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Sunday, October 6, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Leaked 'Justice League: Mortal' Script Review

Hey guys, Michael here. I know I promised to reveal my Top 5 Worst Comic Book Adaptions this week, but there was something else that came up. Something I think you'll all like.

You see, good old SMN founder @KnightGambit aka Caleb Williams DMed me via Twitter this past Monday and let me know about an Exclusive that he wanted me to write. He wanted me to write a review of the infamous Justice League: Mortal (sent to him by @RobertMLaurence, thanks Rob!) script that has been leaked online.

For those who don't know or understand, back in 2007 after the success that was Batman Begins and the partial success/failure that was Superman Returns, Warner Brothers and DC Comics wanted to make a film that would rival any superhero film to come (obviously The Avengers took that tittle however), that film was Justice League.

Soon entitled Justice League: Mortal, the film centered around seven of the worlds most powerful heroes. First there is Bruce Wayne aka Batman, who is basically the most vital part of the film/script as he is the reason the JL come together in the first place. Clark Kent who in reality is the Kryptonian named Kal-El also known as Superman, the Man of Steel, is the most powerful of the heroes. Along with him is King Arthur of Atlantis, known on the surface world as Aquaman, and no, he's not at all lame here. Next is the central character of the film whose status as the "lead" is only rivaled by Batman, that is Barry Allen aka The Flash. Flash is the "newbie" to the metahuman community in the sense that he doesn't know everybody yet, though everyone else knows each other. Moving on we have Princess Diana also known as Wonder Woman, not as kind and motherly as normal however as she acts much more like her New 52 counterpart. The Martian Manhunter aka J'onn J'onzz is a big part of the film as well as his "punishment" is probably the worst of all of the heroes, yet he is always the most levelheaded. Then finally, we have John Stewart aka Green Lantern, who actually seems really cool in this script and is written much like he was on Justice League/Justice League Unlimited.


Let me start off by talking a bit about what I think of this script. I thought it was good. I really enjoyed reading it over the period of the last few days and it honestly made me want to watch the film, at least in an animated fashion if not live-action.

I think the story of Mortal and the lesson that it teaches it very applicable to us here in present/modern day. One of the lessons that this script teaches is that sometimes you just need to trust people. In the script, Batman has created Brother Eye, a Skynet-like program that watches the worlds metahumans and can terminate them at any given time, if need-be. Batman doesn't trust people with powers as he's afraid that they could, at any moment, snap and take over the planet (much like Superman in the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us). However, characters like Iris Allen, The Flash, Wally West, and Superman (among others) prove Batman wrong in the sense that maybe trusting people isn't a bad thing and that you should try to look at the good in people, even powerful people, as opposed to the bad.

Another lesson that this script teaches is how to be a hero. Barry Allen (The Flash) throughout the script/film is willing to sacrifice himself for the people he cares about and the entire world. He continues to be the "straight arrow" character even though he feels like an outsider to the superhero community, even to the point of him sacrificing his life to save the entire planet. This tradition is also shown to continue with the second Flash in the film and Barry's nephew Wally West as Wally continues to try and be apart of saving the world and even was willing to help Barry save the planet (by running into the Speed Force) until Barry told him "no". 

Finally, I think Mortal is a social commentary on helping others. The whole point of Maxwell Lord (I can only in-vision the guy who played him on Smallville now...) hijacking Brother Eye, the OMACs, and trying to take out the planet was because nobody helped him and people like him when someone should have. I'm not justifying Lord's actions here mind you, but I am saying that it's because no one helped that he went crazy in the first place (don't worry, Ted Kord wasn't shot and killed in this film). But I would go even further in how this film is a social commentary, I would even go so far as to say that villains are everywhere! In films like The Avengers, Thor, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Man of Steel, and others show that the villain is an alien, and even the villains in Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and Captain America: The First Avenger show villains that are unique and aren't "normal" or "ordinary" people. However, Justice League: Mortal's villains are just ordinary people! An OMAC is just an ordinary person, Talia is just an ordinary person, even Maxwell Lord (telepathy or not) is an ordinary person, and yet ordinary people are what take down the Justice League.

I don't want anyone to think that I am one of those people who just sees bad in others and looks at everyone like they're a villain, clearly one of the messages of this movie is to see good and be a hero (see above) and I myself choose to see the good in people over the bad (thank you Smallville). Based on that there's also another message in this script/film. While a message is definitely that a bad guy doesn't have to be unique, they can be ordinary, the counter-message to that is that a HERO can be anyone, even an ordinary person (that's a message seen in The Dark Knight Rises as well). I mean, if you read the script, Barry Allen is an ordinary person. He has a wife, he has a nephew, he has a normal  and ordinary life, but he's been gifted with super-speed that allows him to make a difference. Maxwell Lord sees the League as "gods", but Barry only sees himself as a normal guy trying to do the right thing. That's the real message of Justice League: Mortal above any other message in the film! This is why Barry Allen is my favorite Flash.

I really liked the characterization of just about everybody in this film. I think how Bruce Wayne and Batman were written is exactly how I want Batman to be written for film. He WAS his comic book counterpart and unlike any previous Bat-flick in the last decade, Batman really felt larger-than-life, like he was truly the Dark Knight Detective.

