Script Review: Justice League Mortal

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Justice League Mortal is one of the more curious entries in the storied history of DC Comics adaptations that never were. Back in 2007, out of seemingly nowhere, Warner had greenlit a script written by Mr. and Mrs. Smith writers Michele and Kieran Mulroney for a live-action movie uniting all of DC’s premiere Leaguers – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman. Yet it would reportedly have no connection to Batman Begins, nor Superman Returns, and neither Christian Bale nor Brandon Routh would be joining the proceedings. In their place was a cast of young then-unknowns, people that looked more fitting for a CW drama about high school and dating and locker-side talks about whether or not I’m ready to lose my virginity than the premiere superhero team-up epic for 50 years and counting. Mad Max trilogy helmer George Miller was signed to direct, and production set to begin in Australia. A start date was set, WETA Digital was standing by to do the effects, and the actors had all familiarized themselves with their location and costumes. All that was left was to start shooting.

Then it all went away.

Just as abruptly as it had come, a myriad of complications – the 2007-08 Writer’s Strike, Warner’s Australian tax rebates expiring, a ballooning budget, and overwhelmingly negative reaction from fans – put the project on indefinite hold. Years later, the disenfranchised players would express their disappointment, among them Jay Baruchel, better known as the awkward kid from Knocked Up. Baruchel was set to play the villainous Maxwell Lord, which if you know anything about the character from the comics, illustrates exactly how insanely ill-fitting the casting was. “It would’ve been the coolest thing ever,” enthused Baruchel. “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 fucking epic.” More recently, on the press circuits for G.I. Joe: Retaliation, would-be Superman actor DJ Contra agreed, “It was a damn shame that we didn’t get to finish that. I promise you that it would have been amazing. It would have been incredible.”

Last year I wrote a scathing blog post about my disgust over the leaked details of the project, which was based on the Tower of Babel arc (see my Justice League Doom review for further details). After reading the script itself (which has since leaked online), I can say without fear of contradiction that it is easily the worst possible treatment I’ve ever seen these characters receive in any medium. There’s just one problem – months after I read the draft, I came across another incomplete draft of the screenplay which I can confirm as legitimate, and its story structure is far different and far removed from the abysmal, seeming fan-fiction senselessness of the first draft. Despite everything contained in this first draft matching up with everything we’ve learned about the production, could this draft be a fake? If it is, I would be very surprised that it took me as long as it did to find it and read it, but if it isn’t, I weep for the state of screenwriting in Hollywood today.

Either way, Mortal’s production hinged on the idea of rushing out a movie based on six different characters without actually bothering to properly introduce them first. Thankfully it seems WB have realized their mistake and are now taking time to introduce and build a cohesive universe for their characters. As for this forgotten relic of yesteryear, I took a long, beat-for-painful-beat look at this first, hopefully phony draft, which makes the likes of Batman & Robin look like The Dark Knight.

***

We open with the “S” on Superman’s chest, described as “black on black.” How that would even be visible is anyone’s guess. We see the heroes, Superman, the Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern (no Batman), laying a fellow member of the Justice League to rest. Wonder Woman stands at the podium and delivers a eulogy. Cut to two days earlier, where Barry Allen and his girlfriend Iris are dining at a superhero-themed burger stand called Planet Krypton, Barry’s favorite. Their grumpy waiter approaches dressed like the Flash, introduces himself as such, and asks to take their orders. After taking Barry’s order, Barry quips, “And Flash…make it quick, will you?” following up with a burst of laughter. Hilarious.

Iris tells Barry her nephew Wally is coming in tonight, but Barry’s attention is glued to a nearby TV broadcasting news footage of Wonder Woman, whom he apparently has a thing for, and even says as much in front of Iris, because fuck being a good boyfriend. We are then violently yanked into space to glimpse Brother Eye, a satellite set up by Batman to spy on the other Leaguers and study their weaknesses. The script tells us at least three times during this sequence that Batman is acting paranoid. Perhaps if we were given some kind of, I don’t know, characterization, I might care one way or the other about the fact that Batman is acting paranoid. This is where the original Tower of Babel got into a fascinating freedom vs. security debate, but without any kind of character background, we can’t lend Batman any sympathy or understanding for his actions, because all we know is that he’s removed from humanity and, well…paranoid.

Paranoid

And not the good kind.

Batman changes out of his suit and heads upstairs to his “surprise” birthday party, which apparently he does a lot because the same damn thing happens in Batman Begins. Suddenly, without his knowledge Brother Eye automatically targets Denver policeman John Jones, alias Martian Manhunter, in a scene awkwardly intercut with the birthday party, where rich guy Maxwell Lord is making a big speech about how great it is to be rich. We cut back to John investigating when he finds some kind of murky black goo in a barrel, which attacks and sets him on fire. He reverts back to his Martian form, speeds away in his car, and promptly runs it into a wall. Okay.

Back at Planet Krypton, Iris is talking to Barry about the other members of the Justice League she’d like to fuck. The script reads, “Warm smiles between them, like you only see with two people who’ve been in love a long time.” Dear god, this exposition is terrible. Barry soon has to run to stop a fire nearby as the Flash; upon arriving at the scene, he creates a tornado with his arms to blow it out, but accidentally sucks another firefighter into the blaze. Nice going, fuckwad. Wonder Woman then enters to save the firefighter, leaving Flash completely in awe of her. “THE FLASH sticks out his hand like an idiot.” Well at least these writers are somewhat self-aware.

We see Martian Manhunter approaching from nearby, completely blackened by the fire. Flash, being the idiot he is, says, “Isn’t he supposed to be green?” before Manhunter catches aflame again. Acute observation, Flash. You’re exactly who I want to help me when I’m burning alive right in front of you. Speaking of terrible characterization, what exactly is Wonder Woman’s purpose here anyway? We’re given absolutely no idea of who she is, where she came from, what she’s fighting for, or any other real details about her other than she’s hot, wears a costume, and helps people sometimes. It’s as if the writers are just dangling action figures in our faces and expecting us to think nothing more than, “wow, Wonder Woman! COOL!”

Back at the birthday party, Bruce is now the one standing slack-jawed at the entrance of Talia Al Ghul, while Maxwell provides the exposition that Batman fought and won against “the Demon Head,” which I’m assuming is a tactless reference to the events of Begins. There’s also a brief “one year ago” flashback which shows Talia and Bats making out, before Bats dumps her altogether. Oh, and Maxwell’s nose starts bleeding, because apparently even the characters in this script can’t handle its complete disregard for logic. Where did Talia come from? How does she already have a history with Batman? Did she just randomly show up after Ra’s died and decided she wanted to fuck the man who let her father die? THIS SCRIPT IS HORRIBLE AT EXPLAINING THINGS.

We again cut back to Martian Manhunter and his Earth Band, where he explains that fire is his one great weakness. This is important, because it’s literally the only semblance of character depth we’re going to get from him. The writers have clearly done their homework, looking through Manhunter’s extensive character history on Wikipedia and scribbling down, “Manhunter, fire=bad.” Superman then enters and ponders with Diana over who could’ve done this. Flash wonders if there isn’t something going on between them, remembers the girlfriend he’s currently neglecting, and makes his exit.

Cut to Maxwell Lord in what I’m presuming to be his secret underground lair, where he’s…um…looking at a bunch of giant monitors with dead little boys on them. Feel free to insert your own necro/pedophilic jokes here. Back at their hours, Barry decides to raid Iris’ fridge and makes a mess by tearing the door off the fridge and emptying it. I’m not exactly sure how this character is supposed to be likable in any way. Iris tells him to go downstairs and see Wally, who’s just arrived. Barry does and sees a ping pong ball being hit back and forth across the table with no actual players visible. Barry quickly reaches out and grabs an arm, and we see it’s actually a 17-year-old Wally West. “Embarrassing,” Wally says, “You caught me playing with myself.” Eeww, when has a 17-year-old ever talked like that, much less to his Uncle? You know what, don’t answer that.

