With DC and Warner Bros. having unveiled the blueprints for their own shared cinematic universe to rival Marvel Studios', fans have much to be excited about over the next 5 years as we will be seeing new interpretations of superheroes already seen onscreen (Batman, Green Lantern, etc.) and debuts of those never portrayed in a film before (Aquaman, Cyborg, Wonder Woman, etc). With the entire eponymous league fully cast (save for Green Lantern) and a director in place, Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) - who also helmed Man of Steel - all systems seem to be go. But this isn't the first time we've been here. Back in 2007, Warner Brothers was set to go on Justice League: Mortal, a $220 million budgeted film set for a July 2009 release. Unfortunately, the Writer's Strike in November 2007 stalled the project for three months. It limped along for another 6 months, with the crew getting so far as scouting locations for the primarily-Australian shoot before the success of The Dark Knight convinced Warner Bros. to focus on development of individual films featuring the main heroes. Eventually, the project completely died giving way to the new one set to debut on movie screens in 2017.
- Your Big Guide To DC's 'Justice League' Movie: News, Rumors, Spoilers, Trailers & All You Need To Know
Below is a look at the cast and director we almost got for our Justice League film:
Director: George Miller
George Miller is known primarily for his work on the Mad Max and Happy Feet films (that's not a mistake) but was tapped to helm Justice League: Mortal when Warner Bros' original choice, Jason Reitman (Juno, Young Adult) turned them down. Again, not making this up. A lot of people might look at the cute, kiddy Happy Feet or the ultraviolent, weird Mad Max films and think "How the hell is this guy going to do a good Justice League movie?" Unfortunately, or fortunately, we will never know. I personally think Miller could have made a truly unique and entertaining film.
Four years ago, just as Happy Feet 2 was releasing, Miller spoke on the cancelled project, saying:
“That was a whole bunch of complex events...It was the middle of a writers strike. There was Australian rebate legislation that was required to get the film going. It was just a whole complex series of events. It was no one particular’s fault that it didn’t happen.”
Superman/Clark Kent: D.J. Cotrona
Circa 2007, D.J. Cotrona was known primarily for his roles on the early-aborted TV drama "Skin" and in the 2005 voodoo horror film, Venom. He's since gone on to star in G.I. Joe: Retaliation and headline "From Dusk Til Dawn" on director Robert Rodriguez's El Rey television network. Cotrona's casting was unique as it would be the first time a noticeably ethnic actor would be portraying a traditionally Caucasian superhero (Cotrona is 3/8 Italian, 1/4 Polish and includes German, Hungarian, Austrian, and English ancestry).
While his star seems to be on the rise, the young actor still is disheartened that he never got to put on the cape, saying:
"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."
Batman/Bruce Wayne: Armie Hammer
Armie Hammer was just a young television actor known for his guest spots/recurring roles on such shows as Veronica Mars, Gossip Girl, Reaper, and Desperate Housewives before being handpicked by George Miller to portray Batman/Bruce Wayne. Since the film was entering production in late 2007-early 2008, this would have had Hammer as Batman simultaneously with Christian Bale, something that fans were not exactly thrilled about. His summation as to why the project failed to get off the ground echoes similar statements to Miller and Cotrona:
"“Australia (where the original film was to be shot) had an election and changed [ its ] Prime Minister who changed the tax rebate incentive program[...]Then we had a writer’s strike in the US so we couldn’t change anything in the script and everybody wanted to change things[...]So it was a perfect storm. It would have been the perfect combination, of the realistic grittiness of the Dark Knight series mixed with the amazing detail and sort of tactile nature of the Star Trek series.”
Hammer has since gone on to receive acclaim for his dual role as the Winklevoss twins in David Fincher's The Social Network and Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar after-which he starred in the lukewarm reviewed The Lone Ranger and Tarsem Singh's Snow White re-imagining, Mirror Mirror. He will next be seen in Guy Ritchie's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. where he ironically stars alongside current Superman, Henry Cavill.
Wonder Woman/Diana Prince: Megan Gale
At the time of casting for Justice League: Mortal, Australian Megan Gale was a model just beginning to make the transition into acting, having played a small role in 2005's Stealth. She managed to beat out contenders Jessica Biel, Teresa Palmer, Shannyn Sossamon, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead for the role of Wonder Woman, which was intended to be her big break. Her casting was met with negativity from hardcore fans as they saw this as Warner Bros wanting the youngest, prettiest face they could find instead of an actress with actual experience and action presence. Although it never came to be, Gale considers being cast for such a huge role is still a win for her:
"It's such a big franchise, but realistically for me, if it did happen, I doubt I'd be cast [again]. That time has passed and you have to accept the way things roll."
The role has since been cast with Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious 4-6) and Gale has gone on to serve as host, judge and executive producer of the design-based reality show "Project Runway Australia" as well as having a part in George Miller's upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road.
The Flash/Barry Allen: Adam Brody
Adam Brody has been a fan-favorite for the part of Beast Boy in a speculated Teen Titans film/series ever since his big break on FOX's "The O.C." back in 2003, but he was a hair's breath away from portraying Barry Allen/The Flash aka The Fastest Man Alive (a role for which he also often showed up in fan castings). Many comic fans applauded this casting as Brody's "geek cred" made him a perfect fit for the part.
