The mid-2000's were an interesting time for comic book movies. X-Men and Spider-Man blew the door wide open, but it took a few years for other studios to catch up and get the hang of making the formula work for themselves. In 2004, a Punisher movie starring Thomas Jane was released and did decent at the box office, so, a sequel was developed by Sons of Anarchy showrunner Kurt Sutter, but it never came to be. Now, he has finally revealed some details about it and why it was rejected.
Kurt Sutter recently spoke with Looper about the project that never saw the light of day. The Punisher 2, as it would have simply been called, didn't sit well with the Marvel execs at the time. Here is his somewhat lengthy explanation of what happened with the project.
"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."
So basically, it seems like, at the time, the thinking with the Marvel team was that things needed to be somewhat two-dimensional. Hollywood seems to have learned their lesson, though, because many of the superhero TV shows and movies that work the best have very layered characters and performances. That is part of the reason Jon Bernthal's turn as The Punisher on Daredevil season 2 was met with such praise, which led to him getting his own show that is set to premiere in 2017. After a few failed attempts, the system finally seemed to get the character of Frank Castle right.
As Kurt Sutter also said, sometimes there simply isn't enough time in a movie to layer stuff in. That is why things like Daredevil, and Punisher within that series, work so well. They have enough time to develop things. Outside of the 2004 Thomas Jane version of The Punisher, there was a glorious failure of a Punisher movie that starred Dolph Lundgren in 1989. Also, another Punisher movie was eventually made following Kurt Sutter's rejected script in 2008 starring Ray Stevenson called Punisher: War Zone. Still, none of those movies quite nailed it. Many would argue nobody got close. Thomas Jane is actually a huge fan of the character and starred in an unofficial short movie called The Punisher: Dirty Laundry in 2012 that was much more true to the character. Prior to Jon Bernthal in Daredevil, that was probably the best version of Frank Castle we had.
Things ultimately worked out for both Kurt Sutter and The Punisher. Sutter wound up writing for the FX series The Shield and then went on to be the showrunner for Sons of Anarchy, which was tremendously successful. As for Punisher, the Netflix series will debut at some point in 2017, but the streaming service has yet to announce an official release date.