We then randomly cut to Superman flying and crashing into the Aegean Sea with the intent of recruiting Aquaman, before returning back to Barry and Wally’s conversation. What is it with these random cuts back and forth between unrelated scenes? Are the writers not satisfied with fucking up the script, they have to fuck things up for the editors as well? Suspecting nanotechnology to be the cause of Manhunter’s accident, Barry asks Wally to do some research into nanotechnology, because Wally is portrayed as one of those clichéd “good with computers” characters. Seriously, shouldn’t everyone under the age of 50 know their way around the fucking internet by now? For that matter, what is Barry Allen, a fucking police detective, doing leaving a top-secret attempted-murder investigation in the hands of a 17-year-old?

But Barry isn’t the only detective-turned-idiot out there trying to solve the mystery – back in the Batcave, Batman is hypothesizing that maybe, just maybe, someone might’ve hacked his Brother Eye system and used the satellite to compromise Manhunter. Cut to Maxwell and Talia, watching Batman ponder on a giant monitor and making evil comments while Talia hints that she’s not quite over the Caped Crusader. I’m wondering exactly where the tension is in all this, because in Tower of Babel we had no idea who or what was attacking the heroes, even hinting that it could’ve been Batman himself. In this script, we’re already told Maxwell and Talia hacked Batman’s system and are now systematically taking down the League. So why am I supposed to care about this story again?

But who cares about any of that deep stuff when we can have Maxwell initiate “phase one” and get an entirely pointless scene of Batman kicking the shit out of a motorcycle gang? “Damn, this was a brand new cape…” says Batman when the motorcycle gang shoots through his cape. I think I’m finally starting to realize what this script actually is. No character, thin veil of a plot, powers/skills used solely as effects sequences, random things happening out of nowhere with no explanation, and all the thoughtful craft of a twelve-year-old’s shameful fan fiction…this is Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters. This is literally Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters.

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I’ve made a terrible mistake.

So Superman meets up with Aquaman, who bitches about Earth-dwellers treating his realms like a “toilet.” For some reason Aquaman has a hand made entirely out of water, which I’m not sure would really prove useful to him seeing as how he’s surrounded by water. Aquaman agrees to leave his kingdom and help, but only after confirming Wonder Woman is present. “For her…” he nods. Okay, so everyone’s just gonna be in love with Wonder Woman for no reason then? I mean, aside from the obvious?

Meanwhile, Batman is chasing one of the motorcycle gang members into a theater when he’s suddenly attacked by an OMAC, basically a giant blue robot with a single center eye (pictured below). The OMAC, operated remotely by Maxwell, tears off Batman’s mask and overpowers him. When the OMAC is about to kill him, Talia begs Maxwell to stop, so he…does. Wait, what? Apparently Maxwell was just proving how easy it was to take Batman down and reveal his identity, after which he leaves him completely alive as the OMAC departs. It’s also worth mentioning that the big public revelation that Bruce Wayne is Batman has absolutely zero bearing on the rest of the story. Words fail me.

In another corner of Idiot Land, Aquaman is examining Manhunter while Flash babbles like a five-year-old. “You can call me the Scarlett Speedster. Some do,” to which Aquaman sighs at. I think the person who wrote this script has been permanently cut off from humanity or something, because WHO FUCKING TALKS LIKE THIS. Back at the Batcave, Batman is still trying to figure out how he and the other Leaguers were attacked. He tries searching his system for “OMAC.” The system won’t let him. Batman tries to reset the system. “Access denied.” Batman wonders what’s going on. “There is no fault in the system, creator. No fault in the system.” IT’S BEEN HACKED. THE SYSTEM HAS BEEN HACKED. HOW DOES FUCKING BATMAN NOT UNDERSTAND WHEN HIS GODDAMN COMPUTER GETS HACKED?!

Finally, somebody with a brainstem comes onto the system and transmits the message, “you don’t control it anymore.” You’d think that Batman would have some kind of backup self-destruct to his entire system, but judging by the above scene, I’m guessing this Batman isn’t exactly the kind of forward-thinking guy we once thought.

Cut to Green Lantern John Stewart, in his civilian identity toiling away at a small model of…er…Hal Jordan Memorial Park. So…Hal’s dead? When did this happen? Is it a throwaway reference? A hint at a past we’ve never seen and never will? Stewart uses his ring to create two green little kids swinging on the model swingset, and smiles. O-kay…

Back with the others, Flash childishly gushes over Aquaman’s water hand when a robot mosquito bites Aquaman just as he’s about to return to water. Cut back to Stewart, who bites his pencil and is overcome with the black stuff from before. I’m trying to imagine an actual spy satellite’s detailed files on the Justice League making a note of, “Green Lantern John Stewart – bites his pencils a lot. Possible weakness.” Meanwhile, Aquaman’s eyes grow big at the sight of water and he tosses away his water hand in fear – the nanobots have made him afraid of water. Flash comments helpfully, “Can’t be good for a fish…” and turns to the severed water hand and says, “Now that’s creepy.” The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Flash isn’t being written like a ten-year-old as many would suspect. He’s being written like how a terrible middle-aged writer would write a ten-year-old. Congratulations writers, you’ve failed on two different levels.

At the Batcave, Batman asks Alfred to bring him the backup computers as he watches all his superhero friends suffer. Great idea, don’t go outside and help them or anything. It’s not like you’re partly the cause of all this. Wait, is Batman even friends with the League in this script? Has he even met them before? Can they even be considered the JLA at all yet? Why does Batman leave Alfred to carry those heavy computers downstairs by himself? I just don’t know what to believe anymore.

The JLA, or whatever they are, each start running through their respective rogues galleries – Scarecrow, Parasite, Mr. Freeze, insert your favorites here –  for an entire page to figure out who might be responsible. Aquaman asks about “The Batman.” Flash says Batman won’t be a target because he’s a hero, but for some reason no one else in the League seems to think so. Back to Batman in the Batcave, where Batman makes the incredible deduction that the satellite is attacking their strengths. Uh, don’t you mean preying on their weaknesses? Batman finally resolves to help…by continuing to sit behind his compromised system and try to fix things. Okay, maybe the rest of the League has a point.

Superman decides to take them all to the Fortress of Solitude where they’ll be safe. Flash bubbles, “Oh, man…Fortress of freakin’ Solitude! I gotta tell Iris…” It’s like if Shia LeBouf, Jake Lloyd, Jar Jar Binks, and the kids from Jurassic Park all fused their worst qualities into the body of a beloved DC comics character.

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If you don’t want to physically punch this guy, then you’re probably reading something else.

But wait, it gets better….Flash pays a quick visit Wally (yeah good idea to head home to your loved ones when there’s a spy satellite tracking and preparing to compromise you), who’s researching at super-speed, before putting on his own homemade Flash costume. Barry says he doesn’t want Wally in the suit, I guess because it’s dangerous or something. Did this script even bother to explain why Wally has the same powers as Barry? Barry stops off in Iris’ bed and explains the situation to her, then they have sex. Or at least I think it’s sex. Flash starts to vibrate, and the script reads, “HE PASSES THROUGH IRIS’ BODY. She GASPS…feeling him inside her, all of her, inside her very molecules.”

Eeww. No one told me I’d be reading Fifty Shades of Scarlett.

After…whatever that was…we see the heroes get to the Fortress of Solitude, an ice cave which for some reason contains an exact replica of the Kent family farmhouse. “Wow. He’s…homesick,” says Flash. Which would make sense, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s FUCKING SUPERMAN. If he was truly “homesick,” he could literally just fly back home to Smallville, instead of building a creepy replica of his old farm to occupy all by himself. But hey, apparently things don’t have to make sense anymore.

