Back in 2007, George Miller who had just finished up the animated feature Happy Feet, was pegged by Warner Bros. to direct a Justice League live action feature-length film. The move was a somewhat rushed attempt to beat Marvel’s The Avengers to theatres with a superhero team movie first, even though they hadn’t even started to lay the groundwork that the MCU had. The husband and wife writing team of Kieran and Michele Mulroney were hired to pen the screenplay which would tentatively be called Justice League: Mortal.
With the WGA about to go on strike, the entire production was moved to Australia so that extensive re-writes could occur without violating any U.S. WGA rules. The crew and some of the cast flew to Australia for table reads of the first draft and costume fittings. While this was going on, the tax laws changed in Australia and that made, the already sky-high budget, even higher. So the decision was made to move the production somewhere else, which would be Canada.
It was around this time Miller grew frustrated with WB and left the project after months of stalling, delays and his dissatisfaction with the way they handled the Australian situation, having had a strong desire to film Justice League in his home country.
As costs mounted and the budge grew and grew, the studio became more uneasy and it was starting to look like that it would be released in between The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). This is something they were desperately trying to avoid, citing too many Batman’s at the same time as the reason. As time moved on and the talent’s schedules kept shifting, it became impossible to keep the cast and crew together and they simply could not find the time to realign. The project was officially shelved.
At the time, the $300 million budget would have been the most expensive film ever made. Later, more movies would match or best that number, notably Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End 2007 ($300m), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides 2011 ($378m) and now Avengers: Infinity War 2018 ($500m).
As for the film itself, the story was inspired by the Justice League Animated series with nearly the identical lineup to match, minus Hawkgirl of course. We would see Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter form the league while they would get support from Alfred Pennyworth, Iris West and Wally West. The villains in this story were going to be evil billionaire Maxwell Lord and he would get help from Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter, Talia Al Ghul from the League of Shadows.
Loosely based on the Countdown to Infinite Crisis, it is revealed that Lord has spent years gathering sensitive information about the Justice League, whom he considered a threat to the planet. He gains control over Batman’s “Brother Eye”, with Talia’s help, a satellite system Batman created to monitor all meta-humans. Lord uses Brother Eye to create an army of OMACs (humans infected with a nano-virus that transformed them into cyborgs), programmed to hunt down and kill all meta-humans.
There was going to be no origin stories, joining the heroes in progress after they had been established as the earth’s saviors. The narrative called for the team to be in costume almost the entire time, playing more episodical than long form, maintaining an “already in progress” motif. The perspective was going to be through Barry Allen aka The Flash as he would ultimately make the greatest sacrifice, save the world and pass on the mantle of the Flash to his cousin Wally West by the end of the film.
The cast at the time would raise eyebrows as it was primarily young actors with no real star power that would portray earth’s greatest heroes. Armie Hammer (Batman), D.J. Catrona (Superman) and Megan Gale (Wonder Woman) were cast the play the trinity while Adam Brody (The Flash), Anton Yelchin (Wall West), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Manhunter), Santiago Cabrera (Aquaman) and Common (Green Lantern) rounded out the rest of the team.
For the antagonists, Canadian Jay Baruchel was cast as Maxwell Lord and Teresa Palmer would play League of Shadows member Talia Al Ghul.
Almost every member of the cast since has expressed deep regret that the film never got made saying that audiences would have been blown away by George Miller’s vision. Jay Baruchel, who was cast as main villain Maxwell Lord has since said this:
I’ll just say this, if we had been able to make the movie that we had gone down to rehearse, if you had seen the production art I’d seen it would’ve been the coolest thing ever.
When the script and concept art leaked online a while ago, interest in the nearly made film peaked. The script, clearly an early draft, is not structured as well as you’d like it to be, and the tone shifts from camp to shtick several times, especially the Maxwell Lord character who goes from maniacal to clownish too often. People have applauded the dedication to sticking to the true roots of the characters and original costumes but admit the story needed work.
They also noted that the colours would’ve been much brighter and the story less bleak than the Christopher Nolan’s version of Batman that had been well established at that point. Also, people found it odd that even though Brandon Routh and Christian Bale had already played the parts of Superman and Batman, they would cast unknowns D.J. Catrona and Armie Hammer instead.
A highlight in the story would have included an epic battle between a mind controlled Superman and Wonder Woman which takes place over several locations and is brutal in its destruction and impact. It is a huge part of the story and really would have showcased each of the characters superior strength compared to the others.
The story would have ended with the death of Flash, sacrificing himself to save the earth and destroy Lord and his OMAC’s, and Wally West taking his spot in the Justice League. And right before credits would role, they would get an indication that the Earth was under threat from Starro the Conqueror and that they would have to work together to defeat him.
A documentary detailing the troubled production of George Miller’s film was announced in May 2015 with teaser posters of Superman, Batman and Green Lantern being released two months later in July. The film is to be released in 2018 and is being directed by Ryan Unicomb and produced by Maria Lewis and Aaron Cater.
Many people who have read the Mortal script, myself included, thought Miller’s version of the Justice League would have been an incredibly unique vision and take on these classic comic book characters. There’s enough influence from the source material there to keep fans of the books happy but seemingly additional twists and turns to keep people guessing at the same time, especially with casting choices.
With the DCEU’s Justice League coming out this November, we’ll never know what this would have looked like, it simply becomes a piece of Hollywood lore that is just fun as hell to talk about it.
Till next time…