The quest to bring Batman to the screen began in the late 70s. Superman was a hit, so why not try other superheroes? Film development being the hellish process it is, it took nearly ten years to get 1989’s Batman. Not bad considering Tim Burton and screenwriter Sam Hamm were literally creating the empirical baseline on which all Bat movies would be based. The various sequels would either be a little darker and sinister, a little goofier, and finally downright retarded. By 1997, the series seemed finished but was strangely saved a few years later by a band of mutants. X-Men brought back super hero movies like a phoenix (pun intended) and suddenly Batman had another shot. But what’s almost more interesting than Batman’s return to the big screen is the story of the various attempts to get him there.
There is no such thing as a sure thing.
The Superman films are an odd lot. Richard Donner made the first big budget superhero blockbuster nearly twenty-five years before the dawn of the comic book era (see Shooting the Script’s look at “Earth’s Mightiest Decade“). Between 1987’s Superman IV and 2006’s Superman Returns, there were no less than seven attempts to bring the Man of Steel back to the screen. But only one involved the Bat.
Batman vs. Superman by Andrew Kevin Walker, the scribe behind Se7en, created a story that would put the two biggest Warner Brothers properties on a collision course. What is most fascinating about the proposed film is that Batman vs. Superman would work within the cannon of the previous eight films involving these characters. Five years after Batman & Robin, we find Bruce Wayne retired after the death of Dick Grayson while Superman fights to uphold his virtues in a changing world. The two end up at odds when a suddenly resurrected Joker emerges and murders Bruce’s new bride, sending him on a quest for bloody vengeance. Superman, who was a groomsman at Bruce’s wedding, tries to instill the whole “truth and justice” oath only to feel the fury of a kryptonite-laced bat-suit. The entire plot, as it turns out, is the brainchild of Lex Luthor who brought back the Joker with “a little grave digging, DNA extraction, and a billion dollars.”
Akiva Goldsman was hired to rewrite Walker’s script and Wolfgang Petersen stepped up to direct, with a 2008 release date. What happened? J.J. Abrams. Another solo Supes script caught the attention of Warner Brothers brass who felt Batman vs. Superman was too risky. If the film failed, it could kill two of the studios biggest properties in one blow. Abrams’ Superman: Flyby would also never get made, as Warner Brothers eventually gave the character to Bryan Singer, who thought it would be fun to watch Superman pick up heavier and heavier things for two hours.
The whole saga leaves me with two huge questions. We know that Petersen wanted Josh Hartnett or Jude Law to play Superman and Colin Farrell or Christian Bale for Batman. However, if Batman vs. Superman lives within both franchise’s cannon, could Gene Hackman have returned as Lex? Could we have seen Jack Nicholson as Joker?
Tune in tomorrow for more tales from Batman’s journey through development hell–same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!