Meanwhile, Batman’s researching the OMAC project and ponders its connection to the Brother Eye satellite. Hmm, yes, could it be that the someone who compromised him might be the very same someone who’s trying to compromise the other League members? How curious. The satellite starts targeting another hero, so Bats tells Alfred to “keep digging” and speeds away in the Batplane, presumably to finally help out the people being attacked. Hey guys, here’s a thought: start searching for the satellite, blow it out of the sky, then go beat the shit out of Maxwell Lord. Cool?

Oh, and I forgot to mention that Manhunter has been in some sort of “water cocoon” since his fire accident at the beginning, to keep him from catching aflame again. Because that’s what fans want to see…their favorite DC superheroes completely incapacitated the entire movie. Flash continues babbling about how “homey” the Fortress is and asking if there’s anything to eat, then gets the message that nobody’s really interested in his stupid bullshit. “No, keep talking, it helps, ” says a blinded Green Lantern. Helps what, speed up your death? Flash asks him about his ring, and Green Lantern talks about being chosen and using willpower and all that stuff that isn’t actually insightful into his character at all. “FLASH’s energy is infectious,” the script reads. Yes, just like herpes. Herpes-Flash, everybody.

Thankfully, Maxwell begins targeting Flash as Batman enters and fills everyone in, confessing the satellite is his system and his responsibility. The heroes realize that someone else is controlling his system. Then there’s this gem of an exchange between Superman and Batman:

“Who?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who is it? Who?!

“I don’t know!”

Hmm, do you think he knows who, Supes? Better ask him again. Then this:

“How do we turn it off?”

“I don’t know. I’ve tried.”

“Where is this thing?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tell us!”

“I don’t know!”

It’s a good thing this script is teaching me so much about how actual people communicate. Why, just the other day I decided to try putting its wisdom into practice:

“Hey honey, do we have any more Apple Jacks?”

“I don’t know. Look in the cabinet, dear.”

“Where are they? Where?!

“I don’t know! Check the cabinet!”

“Okay, which cabinet?”

“I don’t know, maybe the lower one?”

“TELL ME!!”

“I DON’T KNOW!!”

*slaps divorce papers on the table and leaves*

So Batman suggests it’d be safer if they all split up. Flash takes a call from Iris on his cell phone, and…um…nanobots enter his ear through the phone receiver. Because that’s how phones fucking work. The bots inside him make him vibrate so hard, he begins vibrating through the Earth altogether, bouncing back and forth between the planet’s poles. Wonder Woman catches him with her lasso, and they begin one of the most thrilling sequences ever conceived for a comic book movie…a surgical procedure! JUSTICE LEAGUE! WORLD’S FINEST HEROES! ACTION! ADVENTURE! E.R. DRAMA!

So Green Lantern, still blinded, uses his ring to envision surgical instruments, which are guided into Flash’s brain via Manhunter’s telepathy. Flash spouts cliches like, “This is gonna leave a mark!” and leave me praying that Lantern just outright lobotomizes him. It’s also worth mentioning that this is all taking place in the goddamn Kent family kitchen inside the house contained within the Fortress, which makes this whole thing seem even less dignified. The procedure works, Flash briefly talks like a retarded Looney Toons character while under Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth, and sadly ends up totally unharmed.

The heroes then go their separate ways – Superman flies into space to find and destroy the satellite he’s obsessed with finding out about, while the rest of the League sans Batman work on removing the rest of the nanobots inside them. In his Batplane, Batman contacts Alfred and asks him to try to access the Brother Eye system. Why it would somehow work now when it hasn’t this entire time is anyone’s guess, but…oh, no wait, it totally fucking works. Cool. Batman asks the system for the data it has on him, including weaknesses. “Just one word, sir…” says Alfred. Are you ready for this? Batman’s weakness is…

LOVE.

Fucking gag me.

Batman flashes back to all the women he’s bonked, including Silver St. Cloud, because anyone who hasn’t read a Batman comic totally knows who that fucking is. Batman realizes Talia is his weakness, flashing back to their fuck-session, which apparently he still had his suit on for. Kinky. The two share some rather uncomfortable bite-filled kisses, which is how Talia transferred the nanobots into Batman’s body and in turn his computer system. Back with the other idiots, the nanobots are surgically extracted from Manhunter and Aquaman, leaving only Green Lantern. How do they get the nanobots out of him? Why, only the most obvious, sensible way, by having him swallow Aquaman’s water hand and letting the water flush the nanobots out through his ears. I would say that I wish I were making this all up, but I would never wish to be that stupid.

Meanwhile, Flash, energy depleted from the surgery, takes Wonder Woman to Krypton Burger so he can load up on carbs and refuel his strength. He offers her food, but she refuses, to which he replies, “Guess that’s why you fit so nicely in that costume…” Wonder Woman says she doesn’t understand the need for males to objectify women. Then Wally West enters and does nothing but stare at her, effectively objectifying her. Wow. Good thing Wonder Woman hasn’t been an inspiration to millions of women for nearly 70 years, or a continuing symbol of female empowerment or anything. Nope. She’s a lasso and a pair of tits. That Michael Bay Transformers comparison is looking more and more on the money.

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Objectification of women, check!

Batman finds Talia and sees she’s operating Brother Eye. He suspects she isn’t working alone. Whatever gave you that idea, Batman? Back at Krypton Burger, Wally says he discovered the OMAC project was designed to raise infants to work as one with these special machine suits, but they all died in the process. So go ahead and add child slaughter to the list of abominable things this script purports as storytelling. Then we reveal what we knew all along. The guy behind everything is…gasp, MAXWELL LORD! HE’S AN OMAC! You mean to tell me the villain of the script is also…the villain of the script?! Shock and awe! So Maxwell turns all the people from Bruce Wayne’s party at the beginning into OMACs. No please, not the faceless socialites neither Bruce nor we the audience care anything for! So this new OMAC army starts beating the shit out of Batman, but Talia somehow convinces Lord to stop…again. Lord monologues about how evil he is and how the League are gods, but “imperfect gods.” Riveting. Back with the League, Manhunter detects Batman is in distress and they all fly off to help him.

The last act of the script is pretty much just the shit hitting the fan. OMACs begin attacking, and the heroes all burst into Lord’s lair and try to fight them off. Lois Lane is apparently killed off-screen, and Lord briefly takes control of Superman’s mind to make him think that Wonder Woman was responsible. I’d complain, but at this point I’m so completely indifferent, I just want to power through the rest of this fuck-up with my sanity intact. So Wondie and Supes fight for a while, and at one point they fight on the moon. The only way I could ever possibly be emotionally invested in this entirely insipid conflict is if I had a controller in front of me.

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The only Injustice is this script.

So then Aquaman fights Superman, and then Green Lantern creates a green copy of Superman to fight Superman. Wonder Woman lassos Lord and asks him how to turn it all off. Lord says, “You want to know the truth? The truth is you weren’t there. None of you. Not one of you was there. They were children! And they were dying! And you weren’t there!” Well yeah, no shit they weren’t there, how were they supposed to know the whole OMAC thing was going on? Really, given how young the actors for this piece of shit were going to be, would any of them have even been born at the time these kids were dying?

Lord reveals the only way to stop everything is to kill him, but he knows they won’t do it because they all took an oath not to kill or something. Proving…what exactly? By killing Lord and shutting down all the OMACs, you’re saving millions of civilian lives. If that’s the only way, then there’s really no ethical debate here in killing him. Manhunter tries morphing into Lara-El to calm Superman down, but it doesn’t work. Wonder Woman refuses to kill Lord, and Lord continues asking “Where were you?” to which Batman replies, “Right here,” and snaps his neck. You’d think the script would take a page from when Wonder Woman herself did the same thing to Lord in Infinite Crisis, but no, shock value over logic. Zero fucks given.

