Justice League: Mortal (2007 script) part 2

Posted: January 6, 2015 in Aquaman, Batman, DC, Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League, Justice League: Mortal, Kid Flash, Martian Manhunter, Max Lord, OMAC, Script, Superman, Talia, Wonder Woman
In part one of this look back at Justice League: Mortal, I addressed the plot without getting into a whole lot of detail. Now that you’ve had time to track down the script, I’ll be looking a bit deeper in regards to the characters and the overall story. Each section will focus on an actor and the part they were to play. Some of the casting seemed spot on while other actors seemed…less suited for their roles. Let’s begin!

DJ Cotrona as Superman

At the time, Cotrona had done very little of note. He had a few bit-parts here and there, but this would have definitely been his highest-profile role. Since then, he’s gone on to play Flint in G.I. Joe: Retaliation and star in the From Dusk Till Dawn television series. He definitely has the physique of Superman, but his youthful demeanor and look doesn’t quite fit the script’s older, more established take on the character. Overall, the character is portrayed how he should be: selfless, noble and pretty much untouchably “super”. The third act takes a page from Infinite Crisis and pits Superman against the league thanks to some mind-control. I really like this story beat, but feel that the movie screws it up a bit. It hinges on the idea that Supes thinks Lois has been killed. However, she’s not a character and has no presence in the film. It relies too much on the public’s knowledge of their relationship and history. That’s not a bad thing in some cases, but since it’s so important for the finale, she really needs to be seen and (more importantly) felt within the context of the story. She doesn’t have to be a major character, just the same level as Iris Allen or maybe a little smaller. Since her “death” is so important at the end, we need to SEE her and understand what she means to Big Blue.

Armie Hammer as Batman

Batman is a pseudo-villain/kinda-hero in the story. He was to be played by Armie Hammer, who has gone on to co-star in David Fincher’s The Social Network and received second-billing in the movie that he lead with The Lone Ranger (thanks Johnny Depp). Hammer has been very vocal about his support for this film and how delighted he was to have the role. He spoke to MTV in 2012 and got very excited with the thought of his costume test photos leaking online. He described the batsuit as having pistons and gears on it, almost like an exoskeleton. Batman’s role within the narrative skewed toward the uber-paranoid loner that he’d become in the expanded DC comics of the time. He designs a massive satellite system to monitor and disable metahumans that he deems to be threats and includes the JLA in that group. His technology is what causes the team to come under fire and in the end must face that in the hardest way possible. That leads to my biggest issue within the story: the climactic killing of Max Lord. I love the scene and think it’s a great “no win” moment, it’s just the details I have a problem with. In the comics, it’s Wonder Woman who does the deed and I think they should have stuck with that. I realize thematically that Batman doing it is symbolic of him taking responsibility of the situation. However, Batman’s “no kill” rule is too well established in the public psyche to be broken. Look at the uproar over Superman killing Zod in Man of Steel. Supes and Batman shouldn’t kill…EVER. Other heroes (like WW) shouldn’t kill…UNLESS. That’s an important distinction. I truly believe that Superman and Batman would die before killing. Wonder Woman, however, would kill to save others or herself. And I think it’s important to show that contrast. Plus, this could be mined for drama in future stories. I mean, a super-powered hero snaps the neck of a mere mortal? That’s dramatic gold! If Batman does it, he’s just a human who is fallible and easy to forgive. However, the nature of the plot sets this up as an easy fix in a future draft.

Adam Brody as The Flash

As I said before, my favorite of the characters in here was The Flash. There is something refreshing and very interesting to see a guy who is married and has a normal family life but is also a superhero. He has no noticeable past trauma and no inner demons. He’s just a guy with a gift who wants to help people. That alone is far more inspiring than anything in Man of Steel. Flash is pretty much perfectly written. He’s funny, a bit starry-eyed but above all else, he’s inspirational. He’s easily the soul of the movie and keeps his head even when things are at their darkest. His relationship with Iris is played a lot like Wash and Zoe from Firefly. They’re both strong independent characters who love each other and are completely comfortable in their relationship, even when he has to do things that may endanger him. In the end, Flash makes the ultimate sacrifice to defeat the OMAC nanites and save the world. His death is visually reminiscent of Crisis on Infinite Earth‘s climax and leads to the torch being passed to Wally as the new Flash. What’s interesting to me is that the film opens and closes on his funeral, yet it doesn’t feel wholly tragic. Sure, it’s sad that a hero died, but it’s not the sole feeling that is roused by the ending. There’s a sense of renewal in seeing Wally suited up and it also underscores how important these heroes are. The fact that there’s a threat that can kill them shows the need for them to band together. Flash was to be played by Adam Brody, who seemed a bit too young to me. At the time, he was fresh off a hit teen-drama The OC and was pretty much only known for that. I understand the reasoning behind his casting, but I feel someone with just a few more years on him should have taken the role.

