This past year, Marvel finally found a way to make The Punisher work on film. After no less than three previous filmed attempts, and that includes the horrid 1989 version starring Dolph Lundgren, Punisher is here to stay, albeit on TV. The Punisher series on Netflix will likely launch sometime next year, but there was a TV genius that once tried to bring a little flair to Punisher, although he was foiled by the producers and the studio in the end. Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter once wrote a couple of drafts of The Punisher, but despite the skill he demonstrated later with this biker gang show, he found no patrons from his vision.
“So I turn in this draft, and I’m, like, ‘Aw, yeah, I’m shakin’ up Marvel, man!’ And literally, there were people—including Gale Ann Hurd—who were, like, ‘Uh…’ They didn’t know what the f— happened! And it’s not like I didn’t do the things I said I was going to do, but…I also did a lot of other things!” Sutter told Looper. Apparently, Sutter was hired to write a couple of drafts of the script for the 2004 Punisher starring Thomas Jane as Frank Castle, an ex-FBI agent that launches a one-man war on the crime lord that killed his whole family.
“And I’m a Marvel fan, but I was not a comic book kid,” Sutter continued. “I didn’t really get into that whole world until about 15 years ago, which is when I started getting into graphic novels. And that happened in Paris, because their graphic novel industry is decades beyond ours! But I didn’t realize that you can’t take liberties with some of the characters and some of the traits, because they are what they are. They’re very derivative, they’re stereotyped, but this is the guy that does this, and this is the guy who does this… So they’re two-dimensional for a reason: that’s the purpose they serve. So I was trying to expand the Marvel Universe in a direction it should not have been expanded in [Laughs].”
So what was Sutter trying to do exactly? The writer said that he was attempting to add a little more emotional weight to the character, and not just make Castle a mindless killing machine. Sutter also added a love interest for Castle as a way to further explore the loss of his family as he tries to make an emotional connection with someone else.
“Doing the research on it, he’s such an iconic character and really pretty much every vigilante since has some piece of that, but what I think I was trying to do… I’d known Thomas Jane a little bit, and I thought he was a great actor and had a lot of emotional depth that maybe some other action stars may not have,” Sutter explained. “So I think I was trying to write to the emotionality of this dude and motivate the absurd violence with some kind of meaning. I don’t mean that I was, like, f—ing Gandhi [Laughs]. But I was just trying to root it a little bit more in the mental anguish that he went through to justify it, and to take a little bit of that journey. [T]hat’s why I had the connection with the female character: because I was able to explore that pain through that relationship.”
Some of that is still in the finished film, with a trio of lost souls that live in the same tenement as Castle, but plumbing the psychological depths of Castle was not what the producers wanted for this Punisher to be about. “So I think that’s what I was trying to do: humanize him a little bit more. But it’s the kind of thing where there’s only X amount of time the movies, so you have moments of that, but you can’t really have a subplot that explores that kind of thing. Not in a summer blockbuster or Marvel picture.”
Punisher, and Thomas Jane, still has its supporters, but it seems likely now that the Punisher that will be remembered is the Jon Bernthal version in the Netflix-Marvel series. As for Sutter, he’ll probably be okay.