This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
After Ben Affleck’s departure from the DCEU as Batman it looks like we’ll soon be meeting a new Caped Crusader – very possibly in the shape of Robert Pattinson. Many big screen Batmen have come before, and we’re sure many more will follow.
You probably already know that there have been plenty of Batman sequels that nearly happened. The Batman & Robin follow-up Batman Triumphant, the rumored-but-never-actually-true continuation of the Nolan-verse, and a second return for Michael Keaton (back in the early ’90s) have all fallen through at various stages of development/discussions.
So, let’s spare a thought for the Batmen that never quite made it to the screen in the first place, the projects that failed to grapple their way out of development hell.
Batman: Year One
Notorious, this one – it’s a project that you can definitely file in the bizarre folder. It has a script that you can still read online if you’re inclined to find out the whole grizzly story for yourself.
In development around the year 2000, Year One was set to be helmed by Darren Aronofsky. His flair for the subversive and surreal side of cinema goes some way to explaining just how radical a reimagining the script had in store. It was a script he co-wrote with Frank Miller, who penned the much-loved comic of the same name in 1987. The comic was revolutionary at the time and is still considered the gold standard of Batman origin stories, but it’s nowhere near the same level of weirdness and disregard as this never-made film, which took a very odd approach to the Batman mythos.
Firstly, Aronofsky and Miller reimagined Bruce Wayne as a nightmare-tormented garage worker who fled from the Wayne fortune upon seeing his parents murdered as a child. He’s given “the claustrophobic room of an obsessive compulsive” for a home and the script describes his first outing as a crime fighter as an “almost orgasmic release of raw, pent up violence.”
Without the Wayne money to support him, he makes homemade explosives and wears a hockey mask as part of his first costume. The bat part of things comes into play as the media interpretation of a ‘TW’ inscription on a ring that Bruce’s father gave him. When Bruce punches criminals, the ring leaves a mark a bit like a bat, y’see. No fall in the Wayne Manor grounds, no inherent fear of Bats… and that’s not the strangest part of Year One.
Remember Alfred Pennyworth, the Wayne family butler and trusty assailant to Batman’s mission? Well, Millar and Aronofsky’s script throws him out in favor of “Little Al” – a “gigantic, early middle-aged black man” who works in a garage and took Bruce in as a young runaway. Bruce uses what he learns in Al’s garage to turn his Lincoln Continental into a makeshift Batmobile.
Alfred wasn’t the only character rigorously reimagined – Selina Kyle is no longer a cat burglar, but a 20-something dominatrix working at “The Cathouse” brothel (elements of this could be found in the comics as well). Her romantic interest in Bruce – who saves her early on, before she becomes Catwoman – is one of the few things carried over from the comics. Jim Gordon is a suicidal father-to-be, and remains Batman’s lone ally on the force.
Year One could have been just as tricky – albeit for different reasons – for Batman’s cinematic potential as Batman & Robin, but the chances of it getting made were always fairly slim. Aronofsky has since admitted that, saying “I think Warners always knew it would never be something they could make. I think rightfully so, because four-year-olds buy Batman stuff… so they really need a PG property.”
As curious a tale as it is, the ditched development of Year One certainly seems like an odd chapter in the potential cinematic history of Gotham’s Dark Knight (although we can’t pretend the idea of a Darren Aronofsky-directed Batman film isn’t an intriguing one). It’s interesting to think how Christian Bale – linked to the role at the time – would have handled this very different material.
Around the same time as Batman: Year One was being developed, a Batman Beyond movie was also in the works. Given the success of the Batman Beyond animated series (which ran from 1999-2001), the plan here was to bring this continuation of Batman’s legacy to the big screen as a big budget live action spectacular.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, the Batman Beyond animated series is a futuristic continuance of the Batman story after the events of the more traditional tales told in Batman: The Animated Series.
It kicks off in 2019, where an older Bruce Wayne is struggling to keep up the mantle of Batman in light of his deteriorating health. He suffers a mild heart attack during what would turn out to be his final foray as Batman, betraying his lifelong no-guns policy by threatening a criminal with a shooting, in fear of being beaten to death. Alfred, Lucius Fox, Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock and Leslie Thompkins are dead. Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, and Tim Drake have all severed ties with Bruce, who is also no longer a member of the Justice League.
As openings go, it’s one of the darkest in Batman lore…which is saying something.
Jump forward to 2039 and Bruce is now reclusively living in Wayne Manor with only his dog for company. Athletic teen Terry McGinnis stumbles into the Wayne Manor grounds one night, protecting his girlfriend from a fracas involving a Joker-inspired criminal gang, The Jokerz. Bruce aids Terry in the bout, winning the fight but aggravating his heart condition in the process. Terry helps Bruce back to the mansion, discovering evidence of his vigilante past while exploring the building. Bruce is pretty annoyed, and sends him on his way.
