There was a time in mid-2000, post-“Pi” and high off buzz for “Requiem for a Dream,” when Darren Aronofsky was attached to take the reins on a “Batman” movie before Christopher Nolan took over. Warner Bros. hired Aronofsky to write and direct an adaptation of “Batman: Year One,” and he even whipped up a script with DC comic scribe Frank Miller. It was intended to be a stripped-down, dark, R-rated origin story of the cowled hero, i.e. the sort of comic book movie we’re used to seeing nowadays. Alas, it fell through, Aronofsky departed, and the rest is history.
In a recent Variety cover story on his new film “The Whale,” starring Brendan Fraser as a 600-pound, gay online English teacher, Aronofsky looked back on the project that never was. The subject came up as Fraser spoke about the Warner Bros. Discovery and HBO Max axing of “Batgirl,” which he starred in.
“It was after ‘Batman & Robin,’ the Joel Schumacher one,” Aronofsky said. “That had been a big hiccup back then at Warner Bros., so I pitched them a rated-R, boiled-down origin story of Batman. A rated-R superhero movie was probably 10 to 15 years out of whack with the reality of the business then.”
While Warner Bros. ultimately went in a different direction, Aronofsky said, “It had promise, but it was just a first draft. The studio weren’t really interested. It was a very different take.”
With R-rated entries like the “Joker” and “Deadpool” series filling out the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Aronofsky said he’s pleased that Hollywood has caught up with his vision. (At one point, he even wanted “Joker” star Joaquin Phoenix to play his Batman.)
“I think it’s great,” Aronofsky said. “I was always saying, ‘Why can’t there be several different types of comic book movies out there.’ Now there are. It’s just our timing was off.”
Aronofsky was also supposed to make the movie that became 2013’s “The Wolverine,” starring Hugh Jackman, but various factors, including the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, led to Aronofsky dropping out and James Mangold taking over. “It was really important for me to shoot in Japan,” Aronofsky said. “I think I signed up to make ‘Wolverine,’ and the earthquake happened a few months later.”
Would he take on superhero IP again? “I wasn’t a comic book kid, but I grew up on big movies and I go see superhero films and I like them,” he said. “If the right opportunity came around, I’d do it.”
As for “Batgirl,” Fraser called the cancellation “tragic,” adding, “It doesn’t engender trust among filmmakers and the studio. Leslie Grace was fantastic. She’s a dynamo, just a spot-on performer. Everything that we shot was real and exciting and just the antithesis of doing a straightforward digital all green screen thing. They ran firetrucks around downtown Glasgow at 3 in the morning and they had flamethrowers. It was a big-budget movie, but one that was just stripped down to the essentials.”