The first Justice League movie was meant to be directed by George Miller, but was cancelled during production – here’s the story…
Director Zack Snyder brought his initial version of Justice League to the big screen in 2017. As with Hollywood superhero productions, there was a long road to this point. One of the casualties on this journey was a Justice League film that was to be directed by Mad Max’s George Miller – and he came close, too.
How close? Well, reasonably.
DC Comics had been successfully translated into live action films over the years via Warner Bros, most notably with the Christopher Reeve Superman films in the late 1970s and the Batman franchise, which kicked off in 1989 starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne.
However, both franchises fizzled out after several films, with the last Batman movie, Batman & Robin, being attacked by critics and audience alike in 1997. At the time, Superman’s last film was the fourth entry, subtitled The Quest For Peace, released in 1987.
By the mid-2000s it looked like Warner Bros had got the franchises back on track to some degree. Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan, was a huge hit when released in 2005. Superman also returned in 2006 with Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, a film that emulated the style of the originals and was also a direct sequel to Superman II. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the big hit that Warner Bros had been hoping for, although it does get bonus points for retaining the stylish title sequence from the Donner film.
There were also more DC superhero films in development at the studio. Joss Whedon was writing and was going to direct a Wonder Woman film. Meanwhile, screenwriter David S.Goyer was working on The Flash. Because of the less-than-expected monetary returns on Superman Returns, both of these projects were scrapped sometime in 2007. Warner Bros was going to try a different approach.
Instead of creating solo films for each character, they were going to start with an ensemble piece, and work began on Justice League. If the film was successful, each character of the Justice League could spin off into their solo film. It’s worth pointing out that this was a year before Marvel had even started their run of films with Iron Man. The Avengers was still a twinkle in Kevin Feige’s eye.
Warner Bros hired Kieran and Michele Mulroney, fresh from writing Mr & Mrs Smith, to pen the script for a Justice League Of America film, which they finished and handed back to the studio in June. Entitled Justice League: Mortal, it garnered positive feedback from the studio.
The script featured the core team of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the John Stewart Green Lantern, and The Martian Manhunter. Other superheroes included Aquaman and the character of Billy West as The Flash. No sign of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze though, clearly an unfortunate oversight.
August of 2007, and Christian Bale wasn’t too happy that there was going to be a possibility of two live-action Batmen on screen so close together, “It’d be better if [Justice League] doesn’t tread on the toes of what we’re doing, though I feel that it would be better if it comes out after Batman 3,” he said.
In September of 2007, Warner Bros nonetheless announced that director George Miller had signed on to direct Justice League: Mortal and that casting had begun for their heroes with a release date of summer 2009.
Miller decided that the heroes of his film would be cast with younger actors to represent the early years of the superheroes. The idea was that the actors would age naturally as the spin-offs and sequels continued after the original movie. Therefore, Christian Bale and Brandon Routh, who were the most recent actors to play Batman and Superman respectively, would not be asked back to reprise those roles.
Also, an impending Writers Guild of America strike also threatened to hamper the production, so work got underway on the casting. The strike would start on November 5th and would last for three months until early February 2008.
During this time, it looks as if Miller had locked down his cast – and it was quite a list of actors and characters. Here’s the full list as we know it, but it was never officially confirmed by Warner Bros.
- D.J Cortana as Superman
- Armie Hammer as Batman
- Megan Gale as Wonder Woman
- Adam Brody as The Flash
- The rapper Common (real name Lonnie Rashid Lynn) as Green Lantern
- Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman
- Hugh Keays-Byrne as Martian Manhunter.
- Jay Baruchel as the main villain Maxwell Lord
- Tessa Palmer as Talia Al Ghul
- Zoe Kazan as Iris West
- Anton Yelchin as Wally West
While there are no officially released cast photos, this behind-the-scenes photo of most of them appeared on Facebook in 2014:
The plot of the film was based on several existing comics but the main story revolved around the character of Maxwell Lord hacking into Batman’s computer system and stealing the information in regards to each superhero’s weakness. He will of course try to use this information to defeat the Justice League and take over the world. Foolproof.
The plan was for the film to shoot in Australia, Miller, cast and crew headed down there in preparation waiting for the strike to end. Once it did, Warner Bros asked for script work to begin and gave the husband-and-wife Mulroney team just six weeks to get it done.
Costume designer Marit Allen who worked on such films as Eyes Wide Shut and Brokeback Mountain was originally hired as costume designer, but she sadly passed in November 2007. Weta Workshop would take over the costume design.
Before principal photography could begin, there were further complications when the Australian government denied Warner Bros the 40% tax rebate for filming claiming there wasn’t enough local talent involved in the film.
This came as a surprise as three of the film’s stars, Gale, Palmer, and Keays-Bryne were all Australian, and the entire crew. Director Miller told the Sydney Morning Herald, “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Australian film industry is being frittered away because of very lazy thinking. They’re throwing away hundreds of millions of dollars of investment that the rest of the world is competing for and, much more significantly, highly skilled creative jobs.”
