Cast your mind back to 2007. Marvel's game-changing Iron Man was still a year away, Christopher Nolan was hard at work on The Dark Knight, and somebody at DC had the potentially genius idea of asking George Miller to direct a Justice League movie. As we learned from Mad Max: Fury Road, Miller is one of the best directors working in Hollywood, and the Justice League comprises several of #DC's most iconic comic book heroes — so this was basically guaranteed to be a winner.
Or so you'd think.
In reality, the omens were bad from the start. The Batman of Justice League Mortal was not the Batman of Nolan's trilogy, meaning the team movie was set in a new continuity. The cast was full of little-known actors from TV soaps who have mostly since disappeared. The story was an angry tsunami of absurdity in which Batman creates a sentient robot race who then decide to wipe out Earth's superheroes, destroying the #JusticeLeague, kind of like Ex-Machina for stupid people. And, best of all, a man who's meant to be one of Earth's greatest heroes is poisoned in his own office... by a pencil.
The script — written by the husband and wife writing team behind Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows — basically has the feel of an extended and particularly demented episode of Smallville. Ultimately fate intervened, the writer's strike of 2007 put Mortal on pause, and the next movie made by DC was The Dark Knight, so what would have been one of the strangest superhero movies of all-time never got made.
But I thought it would be fun to take a look back at Justice League Mortal, talk about some of the most mind-bending moments of insanity from the script, and imagine what the universe we've come to know as the #DCEU might have looked like if this weird, but not necessarily wonderful movie had ever made it to screen.
Batman The Brutal
If you thought Zack Snyder's angry, borderline sadistic interpretation of Batman and his eager trigger finger in Batman v Superman were a betrayal of what the character stands for, you're going to love what the Justice League Mortal script does with the Caped Crusader.
Maxwell Lord, playing a Lex Luthor-esque architect of doom role, has been meddling with a surveillance satellite known as the Brother Eye. This satellite is owned by #Batman, who, dubiously, is using it to keep tabs on the other heroes, similar to how Lex has been watching the future Justice Leaguers in Batman v Superman.
It feels like an inherently villainous thing to be doing, and it backfires when a brief sexual encounter between Bruce and Talia al Ghul turns out to be a trap. She tracks him back to the cave, allowing Maxwell to get his hands on the Brother Eye tech. Lord wants revenge for some old childhood trauma which left him with metahuman abilities. It's all kind of vague and thinly plotted, even by supervillain standards.
Anyway, taking influence from The OMAC Project comic arc by Greg Rucka, Lord is eventually killed in violent fashion. On the page, it's #WonderWoman who snaps his neck, but in the Mortal script Batman chooses to do the deed — live on TV, because this Bruce Wayne has issues. It's surprisingly brutal, and it would've been super-weird seeing a second Batman alongside the Bat of the Nolanverse whose behavior was literally the polar opposite of Christian Bale's character.
Green Lantern And The Poison Pencil
Justice League Mortal spends a lot of time in the opening act hopping from hero to hero, establishing the various members of the Justice League in their everyday lives. In this world, John Stewart is an architect, which as a creative reinvention would be hilarious if it wasn't so unbelievably boring.
To spice up what could be a tedious introduction to the architecture office where John Stewart works, the script finds him pouring over plans for the Hal Jordan Memorial Park, playing idly with his Green Lantern ring, as one does with an object of immense power. Chewing on the pencil he's been using to scribble on the drawings, he realizes it "tastes funny", and within seconds he has a violent reaction to the toxins and passes out.
Seriously, these people are meant to be the world's greatest heroes, and the method by which they're taken out is poison pencil? That's even lamer than the Adobe Illustrator logos Lex Luthor made for each hero in Dawn of Justice!
The Cast Was A Who's-Who... Of Sorts
Justice League Mortal got far enough into pre-production that every major role was cast, and it's fair to say the ensemble was a huge who's-who, in the sense that the vast majority of them would literally have left the audience wondering "Who?!".
Casting newbies isn't a bad thing, of course — Gal Gadot came from nowhere to make Wonder Woman her own — but Snyder's Justice League contains seven Oscar nominees and winners in its cast. Many will bring gravitas to smaller roles like Lois or Alfred. It's hard to imagine many of the Mortal cast leaving much impression at all.
Adam Brody, who was a big TV name thanks to The O.C., played Barry Allen, who's essentially the point of view character who guides us through Mortal (and, spoilers, dies at the end). That could have worked. But D.J. Cotrona (From Dusk Til Dawn) as Superman? Megan Gale (judge on Australia's Next Top Model) as Wonder Woman?
There was also a pre-Social Network Armie Hammer as a younger Batman, but when Batman Begins had Bale, Caine and Neeson, the Mortal cast would have felt like a decidedly C-list affair and, again, a bit like a television series which somehow took the wrong road through Gotham and ended up on the big screen.
(Click here to see the whole Mortal cast in a rare group picture with Miller.)
Perhaps It Wasn't All Bad...
There are positives, too. Wonder Woman is done good service as a character by a script which fleshes her out nicely, first introducing Diana as the ambassador for the metahumans, addressing the United Nations on TV. Seeing the story told more from the viewpoint of Barry Allen, as opposed to the usual team leaders of Batman and Superman, is also a refreshing switch-up.
There were various reasons Mortal never got off the ground. Beyond the writer's strike, which halted several movies and TV shows and also panicked studios into making half-baked movies from first-draft scripts (2008's criminally boring Bond flick Quantum of Solace being a great example), some problems with tax rebates in Miller's native Australia prevented Warner Bros. from shooting the movie there.
Christian Bale was reportedly unhappy with the idea of a second Batman on the big screen, and DC already had a Superman (Brandon Routh) who may still have been expected to make a sequel to Superman Returns. Miller still describes himself as "a DC man", and his name has been thrown around as a potential auteur to be added into the DCEU's vast talent pool, but if he'd made Mortal we may never have got Mad Max: Fury Road — perhaps everything really does happen for a reason.
Still, it's an interesting "what if?" which ranks up there with "What if Prometheus wasn't screwed up by the guy who trolled us with Lost?". The cast may have been low-key and the story nonsensical, but in a parallel world this movie got made, and DC got the jump on Marvel with their cinematic universe. Who knows? Perhaps, by some miracle, Mortal would have left us dead, buried... and resurrected.
Would you rather have had George Miller's Justice League adventure than the team movie Zack Snyder will deliver in 2017?