You probably already knew this, but in case you forgot — George Miller, the guy who exploded your eyeballs this past weekend with Mad Max: Fury Road, was directing a Justice League movie at one point. What the hell happened?

Miller’s film would have been called Justice League: Mortal, and it was in production back in 2007. The cast was rehearsing, sets were built, and so on. And then, a combination of a sky-rocketing budget, changing tax incentives in Australia, the writer’s strike, and a few other factors put the film on the back burner — and after The Dark Knight came out in 2008, nobody wanted to put Batman in an ensemble film right away.

The cast of the film would have been a pretty youthful spin on the League:

Superman: DJ Cotrona (G.I. Joe: Retaliation)

Batman: Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger, Man from U.N.C.L.E.)

Wonder Woman: Megan Gale (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Flash: Adam Brody (The O.C.)

Green Lantern: Common (Terminator Salvation)

Martian Manhunter: Hugh Keays-Byrne (Mad Max, Mad Max: Fury Road)

Aquaman: Santiago Cabrera (Heroes)

Talia Al-Ghul: Teresa Palmer (I Am Number Four)

Iris Allen: Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks)

Maxwell Lord: Jay Baruchel (This Is The End)

Here’s pretty much the only cast photo ever taken, released by stunt performer Greg Van Borssum (more pictures on Van Borssum’s IMDB page, via Rust Belt Flicks).

The screenplay of Justice League: Mortal, by Kieran and Michele Mulroney, was loosely based on a few different Justice League comics arcs, including Tower of Babel. Batman creates a satellite called Brother Eye to spy on all the other members of the Justice League, because he fears they’ll use their powers for evil — and then the satellite gets hijacked by businessman Max Lord, who uses it for evil. Max Lord also creates an army of killer cyborgs, called OMACs. In the end, Batman snaps Max Lord’s neck and the Flash (Barry Allen) gets turned into an OMAC and fights the rest of the League, before sacrificing his life, in an ending basically copied from Crisis on Infinite Earths.

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The script leaked online in 2013, and I remember reading a big chunk of it then — and it’s not very good. The general consensus was that it was trying to set up too much of the DC Universe too quickly, and that it’s too cluttered with baggage from the 1990s and early 2000s Justice League comics. As The Playlist put it, this script “very likely could have temporarily killed adaptations in the same way that Batman and Robin did in 1997.”

The idea of jumping into DC’s shared universe, and introducing characters like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern for the first time, in a convoluted storyline about a surveillance satellite gone rogue definitely does not sound like a great notion. And maybe that was one reason the writer’s strike was such a problem — this film needed a rewrite before filming could begin in early 2008.

That said, especially after having just watched Fury Road, and being filled with the desire to do nothing but go back and watch Fury Road again, I’m absolutely certain this film could have looked amazing.

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We still haven’t even seen any concept art from the film, but Cotrona told one interviewer that the stuff that Weta was putting together was “amazing”: “The scale of this was fantastical. It was a Lord of the Rings scale.”

Miller also told Ain’t It Cool News that “the work [Weta was doing] was so wonderful. I have the maquettes that they sent me very prominently in my office. I see them every day. It’s just beautiful work.”

Baruchel, during promotion for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, told Digital Spy:

I’ll just say this, if we had been able to make the movie that we had gone down [to Australia] to rehearse, if you had seen the production art I’d seen... it would’ve been the coolest thing ever. It would have been the neatest vision of Batman and the coolest vision of Superman you’ve ever seen. It would have been dark and fairly brutal and quite gory and just f**king epic....

They had everything there; maquettes, pre-visualisation, absolutely everything and we had assembled this neat cast. The rehearsal process was so strange and so unconventional and, I know it sounds hard to believe, but I assure you it would have been something f**king awesome!

According to Baruchel, Cotrona and Hammer spent a few months in Australia, training with the Special Forces for their roles as Superman and Batman.

Cotrona also told CinemaBlend: “The version of Superman that we were going to build was incredible. We were very much leaning towards alien, you know, not like down and out Clark Kent, but a fully realized alien, alien god. This guy was always flying and the design of the suit was, there was very, very cool subtle details that were really cool, but tonally it was like a god, like the ultimate powerful god and the relationship between Batman and Superman that we were going to make in this movie was the one that I always wanted to see.”

Miller told the Word Ballon podcast that the Batman and Superman costumes were very much in line with what they’re wearing in the New 52 comics, but Wonder Woman’s costume had “more detail instead of flat gold, and had the Alex Ross skirt.” He added that Jay Baruchel’s Max Lord would have been a “very nerdy” villain who was obsessed with the superheroes and was trying to infect the world with some sort of virus with his chain of superhero-themed restaurants.

Miller also told the podcast:

It was very faithful to the comics at the time, very DCU. Ultimately I think its good that it didn’t come out as there were some parts that were cool that they got right and there were some things that people were going to hate. Some of it was very aimed at kids.

It’s hard to tell what would have happened if Justice League: Mortal had actually come out in 2008 or 2009 — maybe it would have derailed Miller’s career and we wouldn’t have gotten Fury Road after all. Or maybe, as Collider suggests, it could have been a huge hit, and DC might have wound up providing Marvel with real serious competition over the past half-dozen years.


Contact the author at charliejane@io9.com.