Wonder Woman was also written, for the most part, well in this script, pretty well. I like how Diana is written as a "hard-ass" here because that's how Wonder Woman has been characterized in the past decade and a half, BUT I wish that she would have been written more lovingly, more like she was in the 60's-early 90's. That is the Wonder Woman that I like and can relate to. I get that she's an Amazon Warrior Princess, but I fell like in the past 10-or-so-years writers don't know what to do with Wonder Woman, so they just make her a warrior like Lady Sif. But that's not who she is, she's a PRINCESS too.

Although he doesn't have a huge role in the film (which I'll get to later) I really liked how Superman was written. We never really see him as Clark Kent and we only briefly hear about Lois Lane, but Superman is written like Superman here. He's kind of written like Christopher Reeve's Superman, but with a more modern Henry Cavill/Tom Welling feel if that makes sense. I liked it, I wish we had more.

Barry Allen/Flash was written the best in this film to be honest. Not only is he written just like how Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul write him, but he also has this Wally West-vibe to him that makes him a more exciting character, and funny as well. Best written character in the script to be sure.

The second best written I think is probably Maxwell Lord. Not that Batman is not one of the best (he'd be third in my opinion), but Lord is a sadistic, yet charming, villain, and he's written as such. Actually, how he's written here reminds me of how he was during the days of the Justice League International as well as the Countdown to Infinite Crisis story. He has this villain-feel to him while also having a charming vibe like you would believe almost anything he says. This can be seen especially when he's with Bruce Wayne early in the script.

J'onn J'onzz and John Stewart are honestly not given all that many lines in this script. They almost seem like the Hawkeye & Black Widow of the film, they're just there. But what we did get felt very Bruce Timm-ish to the extent that every time I read their lines I heard Phil LaMarr and Carl Lumbly in my head. 

And let me just say, I loved Aquaman here. He reminded me a lot of 90's Aquaman with the beard and the hook-hand, especially how he was written during Grant Morrison's JLA. I liked that because it gave him authority and he felt powerful, even when he was weak. 

Finally, Talia felt a little out-of-place in the film, but she was written a lot like she was in Batman: The Animated Series. I liked it. Though, I think I'd like ANY version of her after The Dark Knight Rises...

One thing that I thought was done extremely well in the script was the opening scene and making it seem like Batman was going to die. We see Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman all carrying a coffin at the beginning of the script, only to find out at the end that Batman was watching from afar and that the Flash carrying the coffin was Wally West, not Barry Allen who had died saving the world. That part of the script was very well done and I myself (at least until I read the part where Barry had an idea) had no idea that Barry was going to die, and that made it all the more real and sad for me.

I liked the inclusion of John Stewart in this script. Mortal was written at a time where Hal Jordan had NOT just been thrown into the Green Lantern spotlight and the general public still saw John Stewart as the Green Lantern through animation and comic books. Hal Jordan is given a "cameo" in the film hinting that he may, at one time, have been a Green Lantern, which is still cool. If I'm being honest, because I grew up with John Stewart as opposed to Hal Jordan, he's the one I generally see as Green Lantern (though I actually prefer Hal Jordan). I do the same thing with Wally West and Barry Allen as well. I thought John worked for this not-movie because he is a more serious GL than Hal and he has a more, I don't want to say heroic, but militaristic feel to him, which I think we needed for this film. We already had the paranoid person, the normal person, the aliens, and the royalty, we needed that military guy who also was normal, but would fight to defend his world in a way that was a bit different than why Superman or Batman would.

Now, if I'm going to be brutally honest, I was very upset that Superman wasn't given a huge role in this film. I'm assuming that is due to Superman Returns and how most people don't like it, but I still feel that Superman is the most important member of the Justice League and that he should have a bigger role. In the last act of the script, I could see that Superman was starting to be used more and he had a bigger role, but through most of the script he doesn't do a whole lot except bring everyone to his Fortress of Solitude, which from description seems like it's very similar to the Donner version of the Fortress (which pleases me).

I've already talked enough about Wonder Woman, so I'll skip her.

Now, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter were good in this script. I liked them a lot. From the way they interacted with the other heroes to their own statuses as heroes, it felt good. I wish they could have also had a bigger role in the film, but with such a huge cast I get that it's a little hard to be able to play up every character.

I think the coolest part about this entire script for me is that it feels like I'm reading a comic book, just without the pictures. The entire time I read the script, I picked out the comic book stories that influenced this film: Kingdom Come, Tower of Babel, Infinite Crisis, Countdown to Infinite Crisis, and Crisis on Infinite Earths (lots of Crisis's). All of these stories and more show to be a big part of this script and it's really cool to see how they all come into play. 

I must admit, I didn't think Maxwell Lord was going to be a good villain for this film, not really at all. He had always been a trigger villain to me. What I mean by that is that I've always felt that he could trigger and event but never actually be a part of it (i.e. Infinite Crisis). Here, not only did he use Batman's files against him and the rest of the League, but he also took what Batman had created (Brother Eye) and used that against him as well. The whole idea of the OMAC's being on film was very cool and I can't even imagine what it would be like to see an ordinary person transform into an OMAC on the big screen. It would be freaky and yet very intriguing. Plus, the idea that Lord himself would become an OMAC and then the idea that he would transfer his consciousness into someone else? I never thought about that with Maxwell Lord before!!!