While in the UK promoting his 2012 film Some Girls, Brody had this to say while reflecting on the failed project:
"Listen, I’m in a position where I don’t have the luxury of choosing what $300 million movies to do and not do. If a budget like that came my way, at this point in my career, I would do it regardless. But, I will say that – and by the way I don’t think it would if only because I don’t think they’d want it to smell in any way, shape or form like the old version which would have been good I might add. It was a great script, and it was a great director, and I’m not saying it would have changed the world, but that movie would have worked, I will say that. I’m objective about it and I’m also a critic, I am nothing if not a critic. I’m telling you that, again, it wouldn’t have changed the world, but that would have been a nice little movie I think, but they [Warner Brothers] just didn’t want to cross their streams with a whole bunch of Batmans in the universe and all the other reasons they didn’t make it. I’m just saying that in an isolated world, that was not a bad movie. I will say that I don’t have any particular affinity for the Flash. I grew up reading comic books, and loving them, and I still have a fondness for them. Although, the older I get the more saturated the marketplace gets, I find the less I care as a whole. That said, of course I’d do it yet, it doesn’t hold a special place in my heart, that character."
His last arguably "geek role" was in 2011's Scream 4 and he's gone on to appear in Jennifer's Body and Cop Out (among others) in addition to appearing in Kevin Smith's upcoming Yoga Hosers.
Green Lantern/John Stewart: Common
The John Stewart iteration of the Green Lantern is arguably the most famous version of the character, thanks in large part to his sizable role as one of the main heroes of the "Justice League" and "Justice League Unlimited" TV series. So it was a no-brainer when he was announced to be a part of Justice League: Mortal, a role which was actually first offered to Columbus Short (Stomp the Yard, "Scandal") before rapper/actor Common was cast in the role. Around 2008, Common was fresh off his first few major film roles in Smokin' Aces, American Gangster, Street Kings and Wanted. In several interviews, he mentions being in Australia, in full costume, and having conversations with D.J. Cotrona about how it was a huge deal that little kids all over the world were about to see two ethnic actors as major superheroes like Superman and Green Lantern:
"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…"
He went on to explain how the cancellation of the film affected him:
"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."
Common's casting polarized fans, with some dismissing him as another rapper trying to act and others feeling that his rap persona would lend very well to the character. Since the failure of the project, Common's acting career has taken off in earnest and he and George Miller hit it off so well that he cast him in Happy Feet Two!
Aquaman/Arthur Curry: Santiago Cabrera
Venezuelan-born Chilean-British actor Santiago Cabrera is known to geek fans for his role as clairvoyant artist Isaac Mendez on NBC's "Heroes" in addition to his roles on the BBC drama series "Merlin" and "The Musketeers". Back in 2008, he was tapped to be the first actor to portray the character of Aquaman in a feature film (not counting Adrian Grenier's fictional character Vincent Chase's portrayal on HBO's "Entourage") in Justice League: Mortal before Warner Bros. pulled the plug on the project.
Cabrera was the last actor cast of the eponymous league and has not spoken much publicly about the failed film. If the film had of gone forward, his casting would have made have made roughly half the heroes portrayed by non-white actors, which would have been a pretty big deal. He did a decent job on "Heroes" and I'm sure while he's not the first choice for Aquaman, he would have played a fairly good tortured, regal hero. Of all the roles that were recast, his has stayed closest to its original goal with multi-racial Jason Momoa (who is of Native Hawaiian, German, Irish, and Native American descent) taking over the role.
Martian Manhunter/J'onn J'onzz: Hugh Keays-Byrne
Hugh Keays-Byrne had previously worked with director George Miller as the main villain in his 1979 dystopian action film Mad Max, a role that American audiences most know him for. His other notable role was on the TV series "Farscape" as Grunchlik.
Keays-Byrne was the second to last actor to be cast for the film and thus not a lot of progress was made as far as his character was concerned. Like Common and Gale specifically, he too would go on to work with Miller on another project, the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road.
Maxwell Lord: Jay Baruchel
Jay Baruchel's roles in Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder, She's Out of My League, and This Is the End have painted him as the meek, underestimated geeky nerdy type who typically plays second fiddle to his more physically competent, action oriented co-stars. However, his more recent roles in Cosmopolis and Robocop have unveiled a new side to him, possibly the one that led to him being cast in Justice League: Mortal as Maxwell Lord, a shrewd and powerful businessman who gained exclusive control of the Justice League at one point in the comic and turned criminal mastermind which resulted in him shooting and killing Ted Kord (Blue Beetle), brainwashing Superman into attacking Batman and Wonder Woman to which she responded by breaking his neck, the footage of which was transmitted worldwide. Ouch.
Many people were confused and outraged when Warner Bros. and director Zack Snyder cast Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor thinking they had both lost their minds, but apparently, this kind of out-of-the-box thinking has been in place for quite some time now.
When asked about his experience during the brief pre-production on the film, Baruchel stated:
"I'll just say this, if we had been able to make the movie that we had gone down [to Australia] to rehearse, if you had seen the production art I'd seen... it would've been the coolest thing ever. It would have been the neatest vision of Batman and the coolest vision of Superman you've ever seen. It would have been dark and fairly brutal and quite gory and just f**king epic[...]My friends, who were training to be Batman and Superman, they were down there for three months training and going to Weta [Workshop] in New Zealand to get their costumes. Weta, which is arguably the greatest special effects house on Earth, they had to cancel everything else. They were doing nothing but our movie. It was going to be f**king dope!"
He also chimed in on the budget issues involved which ultimately played a huge part in why the film was cancelled:
"The problem was that, had it gone to production, it would have been the single most expensive movie in the history of movies. Sometimes people are reticent to spend upwards of $300 million. It was a fun two weeks in Sydney and I got to hang out with one of my idols, George Miller."
Prior to Robocop, I would have agreed that Jay Baruchel as an amoral corporate type would not have worked. Now, I think he could have pulled it off nicely.
We've still got roughly two more years before we see the Justice League finally onscreen.....a whole decade after they were originally supposed to arrive. The film has changed writers, directors, cast, you name it; and most are torn between trying to decide if it's for the better or worse. Whichever the case may be, that question will be answered resoundingly come November 17, 2017.