Batman vs. Superman – An extract from Holy Franchise, Batman!

Gary Collinson presents an extract from his book Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen detailing director Wolfgang Petersen’s aborted DC superhero cross-over movie Batman vs. Superman….

Holy Franchise Batman

Although Warner Bros was finding it difficult to relaunch the Dark Knight after Batman & Robin, the struggle was nothing compared to that of its other major DC property, Superman. Having ushered in the modern superhero film in 1978 with Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, the Man of Steel had been absent from the screen since his own franchise-killer, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which the studio co-produced with Cannon Films back in 1987. The failure of Superman IV brought an end to a proposed fifth instalment in the Christopher Reeve series, with Batman producer Jon Peters subsequently coming on board in the early 1990s and commissioning a number of scripts based upon DC Comics’ ‘The Death and Return of Superman’ story arc (October 1992–October 1993).

Passing through the hands of writers such as Jonathan Lemkin (Lethal Weapon 4), Gregory Poirier (Rosewood), Kevin Smith (Clerks), Wesley Strick (Batman Returns), Dan Gilroy (Freejack) and William Wisher Jr (Judge Dredd), a new Superman movie did get as far as pre-production in 1997, with Tim Burton set to direct Academy Award-winner Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas) as the Last Son of Krypton in Superman Lives. The eventual collapse of that project meant that Warner Bros entered the twenty-first century with their two biggest superhero properties in exile from the screen and – rather than trying to continue the previous series – the studio then made the decision to start afresh with new origin stories for both characters. In February 2002, J.J. Abrams (Alias) was hired to pen a screenplay for director McG (Charlie’s Angels) entitled Superman: Flyby, while Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) and Frank Miller (RoboCop 3) continued to develop their adaptation of Batman: Year One. However, much like Year One, Superman: Flyby would fail to get off the ground and both projects were put on indefinite hold in July 2002 when Warner Bros announced that the two superheroes were to come face to face on the big screen for the very first time.

In August 2001, Se7en screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker pitched an idea for Batman vs Superman, with German-born filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm) attached as director. Intrigued by the potential to kick-start both franchises at once, Warner Bros gave Walker the go-ahead to develop a script, which then underwent a rewrite courtesy of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin scribe Akiva Goldsman. Set in the same continuity as the previous movies, the script for Batman vs Superman began with a down-on-his-luck Clark Kent set to finalize his divorce from Lois Lane as close friend Bruce Wayne prepares to enter into married life with fiancée Elizabeth Miller. Having given up the mantle of the Bat after the deaths of Dick Grayson, Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon, Bruce is forced to come out of retirement when a resurrected Joker kills Elizabeth. When he vows to take the life of his arch-nemesis in revenge, Superman attempts to prevent Batman from crossing the line and the two come into conflict, only to discover that Lex Luthor has orchestrated a scheme to turn the superheroes against one another.

Officially confirmed on 8 July 2002, the idea was to fast-track Batman vs Superman through development, shooting the film the following February for a release in the summer of 2004. Discussing the ‘World’s Finest’ cross-over shortly after it was given the green light, Wolfgang Petersen stated that he was looking for young actors in the ‘Matt Damon-mould’ for his two leads. Reports quickly emerged of a shortlist that included Christian Bale (American Psycho), Colin Farrell (Tigerland) and James Franco (Spider-Man) for the Dark Knight and Josh Hartnett (Black Hawk Down), Jude Law (Enemy at the Gates), Brandon Routh (Undressed) and Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious) for the Man of Steel. It was alleged that both Christian Bale and Josh Hartnett declined offers to join the cast and, barely a month after the film had been announced, the project was left in limbo as Wolfgang Petersen vacated the director’s chair to helm the historical epic Troy.

The final nail in the coffin for Batman vs Superman came in September 2002 when Warner Bros’ Executive Vice President of Worldwide Motion Picture Production Lorenzo di Bonaventura resigned from the studio amid talk of creative differences with President and Chief Operating Officer Alan Horn. Di Bonaventura had been a strong supporter of Batman vs Superman, whereas Horn favoured the idea of relaunching the characters individually; Horn immediately resurrected Superman: Flyby under director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) and in January 2003 Christopher Nolan (Memento) signed on to develop a new Batman movie, resulting in the 2005 reboot Batman Begins starring Christian Bale. Although Superman: Flyby fell apart, Bryan Singer eventually brought the Man of Steel back to the screen in 2006 with Superman Returns, a quasi-sequel to the earlier Christopher Reeve movies starring Brandon Routh. Despite a favourable reception from critics, Warner Bros were disappointed by the financial returns on their $209m investment and in 2010 the studio announced plans to reboot the Superman franchise, securing the services of producer Christopher Nolan, screenwriter David S. Goyer (Batman Begins), director Zack Snyder (Watchmen) and former Dark Knight candidate Henry Cavill (The Tudors) for 2013’s Man of Steel.

Click here for another extract from Holy Franchise, Batman!, covering George Miller’s aborted feature film Justice League Mortal.

HOLY FRANCHISE BATMAN: BRINGING THE CAPED CRUSADER TO THE SCREEN:

Since the Caped Crusader first made the leap from comics to silver screen in the early 1940s, generations of audiences have been captivated by the screen adventures of Batman, establishing the celebrated comic book hero as a true icon of popular culture. Now, Gary Collinson traces the entire screen history of Bob Kane’s Dark Knight Detective, providing a fascinating insight into one of the most successful media franchises of all time.

Beginning with the early movie serials of the 1940s, Holy Franchise, Batman! charts the development of Batman’s many exploits across both live-action and animation, presenting a comprehensive overview of his illustrious screen career. From the classic 1960s television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward to the hugely successful blockbuster feature films from directors Tim Burton (Batman, Batman Returns), Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin) and Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises), as well as early Saturday morning cartoon outings through to the acclaimed ‘DC Animated Universe’, this book explores the evolution of Batman – a journey that has taken him from ‘camp’ crime-fighter to Dark Knight.

Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen – Available now via Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Gary Collinson

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