On that note, I HATED that Batman snapped Lord's neck. HATED IT!!! It was completely out-of-character for Batman, even this Batman, and he had no real remorse about it. It literally went against everything Batman stands for. Yes, I understand that Batman originally killed some of his enemies, I get it, but that was before Batman was ever really developed (he was just Bat-Man then). Now-a-days, you can't have Batman do that because of how strongly he feels about how wrong it is!

But moving on, when Barry became the final OMAC that the League had to fight, I had chills down my spine. I knew that he would end up dying and I knew that there was nothing that Wally, Iris, or the League could do about it, and it made me very sad. I'll admit, I really wanted to see that portion (out of any portion of the film) on screen as I think it would have been incredible. 

On a side-note, Barry and Iris's relationship was beautiful, absolutely beautiful and as sad as I was to see Barry go, I felt even sadder for Iris was was the one he did it all for.

The Talia stuff was okay, it gave Batman something to do and it actually felt like it worked. I did enjoy it but it wasn't my favorite part of the script by any means.

Now for those of you who don't know how far this film actually got, it was pretty far! The film was actually cast and a video game was in-development. George Miller was signed on to direct the film and was pretty passionate about the project for a while.

Among the actors cast as the Justice League there was D.J. Cotrona as Superman, Armie Hammer (the Lone Ranger) as Batman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Common as Green Lantern, Adam Brody as The Flash, Anton Yelchin as The Flash (Wally West), Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman, and Hugh Keays-Byrne as Martian Manhunter.

Other actors included Jay Baruchel as Maxwell Lord, Zoe Karzan as Iris West-Allen, Teresa Palmer as Talia al Ghul, and Stephen Tobolowsky (yes the guy from Groundhog Day) as Alfred Pennyworth.

Oddly enough, I remember listening to the radio in my bedroom back in 2007 and they had actually announced all of these actors playing these characters. The funny thing was, even though I had seen many of them in films before, I had no idea who any of them were!

The video game, however, actually lasted longer than the movie did oddly enough as the developers continued to develop the game for as long as they could. It was going to be a 3rd person brawler (a lot like Justice League: Heroes) and you were going to be able to play as all seven Justice League members and fight many of their villains (including ones not in the film). A screen-shot of Batman vs an OMAC (look above in this article for the picture) shows that you would also face many of them to get to the final boss aka Maxwell Lord. 

Eventually, the game was cancelled and the project was actually turned into the Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters game that tied into the Green Lantern film.

The film itself though died for many reasons.

First, Superman Returns wasn't a huge box-office hit like the studios wanted it to be. On top of that, they couldn't get Brandon Routh to reprise his role as Superman in the film (making the film take place within the Donner-Superman continuity of The Movie, II: The Donner Cut, and Returns), leading to a recast. 

Along with that, Christopher Nolan wanted Batman to be his own and because of that Christian Bale was also not going to reprise his role of Batman (if he had, Batman Begins would ALSO be within this continuity, hence why Ra's al Ghul would be dead in Mortal). Nolan was already working on The Dark Knight and wanted his franchise to be exclusive to his own story, not connected to Mortal at all. So, Warner Brothers, not wanting to loose Nolan, decided to recast Batman as well as Superman.

From there on, the film was doomed. After way to many roadblocks, the film was brought to a sudden and complete halt. Was this for the better or the worse? Well, that depends on your enjoyment of the Justice League: Mortal script as well as The Dark Knight Trilogy, Green Lantern, and Man of Steel.

Over-all, the script I read for Justice League: Mortal was exciting. It wasn't the best script I have ever read, and through reading it I get why the film was never made, but nonetheless I really did enjoy reading it. Hopefully one day we can get an animated feature for Justice League: Mortal or maybe even an Elseworld's graphic novel or mini-series. Either way, I'd like to see this story get some credit someday because it was really pretty good and enjoyable. If Superman Returns had been a bigger success and if Christopher Nolan had not talked with WB about what HE wanted to do with Batman, we may have gotten this film, but if we had, films like The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, and Green Lantern would have never happened, or they would have happened very differently... Which option would have been better? Honestly, I don't know! All I know is what did happen and that I really enjoy The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, and (yes, even) Green Lantern. That is all!

Well guys, that's all I've got! It's taken me three days to write this article and I hope you all enjoyed it. I hope that when Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment finally decide to make a Justice League film, and are really serious about it, that they will look at this script and see what worked, what didn't, and see why people STILL, after almost seven years, talk about it and get excited about the Justice League. Cheers!

Michael J. Petty

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Senior Editorial Editor on SMN, I also work as an Administrator on Across the Airwaves Productions and as a Staff Writer on the Superman Homepage. I enjoy movies, comics, television, music, and long walks on the beach. Just because he's on the side of the angels, don't think for one second that he's one of them.