Megan Gale as Wonder Woman

Gale is an Australian model who had pretty much no acting experience at the time this movie was in production. Seeing as how the role was fairly physical, it makes sense that they went with someone who could probably handle it. The climax of the movie features Wonder Woman going head to head with Superman. If filmed correctly, that could have been an incredibly epic battle. As I mentioned earlier, Wonder Woman no longer kills Max Lord during this battle. I’ve explained above why Batman shouldn’t be the one to do it, but almost more importantly than that, I think Wonder Woman definitely should be the one to. She’s a warrior who was raised to do whatever is necessary for the greater good. On more than one occasion, that’s included killing. The sequel could even reveal that the death was filmed and made public (as in the comic) to turn the public against superheroes. Any way you slice it, Wonder Woman doing the killing makes more sense.

Hugh Keays-Byrne as Martian Manhunter

J’onn J’onzz is probably the most underdeveloped Leaguer in the script. Since he’s a non-human member of the team (and doesn’t have a huge red S on his shirt), he needs a little more explanation than was given in the film to get the audience properly invested in him. In the comics, J’onn has a shockingly tragic backstory: he’s the sole survivor of a species that went extinct by its own hand. Unlike Superman, who was a baby and had no memory of his home-planet, J’onn was a grown man with a family. And he had to watch them all get consumed by flames. What’s worse, when he was transported to Earth, he accidentally killed the first person he saw which has weighed heavily upon him ever since. As such, he has a great deal of empathy for humanity. In the film, he’s the first League member to be attacked and spends much of the running time submerged in a cocoon of water. It’s unfortunate that more of his backstory doesn’t come through in the script, but as I mentioned earlier, his (and everyone’s) history could have been briefly explained in a couple of lines of dialogue or a credit-sequence that briefly display his origin. Hugh Keays-Byrne is best known for his villainous turn in Miller’s Mad Max or from the television series FarscapeAs such, he’s a genre veteran with plenty of experience with make-up and prosthetics which would likely have been a requirement for the role.

Common as Green Lantern

It could also be argued that Green Lantern was just as underdeveloped as Martian Manhunter, but since he’s a human I feel like there’s less explanation needed. When he’s introduced within the story, he uses his power ring to create a 3-D rendering of a blue-print from his architectural firm. It’s a cool idea to show just how complex his creations can be. Going with John Stewart was a great choice, at the time. He was the GL used on the Justice League animated series and was gaining popularity in the comics as well. Sadly, He’s been pushed to the sidelines now that DC has forced Hal Jordan back into prominence. Since it was first announced that Stewart would be in the film, it had been rumored that Common would be playing the role, despite not doing much acting. Since then he’s been in considerably more movies (even one comic book movie: Wanted) and would still be a valid choice if John Stewart makes any other live-action appearances.

Anton Yelchin as Kid Flash

I had no idea that Wally West was in the script. At first glance it seems a bit muddled to have two Flashes in the same movie, especially one that is introducing a whole team of heroes. But it ends up feeling very natural. Wally’s origin is only slightly addressed, which is ok overall. In a lot of ways, his arch is about coming-of-age as a hero. He goes from keeping his powers secret to becoming a sidekick to a full-on hero over the course of the film. It’s a lot of story but it’s handled surprisingly well for the limited screen-time it receives. At the time, Anton Yelchin was known mostly for smaller, Indie movies. He was one of the few actors who was probably the exact age that his character should have been. Yelchin is 10 years younger than Adam Brody, and the age gap should probably be a bit wider. But, I think he was planning on playing the role a bit “younger” so it probably would have worked out fine. One interesting note is that Yelchin is the first Flash seen in the script. It opens with a funeral (implied to be Batman’s but actually Barry’s) and Flash is seen in attendance. This serves both to show he has taken up his uncle’s mantle and to hide the fact that Barry had died. That isn’t revealed until the concluding book-end scene.

Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman

Aquaman, perhaps appropriately, has some hidden depths within the story. He’s portrayed as the ruler of Atlantis and has a healthy disdain for those who live on the surface. The fact that the script ignored public perception and made him a brooding bad-ass was a wise choice. And yet they also played into those same expectations by using his “talking to fish” powers in pivotal moments, thus showing how useful they can be. My only major complaint is his name; throughout the script he’s known as “King Arthur”. I think the allusion is a little too overt and they should have substituted his Atlantean name, King Orin. Also, since he’s clearly a very proud and isolationist leader in this story, it seems like he would be the kind of character to deem “Arthur Curry” a slave name bestowed upon him by the surface dwellers. He has a backstory that is suggested to be quite complicated and at the time of story is not aligned with the League. It’s implied that he sustained a grievous injury in a past adventure with the team and lost a hand as a result. His hand is replaced by one made of enchanted water, much like his character had in the comic at the time. This injury caused him to extricate himself from the League stating, “I’ve given my pound of flesh.”

