Like most people, seeing the sheer destructive majesty of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road made me wonder what George Miller’s Justice League: Mortal would have been like. When it was in development, it was easy to mock. The script was a muddled advertisement for potential future films that was simultaneously childish and dark, and the assembled cast didn’t seem formidable enough for God-like characters. Now, what Miller was able to do on a decades-later, long-delayed sequel changes the narrative of the long-dead superhero movie.
At the same time – like most raw balls of potential – every argument for brilliance comes with an argument for disaster (and vice versa).
1. It’s still insane to imagine the kind of freedom Warner Bros. gave Miller for Fury Road, but it’s highly unlikely that the studio would have given Miller anywhere near that kind of freedom for Justice League — allowing a wonderfully deranged director to shape the vision for a new cinematic universe. Then again, sets were already being built, and the project was headed toward shooting before being derailed, so it’s unclear what all madness Warner Bros. had already signed off on.
2. The screenplay by Kieran and Michele Mulroney tried to do too many things all at once (by studio edict), and featured a weak villain who takes control of Batman’s surveillance satellite program and attempts to take over the world via his ultra-popular chain of superhero-themed fast food joints, but Miller could have managed to maintain a bombastically epic scope where every single cent of the budget was on screen (in a way some other superhero movies couldn’t).
3. The cast was assembled at a time when studios didn’t think they could lock major stars into extended, screen-sharing contracts, so you had a B-team taking on the responsibility of a huge studio movie, but A) there’s still something interesting about that and B) Miller drew good performances out of super models, so who knows what heights he could have pulled Common, Jay Baruchel, Adam Brody and DJ Cotrona to. Plus, Megan Gale would have made a fierce Wonder Woman, and there’s something delightful (in an alternate universe way) of imagining Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) as the Martian Manhunter. Superman was supposed to be more alien than mild-mannered do-gooder, and Armie Hammer could have been strong as Bruce Wayne and Batman.
4. It wouldn’t have lined up with Christopher Nolan’s Batman series at all (and there are side implications to that), but then there’s this to consider:
5. It might have been a clustercuss that put Warner Bros. on the back foot regarding superheroes for another decade, but it also could have been the wonderfully bizarre lovechild of Mad Max and Babe, and (with hindsight) it may not have been any worse than Man of Steel.
At the very least, this project deserves the same cult consideration that Superman Lives received. Maybe it doesn’t need a documentary made about it, but it’s still a fascinating failure brought down by decreased Australian tax incentives, increased budgets and a writer’s strike.
After 8 years of superhero beer belly at theaters (and as many bland catastrophes as thrilling successes), maybe the greatest thing Miller’s Justice League: Mortal had going for it was the gigantic question mark floating over its head. Its weirdness. Its experimentation. All the elements that made it seem like a crushingly bad idea.
At this point, I’ve come full circle on the project, so I’m sad that it never got made. On the other hand, we probably would have had to wait even longer for Mad Max: Fury Road, so I can’t be too disappointed. Still, I think it’s important that we elevate this unmade movie above the typical pile of would-be projects and remember it as something gloriously weird that came within inches of being a reality and could have potentially altered the trajectory of superhero movies significantly.