If J.J Abrams, Christopher Nolan, Damon Lindelof and Ridley Scott are viewed as being on the secretive side about revealing plot details and information regarding their unreleased, often still-in-development movies, one then must consider comic book writer Mark Millar to be on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. While not exactly in the movie business like the four aforementioned artists, several of Millar's comics (such as "Supercrooks" and "Nemesis") are in development at various studios and production companies. Seemingly very enthusiastic to be a part of the Hollywood process, Millar is very amenable to telling you pretty much whatever you want to know about any of his projects in development, going as far as to make wild casting announcements (like when we said Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt were being approached for "Nemesis") and generally claiming unrealistic start dates to any project under the sun (all of them).
And so while there's always reason to doubt the tall-tale telling Millar, here's a recent scenario which doesn't create as much skepticism, largely in part because it has to do with a project he has nothing to do with: Reacting to the recent news that Warner Bros. has hired "Gangster Squad" screenwriter Will Beall to pen the studio's newest iteration of the D.C. Comics "Justice League" movie, Millar said he had heard that the adaptation sounded "mature and dark."
"A pal of mine is good friends with the new Justice League screenwriter and said his take on the team is incredible. Very real-world and not at all what you might expect," Millar said on his public web forum yesterday via CBM. "WB has a (sic) chequered history with their superhero characters. They're great with their boy wizards, but less consistent with their DC stable. But my chum said that this could be a thing of beauty and has been in the works for a little while now, not just an 'Avengers' knock-off. Best of luck to them. The tidbits I heard sound quite dark and mature, which isn't what I expected. But word on 'Gangster Squad' is great too so I feel this is in really good hands." Clearly, Millar is talking about Beall, even if he doesn't mention him by name.
And so what, right? But "mature and dark" are not two descriptors that comic book fans immediately associate with the Justice League, even though there have been several stories involving that super hero super-group that fit that description ("Cry for Justice," "Countdown to Final Crisis" and "Final Crisis" being just a few). For context, like Marvel's "The Avengers," "Justice League" is a huge deal. The group houses iconic heroes and lucrative properties and characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman and many more — essentially every flagship D.C. Comics character. It's no wonder than WB put the kibosh on a rushed version in 2008 that George Miller ("The Road Warrior") would have directed. It fell apart due to the 2007/2008 writer's strike (its script needed work and screenwriters weren't available), but featuring a host of largely unknown and very young actors playing the parts (Adam Brody as The Flash, a then totally-unknown Armie Hammer from "The Social Network" as Batman, for example), it was a project ripe for embarrassment, and was routinely mocked as Justice League Kiddies by online fans. A writer's strike or not, that project seemed doomed for failure, and tarnishing the brand is not the way any studio wants to begin when launching a franchise full of beloved and iconic characters (see "Green Lantern" which was a massive setback for Warner Bros. creatively, financially and from a brand perspective).
Hired over a year ago (with the news just surfacing this week), Beall is an interesting choice. A former LAPD anti-gang officer and homicide detective (no joke), Beall is the author of "L.A. Rex," a 2006 crime drama that earned comparisons to the work of legendary crime writers Richard Price and James Ellroy. He's also the former Los Angeles Times Op-Ed pages writer on police issues (here's one example) — it's no wonder he was pegged by Warner Bros. to write the LAPD noir, "Gangster Squad" (he also wrote a version of "Lethal Weapon 5" and "Logan's Run" for the studio).
And so, while the idea of several adult males running around in superhero costumes feels less implausible thanks to Joss Whedon's tonally well-managed "The Avengers," the use of words like "dark and mature" in reference to superhero films, is generally reserved for the likes of Christoper Nolan films. But Beall could just be the man for the job. "Gangster Squad" like "Justice League" does have to juggle several characters (there's at least 11 well-known actors in the former with major parts) and the man does know gritty and real from experience. "This city is so wild in every sense of the word that to try and craft spectacular fiction about it, I feel like you do find yourself struggling with… the city refuses to be upstaged," Beall said in 2007 video interview about "L.A. Rex," which you can watch below.
While Marvel's gamble of four individual films leading up to one super-hero team-up was seen as a very risky endeavor (until it was successfully pulled off by Whedon and his team), one now struggles to conceive how managing the stories, egos and plot lines of several super hero characters could be calculated and calibrated any other way. With Zack Snyder already noting that his "Man Of Steel" Superman film will not lead into the "Justice League" film and neither will Nolan's films, it will be incredibly fascinating to see if Beall, Warner Bros. and whatever director they hire can pull off a supergroup superhero film that has no runway leading up to its launch.