Thesp to bring 'humanity' to comic book bad guy

Artisan Pictures and Marvel Studios have set John Travolta to play the lead villain opposite Thomas Jane in “The Punisher,” with Jonathan Hensleigh directing his own script. Filming begins in July, for a summer 2004 release.

Pic is based on one of Marvel’s most popular comic titles. “The Punisher” is the tale of an FBI undercover agent who, just as he’s completed his last mission that will lead to a cushy desk job, sees his family slaughtered. He becomes single-mindedly determined to exact revenge. Travolta plays Howard Saint, a former underworld figure who goes straight but returns to old habits after his son is slain. The two men square off against one another.

“Howard Saint is not a one-dimensional villain, but a real person with a believable character arc,” said Artisan Pictures production president Richard Saperstein. “John brings intelligence and humanity to that character.”

Fresh take

“We spent a lot of time discussing the role, and the things he would bring to make the villain unique,” said Marvel Studios CEO Avi Arad, who’s producing with Gale Anne Hurd. “That proved to be the attraction. John is a great endorsement for the comic, which has been a big property for Marvel.”

“The Punisher” is the first greenlit film in the joint venture between Artisan and Marvel to adapt comics to pics without the seismic budgets of Marvel product like “Hulk,” “X-Men” or “Spider-Man.” Artisan is hoping that the film can replicate the success New Line had with the second-tier Marvel comic “Blade.”

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