Superman lands, cured, and says Batman killing Lord makes him no better than him. Uh, no…idiotic execution aside, just because Batman made the tough call to kill one and save millions, including you, does not automatically make him as bad as a mass murderer. I can see people drawing comparisons between this and the ending of Man of Steel, but let’s be honest, that film properly built up to that climax. Mortal uses it as a gimmick.

So somehow Talia and Lord and…an OMAC, I guess…all transform into an amalgamation of each other. Things transforming, check! Then the whole world’s population turns into OMACs because Lord put nanobots in the food or something. I guess this whole thing is supposed to be from the OMAC Project storyline tying into Infinite Crisis, but I have to imagine the explanation they came up with for people turning into OMACs was better than, “it’s in the food!”

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Sense. This script makes none.

So being a machine is too much for Talia and she promptly dies in Batman’s arms. Wally West shows up in his makeshift Flash costume to help, but Barry protests again, because the script desperately wants him to be this great father figure without actually putting forth the effort to write him that way. But Barry quickly starts turning into an OMAC himself because of all the Krypton Burgers he ate from before. Which makes the whole “eliminate the heroes via their weaknesses” plot entirely pointless if Lord could’ve just turned them all into OMACs anyway. Thankfully, only 13 pages remain.

Superman starts fighting the Flash OMAC and discovers it can regenerate body parts. Flash is apparently the host OMAC, so he begins vibrating so fast that he bursts free of the OMAC and enters the Speed Force, where time stands still. He goes to visit a frozen Iris for the last time, then runs around the world carrying a mass of OMACs with him in his wake. Wally runs alongside and asks what he’s doing. Barry says, “Tag, you’re it…” hits lightspeed, and destroys them all in a burst of energy. It’s perhaps the only partly redeeming moment in the script, but at this point it’s like finding a silver dollar in a steaming pile of dinosaur feces.

Flash’s costume falls from the sky, just like in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Cut to the funeral from the beginning, where we now see that it’s Barry being laid to rest. Wally West takes up being the Flash, and the heroes agree to officially form the Justice League after convincing a hesitant Batman. Then Superman’s conveniently-placed alien detector detects a weird, starfish-shaped alien creature heading for Earth. GET IT STARRO CUZ HE WAS THE FIRST JUSTICE LEAGUE VILLAIN AND WE HAVE TO MENTION HIM. The heroes jump into action, and the nightmare finally ends.

***

This is without a doubt the single most sour, poorly-written, unpleasant piece of fiction I have ever had the displeasure of reading in full. It’s practically unfathomable, how massive a kick in the groin this script is to  these characters. If there is actually some executive that approved such a ghastly script as a workable template for a film that was mere weeks away from shooting, I fear not only for the state of blockbuster movies, but humanity itself.

Despite most of the traps being taken straight from Tower of Babel, this script executes them without half the thought or urgency, squandering a great setup in favor of a lifeless effects show. Only a fraction of the obligatory team-building dynamic is present, and with no drama, no character, no explanation for anything that happens, and really no purpose for being at all, it’s simply one big clusterfuck that amounts to little more than Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters. Check that, it is far worse than Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters. It’s just chaos. Shit blowing up. And some people with powers in costumes. It’s no wonder the details of this draft soured me on not merely Justice League as a viable film property, but Justice League in general. It is a pure hellish chore to read through and a shameful, shameful piece of filth.

Luckily the legitimate, incomplete draft I acquired resembles nothing out of this draft, and does in fact use its opening 14 pages to establish each character in his or her respective universe before bringing them together to fight a common enemy. It’s actually pretty well-written, detailing who these heroes are and what they’re fighting for. But the ultimate question, regardless of the former draft’s legitimacy, is this: why, instead of establishing each of the heroes in solo films, would Warner choose to blow its collective load early and give us the team-up first? Why risk tarnishing the names of several heroes in one bad culmination, when the company can reap less risk and greater reward by building them up individually? In the end, it seems Warner agreed, and we can thank heavenly Christ they did.

Script Review: Lobo by Jerrold E. Brown

lobo123UPDATE: Revised introduction/history section. Thanks to Angel Dean Lopez for clarifying my errors, and for being such a good sport!

The 90s were a particularly strange time in comics. A time of violent anti-heroes and jagged, spiked, Rob Liefeld-illustrated pencils. Lobo, created by Keith Giffen and Roger Slifer, was one such colorfully violent character, a charming, frag-the-world kind of guy, the perfect cult icon of the decade. Giffen says he designed the character as a critique of violent, law-bending characters like Wolverine and the Punisher. “And somehow,” Giffen says, “he caught on as the high-violence poster boy. Go figure.”

With this inexplicable catching-on spurred the film division of parent company Warner Brothers and writer/producer Angel Dean Lopez to quietly express interest in developing Lobo for the big screen, backed by legendary Lethal Weapon producer Joel Silver, and later not-so-legendary producer/writer of pretty much every terrible DC Comics adaptation, Akiva Goldsman. Two drafts of the script were written by Lopez himself before he departed the project, leaving writer Jerrold E. Brown to step in and pen a new draft, which was presumably shelved following the failure of Batman & Robin.

In the months that followed, WB approached Giffen himself to write a Superman vs. Lobo movie, which was passed on after the writer submitted his treatment. “They don’t know what to do with it,” Giffen commented in the pages of Superman vs. Hollywood. “Believe me, I’ve read some of the scripts and oh, my god, they’re horrifying.” Only in 2009 did buzz finally begin to pick up again, when Warner officially announced development on a Lobo film. Brown’s script was unshelved, dusted off, and rewritten by Don Payne, a draft which changed hands over the next three years from directors Guy Ritchie (Snatch) to Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), the latter of whom rewrote with a mind for Dwayne The Rock Johnson to star, a not altogether terrible choice.

What didn’t change, and what WAS altogether terrible was each subsequent draft. Seemingly nobody could make compelling the dull, cookie-cutter template of Lobo coming to Earth, meeting a young girl, and fighting off a band of alien criminals all on Earth in a decidedly neutered PG-13 context. Not only did the fish-out-of-water concept feel as dated as its protagonist, but by 2009, the overly-safe approach to such a C-list character simply stuck out like a sore thumb in a world where big, bold, creative godsends like The Dark Knight and Iron Man existed. The game had changed, and Lobo was too rooted in yesteryear to be salvaged.

In years since, the separation of producer Silver and WB, as well as recent comments from Johnson, it seems a Lobo film has all but completely faded away. Few fragments of the production remain, but script collectors know well this lone leaked draft, the second of Jerrold E. Brown’s, dated May 13th, 1998. And “horrifying” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Brown’s script opens with an alien prison carrier slowly floating through space, somehow labeled as “TRANTOR MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON” in perfect English. As we cut to the inside, Brown writes, “The technology is impressive, but prison is prison. It’s dark and dismal, just like prison should be.” Way to paint a picture, Brown. Is it also filled with prisoners like a prison? Maybe there are armed guards walking around like in a prison? I’d like to see how Brown fares writing poetry.

“Um, there’s a field of flowers. They’re…uh…beautiful, like flowers should be.”

We meet prisoner Armand Throke, a supercriminal quietly building a makeshift gun in his cell. A guard robot approaches to confirm that he has information on a planned prison escape. Throke tells the robot warden he’s the one who plans to escape, and does so by shooting the gun he made at the robot, for some reason described in heavy detail followed by “(Got that? Good).” One by one, we are then introduced to our supporting antagonists, all aliens with different sets of powers, including one made completely of water/ice. I’m getting a strong Ghost Rider vibe from this, which can’t be a good sign. So the criminals ditch the prison ship into a nearby sun and make their escape.

