Right now, The Punisher is experiencing a bit of a renaissance thanks to Jon Bernthal’s critically-acclaimed performance as the character in Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil season 2. Plus, the character’s first ever standalone TV series is also currently in production. However, before all of that, the character (like many others) had been victim to multiple poor film adaptations and live-action iterations, with fans spending years wondering when and if they were ever going to get a version of Frank Castle on the big (or small) screen that felt deserving of the character’s complexities and comic book legacy.
Now, that’s not necessarily the fault of the actors who have portrayed the character previously, and there was even a time once, sometime between 2004 and 2008, when it seemed like there was a Punisher film in the works that had some serious potential. One that not only featured self-professed fan Thomas Jane reprising the role, but was also going to be based on a script by The Shield writer and Sons of Anarchy showrunner, Kurt Sutter.
Like it often does in Hollywood, though, that didn’t quite work out, and what was originally going to be The Punisher 2, a sequel to the Jane-led 2004 film, eventually became Lexi Alexander’s Punisher: War Zone, which saw Ray Stevenson playing the beloved character, and Sutter’s name nowhere in the end credits. While recently speaking with Looper, Sutter explained why his script didn’t quite work out with the execs at Marvel at the time, and why it ended up being changed:
“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.”
“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… 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 [in] 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.”
Now, on paper Sutter certainly seems like a perfect choice to write a Punisher film, even just by glancing at the kind of characters, tones, and violence he’s dealt with in shows like The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, The Bastard Executioner, and more. But at the same time, he’s also the kind of writer and artist who doesn’t seem like he would work well with heavy studio intervention and involvement in his projects – similar to artists like Edgar Wright, who have such a specific voice and tone that corralling them into one cohesive universe could be a fairly large undertaking.
Obviously, things seemed to have worked out well for both Sutter and Frank Castle, with the writer and creator coming off the success of a number of his more recent projects, most of which have been already mentioned, along with overseeing the creation of the announced Sons of Anarchy spinoff. Meanwhile, The Punisher has quickly become one of the most beloved live-action antiheroes that the comic book genre has ever seen, and in the TV universe that Marvel and Netflix have worked together to create, he’s able to live within the same dark and non-formulaic vision that someone like Sutter and fans of the comic books likely always envisioned him belonging in.
Daredevil seasons 1 & 2, Jessica Jones season 1, and Luke Cage season 1 are available now on Netflix. Iron Fist season 1 arrives on March 17, 2017. The Defenders and The Punisher debut at some point in 2017. Premiere dates for the newest seasons of Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Luke Cage have not yet been announced.