What’s the deal here?: Back in 2007, George Miller (Mad Max) was tapped by Warner Bros. to direct a Justice League move in a desperate “Hail Mary pass” move to beat Marvel’s The Avengers to theatres with a superhero team movie first. Tentatively dubbed Justice League: Mortal, the project was handed to husband-and-wife writing partners Kieran and Michele Mulroney to craft the screenplay. The project was fast-tracked to beat the looming writer’s strike at the time and was scheduled to film in Australia. The cast and some of the crew even flew out to Australia for a table read and a costume fitting. But an Australian election occurred and the country changed its tax incentive laws inflating the Justice League: Mortal budget, and the crippling writer’s strike derailed the project as schedules shifted and the cast and crew simply couldn’t realign. The upcoming DC Comics movies from Warner Bros. have nothing to do with this project as they are a separate game plan from WB to exploit their DC Comics properties. It is unlikely that WB will ever go back to this particular iteration of the Justice League (though I’d like them to publish a book on the whole affair – that would be awesome!).
Plot: [Note: I will try and describe the entire script here, although I probably won’t do it justice.] The script begins with a funeral for a hero that isn’t revealed, then flashes back to a week earlier. Barry Allen has a date with his wife Iris at Planet Krypton, a successful chain of superhero-themed restaurants owned by Maxwell Lord. They see on TV that Wonder Woman is addressing the U.N. in international peace talks and Barry and Iris discuss Iris’ jealousy over Wonder Woman. The news is interrupted by reports of a maddened Martian Manhunter who is spontaneously in flames (his weakness) and is wrecking havoc in Denver. Flash rushes there and is joined by Wonder Woman. The two stop Manhunter through teamwork and then place Manhunter in a water-filled tank in WW’s observatory in Manhattan. Superman joins them and, since it is determined that Manhunter was attacked by a creature from the water, Superman offers to travel to Aquaman’s underwater palace to ask if he knows anything about this. Aquaman is pissed at the surface world and refuses to help, but relents when Superman mentions that the lovely Diana (Wonder Woman) is involved. Meanwhile, multi-millionaire Max Lord attends Bruce Wayne’s birthday party and the two are greeted by Talia (Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter). It is established that Batman had killed Ghul and that Talia and Bruce were an item at one point. Bruce gets called away by Alfred from his party and Bruce faces a bunch of muggers as Batman.
Max Lord and Talia are seen at the controls of a machine that has taken control of Bruce Wayne’s Brother Eye, a surveillance system that uncovers the identities of superheroes and figures out their weaknesses. Bruce invented this in the event that one or all of the superheroes went rogue.
Batman faces the muggers, except the runt of the pack morphs into a big robot called an OMAC controlled secretly by Max Lord. Batman fights the OMAC, and just when the OMAC is about to kill Batman, it falls apart upon command from Lord. Lord just wanted to prove to Talia how easy it would be to kill Batman.
Meanwhile, Aquaman is at Wonder Woman’s observatory and is bitten by a mysterious bug that gives him an intense fear of water. Since Martian Manhunter bursts into flames upon contact with oxygen while he’s doused with a substance they can’t get rid of, Aquaman offers to give Martian Manhunter his enchanted water hand. The water hand engulfs Martian Manhunter in a fine layer of water protecting Manhunter from the outside air and preventing him from bursting into flames.
While all of this is happening, John Stewart is designing a memorial park for Hal Jordan in his studio near Wonder Woman’s observatory in New York. He uses his Green Lantern powers to create a small replica of what the park will be, adjusting measurements here and there. He bites his pencil and is infected by something that blinds him and clouds his mind so that he can’t concentrate. His Green Lantern energy goes berserk, creating swirls of green that surround his building. Alerted to this, Superman and company rescue him. Deciding that they are definitely under attack somehow, and after name-dropping several DC Universe villains as possible suspects (from Joker to Luthor to even obscure villains like Murmur), Superman takes everyone to a place he feels is safe: The Fortress of Solitude. Superman, Flash, Wonder Woman, and a water engulfed Manhunter, a blind, panicked Green Lantern, and a fear-stricken Aquaman all head to the Fortress which has a completely accurate replica of Clark’s childhood Smallville home where the crew hangs out.
