Before Jon Bernthal’s captivating portrayal of Frank Castle in Daredevil‘s second season, Thomas Jane played the character in 2004’s The Punisher, a mostly faithful adaptation that dialed back the vigilante’s signature violence despite its R rating.
While not exactly a hit, the film grossed enough to warrant a sequel, and Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter – who was writing for the FX drama The Shield – was tapped to write the screenplay and bring Castle closer to his grittier comic book roots.
Sutter’s version never saw the light of day, eventually being reworked and retooled into Punisher: War Zone. During a recent chat with Looper, the prolific writer spoke candidly about the draft he submitted.
“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 end, I think they only kept one thing from my draft, and that was how Jigsaw becomes Jigsaw.”
Sutter recalls being proud of his draft, which he felt would “shake up” the typical comic book movie format. Producer Gale Anne Hurd, however, wasn’t receptive to many of his ideas.
“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. I was trying to expand the Marvel universe in a direction it should not have been expanded in.”
After taking some notes from his initial meeting, Sutter tried another pass on the script, but says that it soon became clear that he was “just not the guy.” Other writers were brought in to work on the film, and Sutter requested to have his name removed from the credits after reading a final draft.
“It was everything I was trying not to do. It was by the numbers, and it was everything I tried to shake up. It took me awhile to realize that, oh, that’s exactly what they wanted.”
Punisher: War Zone grossed less than a quarter of its predecessor, effectively putting an end to the character’s film prospects. It’s interesting to contemplate how differently things may have turned out if Sutter’s vision had been brought to life, but now the character is back under the Marvel banner, with a new Netflix series scheduled to premiere this year.
This story corrects the rating for 2004’s The Punisher.
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