MEANWHILE AT THE HALL OF JUSTICE (no, really)…

INT. IMPERIAL HALL OF JUSTICE – CORRIDOR

An alien named Cardoon and another drone determine that the escapees will be heading for Earth to steal a Drell, a dangerous and powerful weapon hidden on the planet 3,000 years ago. This sequence lulled me into a false sense of security, because I was imagining a largely alien world with some cool, Rick Baker-designed, Men in Black-esque effects for the aliens. The robot magistrate wants to destroy Earth altogether to prevent the criminals from getting ahold of the Drell, but after Cardoon pleads them not to, the two parties eventually agree to release the captive Lobo, a bounty hunter, whom they will hire to capture the escapees on Earth within 24 hours, or else Earth will be destroyed. It’s here that it seems as though the script is starting to really pick up, when in fact it is exactly the opposite.

We cut to…oh god.

INT. SOUND STAGE – THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW – DAY

No.

Where a crowd is going wild for that scrape-the-bottom-andgive-
everybody-a-taste showman of showmen, JERRY SPRINGER.
He waves to his loyal market share.

Goddamnit.

*Sigh* So…fucking Jerry Springer is interviewing Emily Urgess, a 30-year-old who believes she’s the ambassador for all alien life on Earth and is currently putting out a new book based on her…theories. If this is to be our female lead, it’s an absolutely terrible way of establishing her, because we don’t know what to think about her. Is she crazy? Attention-whorish? A liar? The female equivalent of Randy Quaid in Independence Day? For that matter, would anyone, even a crazy person (so…Randy Quaid) really consider the Springer show to be the best outlet for what they’re trying to pass off as serious information? That’s all aside from the fact that this script sticks Jerry Springer in a damn comic book movie, an obvious and idiotic pandering to the mainstream. Next.

Elsewhere in the galaxy, we watch as a legion of troops blow open a heavily barred cell containing Lobo, described exactly as he looks in the comics, cigar-smoking and all. After a mildly amusing exchange with Cardoon, Lobo agrees to the terms outlined above as long as his bounty hunting license is restored and his bike returned. “Anything else?” asks Cardoon. “Nope,” replies Lobo. I liked this bit, even if it did yet again fool me into thinking this script might have some merit to it.

We cut back to Emily speeding down the road on the phone with her agent. Do all people appearing on the Springer show have agents? He tells her her publishers want to meet with her to exchange notes, and describes her as, “on a roll.” Yes, because everyone knows that an appearance on Springer means you’re “on a roll” and someone to be taken seriously. How exactly is she being taken seriously again? Then again, how are the Kardashians, or the cast of Jersey Shore? But I digress. Emily doesn’t want the publishers to compromise her material, but the threat of going back to writing about fires and dogs or something jars her out of it. “Baby wants a new Porche” she says. Our heroine, ladies and gentlemen.

This brings us to the first big problem with this script – the Earth scenes suck. It’s just too jarring a contrast to the comic-y alien world of the comics, which doesn’t see a lot of screentime for what are clearly budgetary concerns. Remember how Green Lantern featured Van Wilder in space for all of ten minutes? Good to know some things don’t change.

Lobo and Cardoon argue over who Lobo gets to kill, ending with Lobo blasting off towards Earth on his bike. Then we get this diddy:

Lobo doesn’t wear any kind of space suit, so he
should freeze, suffocate and his head should explode. But
none of these things happens. Even his cigar doesn’t go out.

Thanks for the science lesson, Dr. Dipshit. It’s a fucking comic book. If Lobo can survive travelling through space without a suit, then just show that and move on. Drawing attention to it is just gonna make executives scratch their heads even more. How about instead just, “Lobo blasts off towards Earth on a flying motorcycle with no space suit, because that’s just how Lobo rolls.”

Emily meets with the executives and refuses to take their notes. The executives tell her, quite rightly, that she’s a fake and her books are garbage, “spoon-fed crap” put out there just to make money. Oh, sweet, sweet irony. She replies that her book is supposed to be serious, and that she doesn’t want to, “appeal to the lowest common denominator.” Yes, this lying, cheating con artist who claims aliens are real just wants to be taken seriously!

Armand Assante and the alien escapees reach Earth and immediately kill an innocent hobo by ripping out his brain, because apparently Armand can, “alter his molecular density at will.” The scene plays like a more cartoony version of, “So this is Planet Hooston!”, which I honestly didn’t think was possible until now. One of the aliens, named Volarian, uses her power and sucks the life force out of one of the cops that drive up to the scene. The rest of the cops open fire, and Calysto, the water/ice alien, drowns one of them by engulfing him in water. The rest of the police get similarly destroyed. Nearby, Emily watches in horror as all this unfolds, and after being discovered by the aliens, gets thrown and knocked out against a brick wall.

The clichés continue when Lobo touches down and rides through the streets on his bike. The cops, apparently unaware that several of their units just got annihilated by aliens across town, give chase. They pull up alongside Lobo and yell at him to pull over, to which Lobo responds by casually jamming his hand through the hood of their car and yanking out the engine before speeding away. This might be an amusing scene if the dialogue didn’t completely ruin it. It’s the kind of audience-winking dialogue you’d expect from such a scene, where both cops look at each other incredulously, mouths agape. Brown might as well have typed, “LOOK HOW ABSURD THIS ALL IS!! HAW HAW HAW!!”

Emily wakes up and finds Lobo surveying the scene. After retrieving Armand’s discarded neck collar, Lobo interrogates her and she says she doesn’t know anything. She asks, “Who are you people?” Lobo tips his sunglasses to reveal his glowing red eyes and replies, “We’re aliens.” Uh, wouldn’t only people from Earth actually call them that? To Lobo, wouldn’t Emily and the rest of humanity be the aliens? For that matter, how the hell is Lobo speaking English?

So Emily is discovered by the cops and taken into an interrogation room. The cops don’t believe Emily’s story because of, you know, her being a pathological liar and all. Emily is locked away in a cell. I really, really hope she stays there for the duration of the script. Meanwhile, Lobo visits a bar and, when he doesn’t have Earth cash to pay for his drinks with, the bartender points the barrel of a .45 at him, which Lobo promptly takes a bite out of. It’s moments like this that illustrate just how jarring this Earth setting really is. This script is essentially treating Lobo like a Looney Toons character in the real world, a contrast which doesn’t even work for the Looney Toons characters themselves.

Oh, how I hate thee.

Anyway, Lobo overhears on TV that Emily, the “ambassador for aliens,” is being held at the prison and, thinking she’s the Earth-authority he’s meant to contact, goes to see her. Specifically, he breaks her out of jail nonchalantly, to the tune of several misspellings of “your” with “you’re.” Emily says she doesn’t want to ride on his motorcycle because they have a “high mortality rate.” Yes, the motorcycle is the least of your problems lady. Oh, and while being carried out of prison by Lobo, she comes out and admits she’s a liar. So, even less sympathy for her than if she was just batshit crazy. And now on top of that, she’s a prude when it comes to motorcycles. Why, the waiting line to audition for this role must’ve stretched well around the block! Haha, just kidding. There’s no way this piece of shit would ever even get near the casting stage.

So while the alien fugitives butt heads and start collecting supplies that they need to bust open the portal containing the Drell at a place called the Heads of Boro (I don’t know, just go with it), Lobo and Emily speed away in a police cruiser Lobo steals. Here, Lobo finally explains the lack of a language barrier, albeit flimsily, passing it off as a “weird coincidence.” Admittedly, Lobo does get in a few funny lines. Emily reads through a list of the escaped prisoners and discovers one of them is a machine, wondering why anyone would bother locking up a machine when they could just reprogram it. “Where’s the fun in that?” Lobo replies. Right, there’s a galaxy filled with countless super-criminals hell-bent on the destruction of worlds, and they’re using cell space for robots they could just reprogram because it’s “fun.” Oh, Brown. Even you know this script makes no sense.

