Earlier this year, Season 2 of Daredevil delivered what fans had been clamoring to see for years: a badass, almost perfect version of The Punisher. Jon Bernthal’s (The Walking Dead) take on the character became a hit with comic book fans and Marvel didn’t waste any time in announcing that Frank Castle would be getting his very own Netflix series, and even less time to start filming.
But before Marvel finally knocked it out of the park with the character, the Punisher had a couple of mediocre film outings under his vigilante belt, with the best one being the 2004 Thomas Jane (The Expanse) version. The Punisher 2 was planned and Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Stutter was brought in to work on a sequel, working with Marvel and Gale Ann Hurd (who was a producer on the Punisher film at the time) to rewrite a script they already had. Being Stutter’s first script rewrite, things didn’t go exactly as Marvel wanted, so it was ultimately canned. Here’s what Stutter told Looper.
“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].”
Stutter explained that he wanted to bring more emotional depth to Marvel's anti-hero and that he believed Thomas Jane was the perfect actor to pull it off (I thought Jane was a pretty great Punisher and he is a good actor to boot). He even brought in a love interest for Frank Castle but that, too, was a no go.
“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.”
Obviously, that’s not the direction Marvel wanted to go in but Stutter got another pass at the script. In the end, Marvel decided not to move forward with his take and what we ended up getting in 2008 was Punisher: War Zone (for which Stutter isn't credited), with Ray Stevenson in the title role. When Stutter was asked if Marvel had at least given him some positive feedback as in “I wish we could do this, but we can't,” the Sons of Anarchy creator says he didn’t hear much of anything besides the negative.
“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 [Feige]…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.”
There you have it. Would you have liked to have seen Kurt Stutter’s take on Frank Castle/The Punisher on the big screen? Which version of the character do you guys prefer?