Joss Whedon took over the reshoots for Justice League after director Zack Snyder had to leave the DC Extended Universe superhero ensemble due to a family tragedy. But the hoopla surrounding the reshoots, which reportedly drastically changed the film at the behest of Warner Bros., sent fans into a tizzy, with many embarking on a treasure hunt for scenes that hinted at Snyder’s “original vision.” (They couldn’t find it, and instead petitioned for a non-existent “director’s cut.”) But in the weeks since Justice League‘s release, we have learned a little more of who shot what — and the newest revelation is a little surprising.Details on a scrapped Justice League script show just how much worse the movie could’ve been before the DCEU. Warner Bros. is surveying all options for the future of the DC universe after the underwhelming debut of Justice League. The movie was supposed to serve as a launching point for the rest of their slate, but the final product was far from what was originally intended. The plans for the universe have continued to change throughout the years, and the studio was already thinking about a team up before a single film was released.
Back in 2011, Warner Bros. was working on a script for a Justice League film. Will Beall – who went on to write the screenplay for James Wan’s Aquaman – wrote a draft for Justice League long before the days of Man of Steel, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, or Wonder Woman. Serving as potentially the beginning of a franchise or simply the ultimate blockbuster, the version we never got is far different from the one currently in theaters.The journey to Justice League was a long, frustrating one, but in the end, it did lead us to a weird kind of nerdy Promised Land that no one, not even geeks, seem to be able to enjoy. To talk about why Justice League is such a breath of fresh air, we first need to situate it within the larger context of recent movie history. This involves dredging up discussion of a few other films with a base of passionate supporters who may only grow irked to hear their favorite flicks compared unfavorably to Justice League. There’s a definite divide when it comes to DC on film, but hopefully, having had a chance to digest this latest DC movie more fully, we should be able to enter into a civil discussion of its place in DC’s five-movie arc from 2013 until now.
Prior to 2017, the DCEU was an oppressive place, largely devoid of mirth. You might even say this tone was deliberate, insofar as its purveyors mistook dourness for drama. That was how Warner Bros. sought to distinguish its fledgling shared universe from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the very beginning, it was in the unenviable position of playing catch-up to the most commercially successful film franchise of all time. Marvel Studios had the advantage of doing half a decade of world-building before its Distinguished Competition ever got in the game. Warner Bros. had been waiting for a certain serious-minded filmmaker to finish his Dark Knight Trilogy.
In a feature on the site earlier this year, I put forth the argument that Christopher Nolan was the quintessential filmmaker of the 2000s, just in terms of the sheer pervasive influence he wielded. Going forward from that decade, the failure of the jokey Green Lantern seemed to put Warner Bros. off on the wrong track. (Flashback to Ryan Reynolds circa 2011, showing off his unconvincing CGI costume and quipping, “I know, right?”) We even once reported on the rumor that the studio had a “no jokes” mandate for its superhero movies. Since its own Batman Begins and The Dark Knight had already set the template for grim-and-gritty realism in reboots, it was only natural, however misguided, that it should retreat to the safe ground of the product it had already delivered.
Nolan was there to help shepherd Man of Steel as a hands-on producer. At the time, Zack Snyder was coming off his own 2011 failure, Sucker Punch, so the project certainly needed some guidance. With Nolan taking on a senior advisor role, serving in the capacity as “godfather” to Snyder’s Superman reboot, the film flirted with greatness.
Man of Steel’s first half features some neat ideas, like Clark Kent as a kid whose super-hearing and X-ray vision put him into sensory overload. Rebuilding Superman’s origin within the framework of a first-contact science fiction story is also a cool modern approach.
At the same time, the film has a lot of issues, and to really address them properly, we would need a whole separate space. The point is, Man of Steel, at least, is a film worth talking about. Its memorable Hans Zimmer score begins with a track called “Look to the Stars,” and you can very much see it reaching for the sky, striving toward a certain ideal, even if it never manages a full Superman take-off. Kevin Costner’s performance as Pa Kent anchors the movie emotionally — like Glenn Ford in the original 1978 Superman, he perfectly embodies the all-American dad — yet his character, as written, simultaneously presents profound problems in terms of character traits and character choices.
Ultimately, as the film eschews jokes and lingers on butterflies and windmills in its pastoral scenes, it feels like Snyder is merely aping Nolan or Terrence Malick’s style. As Superman’s other father, Jor-El, Russell Crowe might affect a high-born accent, but when he starts sweet-talking his pterodactyl, addressing it by some ludicrous dinosaur pet name as if he were reading Shakespeare (“Easy, H’raka. Easy, girl. His cells will drink its radiation”), it fosters the suspicion that this self-serious superhero flick lacks all self-awareness.
During the destruction of Krypton, Jor-El utters the line, “Nobody cares anymore, Kelex. The world is about to come to an end.” He might just as well have been reviewing the second half of Man of Steel. This is where the first hint of implacability on the part of fans starts to take shape. People complained that Bryan Singer’s navel-gazing Superman Returns did not have enough action. Responding to those criticisms, Warner Bros. and Zack Snyder delivered a film that leveled whole cities with its action, or at least large swaths of Metropolis and Superman’s hometown of Smallville. Critics called it “destruction porn” and it’s hard to argue with that description. The Wrap got their hands on Beall’s script for Justice League and shared the wild details it contained. Before getting into further detail, the overall summary of this version of Justice League features Darkseid as the main villain, includes time travel, the son of Batman and Wonder Woman, no Aquaman – but several other members of the League. The full roster stands at 28 characters: Darkseid, Steppenwolf, Batman, Superman, KGBeast, Lex Luthor, Killer Croc, Darkeid’s disciple Desaad, Flash, Amanda Waller, King Faraday, Tattooed Man, Copperhead, Cheetah, Solomon Grundy, John Stewart, Hawkman, Kanjar Ro, Wonder Woman, Katma Tui, Kilowag, Guy Gardner, Salakk, Tomar-Re, Deathstroke, Huntress, Captain Boomerang, and Mercy Graves.The plot of this Justice League movie is just as stuffed. It begins when Desaad steals Kryptonite (for Darkseid) from Lex Luthor and kills Killer Croc in the process. Superman and Batman are friends who recruit Flash after the battle with Desaad. Stewart and Hawkman attempt to stop Desaad from weaponizing the Kryptonite, are unsuccessful, and Superman becomes enslaved by Darkesid. He goes on to kill the entire Green Lantern Corps (except for Stewart). Once Superman breaks Darkseid’s mind control, he travels to the future to see Wonder Woman, an old Batman, their son Clark Wayne, and Lex Luthor trying to stave off Darkseid’s rein, but he’s killed 80 percent of the world’s population. Future Flash travels back to the present day and dies in his own arms. The final battle is on Apokolips with the entire League, all the Lanterns, and all Amazons battling Darkseid and his army.
Even though the final product of Justice League left much to be desired for many, it’s probably still better than this version. It reeks of universe building in the quickest way possible, and the sheer volume of (all new) characters is hard to fathom. Thanks to the roster and the film’s winding plot, there’s no way this version could’ve fit the 2-hour mandate the actual Justice League got. If anything, it sounds like a movie that needs to be two parts or even an entire trilogy.
This script would’ve brought many characters who have yet to see the light of day to the big screen, but it also features many that have gone on to appear in the DCEU. As the universe continues, the better the chances are for the likes of John Stewart, Hawkman, Cheetah, Darkseid, etc. to appear, but it’s simply too much for one movie. Thankfully, WB figured that out and this film – like fellow scrapped project George Miller’s Justice League Mortal – was never made, but don’t be surprised if certain elements are used in future films.