Brother Eye can’t locate the heroes, but eventually does. Batman visits the Fortress and admits that he created the satellite that is attacking them, and that someone is using it against them. Wonder Woman punches him in the face. Then Flash stupidly answers his cell phone and is infected by a nanite that crawls into his ear and attaches to his brain. Flash vibrates to the point that he can phase through things. He phases through the ground to the other side of the earth and back. He does this a couple times and Batman reveals that he will stop when he is at the centre of gravity: Earth’s molten core, where he will die. Wonder Woman lassos Flash and makes him stop. Manhunter guides Lantern’s ring to extract a symbiote from Flash’s brain. Batman leaves to try and figure out how to stop Brother Eye. Manhunter guides Green Lantern to extract a nanite from Aquaman to cure him of his fear of water that is slowly shriveling him. Manhunter guides Lantern to heal himself in a similar manner, and then Lantern uses his ring to blast away the flammable substance on Manhunter. Aquaman retrieves his water hand.
Superman explores the satellites above the earth, looking for the Brother Eye satellite to destroy it. Batman asks Brother Eye if there is a file on him and what his weakness is. Turns out that Batman’s weakness is “love”. Batman then flashes back to the last time he kissed Talia and realizes she infected him with some sort of nanite. It was a tracking ship, the beginning of Talia and Lord’s plans. Batman tracks Talia to Max Lord’s office. Lord reveals himself as the brains behind these attacks, trying to wipe away earth’s heroes to make way for his new evolved species, the OMACs. just then, in a Plant Krypton restaurant, Barry Allen and his nephew with similar powers Wally West figure out who Max Lord is. Turns out that Lord is the last survivor of horrifying experiments to turn children into super soldiers. Thousands of children died in the experiments in the name of military science. Lord has a vendetta against earth’s heroes for not stopping such a travesty. The project was called the One Man Army Corps, or OMAC. Lord developed mental powers and tried to evolve humanity somehow. He opened his chain of Planet Krypton restaurants and infected the food with nanites that could morph ordinary citizens into OMACs, giant, perfect fighting robots, the next level of humanity. Then Batman is attacked by 3 OMACS that are about to kill him.
Manhunter detects Batman’s agony at the Fortress of Solitude and alerts the others. Manhunter, Green Lantern and Aquaman head to where Batman is, lead by Manhunter’s telepathic ability to locate Batman’s anguish. Max Lord activates the OMACS and all over the world. Ordinary citizens are turned into OMACs. Thousands of them. Anyone who ate at Planet Krypton which has “over a billion served”. Wonder Woman and Flash see the news from one of the Planet Krypton restaurants where Flash is eating to regain his strength. Flash explores how many OMACs there are in the world while Wonder Woman saves Batman by beating the crap out of the three OMACs that are attacking him. Superman arrives at the scene to join Wonder woman and Batman. Max Lord takes over Superman’s mind, making him believe that Wonder Woman killed Lois Lane (the only time Lois is ever mentioned). In an epic battle, Superman and Wonder woman fight on the streets and buildings of Manhatten, eventually carrying the battle to space, then fight on the moon, then both plummet to earth unconscious. Then Green Lantern fights Superrman by creating an exact duplicate with his ring. The Green Lantern Superman and regular Superman fight until Lantern Supes grows huge and grabs Superman with his fist. Superman sees Green Lantern standing on a building and blasts the building with his laser vision, breaking Lantern’s concentration and destroying the Lantern version of Superman. Batman has had enough and snaps Max Lord’s neck. With Lord dead, Superman snaps out of his mind control and comes to. Everyone has a debate about not killing people, etc., but Max Lord’s consciousness goes into the giant Brother Eye machine which engulfs Talia Superman III-style (the description even sounds the same as a similar sequence in that movie) and Max/Talia/Brother Eye become one. It signals every single one of the millions of OMACs from all over the world to converge on Manhattan and attack the superheroes. The heroes finally realize that they work best as a team as they prepare themselves for the onslaught. Wally West volunteers to lend a hand. Batman offers insight saying that if they destroy the main OMAC, the rest will turn back to their civilian selves. While the OMACs attack, it turns out that Barry Allen is the main OMAC since he ate so much at Planet Krypton. He morphs into a giant, red OMAC. The heroes can’t kill it because the consciousness of the main OMAC will just transfer someplace else. Barry has a plan of self sacrifice. He uses his mastery of the speed force to freeze time, go home and say good bye to Iris, then he goes back to the OMAC and runs so fast that he and the OMAC consciousness evaporate into nothingness. All OMACs everywhere turn back to regular people. The earth is saved.
And now we know whose funeral everyone is attending at the beginning of the script. The heroes are then seen at the Fortress of Solitude and form the Justice League. Wally West becomes the new Flash in his uncle’s honor. Then inexplicably, Starro attacks the earth. As the Justice League fly to space to meet the threat, the script ends.
