Before we start off here, let’s be clear about something: we’re referring to 2017’s Justice League as a Zack Snyder film because that’s how it’s marketed. In reality, we all know it’s the Josstice League, so keep that in mind before you hit the comments section (if you’ve even made it this far). Whichever way you look at it, we’re sure that everyone involved in this troubled production is glad it’s finally over. After all the headaches, media scrutiny, and studio interference, this was one film that couldn’t stay out of the limelight (for all the wrong reasons).
It’s not the first time that a Justice League film has had problems, though. Back in 2007, Mad Max director, George Miller, signed on to direct Justice League: Mortal. The film was heavy in pre-production when the Writers Guild of America’s strike derailed the project completely. In the years that followed, the script, artwork, and costume designs have all leaked, leaving many to wonder what might’ve been. Many have said it would’ve been better than Snyder’s effort, while others have thanked their lucky stars that it didn’t pan out. In an effort to provide a balanced opinion here, CBR will look at both sides of the coin.
16. BETTER: CLASSIC JUSTICE LEAGUE LINE-UP
When news broke of Snyder’s plans for Justice League, there was a lot of moaning (as expected) about the initial members. You see, Snyder went with the New 52 version of the team rather than the one from the animated series, which more fans are more familiar with. Plus, he didn’t include a Green Lantern in the team – something that made GL fans rage.
Miller’s film would’ve introduced Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern (John Stewart) – and Wally West would’ve suited up as the Flash, too. It’s a much more familiar line-up, and includes two of the most-beloved characters (Wally and Martian Manhunter) who aren’t named Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman. For many fans, this is as close to a seminal Justice League line-up as possible.
15. WORSE: THOSE COSTUMES…
While the line-up for Justice League: Mortal might be stronger than Snyder’s, it’s safe to say the costumes aren’t. Regardless of what you think of Snyder’s films, the man has an eye for art and detail. The costumes (in the scenes he shot) were spectacular and looked gorgeous on the big screen – especially Batman’s tactical suit in the last act.
Miller’s costumes were certainly comic book-accurate, but that’s not always a good thing in a movie. Superman’s costume, in particular, appeared like it was a grown man’s pajamas, while Aquaman looked like a member of the Village People. Armie Hammer did take to Twitter to debunk that the Justice League: Mortal picture circulating was the finished product, though. He mentioned that the Batsuit wasn’t right and that the Green Lantern was not the right actor.
14. BETTER: NATURAL HUMOR
It’s pretty obvious who inserted all the jokes into Justice League. Sadly, more times than not, they fell extremely flat. Martha’s “thirsty” joke and Batman’s “I don’t not like you” were way off the mark, and it showed that Joss Whedon had little-to-no-understanding of these characters or their motivations. Rather than create situations where the humor might be natural and fluid, they were added in as subtlety as laugh tracks in sitcoms (“laugh at this NOW, humans”).
Reading the script for Justice League: Mortal, it’s obvious that the bulk of the humor would’ve come from Barry Allen and Wally West. There’s even a fun segment where they play ping pong against each other and you only see blurs as they play. That feels more natural and like something you’d expect from the Flashes.
13. WORSE: QUESTIONABLE CASTINGS
While the castings of Armie Hammer as Batman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Common as Green Lantern, and Adam Brody as Barry Allen sounded exciting, the others were rather lackluster. First, could D.J. Cotrona pull off Superman? Sure, he has the look, but does he have the necessary acting chops to portray the greatest superhero of all time?
Second, Jay Baruchel as Maxwell Lord could’ve panned out in the same way as Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor – we just don’t see it. Baruchel is a good actor, but his Lord would’ve come across as another millennial villain rather than a shrewd businessman. To top it all off, Teresa Palmer as Talia al Ghul sounded like a really bad idea, as there were much better fits for the role at the time.
12. BETTER: WALLY WEST
Another thing that would’ve made Justice League: Mortal incredible was the introduction of Wally West. While at first he wouldn’t be the main Flash in the movie, he would’ve had the opportunity to suit up and claim his place on the legendary superhero team. For many fans, he is the only Flash they knew because DC killed off Barry Allen and kept him dead for 23 years.