Emily turns to a page all about Lobo. She reads that Lobo was charged with 164 counts of first degree murder – turns out Lobo had been tracking a bounty that had himself cloned 164 times, and rather than spend time determining who the original bounty was, Lobo just killed all the clones. Wouldn’t that make 165 counts of first degree murder? Either way, the dialogue in these scenes makes me sad, because Lobo is such  a fun, colorful character who could be so awesome in a setting more faithful to the comics, and a career-defining role for whoever would end up playing him.

So the alien gang head to a nuclear power plant to get the first item, plutonium. Calysto kills a technician and literally wears the dead man’s engorged, sputtering body around as water leaks out of him. I’m just going to assume they also stuck a fake mustache on the guy for good measure. The disguise fails when the body collapses, and confused workers flee in terror, only to be held at bay by Shrak, one of the other aliens, holding a machine gun. Which makes this scene utterly pointless, a sequence designed to show off what would’ve likely been some pretty shitty effects, even for late ‘90s standards.

Lobo gets to the plant to kill the aliens and, for some reason, requires water to make his high-end gun grow to usable proportions. I’m not familiar enough with the comics to know if Lobo’s add-water-watch-it-grow gun is from the comics or not, but in this context, it’s stupid. Lobo enters and exchanges a few clichés with Shrak before the two literally just stand there and unload on each other point blank, bullets bouncing off the other like reasons not to make this movie to a studio executive. I’m not sure why they’re even bothering with the guns if they’re this ineffective, to the point where even Brown writes, “This has to be the dumbest gunfight anyone has ever seen.” It’s like he’s doing my job for me.

After a long fight, Lobo ends it with a grenade, tosses what’s left of Shrak into a vial, and he and Emily go to find the others…but not before some HILARIOUS hijinks at the supermarket! Get this: in a bit of truly inspired wackiness, Lobo pushes around a cart that’s “filled to the brim” with raw meat! Then, he sees a magazine with Gene Simmons on the cover and gets mad that the singer stole his look! Stop, my sides!

So let’s pause here and point out another major problem with this script – how it laughs AT the characters, being all too aware of the absurdity of its pulp roots, rather than laughing WITH them, embracing their universe and letting the humor of it flow naturally from it. It’s not funny when you’re constantly hitting the audience over the head with, “LOOK! IT’S WEIRD! LAUGH DAMMIT!” It’s a sign of fear, a hesitance to fully commit to what you’re selling. Warner is basically the scared little kid who never wants to bring out the more obscure of his action figures to play with the other kids because he’s afraid of being judged.

Lobo and Emily take a breather at an abandoned warehouse, where we get kind of a lazy retcon of Lobo’s comic origin. While he’s still the last survivor of a race of Czarnians, (which, irritatingly enough, Brown regularly misspells as “Czarians”), Lobo reveals that the Drell the aliens are after actually destroyed his home planet, not he himself, despite “planning to do it [himself] the following week.” It’s a cheap way of making the stakes more personal to Lobo’s character, like Joker killing Batman’s parents, sans actual thought. So they somehow manage to take that vial with the piece of Shrak in it and resuscitate the alien, getting him to spill the beans on the alien’s next stop: sapphires from a jewelry store. Makes sense. Shrak then leaps out a window to his death, presumably to get out of this script as quickly as possible.

Afterwards, we see the police on the hunt for both Emily and what they call a “male, 6-5, 400 pounds. Blue skin. Red eyes with no pupils.” They discuss that maybe Emily wasn’t lying and that the aliens she described were real. They then devise a plan to catch the alien, even directly naming E.T. in the process. There really is not a single original thought in this script, is there? The cops, fearing Emily might blow the plan, resolve to “take care of her.” DUN DUN DUUUUUN.

Pictured: concept art for Lobo.

Meanwhile, back in space, Cardoon’s ship is on its way to Earth with a giant plasma cannon in case the operation goes awry. He tests out the cannon on Pluto, destroying the not-planet completely. Curiously, this has absolutely no repercussions whatsoever to the rest of the Solar System. Back on Earth, Emily steals a phone book from a phone booth (hey, remember those?) at a nearby gas station. As Lobo refuels the police cruiser, he takes a swig of gasoline from the pump and gets some more incredulous stares, because we haven’t had someone give Lobo an incredulous stare for almost seven pages. Cut back to the police station, where we learn Emily is their number-one suspect for the alien cop killings earlier. Yes, because a rational police mind would conclude that the female author who held a gun once briefly at the scene is far more suspect than the giant, 400-pound, blue-skinned alien.

Emily and Lobo head to the jewelry store and discover the remaining three aliens. Lobo tries to swing his trademark hook chain, but misses thanks to Armand’s telepathic abilities. Armand escapes in a truck outside and Emily gives chase, with predictably unsuccessful results – a spider-looking device disables her engine and causes her car to flip. Somehow, she staggers out with little to no injury. Cut back to Lobo taking on the robot M-4, Calysto, and later Volarian, the latter of whom sucks out his life-force like a parasite. Afterwards, the cops show up and take down Lobo with tranquilizers.

Then…oh, this is great. This is exactly what comic book fans want to see. With Lobo’s fate in Emily’s hands, the writer finds Lobo’s motorcycle, hesitantly gets on, steals the restraining collar Lobo retrieved earlier, puts on his sunglasses for some reason, then speeds off. Hey, you can’t sell a toy of Lobo’s motorcycle if it’s only in one scene. Emily dicks around with the weapons on the bike, which all read like, “FRAG-BOMBS,” “FRAG-GUNS,” etc. You know Brown, “frag” isn’t actually funny when it isn’t being used as a substitute for “fuck.” She takes out a pursuing cop car with FRAG-ACID, which melts away the entire car and apparently the officer’s uniforms with it. “Get me some damn clothes!” one of them says to the other officers who get to the scene too late. Genius. Absolute genius.

Emily frees Lobo from a police van up ahead and tells him it’s 5:17 a.m. Lobo gets worried. A giant hologram of Cardoon’s head appears in the sky and tells Lobo that time’s up and he’s destroying the planet. Lobo argues that he needs more time. Cardoon refuses to give it to him. “Who is this…creature?” asks Cardoon. “She’s the local authority I made contact with. Her name is…something, and she’s the official ambassador to non-humanoid life-forms.” That’s actually pretty funny, because let’s face it, Emily is an entirely trivial character in all this. Emily asks if there’s anything he hasn’t told her. Lobo admits the Earth is going to be destroyed. But instead of reacting like someone with an actual personality, Emily just doesn’t react at all, because it’s “too much for her to take in.”

Somehow, the script has taken a step back in time as it’s now 5 a.m. according to the slugline, with Lobo and Emily sitting at a diner wallowing in defeat. Brown describes Emily as wearing, “that face people get when their planet is about to be nuked into rubble.” A little kid approaches their table and asks Emily to sign a copy of her book for him, but Lobo scares him off. Emily has a heart-to-heart with Lobo, lamenting her lack of a male suitor and her complete sham of a career. “When you’re running a scam you can’t have anyone in your life who might turn around and expose you.” Oh, boo-fucking-hoo lady! You lie to the entire world and somehow make millions off these idiots, including that gullible little kid just now that no doubt wasted his hard-earned allowance money on your book, and we’re supposed to feel bad for you because it doesn’t get you laid?! Suck. My. Dick.

Lobo flips through her book and after seeing a picture of Stonehenge, reveals that the structure is actually a Cenobite toilet. He spots the Heads of Boro (that place the aliens found the portal to the Drell at from earlier), recognizes the language on them as Czarnian, and asks Emily where it is. Apparently they are at a museum, which Lobo and Emily get to and proceed to fight Calysto in…again. Then, oh my god, Calysto DOES THE WATER DISGUISE THING AGAIN WITH ANOTHER SECURITY GUARD. AND LOBO FUCKING FALLS FOR IT. I slam my head on the desk repeatedly as Lobo and Emily realize they’re both severely retarded and go after him. Lobo continues fighting Calysto, when finally the alien tries to drown Lobo like he did the cop at the beginning. Lobo just inhales him and spits him out into a nearby cement mixer, where he’s turned into hard cement. It’s probably the cleverest thing this script has done so far.