Soon, of course, Terry is taking up the mantle of Batman, after finding his father murdered, and later discovering that said dad was investigating illegal chemical weapons made by Wayne-Powers (a post-merger incarnation of Wayne Enterprises). He is given training by Bruce and soon builds his own rogues gallery involving radiation-emitting metahumans, shape-shifters, terrorists and, eventually, the Joker himself.
The film version? Well, little is known of exactly what was in the script, but we’d expect almost everything in the origin story we described above to have factored in somewhere. The TV show’s co-creators Paul Dini and Alan Burnett were writing the screenplay, with help from author Neal Stephenson and Remember The Titans director Boaz Yakin (who would also direct the film). Warner Bros dropped it in August 2002, and it hadn’t lasted a year in development. A shame, as we think there’s definitely an excellent movie to be made from the Batman Beyond story.
No, not that one – we’re talking here about the early 2000s Batman v Superman movie which would have featured another rebooted Batman, but one that only made it as far as being an in-joke in the background of I Am Legend.
This project came about at a time where Warner Bros. was struggling to get either of DC’s finest heroes back onto the big screen. The shadow of Christopher Reeve still hung over the Superman character, and the sins of Batman & Robin had yet to be forgiven. The state of things was so bad that even McG wouldn’t direct JJ Abrams’ script for Superman: Flyby, preferring to jump ship to Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle instead. Meanwhile, Year One and Batman Beyond were going nowhere fast.
The new solution? Well, that was to reboot both franchises at once with a World’s Finest-style collaboration. The twist being that they were fighting each other, not the bad guys (to start with at least). Se7enand Sleepy Hollow writer Andrew Kevin Walker pitched the idea, but Akiva Goldsman (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, and later I Am Legend) was soon rewriting Walker’s script.
Bruce Wayne was having a mental breakdown, five years after hanging up the cape and cowl, in Goldsman’s 2002 script draft. Alfred, Dick Grayson and Commissioner Gordon are dead and Supes is having a difficult time of it thanks to a divorce from Lois Lane.
Things only get worse when Bruce marries his fiancé Elizabeth. She dies while the newlyweds are on their honeymoon, and all the clues point towards the Joker. Bruce swears revenge, Clark Kent tries to stop him and soon the two superheroes end up fighting (“what do you know about human suffering? You’re some space freak” zings the dialogue). Lex Luthor is behind the whole thing, it turns out, attempting to get the duo to destroy each other. Of course, they end up bringing Lex down together instead. The powers that be even got as far as planning a shoot, before reprioritizing Flyby and dropping the idea altogether.
Justice League: Mortal
Jump forward five years to 2007, and Warner Bros were again looking to get another Batman on the big screen. With more similarities to Batman v. Superman than Year One or Batman Beyond, this movie would have featured multiple heroes. It was to be a team-up movie, entitled Justice League: Mortal.
Michele and Kieran Mulroney – the husband and wife duo who would eventually write Ryan Reynolds-starring Paper Man and Robert Downey Jr.’s sleuthing sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows together – were hired to write a script featuring a younger Batman in a separate universe to the Bale version seen in Batman Begins (The Dark Knight was in pre-production when Warner Bros set this assignment).
Armie Hammer (later seen in The Social Network and The Lone Ranger) was cast as this younger Batman, with the intention being that he would grow into the role in this and a series of sequels. With a jawline like his, it’s not hard to see why he was picked.
Superman would be played by D.J. Cotrona of G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies) was Talia al Ghul, and Wonder Woman would be model Megan Gale. George Miller of the Mad Max series (and, lest we forget, Babe: Pig In The City) was set to direct. Megan Gale and George Miller will reunite for Mad Max: Fury Road, interestingly enough.
Armie Hammer later told Vulture that costumes were made (Batman would be able to turn his head), storyboards were done and the shoot was just about to begin. “They had pre-vizzed a lot of the special-effects sequences,” he elaborated, “and we saw some of the fight sequences without even having filmed them yet.”
And they would never get the chance, as the Writers Guild Of America’s strike put a stop to production just before the shoot was about to begin in Australia. Then, the Australian Film Commission denied Warner Bros a 45 percent tax rebate, as they were unhappy with the amount of Australian actors in the film. Production was moved to Vancouver instead, but by the time all the problems were straightened out The Dark Knight had come out and blown the doors off the superhero cinema status quo.
Suddenly, Warner Bros were happy to cancel Justice League and continue with Christopher Nolan’s vision instead. These days, it’s difficult to imagine a world where we got an Armie Hammer-starring Justice League: Mortal instead of The Dark Knight, but it came very close to being a reality. Of course, the Justice League movie we ended up with bore no resemblance to this movie at all.
Of all of these we’d most like to see Batman Beyond, but hey, at least we have the excellent animated series…