In 2007 Michele and Kieran Mulroney wrote a script for a Justice League film, and Mad Max creator George Miller signed on as director. If you saw Fury Road this weekend, you should praise Valhalla that Miller did that project and wasn’t working on this one instead. Despite all the parts in place – Armie Hammer as Batman, DJ Cotrona as Superman, Adam Brody as The Flash, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Common as Green Lantern, Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman, Teresa Palmer as Talia Al Ghul, Zoe Kasan as Iris Allen, Hugh Keays-Byrne as Martian Manhunter, Jay Baruchel as Maxwell Lord and Matrix storyboard artist Steve Skroce in the art department – this project had some serious issues.
You may imagine that Justice League: Mortal had its fair share of the grit that WB loves to put in their films. However other scenes were uncharacteristically lighthearted. Some turned out fun, some turned out stupid. Some even felt exactly like a Marvel movie, but not in the way you might be expecting. But there are several moments that induced a raised eyebrow/blood pressure. If you ever wanted a Justice League movie where cheeseburgers are the bad guy, today is your lucky day. Read on!
Let’s start with the good.
1. Flash And The Lasso of Truth
Here is one of the two scenes on the list that actually worked, despite its ridiculousness. The Flash gets infected with a nanomachine and begins to vibrate faster than he ever has before. So fast that he falls not just through the floor, but the ground as well. And he just keeps going. Through the bottom end of the planet and out into space, where gravity pulls him back. Except this time he is headed for Earth’s molten core. Wonder Woman uses her Lasso of Truth to catch him as goes whizzing by, and they manage to contain him and get the nanomachine out. Since it’s the Lasso of Truth, he shows he is all better by admitting he loves toast.
Flash is used well, for the most part, especially his relationship with Wally. Having a movie with Kid Flash is indeed a step in a certain direction, and proof that they were willing to get wacky in a time before 2011’s Green Lantern debacle. Speaking of Green Lantern…
2. John Stewart, Kicking Ass
John Stewart was well written. This is the last praise the script gets, so buckle up. We meet him as he is using his ring to project a moving blueprint of a Hal Jordan Memorial Park, and making adjustments so the imaginary kids can play on the equipment better. It comes across as endearing, it’s fan service without being over the top, and it’s a creative use of the ring’s ability.
Scoring even more points is a scene where Superman is brainwashed and attacking the team. When he meets Stewart, Stewart retaliates with an all-green projection of Superman. The doppelganger has seemingly equal strength and the sight of Supes vs. a glowing green Supes is one of those things we would have loved to see.
Now, on to the questionable bits…
1. OMAC=Ultron. Batman=Iron Man. Flash=Quicksilver.
Let’s rock the boat with some brash accusations. This script was written circa Joss Whedon’s cancelled Wonder Woman movie. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to think that he would have had access to this Justice League script, or at least its story in early stages, considering they both shared a key character from the same studio. If this is the case, consider these similarities between JL:M and Avengers 2 (spoilers for Age of Ultron ahead).
-In JL:M, Batman has a super computer named Brother Eye that analyzes all the members of the Justice League. It tells him their weaknesses so he can take them down if some worst case scenarios arise. Maxwell Lord gets control of the computer and uses it against everyone. Batman of course feels guilty for creating the program in the first place, and at first tries to hide it before agreeing to work as a team.
-Maxwell is also in control of OMAC, and uses the power from Brother Eye to make OMAC leader of a giant robot army full of OMACs. This is after Maxwell uses mind control to make Superman go berserk and fight the team, mainly revolving around Wonder Woman (because he believes she killed Lois Lane).
-Flash is a character used for some laughs, as well as some human grounding with his wife and nephew. He also ends up saving the day at the end, and does this unfortunately by sacrificing himself. Thus Barry Allen perishes and makes way for Wally West (who is actually a great Kid Flash in this script) to inherit the Flash mantle.
Hey, what’s that movie where all the superheroes team up and fight the army of robots? The one where it’s the one hero’s fault for creating the super computer, and he almost tears the team apart before he finally claims responsibility? I remember there being a scene where the two strongest members are flying around and fighting in the middle of the city because one of them is under mind control, and also the scene where the really fast guy dies while saving the others. Age of Ultron? No… The one I’m thinking of was 8 years ago. When was Citizen Kane?
I am not personally accusing Joss Whedon of stealing, especially because I don’t want him to delete his Topless Robot commenter account: “Dr. Abraxas” is a longtime valued member of this community. But I am saying this is a theory that someone could easily form while reading this script, and anyone is free to debunk it in any way they see fit. Moving on…
2. Fast Food Nation
Ok, so that army of OMACs? They are the people of the Earth, transformed. Well, not everybody – just those who ate at McDonald’s. Well, not quite McDonald’s – in this script it’s called Kryptoburger. It’s the biggest burger chain in the world, with a slogan of “Over a million served!” Its owned by Maxwell Lord, who has been planting OMAC nanomachines in the food. Also, being a superhero-themed restaurant, Kryptoburger has employees that dress like the members of the Justice League.
