While Lionsgate’s 2004 adaptation of the Marvel comic book series The Punisher failed to set the box office alight, the film has gained a cult following of sorts, while many fans were particularly impressed by Thomas Jane’s portrayal of the gun-toting vigilante Frank Castle.
Following the film’s release, Lionsgate spent several years developing a sequel to the film, with Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter coming on board to rewrite the original script from Jonathan Hensleigh, and Sutter has now shared a few details on his involvement with the project, his take on the character, and the reasons behind its rejection
“I had a couple of general meetings with Gale Anne Hurd, producer of The Walking Dead, and we had talked about a couple of things,” Sutter tells Looper. “She was a producer on the Punisher film, and they had gotten a draft of the script, so they brought me in, and I pitched what some of the fixes were. But I was very new to the rewrite game. In fact, that was my first rewrite, at least in terms of features. You sort of pitch what your ideas are, they tell you what they like and what they don’t like, and then they say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and they cut you loose… So they hand off this project to me, and my whole thing was, “I’m just gonna f— up the formula! I’m gonna mix it up! I’m gonna make it different!” Thinking that was a good idea. And not, like, “f— up the formula” in a Tarantino kind of way, but just in terms of what was expected.”
“There are a few things I remember,” he recalls. “I remember there was a woman involved who was sort of the handler of the cop who gets killed, and there’s a relationship that develops between her and the Punisher. I had all these things that they basically didn’t ask for, but in the process of writing…I mean, that’s just how I write! I’ll get inside the characters and I’ll start writing, and I’ll be, like, ‘Oh, f—, that is awesome!’ And the story will come alive for me, and I’ll start jamming. But in the end, I think they only kept one thing from my draft, and that was how Jigsaw becomes Jigsaw. Because the original had it that he crawls through a window of a church or something, and I’m the one who had the mob brought in, along with the recycling thing, where he falls into the recycling machine and gets all f—ed up. But I think that’s the only thing they actually kept from my draft!”
“So I turn in this draft, and I’m, like, ‘Aw, yeah, I’m shakin’ up Marvel, man!'” Sutter continues. “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! 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.”
Following Sutter’s departure from the project, Lionsgate opted to reboot with Punisher: War Zone, bringing in Ray Stevenson as a replacement for Thomas Jane. And of course, the rights ultimately ended up reverting back to Marvel, who introduced the character into the Marvel Cinematic Universe last year with Jon Bernthal taking on the role in Netflix’s Daredevil.