Though he's experiencing a new creative boom thanks to the efforts of Daredevil and Jon Bernthal, the Punisher -- like many superheroes -- had his share of troubles on screen in the past. The character had three movies made about him, each underwhelming or failing to produce the right adventure for Marvel's top anti-hero. After 2004's The Punisher, starring Thomas Jane, Marvel was planning a direct sequel to the film and hired writer Kurt Sutter to pen the script. At the end of the day, Marvel rejected Sutter's script, and the writer remembers the process of working with the company.
In an in-depth interview with Looper, Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy, The Shield) chatted about his time writing the script for Punisher 2 and how it all eventually went downhill. Sutter chalks the reasons up to his inexperience in rewrites (The Punisher 2 was his first one) and not seeing what Marvel already had planned for the character. He explained:
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.
As Sutter says himself, he's never been one for coloring in the lines. He wanted to shake up the formula of what is typically expected from superhero movies, not realizing that it wasn't what Marvel wanted to do. Sutter reported to Gale Anne Hurd, an eventual Walking Dead producer, and a pre-Iron Man Kevin Feige, who Sutter remembers was "a super intelligent guy" who knew what worked and what didn't work. Sutter delivered everything he said he would in the script, but with a bunch of extra stuff that Marvel had no idea about.
What was this extra stuff, you may ask? Sutter said:
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. ... 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.
He's certainly right that blockbusters don't get a lot of time to devote to the finer things when there's punching to be done, but we've come a long way since the bygone era of 2004 superhero movies. Plenty of films like The Dark Knight or Iron Man 3 have devoted subplots to what makes their heroes tick, though perhaps not in as much depth as some would like.
Ultimately, Sutter and Marvel both realized he wasn't the right guy for the project and they went their separate ways. The Punisher 2 eventually evolved into 2008's Punisher: War Zone, starring Ray Stevenson, a spiritual sequel to the 2004 film. Sutter asked that his name be removed from the credits, mostly because he felt he didn't do anything deserve one, but it definitely makes for a good story.