An anti-fast-food message via a restaurant that downplays legendary characters is delivered as a plot twist? In a movie that would have probably had toys at fast food restaurants? Just sayin’ that’s quite the whopper.
Now let’s take the plunge into the dark and gritty aspects of the script. Wahoo!
3. Start off With a Bang
So you’re writing a Justice League movie. Your key characters are going to include not one but two aliens with superpowers, an Amazonian from Greek mythology, a ring-bearer who uses his imagination, somebody nicknamed “The Scarlet Speedster”, and Batman. This means fun is in order, and by the boatload. Remember that before your story really gets cooking, the first few minutes of your film are an amazing opportunity to introduce your team as a unit, highlighting how they complement each other, or even spending a few moments with each of them individually so we get a brief idea of each moving part. As long as you introduce those characters being themselves, odds are your audience will have a ball.
Wait, but you wanna do what? Open on Superman, floating in a dark sky? Wearing all black with an even blacker ‘S’ logo…ok why? So you can pan out to reveal that the Justice League is at a funeral? Damn. Whose? Drop hints for Batman?! Batman’s funeral. You want to open on Batman’s funeral. *Chuckles and mugs at camera.*
Since I spoiled it already, I guess I should mention that at the beginning the script leads you in the Batman direction, but it finishes with a bookend where we see it is indeed the Flash’s funeral. Batman pays tribute by himself, later by saying “Godspeed, Barry Allen.” They can’t even be cute without being grim! You know, I think the running joke of Hollywood producers doing lines upon lines of cocaine is a little askew. At least at WB, what seems more likely the case is that their excessive drug binge was a few years ago, and now they are on the worst comedown ever. No wonder they hate joy.
4. Stray Cats Worship No False Dogs
A common complaint with the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer is that it projects too many God metaphors onto Superman. We imagine Zack Snyder really likes this idea, given his heavy, grounded tastes, but this could very likely be something that carried over from Justice League: Mortal. Maxwell Lord has a huge “Behold these false gods” speech/complex. The script uses the term ‘gods’ numerous times, letting the religious implications shine through like a stained glass window…COVERED IN LAMB’S BLOOD.
It will be interesting to see if other themes carry over in to Batman v Superman. I’m really hoping Kryptoburger at least makes an appearance, seeing as how Superman is a public figure at this point. All it takes is one scene where somebody says, “I have this idea for a restaurant…” Can we agree that if Kryptoburger appears in Dawn of Justice in any incarnation we will all promise to not make fun of DC/WB for an hour?
5. Batman: Lover
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And if THIS scene makes it into Dawn of Justice, I’ll stand and cheer and give Zack Snyder my first-born goldfish. One of Brother Eye’s main functions is to analyze and find weaknesses. It exposes secrets. So what happens when Batman, its creator, is scanned? Let’s roll the clip. *chuckles at camera again.*
In the Bat Cave…There it is. Batman’s secret profile….
Batman: “Access Weakness Subfile: Enhance.”
On Batman. His eyes hidden behind his flight helmet visor.
Batman: “What does it say? Alfred, what does it say?”
Alfred: “It’s just one word, sir.”
Batman: “What is it?”
On the Brother Eye screen. And the one word written there. Looming, 30 feet high.
LOVE. Batman’s weakness.
And then the computer plays memories of all the women from his past, ending with Talia al Ghul. The drama is thick, complete with hands placed over hearts and kisses that draw blood from the lip. Again, if this scene makes it in the movie, I have to take this as a sign that WB has been playing tricks on us this whole time and has gone full on BRILLIANT.
6. Batman: MURDERER
Remember the neck-breaking in Man of Steel? Also potentially lifted from here. Although it’s not Superman doing the snapping; this time, of course, it is Batman. Maxwell has Superman under control, wrecking havoc. “Where were you? Where were any of you when I needed you?!” And then Batman appears behind him and wraps him in his cape. “Right here.” Then snap! He falls dead, Batman straddling him as he looks down.
Superman isn’t cool with it at all. “No! No…this isn’t who we are! We never – ever – take a human life. It’s unacceptable.” And then Batman: “Accept it. It’s done.” You could almost see the cursor, flashing on the page, longing to type the words “I’m the goddamn Batman.”
In the long run, this movie would have been brutal on both the characters and the audience members. With a subtitle like “Mortal” it’s clear that no amount of vibrating lasso scenes would have lifted this movie from the sadness and despair that WB seems to love so much. Mad Max mastermind or not, it’s clear even to the people involved that it was probably for the best it didn’t get made. Conceptual artist Steve Skroce told The Word Balloon Podcast, “Ultimately I think its good that it didn’t come out….as there were some things that people were going to hate. Some of it was very aimed at kids.”
Also by Bryce Abood: