ultimately not very good. There’s a good film in here somewhere, but it doesn’t get to shine through when everything is so dark and dreary. It has its good moments, and has a surprising amount of characterization, but it’s not all that enjoyable to watch. There are a few parts where it drags, the beginning of the film especially, and it is also incredibly anti-climactic. Watching it might be more of a punishment than anything that actually happens in the film.