Review: While some characters get the short end of the stick, I was surprised by how many characters were highlighted here. Batman of course gets a lot of screen time, but Barry Allen is presented as the character you see the world of the movie from. He’s a very likeable character and his wife Iris and nephew Wally West get a lot more screen time than I expected, showing Barry’s relationship with them and fleshing out Barry’s character so it’s more tragic when he dies at the end. There’s an odd scene when Barry tells Iris that he’s going to the Fortress for a little while until the crisis is resolved. Barry vibrates so fast that he is able to pass through Iris slowly, sharing an intimate moment together. It sounds weird, but this would be really touching if done properly on the screen and it’s uniquely a Flash idea. You can’t do this with any other character. At one point, the other Justice League members’ annoyance at Flash’s constant talking turns to fondness and he seems to be the character that brings everyone together. Just before the final fight when they are waiting for the OMAC swarm, Barry tells the Leaguers that this had always been a dream of his, fighting alongside the other heroes. What could have been an awkward moment instead becomes touching as the other members, even the cranky Aquaman, all agree with him. But the character that steals the show to me is Wonder Woman. She’s strong-willed, goes toe-to-toe with Superman in easily the greatest fight in the story, and she’s respected as she makes speeches to the world as a stateswoman. She truly is a Wonder Woman for the new millennium.
If you hadn’t guess, the thing that sets this script apart now, and even when it was written, is how established the whole universe of the film is in the script. There is no origin story for any of the heroes. The script just assumes you already know how they all got powers, etc. Now, while I often bemoan that I want to see superhero movies where the hero is already established and we can just get on with the adventure, I’m not so sure how commercially successful this move would have been in the age of Hollywood movies grounding everything in realism. I’m frankly shocked that this was even considered as a script for a Warner Bros. Justice League movie as it often reads like fan fiction. It throws conceit after conceit at the audience in a rapid-fire manner. Just because the average layperson knows that Superman is from Krypton, that doesn’t mean that Flash’s ability to vibrate through walls or Aquaman’s water hand are common knowledge and pop-culture. Would these things have derailed the movie? To compare to another franchise, when I saw the post-credits scene of X-Men: Days of Future Past in the theatre, I sat in an audience of shrugging shoulders and whispers of “Who the hell is that?” when Apocalypse was revealed. I think sometimes Hollywood studios are a little out of touch with how knowledgeable their audience is, and sometimes they undershoot, or way overshoot. This script is unabashed and unashamed of its comic book roots, they’re on full display whether you like it or not (I like it, for what it’s worth).
As a story, having everyone encounter their weaknesses while banding together to fight them is a novel start to the franchise, though I noticed that Wonder Woman’s weakness never came to light. I was intrigued that the script suggested that Superman’s greatest weakness isn’t Kryptonite (which is never mentioned at all in this script) but Superman’s own emotions as he becomes a wrecking machine when he thinks that Wonder Woman killed Lois Lane. While I liked the appearance of the Planet Krypton restaurant concept from the Kingdom Come comic story, I wasn’t too thrilled by the threat of the movie coming from the fact that a lot of people eat hamburgers there. It just seemed like too much of a silly idea rather than a serious threat. Even with all the costumed vigilantes running around with powers, people morphing from their casual dining experience seemed a little too over the top.
That said, Maxwell Lord is a fine villain. The action scenes seemed too few a far between, but when they happened, they seemed like they would have looked awesome on the screen. Superman vs. Wonder Woman, then Superman vs. a Green Lantern Superman would have looked amazing on screen. Batman fighting OMACs and Wonder Woman basically crushing them would have looked cool. But a lot of the time the characters are depicted hanging out in a room, almost static, and talking, mainly about what is going on. The script could have done with some polishing and some punching up, breaking up some of the more dull moments.
Still, The script isn’t half bad. If filmed as was, I would have loved it, but the general audience would probably have struggled with some of its inside comic book jargon and assumption that the audience knows all about DC continuity. If everyone were in their classic costumes, it would have been a site to see, but there are traces of camp and kitsh that would have to be smoothed over for the big screen. Moments in the script that have been derided on the internet ever since the script leaked seem to me like they would have been the most memorable moments in the movie, if the film were made. I have images in my head by just reading the words and those images will stay with me for a bit. We will never know how this movie would have been received, but we at least have a glimpse at what Warner Bros. had in mind at one point in their attempt to put these characters on screen.
Cast of Characters:
The film was actually cast. The choices were controversial when announced as the whole cast (except for Martian Manhunter) was really young. The cast isn’t without talent, and we’ll probably never know how credible they would have looked as the iconic superheroes on screen. Here they are:
Perhaps best known for his role as the Winklevoss brothers in The Social Network, Hammer eventually went on to play a superhero of sorts as the titular character in 2013’s The Lone Ranger.
