-- Feature image made using concept art from George Evangelista --
The story behind Justice League's rocky road to the big screen has gained a new chapter, as new details of an early version of the movie script have emerged. In 2012, screenwriter Will Beall was officially brought on board by Warner Bros to pen the script for DC’s big team-up. The announcement came hot on the heels of the game-changing success of Marvel's first Avengers movie, with WB banking on an unproven, up-and-coming talent to bring their own famed heroes to life. A former detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, Beall already had a close relationship with the studio when he signed on for Justice League. At the time, he was working on a remake of Logan's Run and a reboot of the Lethal Weapon franchise, and there was a ton of positive buzz surrounding his first produced screenplay, Gangster Squad, which was set to hit theaters later that year.
2012 was a time of transition for Warner Bros' DC franchises. Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern movie had flopped the year before, Christopher Nolan was wrapping up his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, and Zack Snyder was hard at work on Man of Steel, which was due out a year later. Beall's script was likely being positioned as a direct follow-up to the latter, but unfortunately, that plan seemed to fall apart once folks got a look at the screenwriter's handiwork. After having its release date pushed to early 2013, Gangster Squad was shredded by critics, with many calling out the clichéd, plot hole-ridden screenplay in particular. Beall's Justice League script was scrapped completely shortly afterwards, as Warner Bros and DC decided to hit the reset button on the project rather than attempt to rework it in any way.
Before today, specific details regarding Beall's script have been scarce. We know that it would have addressed continuity questions surrounding the likes of Batman and Green Lantern, we know which villains were in line to star, and we have an idea of which comics were being used for inspiration. But with The Wrap now reporting the details behind an early draft of the screenplay (dated 2011), we have a better idea of why Beall's script ended up getting tossed out.
We've already provided a brief rundown of Beall's overstuffed Justice League script, which would have introduced upwards of two dozen characters (!) from the DC Comics canon. (And you thought Batman v Superman was overstuffed.) Though the script was written sometime in 2011, roughly two years before Henry Cavill's debut in Man of Steel, it's likely that that iteration of the character was being positioned to star in Justice League. But since every other character mentioned in The Wrap's write-up would have been a new addition, Cavill's Superman would've been the lone familiar face in the entire cast. Seriously, if you aren't a fairly knowledgeable DC Comics fan, this movie would have been all but impossible to follow -- assuming The Wrap's summary of the screenplay is accurate, of course.
Beall's plot essentially centered around the villainous Darkseid brainwashing Supes and attempting to take over Earth, with major events like the total decimation of the Green Lantern Corps and multiple instances of time travel sprinkled throughout. The final League roster would have consisted of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and John Stewart's Green Lantern, but the door would've been left open for heroes like Hawkman, Green Arrow, and Aquaman to join up in the potential sequel. What direction that follow-up would have taken isn't entirely clear, but a presidential run for Lex Luthor is teased at the end, and countless villains (including Deathstroke, Amanda Waller, Cheetah, and Captain Boomerang) are introduced throughout. Oh, and in a glimpse at a post-apocalyptic future, Batman and Wonder Woman have a child named Clark Wayne. So...there's that.
Based on The Wrap's rundown, the story simply would not have worked as a live-action blockbuster. The sheer number of characters that are introduced would have made it impossible for average moviegoers to wrap their heads around what was going on onscreen. It seemingly makes the sort of assumptions of its audience that DC's animated, direct-to-DVD efforts make; everyone watching knows all these characters, so their backstories are well-worn and superfluous. You simply can't get away with this sort of thing in a big-budget Hollywood film that's aiming to set up a shared universe and appeal to millions of casual fans.
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018