Before Marvel hit a homerun with the Punisher as part of their successful Daredevil series, the character's film history was mostly subpar. Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter was at one point working with Marvel on his own version of the character, pitched as a sequel to the 2004 Punisher film starring Thomas Jane.
Sutter discussed the canceled project with Looper recently, and why it went quickly off the rails. Sutter was actually brought in to do rewrites on the script they already had, and being that it was his first rewrite job, he might have gotten a bit overzealous.
"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! And I'm a Marvel fan, but I was not a comic book kid. 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]."
As for what he was trying to do, Sutter wanted to bring some emotional weight to the character, and he knew Jane had the acting chops to pull it off. He also introduced a love interest for Castle, but neither aspect was in line with Marvel's vision for the movie.
"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. 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. And that's why I had the connection with the female character: because I was able to explore that pain through that relationship. 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."
Sutter got a second pass at the script, but by then the decision was already essentially made. "You know, if there was, I don't think that's something that would ever have been vocalized to me. Look, it's not like I turned in the script and it was written in a different language. I mean, there were parts of it they liked. I think they realized what I was trying to do…and how wrong that was [Laughs]. So they tried to guide me back, and like I said, I did another pass, but poor Gale Anne Hurd—I think she's the one who sort of championed me in that process. And Kevin…We were sitting at a big table, and I think she started glancing over at Kevin, going [whispering under breath] "I don't know what happened!" Anyway, I'm sure there was good feedback, but as a writer, all I ever hear is bad feedback! And I think at that point, Marvel was already…not quite the machine it is now, but it was finding its legs. And I think there was just a process that was going down, and there were a lot of people who were sort of being let go and given producing gigs. They started cleaning house a little bit at that time and managing the IPs in a different way, and Kevin pretty much led that charge."
Since that time the character has seen a resurgence thanks to the Netflix Marvel universe, and Sutter believes the character is a better fit for television anyway. The character will most likely have a cameo in the upcoming Defenders series and will be getting his own solo series sometime in 2017.
MORE: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Home Release Date Rumored / Best-Selling Manga Of 2016 / Halloweentown's Kimberly J. Brown Remembers Debbie Reynolds / Todd McFarlane Shares How Stan Lee Inspired His Career / Hollywood Reacts To Debbie Reynolds' Untimely Death / What Does That Dark Knight III: The Master Race Twist Mean For The Future Of Frank Miller's Franchise