So Armand and…what’s-her-name, Volstagg? The other alien chick and him manage to open the portal and release the Drell, who promptly kills Voltron Voluptuous Volarian. Armand orders it to kill everyone. The Drell goes crazy, so Lobo comes in and fights it off. But wait! Armand devilishly informs Lobo that the Drell gets stronger with every hit it takes! So the thing hurls some kind of plasma at Lobo and turns him into a statue. Then it goes after Emily while Lobo heals, and finally pushes it back into the portal with a medieval battering ram hung in the museum. The two are then thrown into what Brown calls Dimension-X. As the beast readies another plasma shot, Lobo winds up and kicks the Drell in the nuts (ugh), then throws it down a bottomless pit and escapes through the portal as it quickly closes around him.

Defeated, Armand takes ahold of Emily and threatens to kill her if Lobo comes closer. Lobo, quite sensibly, tells him to go ahead. Honestly, I’d have to give this script some credit if…nope, Emily pulls out Armand’s restraining collar and slips it on his neck, rendering him powerless and stuck inside a pillar. Lobo hurls the pillar into the portal just as it closes. When the cops arrive, Emily elects to stay behind and be arrested, stupidly enough. But then, just as Lobo takes to the skies on his motorcycle, a handcuffed Emily is engulfed in a white light and suddenly disappears. Okay…

We cut to Emily in front of a giant congregation of alien beings, who offer her the position of official ambassador for Earth…for real! So remember kids, if life doesn’t hand you what you want, just lie to everyone about being whatever it is you want until you actually become that thing! But then, after all the horrible things this character has done, after still somehow getting this illustrious, exclusive job offer, Emily has just one question for the aliens.

“By the way, what does this pay?”

Seriously. Fuck. this. character.

We then, quite unnecessarily, cut to Armand in Dimension-X giggling to himself, then Lobo drinking and riding his bike through space. The end.

At first I didn’t hate this script, because it’s not entirely unreadable. There are words, which in turn make up sentences, and I suppose that’s worth something. But really, I do love Lobo as a character and I don’t think the script does a particularly bad job with his cigar-smoking, devil-may-care attitude and snarky one-liners. But as soon as Lobo leaves space behind for Earth, everything goes to shit due to the studio’s pre-packaged tripe of a template. Earth doesn’t work as a backdrop because it’s such a jarring contrast to Lobo himself, who’s also the blunt of several bad jokes and thus muffled from being the complete badass we know and love. Emily doesn’t work because she’s such a shitty, empty character. The alien antagonists don’t work because they’re all morons and spout clichés. It’s all evidence of Warner distrusting the material to hold its own. Lobo’s world from the comics is so imaginative, creative, and funny, and this script and its alien inventions are…not.

What’s most inexcusable, I think, about the whole thing is that this same, hackneyed template was STILL being actively developed in subsequent drafts ten years later. It’s the equivalent of Warner dusting off Gilroy’s Superman Lives instead of producing Man of Steel – infinite rewrites won’t change the fact that the core template is shit. Perhaps most disheartening is that Warner’s overly formulaic approach hasn’t changed for little-known DC characters – the live action Green Lantern suffered from many of the same problems. A Lobo movie really does need to be set mostly in space to do justice to the comics.

Summed up, we can be thankful this is a project somebody had the good sense to place in the proper receptacle, even if it did take over ten years for them to do so.

Review: Doctor Strange (Bob Gale draft)

 

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There’s a rather brilliant theme of duality about Marvel characters like Doctor Strange – for one, we have the mystical sorcerer, conquering vast, galaxy-threatening evils of unknown alternate dimensions. For another, we have the ordinary man living in New York City, left to rebuild his life after a tragic accident robbed him of his god-given talents, and only now beginning to realize the true significance of helping others. Doctor Strange, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the pages of Strange Tales back in 1963, is possibly the greatest of Marvel’s characters that literally walk in two worlds.

Strange also has one of the best, most rousing origin stories in comics, one which could easily make for a fantastic feature film. Enter Back to the Future trilogy writer Bob Gale, who back in 1986 penned a screenplay for a potential Doctor Strange adaptation. A hugely ambitious project for its time, Gale’s draft sadly never saw the light of day for unknown reasons. In fact, very little is known about the circumstances surrounding the project’s inception and falling-out; even the studio that would’ve produced the film remains unknown. We do know that after Gale’s draft fell through, the Doctor Strange film rights bounced around from studio to studio for a decade and a half, passing through the hands of big-name talent like David S. Goyer, Wes Craven, and Guillermo Del Toro before finally landing back at Marvel Studios, where an adaptation is still being mulled over. A project of such mysterious circumstances seems fitting for the subject material, but how does it measure up? A dated, rightfully scrapped misstep of yesteryear, or brilliant, criminally overlooked gem?

The script opens 700 years ago in Asia Minor, where a master of the mystic arts and his young apprentice are fighting against evil forces attempting to summon the dread Dormammu, a demon from the netherworld, to Earth via Skullkane, a magical rod embodying Dormammu’s power on Earth. During the battle, Skullkane is split in two and the master killed, leaving his pupil to hide away both pieces of Skullkane separately and carry on with his magic studies alone. Fast-forward to one thousand years later in New York City, where hot-shit surgeon Stephen Strange is garnering significant attention over his astoundingly prolific career. Strange credits this success to his hands, which he calls his “most prized possessions.” Yet with his incredible talent comes an incredibly inflated ego – Strange is a textbook narcissist, flaunting his skills to drooling onlookers and using sleight-of-hand tricks to pick up chicks. One evening, however, Strange’s act doesn’t play well with one particular woman at a party, and she leaves in a huff. Strange gives chase in his car, but after taking a sharp turn on a high peak, the car flies off the road and down a steep cliff, mangling Strange’s hands permanently. Doctors tell him he’ll never perform surgery again.

Unhindered, Stephen laughs off the assessment and begins searching elsewhere for a cure. But elsewhere becomes elsewheres, towards exotic locales and bizarre treatments that drive the once-prolific surgeon deeper and deeper into debt. As Stephen begins to bottom out, a mysterious Asian man presents him with a last resort – visit the Ancient One, a mysterious old medicine man living in the Himalayas, who may be able to help. As Stephen sets out to find the old man, he begins to discover a more sorcerous, righteous destiny. It all leads up to a climactic battle for Skullkane as Dormammu is once again summoned to Earth, forcing Strange to put his newfound powers to the test.

Gale’s Doctor Strange is a sweeping epic, presenting a comprehensive origin story for the Sorcerer Supreme. Like the fully realized Batman Begins, Gale’s script focuses far more on Strange himself, barely even scratching the surface of the character’s more otherworldly inclinations by the halfway mark. Some of the best moments center around these otherworldly moments, dealing with metaphysical reality and yoga-like magical abilities with some heavy Steve Ditko-inspired imagery. “Magic is simply a word to describe that which we cannot explain” says the Ancient One in a great line, under whom Strange trains. It’s a line that allows Gale to play in both worlds without being questioned (much like Kenneth Branagh’s Thor). Not to mention, Gale infuses some very funny moments that don’t come off as tongue-in-cheek, a surprisingly forward-thinking prospect for the time.

Taking us to a variety of locations, from the Himalayan mountains to the streets of New York, it’s clear Gale’s ambition exceeds any possible budgetary limitations for the time. I only wish the project had gotten at least as far as the conceptual stage, where a design artist sharing Gale’s passion for the source material could’ve really brought to life some of the more visual elements of the script. Realistically however, it’s hard to imagine the limitations of 1980s filmmaking yielding what would’ve been some seriously groundbreaking special effects for the time.