You never see Clark Kent or the Daily Planet or the rest of Superman’s cast of characters (Lois, Perry White, etc.). Superman’s personality really shines through mainly with the reveal of details about his Fortress of Solitude, that he built his Smallville home there in the Arctic because he’s home sick, that he sculpted giant ice statues of his Kryptonian parents because he’s fascinated by his Kryptonian heritage, etc. I hate to say it, but Superman’s at his most interesting here when he turns evil in the script and starts beating the holy hell out of everything. He is never seen actually saving anyone.
Catrona played Flint in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. During the press junket for that movie, Catrona reflected on his almost-Superman role for this scrapped project:
“That was a long slog. We were playing with that for about a year. That was during the writer’s strike time and it started and it stopped. That was a big bummer. I was really, really excited to work with George Miller and the script was really, really good. The stuff that Weta was doing was amazing. It’s just a shame that we didn’t get to finish that because it was going to be really, really cool […] It was a damn shame that we didn’t get to finish that. I promise you that it would have been amazing. It would have been incredible. The scale of this was fantastical. It was a Lord of the Rings scale. It would have been really cool.”
Easily the best character of the script, Wonder Woman comes off as the badass of the bunch. The first two times you see her though, she’s delivering speeches to rapt audiences, first delivering a eulogy, then addressing the U.N. There’s a regal sense to her, like she’s a respected stateswoman. But she also has the best fights in the script and seems to cause the most damage to her enemies. After Wonder Woman fights the mind-controlled Superman, Max Lord reveals to Wonder Woman that her mind was too powerful to control, so he went with Superman, and praises Wonder Woman with “Not even Superman could take you out. Amazing.”
Yes, Seth Cohen from The O.C. was to be The Flash. Barry was going to be the “in” for this script, the character whose eyes we see this world from. He’s jokey, but good natured. All of The Flash’s powers were represented here, especially vibrating his molecules so he can phase through hard matter.
Two Flashes?? Yes, Yelchin’s Wally West was to be Allen’s teenage nephew with the same powers. He eventually becomes the new Flash.
An Indian born actor working in Australia, I’m not sure if Martian Manhunter was to be motion-captured or if Keays-Byrne was to get caked with makeup to play the role. For half the movie, Manhunter is a burnt, charcoal husk, regaining his regular green complexion (and all his powers) for the second half of the movie. The loner/outsider aspect of the character isn’t addressed like it constantly was in the cartoon.
Aquaman is as pissed at the surface world as he always is. He also has his enchanted water hand in this one, which is never explained, but acts as a major plot device for saving Martian Manhunter.
Rapper-turned-actor Common was a controversial choice on the internet when it was announced that he was playing Green Lantern in this project. But Lantern doesn’t do much in the way of acting ability in this script. His powers are utilized very well, he’s far from useless, and he interacts with everyone, but he doesn’t get as much dialogue as the other characters. Years after the project died, Common revealed his feelings about the whole affair:
“I remember a time I really struggled with showing gratitude. It was after I had been cast as the Green Lantern in the movie rendition of “Justice League.” (I know that sounds bad, but hold on, there’s more.) We were all set to go. We had even tried on our wardrobe. I was ready! I was imagining what this could not only mean for me but also for the kids who would see me as a bona fide superhero! Plus, my phone was already ringing off the hook with requests for meetings from big-time directors and producers. It was about to be on…
And then it happened — the writers’ strike. Everything was on hold and after the strike, executives pulled the plug on the production. I was deflated. What I thought was the biggest role in my life was gone — just like that. I moped around for a few days when finally my mom told me to “get over it” and go speak to an organization that helped kids with much bigger problems than mine. It was during my talk with those young people that I had to take stock in what I had and return to being thankful for everything.”
While not what I pictured in my head when I read the script, I’m sure Baruchel would have done a decent job as the menacing villain. We’ll never know if he would have come off as intimidating or just whiney.
Talia is sort of useless in the script as it was. She is presented as Batman’s weakness, the thing that throws him off-track. But there’s nothing here that shows why Talia is a character worth having in the script as a villain. She’s not menacing, she doesn’t enact any plans, and constantly protests Lord’s plans “You’re going too far”, “This is dangerous”, “No, don’t kill him!” and on, and on, and on. I ask you, does that sound like a villain to you?
Hollywood is riddled with unfinished projects and ones that “got away”. But Justice League Mortal is intriguing because it came so close to being made and it is being attempted again as I type this (at least a form of a Justice League movie is being attempted). If you read the cast and crew’s comments online about this project, you can tell they’re heart broken, so you know that these people were passionate about this movie. But alas, it was not meant to be. And now we have a script full of wackadoo moments to tantalize us into asking “what if?”.