The production was moved to Canada, against Miller’s wishes, as he wanted to film in his homeland, and production was set to start in July 2008. Justice League: Mortal wasn’t going to meet its original release date set for the following summer and the release was pushed back.
July 2008 arrives and Justice League still hadn’t commenced production. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is released and goes crazy at the box office. Around this time, it seems Warner Bros looked at what they had in terms of comic book properties and rethought their strategy. The plug is pulled on Justice League: Mortal.
Unfortunately there isn’t any confirmed information, but some say the plug was pulled within weeks of production, that was about to begin with completed superhero costumes and sets ready to go. This did not go down incredible well.
Talking to director Kevin Smith, Armie Hammer (who was cast as Batman, and Warner Bros dodged a controversy there in the end), remembers the day it was over, “And then we got a call one day from the producers and they go ‘We need everybody to come in and bring all of your material, bring all of your scripts, bring your notes, bring everything.”
“We were like ‘okay’ and we show up and they had big bins and they go ‘Put it all in here.’ And I was like ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure, sure, sure’ and I quickly snuck a CD out of my computer and put it in my back pocket, turned [all my materials] in and managed to basically steal a script, but other than that, I had nothing to show for it. I’m sure there’s pictures floating around out there somewhere of all of us in our costumes.”
In August of 2008, Warner Bros executive Jeff Robinov told Variety that “we’re not off the notion of a Justice League. There’s a massive interest and knowledge in the comic book industry and it takes time to sort of catch up and understand the characters and the history, where they’ve intersected with each other and what their worlds are. That’s part of the education that we’re going through.”
Warner Bros would move ahead with a Green Lantern movie which would be released in 2011. We all know how that turned out.
In the intervening years, snippets of information about Justice League: Mortal have made their way online including the script, concept art and photos, the most famous are of Megan Gale as Wonder Woman.
D.J. Cortana and Adam Brody, who were to play Superman and the Flash, both appeared in Shazam! Fury Of The Gods. During promotion for that film, Brody was asked by comicbook.com about his time on Justice League: Mortal. “It’s nice to have D.J. in this. We share that piece of history. Honestly, it was pretty brief. I think he was in Australia longer than I was — I think he was cast before I was, and he was out there training I believe.”
“I was out there for a couple of weeks. We were doing some table reads and some notes sessions. George Miller’s a genius, and he’s got some really eccentric, cool people around him. I fully believed in it. I really liked the script, and I thought it was going to be really good. In hindsight, and seeing what he did with Mad Max, I only think that, but who knows? Maybe the ‘what could have been’ is better than what would have been.”
In 2013 whilst promoting G.I. Joe: Retaliation, D.J. Cotrona spoke with ComingSoon.net about the film, in which he would’ve played Superman, “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.”
“But really it was Weta, Weta, Weta, Weta, Weta. They are amazing and they can make anybody look like anything. 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.”
Here are the only alleged photos of the cast in costume, don’t expect too much, they’re quite low resolution.
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Quite a fair bit of information has come from Armie Hammer, who was very excited to be given a chance to play Batman. He was interviewed for Ain’t It Cool News back in 2010.
As mentioned previously, the visual effects house Weta had taken over superhero costume duties. Weta likes to make everything as real as possible – as Hammer recalls. “Those guys are amazing. Some of the most ingenious special effects house guys I’ve ever seen in my life. I wore the full-functioning Bat Suit. The batarangs were all titanium spring-loaded, they all worked…”
In an , Hammer revealed a little more about the fully functioning Batman suit, “They built a whole functioning [Batman] suit that had hydraulics and worked and had microphones all through the suit so I could hear everything happening around me. It was 100 per cent functional because we had $300 million to do it.”
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In 2015, a documentary was announced that would’ve told the story of Justice League: Mortal’s development, preproduction and cancellation, as well as the impact on the Australian film industry.
Director Ryan Unicomb planned to interview some of the cast and crew who would have worked on the film and gain access to never-before-seen artwork and costumes. The project went deathly quiet for many years but re-emerged in March 2020.
With a new title of Seven Friends: George Miller’s Justice League, Unicomb said that “after speaking with cast and crew on and off over the last five years, we are confident we have a wonderful project to bring to light for all pop culture fans around the globe. It kind of feels like the world wasn’t really ready for this the first time we tried to do this (2015). With everything going on in the world, now feels like the right time to look back at what may have been and celebrate what actually was.”
However, the timing was unfortunate as the global pandemic was just about to hit. There’s been no news since and IMDb lists the project as still in development.
Like the Justice League: Mortal project, it doesn’t sound like it will be finished. As George Miller said in 2016, “we almost got there. And it wasn’t to be. But that happens a lot, where films line up and the stars look like they’re aligning and they didn’t.”
Lead Image: Bigstock
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