Any boundaries the producing studio may have put to Gale for the script were likely minimal at best – for such a seemingly tentpole-ish release, there are very few action beats in this, a highly expository script. And what action sequences there are tend become a bit clunky and confused. Some of the dialogue also leans a bit too far into exposition territory. But perhaps the script’s most amusing cliché is its, no joke, 80s montage sequence.

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That’s right, even Gale can’t completely escape the trappings of age. Just read this, the sixth scene in the sequence:

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Terrific, terrific. All it needs is some “Hearts on Fire.”

Trouble is, this all happens on page 80 of a 117 page script, leaving Gale scrambling to wrap things up, and rushing ahead with what should’ve been a far more lengthy climax as a result. As commendable as the script is for taking its time to build up Strange’s transformation, it takes far too long to get there, and sacrifices some of the best parts in the process. It’s a little like Superman: the Movie, when teenage Clark just sort of becomes Superman after twelve years travelling the galaxy with his dead father. It worked fine back then, but in today’s deeper character pieces, it’s not nearly as satisfying as watching that growth unfold in full.

Still, a highly enjoyable read, Bob Gale’s Doctor Strange is an excellent blueprint, faithful to the comics and centered squarely on the heart of its protagonist. This is boldly, unabashedly Strange, a pure Marvel experience if there ever was one. It’s sad to see that a project so ahead of its time never made it to the silver screen in any form, as Gale’s Strange would’ve easily made for a great superhero film. As for Strange’s continued journey to the big screen, last we heard Marvel Studios was actively developing a script by Cowboys & Aliens writers Thomas Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer. Perhaps instead, the studio should take a look back at this script and reassess their options.

Review: Nottingham (First Draft)

imageEthan Reiff and Cyrus Voris’ Nottingham script begins with the tagline, “There are two sides to every legend…” And like the script’s eventual film adaptation, there’s more this story hidden behind the scenes than meets the eye.

Nottingham, a spec script based on the Robin Hood legend, boasts a unique perspective on the classic myth – instead of championing Robin as its hero, the story follows the Sheriff of Nottingham, who is tasked with finding and arresting the legendary English outlaw. This fascinating role-reversal was purchased by Universal back in 2006, leading to the signing of famed director Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator) to helm and actor Russell Crowe to play both Robin and the Sheriff.

Sadly, rewrites and further revisions from Scott and Co. led to the project finally formulating as 2010’s Robin Hood, a bland, uninteresting origin story chronicling a darker, Robin Hood 2010 Postergrittier origin of how the character came to be and removing the Sheriff/Robin dual actor dynamic. I myself tried watching the film and found myself bored out of my mind after just under a half hour. Ridley Scott is a fantastic director, to be sure, and with great scripts like Gladiator that keep the tension rising at a smooth pace, he can do great work. But after Kingdom of Heaven, I’ve grown weary of the director’s historical epics, and I wasn’t about to waste another two hours of my time on a similarly dull, lifeless snoozer. Now, I’ve returned to the roots of the project with the original first draft of the script and the original concept intact. Obviously I can’t comment on the differences between the two having not seen the final film in its entirety, but judging by what I saw, it seems the script is different enough as to be worth looking into itself.

Nottingham opens in 1191 England, during a castle siege led by Robert Tornham against Cyprus. Turns out the battle was all for naught – after taking the castle, King Richard reassigns Tornham from Sheriff of Cyprus to Sheriff of Nottingham, giving him orders to report to the new town immediately. Upon arrival, Tornham becomes aware of a serial murderer loose in the town, his victims stuck with arrows in their backs. The suspect? kingjohnraisingtaxesNone other than Robin of Loxley, a renegade King Richard supporter (turned away from the crown after the power-hungry Prince John takes the throne and declares a raise in taxes), and expert archer who lives in the woods with his army of followers. Tornham, along with his companion Squire Thomas, set out to stop the outlaw Robin Hood. But the situation proves much more complicated than a simple indictment of Hood, especially when Hood’s lover Maid Marion becomes involved.

Nottingham is a fascinating look at the Robin Hood legend from a different perspective, a fresh new way of looking at the mythology. In almost all Robin Hood media, we’re blasted with the simple, quaint idea that stealing from the rich and giving to the poor is the right thing to do, and yet, who’s to say everyone in government at the time was worth stealing from? It’s a great approach, and a real page-turner, providing an enthralling whodunnit mystery on top of its bold concept.

Character-wise, the hero Tornham is an interesting, yet logical choice for a protagonist. He’s bound to serve King Richard and his government, yet he’s a free enough thinker to know when his superiors are wrong. In contrast to all his other appearances, is a humanized, sympathetic character in Nottingham.

But perhaps most noteworthy is the portrayal of Robin Hood. Here, he’s a much more ambiguous character, doing what he believes is right in the face of heavy opposition, including falling out of the audience’s favor several times (one scene even sees him cheating on Marion with another woman). He’s got a darker edge to him, with much looser morals, far from the smiling do-gooder Errol Flynn was, but not quite a villain either. He’s almost the film’s wild card, a vigilante-type we don’t immediately sympathize with. The darker interpretation allows the film to match up with the myth, but also stand on its own as something different. Sadly, Robin isn’t really established as a character until around the second act, and I finished the script with a feeling that he could’ve actually been in it more, with more time for character-building with Tornham and Marion.

And that’s really the crux of this first draft as well – it leaves you wanting more from its characters. More interaction, more development, etc. It’s to be expected for any first draft, but it’s tantalizing to imagine just what these writers could’ve accomplished had they been allowed to polish and perfect their vision.

While the groundwork for a great character piece is here, I didn’t care for 220px-Robin_Hood_and_Maid_Marianhow the relationship between Marion and Tornham was handled in the end. I’ll avoid spoiling it for those who haven’t read it, but it seemed as though the feelings between them were never brought to a meaningful closure, leaving the reader feeling like the whole affair was only present for dramatic purposes. In fact, the entire love triangle between her, Robin, and Tornham could’ve really be explored further.

Marion’s motivations in the end are also a bit questionable. Again, I’ll try not to spoil anything, but throughout the script, she adopts this wishy-washy stance on Robin’s behavior. For example, when she talks to Tornham about Robin, she’s almost trying to convince herself that she’s in love with him and that he’s really a great guy above all. Trouble is, Robin ISN’T a great guy in this script, so when the ending rolls around, we’re left wondering exactly what it is Marion sees in this guy.

In fact, much of the script’s conclusion seems to be resolved far too quickly and neatly, convenient in how it ties everything up to reflect what we know about Robin Hood lore today, rather than making sense in the context of the story. It’s unfulfilling in more ways than one; the script wants to portray Tornham as this unsung hero, so in the end, he’s simply labeled as such, without there being much dramatic reason for him to be. It’s almost like the rug is pulled out from under us at the last minute for no other reason than to defy our expectations. It’s just not narratively sound, and makes me wish they’d gone for perhaps a more ballsy, contradictory ending, defying our expectations. Think Inglourious Basterds, only better.

For Tornham’s resolution, my guess is that the writers came up with the original idea to cast the same actor in both the role of Tornham and Robin, so the two characters’ resemblance might explain the quirks in the ending, which involves a bit of confusion in which hero gets credits for what. I will say that I quite liked the final shot of the script; it’s poignant imagery, the kind of thing we don’t see often in too many movies these days.

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Overall, this is a fantastic start, the blueprints for what could’ve potentially been a really cool contribution to the Robin Hood legend. There’s plenty of action, mystery, suspense, character intrigue, and above all, it’s got a great concept to draw readers in. I highly recommend checking it out regardless of whether or not you’ve seen Scott’s film.

The first draft of Nottingham is available to read here.