While Ezra Miller’s portrayal of Barry in Justice League was largely praised, one of the biggest criticisms was that he seemed to display more of Wally’s character traits than Barry’s. It’s fair criticism, even though it was likely intentional from the filmmakers’ side. They probably decided to combine the two characters in an effort to please fans of both characters.
11. WORSE: TOO MUCH IN THE SCRIPT
Look, Snyder is an ambitious filmmaker. He strives to go big or go home, and we really need more cinephiles who view film in the same way. After all, there are only so many generic blockbusters that you can crank out (right, Disney?). Even so, Justice League was a stock-standard affair with a linear plot that was simple enough for a child to follow.
Justice League: Mortal‘s script, though, aimed to do a lot in its 128 pages (which roughly translates to 128 minutes of screen time). There were a lot of characters in the mix, and it introduced several subplots as well. Would this have made the film any better? We’re not so sure. Miller is a terrific director, but even he might not have been able to make all of the film’s elements work coherently.
10. BETTER: GROUNDED VILLAINS
The biggest criticism of Justice League (apart from mustache-gate) was Steppenwolf. For the umpteenth time, we had another big, bad CGI villain in the third act. Mind you, this isn’t only a complaint of this film, as it’s a prevalent problem across the superhero genre in general. Still, the movie could’ve benefited from a more grounded villain as its main antagonist.
Justice League: Mortal was a product of its time. In those days, most superhero movie villains were people in costumes, and the films were far better because of it. By including Maxwell Lord and Talia al Ghul as the two antagonists, it saved the production a massive amount of money on CGI and would’ve given us real-life threats. As much as cosmic rogues are fun, we’re a little tired of them now.
9. WORSE: LACK OF A BUILD-UP TO THE TEAM-UP
In one way, it’s a good thing that Justice League: Mortal didn’t have the pressure of a cinematic universe behind it. It was meant to be its own thing, which allowed the filmmakers complete carte blanche of what they wanted to do. There were no limitations, nor the need to add nods to forthcoming films. It was its own beast.
At the same time, the release of the film was puzzling. We’d seen Batman Begins in 2005, Superman Returns in 2006, and The Dark Knight was coming in 2008. Yet, the film had no ties to any of those properties. It would’ve been a bit weird to see Christian Bale’s Batman and then Armie Hammer’s a few months apart. Surely, this would’ve confused the average movie goer, since there was no main reference point.
8. BETTER: NO REHASH OF THE ORIGINS
Another bold move by Miller was to ignore origin stories for the characters. In his film, the world would’ve already been set up and these characters established in their superhero roles. We’ve discussed how build-up movies could’ve assisted Justice League: Mortal for the average movie goer, but it’s good that the film itself wouldn’t be strictly an origin story.
If you think back to Justice League, the first half of the film is spent exploring Cyborg, Aquaman, and the Flash’s “origins”. At the same time, it’s rushed and we don’t even feel like we know the characters well enough to sympathize with their motivations for becoming heroes. If this had all been established before the film, it would’ve undoubtedly flowed better and given the main plot more breathing space.
7. WORSE: BATMAN SNAPS A NECK
Sigh. No, Batman didn’t outright kill in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Was he careless and nonchalant about how he drove the Batmobile and smashed up criminals? Sure. But he didn’t grab a criminal and gut the goon (and no, the Knightmare stuff was all a dream so it doesn’t count). By the time that Justice League came around, Bruce Wayne tempered his rage in favor of a schoolboy crush on Wonder Woman.
Well, in Justice League: Mortal‘s script, there’s a controversial moment that evokes memories of Man of Steel when Superman snapped Zod’s neck. In this instance, Batman would’ve snapped Maxwell Lord’s neck, but Lord’s mind would’ve transferred to a nearby computer. Whether this would’ve caused as much outrage as Snyder’s Batman is debatable. Still, it’s kind of weird to think of the Dark Knight snapping a neck with such callousness.
