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Why Thomas Jane Thinks 2004's The Punisher Had 'Difficulty' At The Box Office - Exclusive

It may be hard to remember, but back in 2004, the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn't exist. Sure, there were movies based on Marvel characters — going all the way back to 1944's "Captain America" serial — but the Marvel brand didn't start to become the multi-billion-dollar pop-culture juggernaut it is today until 2008's "Iron Man" came out.

When you think of Marvel movies before that, they're kind of disparate entities that passed each other like ships sailing in the night. One such film was 2004's "The Punisher" starring Thomas Jane, whose latest project, "Murder at Yellowstone City," is now in theaters and available on demand and digital.

In "The Punisher," Jane portrayed Frank Castle, an undercover FBI agent-turned-vigilante anti-hero who unleashes his wrath upon the corrupt businessman who murdered his family. The revenge film grossed $33.8 million at the U.S. box office (per Box Office Mojo) and garnered mixed to poor reviews. It was, for all intents and purposes, considered a box office disappointment and critical failure.

It's a film Jane has a lot of thoughts about, some of which he shared with Looper during an exclusive interview.

'People had trouble latching on to the darker tones'

Thomas Jane sees there being at least two major factors that contributed to the letdown of "The Punisher" at the box office — the first being that Marvel couldn't quite pinpoint the overall approach to the movie while filming.

"2004 was a period when they were still trying to figure out the tone of what worked as a 'Marvel film,'" said Jane. "'The Punisher' stands outside of the canon because he's the only anti-hero. We had a little difficulty finding the tone of what an anti-hero Marvel movie would look like. In fact, they've abandoned that model, and we haven't really seen the anti-hero in Marvel comic book production since then."

Jane also believes the world just wasn't quite ready for the kind of dark film he and Marvel made with "The Punisher."

"'The Dark Knight' leaned into the gothic noir, gritty tone that I wanted from the original 'Punisher,'" said Jane. "But that movie hadn't come out yet and blown people away, so people had trouble latching on to the darker tones of what 'The Punisher' required."

Although there was supposed to be a sequel to the 2004 "Punisher," Jane dropped out due to creative differences, and the sequel turned into a complete reboot with 2008's "Punisher: War Zone," starring a whole new cast. Four years later, in 2012, Jane reprised the role for a 10-minute short film called "The Punisher: Dirty Laundry," which was screened that year at San Diego Comic-Con.

"[It] was my homage to what I believe the character Frank Castle could be and should be," said Jane. "I'm proud of that. Check that out on YouTube if you're into that kind of thing. It's got quite a lot of views and people appreciated it."

Jane's latest film, "Murder at Yellowstone City," is now in theaters and available on demand and digital.