The Punisher is a killing machine bent on revenge. He watched as his family became collateral damage in a mob war and vowed to wipe out organized crime. He didn’t have a badge, but was a battle trained ex-Marine with a full arsenal of killing skills.
Long before he was a Netflix star, The Punisher, created by writer Gerry Conway and artist John Romita, Sr. for Marvel Comics in the ’70s was first brought to life on the big screen by Dolph Lundgren in 1989 and was then by Thomas Jane in the 2004 film The Punisher. A sequel, The Punisher 2, was written by Kurt Sutter, the creator of Sons of Anarchy who was writing for The Shield on FX at the time. Sutter’s script was shelved and Marvel went with Punisher: War Zone, directed by Lexi Alexander in 2008 and starring Ray Stevenson in the title role.
Kurt Sutter wasn’t a particularly big fan of the character, and in a 2016 interview with Looper he explained that his screenplay was “really just career stuff,” but he wanted to stay true to the character.
“I had a couple of general meetings with Gale Anne Hurd, producer of The Walking Dead,” he said. “I was very new to the rewrite game. In fact, that was my first rewrite, at least in terms of features…I’m not a guy who really can stay inside the lines very well.”
He also had a complicated relationship with formula.
“With features, it’s first twist within 15 minutes, plot shift at the half-hour, you know the deal,” Sutter said. “And it’s cool, and it works, and that’s what it is. But then you take a company like Marvel, that has a billion-dollar corporation based on a formula—a very specific formula—that they know generates income. And Kevin (Feige) is a super intelligent guy, but he’s a businessman, and he knows what works and he knows what doesn’t work. 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.”
Frank Castle has a simple philosophy: If you kill, you die. If you rape, you die. If you deal drugs to kids, you die. Litter at your own peril. Sutter plumbed the depths of Castle’s psyche and got too deep for the two dimensional expectations of Marvel Studios.
“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!”
Sutter was a Marvel fan, but still new to the comic book mentality. “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,” he said. “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.”
The studio didn’t toss out everything. And one important piece made it into Punisher: War Zone. “In the end, I think they only kept one thing from my draft, and that was how Jigsaw becomes Jigsaw,” Sutter explains. “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!”