6. BETTER: BATMAN’S PARANOIA
After Ben Affleck’s strong performance as the Dark Knight in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, it was such a bummer to see his characterization in Justice League. There’s one particular scene where he sees Superman return and he smiles like he’s won the lotto or something. Seriously, where the hell have you ever seen the Caped Crusader smile because of the Man of Steel?
In Justice League: Mortal, we would’ve liked a more comic book-accurate depiction of Batman and his never-ending paranoia. Drawing inspiration from the Tower of Babel storyline, the World’s Greatest Detective would’ve kept track of all the other superheroes and their weaknesses. When Brother Eye is hacked by Maxwell Lord, all his spying and research would fall into the wrong hands and expose him as the hero with severe trust issues.
5. WORSE: LESSENED THE IMPACT OF THE DARK KNIGHT
Let’s be honest here: if Justice League: Mortal had been released just after The Dark Knight, it would’ve lessened the impact of both films. Why? Because it would’ve felt like the Batman was being rebooted (and reboot is always such a dirty word). Heck, imagine if it had even been a better movie by some odd chance. That would’ve killed Christopher Nolan’s Batman career and prevented us from seeing one of the greatest cinematic trilogies of all time.
There’s no mistaking that The Dark Knight changed the future of superhero films and ensured that it’s a genre to be reckoned with. It’s not only recognized as one of the best comic book movies of all time, but it also has made many all-time greatest films lists. We can’t even bear to fathom that this could’ve all been jeopardized by Justice League: Mortal.
4. BETTER: MORE SUPERMAN
Despite all the rumors, we did receive quite a bit of Superman in Justice League. Additionally, his return against Steppenwolf sent shivers down our spines – especially with that hint of the classic John Williams theme. That said, we wouldn’t complain if we’d seen even more of the Man of the Steel in the film.
As expected, Miller’s Justice League: Mortal would’ve had Superman as one of its leading stars, and we’d get an opportunity to witness his leadership as well as his raw power – including a fight against his fellow League members. Fortunately, Snyder included that bit and tweaked it for his own film, so that wasn’t lost over the years. Even so, a Justice League adventure will always be better with more Superman screen time, right?
3. WORSE: BARRY ALLEN’S DEATH
Since Justice League: Mortal had no shared universe to worry about, Miller had the opportunity to really up the stakes and go for the jugular – and he duly intended on doing so. As per the script available online, Barry Allen was set to sacrifice himself for the team, and set up Wally West as the new Flash.
While it’s always welcome to see West as an incarnation of the Flash, it would’ve been incredibly sad to witness the death of Barry on film. It’s understandable how it would’ve furthered the overall plot and left a bigger impact on the audience, but we’d be too traumatized to even want to watch a superhero film again after that. Seriously, can we please stop killing all the Flashes already?
2. BETTER: STARRO’S APPEARANCE
Fan service is a finicky thing. You do too much of it, and you’re accused of servicing only the fans of the source material. You do too little, and suddenly you’re butchering the material. It’s no surprise that most directors hate working on superhero films, because there’s always the chance they’ll be crucified on the Internet for something they did (or didn’t do).
Justice League: Mortal ‘s script took inspiration from several Justice League storylines, but it was largely its own thing. The ending of the film was set to be a bit of fan service, though, as it would’ve concluded with the League heading off to face Starro, whose main claim to fame is being the first villain to face the original Justice League. Now, that would’ve been a stupendous way to end off proceedings.
1. WORSE: AQUAMAN AND WONDER WOMAN AREN’T LIKEABLE
Reading through the Justice League: Mortal script, it’s easy to see that screenwriters Kieran and Michele Mulroney took the time to get acquainted with the characters – bar two of the leads. In this version, both Wonder Woman and Aquaman come off as hostile – and not really the nicest people around. You could understand Batman being a prickly pear, but these two?
While Arthur Curry has come off as a bit of a snob in certain interpretations of his character, he’s really abrasive and annoying here (why didn’t they kill him off instead of Barry?). Diana Prince wasn’t much better, either, as she paraded around like she owned the planet. Considering how endearing Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is, it’s hard to imagine the character in any other way but likeable.
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