Jay Baruchel as Max Lord

This was probably the wildest wild card in the entire cast. Baruchel was best known as “the funny/skinny guy in Knocked Up” at this point in his career and had made a name as playing a 3rd or 4th tier sidekick in raunchy comedy movies. He’d had a few leading roles, but nothing on the level of Justice League and certainly nothing villainous. What I find funny is how opposite he naturally is from the way the character is described in the script. He’s essentially an anti-Bruce Wayne who owns a chain of burger restaurants called “Planet Krypton” (a plot point taken from Kingdom Come and its sequel The Kingdom). Max has a dark secret, however. As a child he was put through the OMAC Project and developed psychic powers as a result. That coupled with nano-bots hiding in the food from his burgers creates an army of OMAC cyborgs. Far from the fun-loving Max of the 80’s Justice League comics, this version borrows heavily from the Infinite Crisis version who is eventually murdered by Wonder Woman. The lead up to this death is very similar in the film, while the outcome is slightly different (see above). I like Baruchel, but I don’t see him in this role. He looked like he was about 17 at the time, and I don’t think had the smug arrogance to pull off the role. Who knows, though. Maybe he would have proven me wrong.

Teresa Palmer as Talia Al Ghul

Talia in the script is drawn from the DC Universe comics of the mid-2000’s pretty much exclusively. She works with Max Lord and uses her past love-affair with Batman to gain access to the League. Her father, Ra’s Al Ghul, is spoken of as having died previously. She holds Batman responsible. It’s never stated explicitly how he died, but since this film was in the works only a couple of years after Batman Begins, I think it would have been a cool idea to anchor it to that series. Obviously they had a different Batman, but I wish they had considered getting Christian Bale on board. Theresa Palmer was pretty unknown at the time of this film. Since then, she’s built up her career pretty steadily with supporting roles in major studio films. In 2012 he starred in the film Warm Bodies and has had a very busy film-slate ever since.

George Miller as The Director

Miller has had a very interesting career as a director. He gained fame and acclaim as a director of gritty Aussie action films like Mad Max and The Road Warrior but in the 2000’s he’s far better known for kid-friendly fare like the Happy Feet franchise. I guess that’s a nice balance for a movie like Justice LeagueThe WETA Workshop was hired to create the costumes and props for this film. While none of them have leaked online, the descriptions of the costumes have sounded like the comic designs mixed with a real-world aesthetic. Hopefully some photos will see the light of day sometime soon. With Miller’s influence, the film was to be shot in Australia to capitalize on much-coveted tax rebates that would significantly lower the film’s budget. However, the writer’s strike of 2007 hit full-swing as the script was being prepped for its first round of re-writes. That’s not the end of the world (The same thing happened to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobraso its re-writes came during filming) but shortly before shooting commenced, it was announced that the rebates were being rescinded. The studio decided to cancel the feature rather than waste more time and money looking for new shooting locations without a fine-tuned script. Miller went on to make a 4th film in the Mad Max series, called Fury Roadwhich is slated for release this summer. The cast contains two of the leads of this film (Hugh Keays-Byrne, Megan Gale) and was going to have a third, but Teresa Palmer couldn’t fit it in her schedule.

One of the only pictures of the assembled cast
(with George Miller and a couple crew members).

For the most part, I was a fan of the characterizations of the majority of the league. They were done in fairly broad strokes, but in an ensemble piece that also serves as a franchise introduction, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I’ve said it before, but the focused nature of the story was also definitely a plus. It was very economical in the way it balanced story and action. We’re dealing with 7 heroes (8 if you count Wally), 2 villains and a few tertiary cast members. That’s pretty unwieldy and yet the story never strays from the immediacy of the plot. That does lead to some story issues for me (like the aforementioned lack of substance for some Leaguers) but I still think that this is a better way to go than getting too bogged down with backstory and “here’s what you need to know” type set-up. Also, this is a total quibble, but I also would have loved to see Buddy Blank’s name in there somewhere, possibly as the suited up OMAC soldier or as one of the psychic kids in the 70’s.

Sadly, we’re still waiting on a proper Justice League movie. DC currently has one slated for 2017. Maybe they’ll have their house in order enough to actually complete it this go around. Only time will tell.

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