Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon's Justice League movie has been out for less than a month, during which the film has been panned by critics and largely underperformed at the box office. Some likely expected a little more from a film that brings together some of the most iconic DC comic book characters.
At the same time, one wouldn't be surprised at the eventual mess, given the project's troubled history of numerous rewrites, extensive reshoots, and rushed visual effects. You can throw your support behind Snyder's cut or wonder if a passable Justice League could ever have been made in our time. Well, wonder no more.
The Wrap came into possession of an unused Justice League screenplay from 2011. It was written by Will Beall, screenwriter for Gangster Squad and James Wan's upcoming Aquaman. Keep in mind, this script existed two years before Man of Steel and the official start of the DCEU. Even so, the screenplay is so packed to the gills with DC characters and references that it essentially spins its own shared universe within one movie; many of the elements from all the DC movies made so far are contained therein. There are a ton of details and set pieces, but the main highlights are that the heroes all basically know each other, Batman and Wonder Woman were romantically involved, Superman travels to the future via Boom Tube, Darkseid is the main villain, the Green Lantern Corps is present, Aquaman is nonexistent, and Lex Luthor helps fight with the good guys. Even KGBeast, Amanda Waller, and Hawkman show up. Like we said, there's a lot to unpack here.
Sadly, this pre-DCEU, pre-Avengers script never saw the light of day and we got the cinematic universe we know today. But Warner Brother's Justice League problems preceded even Beall's screenplay, dating back to a 2007 version. The studio wanted to fast-track the film so as to avoid the Writers Guild strike at the time. Originally titled Justice League Mortal, the project was passed up by Jason Reitman and fell into the hands of Mad Max's George Miller. D.J. Cotrona, Armie Hammer, and Megan Gale were cast as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, respectively. Due to a combination of the writers' strike and the obstinacy of the Australian government, production was pushed back. After the success of The Dark Knight in the summer of 2008, the studio decided to make movies for individual heroes instead of an ensemble piece. And just like that, Miller's massive effort simply fell apart. The poorly received Green Lantern opened three years later and Man of Steel two years after that.
Of course, Marvel's The Avengers arrived a year before the DCEU even launched and set the bar extremely high for superhero collaboration films. But what if Beall's script, or Miller's project, had been made? Would Warner Brothers have worked backward from ensemble piece to standalone movies in a reverse-engineering effort of the Marvel model, having beaten Earth's Mightiest Heroes to the team-up punch?
It's an interesting thought that we can only ponder with what we ended up getting and hope these characters eventually get the "justice" they deserve.