Before Zack Snyder was even on the map in Hollywood, a Batman v Superman film was being planned by Warner Bros. Over a decade ago, a script floated around the cosmos after the wretched failure of Batman and Robin effectively killed the credibility of the franchise.
In 2013, the script was leaked online and the YouTube channel MrSundayMovies uploaded a fantastic animated run-through of it (he recently updated and re-uploaded to coincide with the release of Snyder’s Batman v Superman). It gives us an insight into what the studio had planned for the original, doomed Batman v Superman feature named ‘Asylum’, and it would have been wildly different from the movie that’s just been released.
The script had been written by Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven, Sleepy Hollow) and Akiva Goldsman (Lost in Space, A Beautiful Mind). The worrying thing, had the film been made, was that Goldsman was responsible for the Batman and Robin script.
Warner Bros. had drawn up a star-studded shortlist for the two titular roles that included A-lister names such as Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law, James Franco and the late Paul Walker. Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, Air Force One) attached to direct for a summer 2004 release. Petersen would later reveal that the race for Superman had been whittled down to two actors at one point; Josh Hartnett and, interestingly, Christian Bale, who later go on to portray Gotham’s vigilante in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
“Their individual crises are what pit them against each other. Superman [stands by] his old thing of ‘truth, justice, and the American way’—oh, boy, he gets into trouble with that one,” the director said in 2002. Batman, meanwhile, ”gets into a case so violent that he’s about to lose it. [But] it’s a superhero film, so of course at the end they join forces.”
In this movie, Batman was – like Ben Affleck’s incarnation – old and world-weary. In fact, the 2003 version would have seen a Bruce Wayne who had been retired for five years. Depressingly, Commissioner Gordon, Robin and Alfred are all dead. Even Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker, has been killed. It would have been a thoroughly despairing portrait of a broken Batman, for sure.
Things weren’t going to be much brighter for Superman, though, as the film would have seen him divorced from Lois Lane. Batman ends up meeting a woman named Elizabeth Miller and marries her. However, on their honeymoon, she dies from being poisoned by a Joker bee— even though the Clown Prince of Crime was supposedly long dead.
After her death, an enraged Batman, hellbent on bloody revenge, goes on the hunt for Joker. This is when he meets Superman. The Man of Steel confronts the Dark Knight and tells him not to kill anyone. Batman responds by saying Superman doesn’t understand true human emotion because he is an alien.
Batman ends up confronting The Joker but the villain, aided by a group of henchmen, takes the Bat down, leaving him within an inch of his life. it leads to Batman recovering and stealing Kryptonite, as if precipitating a spectacular showdown with his counterpart from Metropolis.
All things considered, this was a fairly unusual film being planned. It seemed to have a grim tone, much like Snyder, with several characters close to Batman being dead. It also featured an imprisoned Lex Luthor clowning The Joker (which explains how he ‘came back from the dead’).
Apparently, the film came close to being made but, like many Batman and Superman projects before, it was ultimately banished to the depths of development hell.
“[WB chief] Alan Horn was so torn because it’s such a fascinating concept to do a Batman versus Superman film,” Petersen told MTV in 2010. “But the studio decided to try separate versions of Superman and Batman, and then maybe think about down the road if you want to bring them together in one film.”
What Petersen was referring to was Warner Bros.’ dramatic change of heart once they read J.J. Abrams’ Script for a solo Superman adventure, completely unrelated to the Batman vs Superman movie. Entitled Superman: Flyby, the man who would eventually revive both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises for modern audiences was on the cusp of seeing his alternative origin story for the Man of Steel greenlit.
The plot can be broken down as follows, with several key departures from the established Superman origin arc.
- Krypton not exploding
- A baby Kal-El being sent to Earth specifically to live with the Kents
- Lex Luthor being revealed as a Kryptonian
- Jor-El committing ritual suicide to join his dead son (Superman dies and is resurrected in the film)
- Lots and lots of Matrix-inspired Kryptonian kung fu
WB fell in love with Abrams’ Superman script and abandoned their Batman vs Superman project. The studio moved forward with the movie but McG, the original choice to direct, had departed and went on to make Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. WB turned to X-Men director Bryan Singer, who subsequently ignored Abrams’ outlandish ideas and decided to make his own film with his team from X2. Eventually, we got Superman Returns in 2006, starring Brandon Routh in his only outing as Clark Kent.
Abrams, while promoting Star Trek Into Darkness (another film that angered a fanbase), would later discuss his idea for Superman: Flyby with Empire Magazine.
“The thing that I tried to emphasise in the story was that if the Kents found this boy, Kal-El, who had the power that he did, he would have most likely killed them both in short order,” Abrams said. “And the idea that these parents would see – if they were lucky to survive long enough – that they had to immediately begin teaching this kid to limit himself and to not be so fast, not be so strong, not be so powerful.
“The result of that, psychologically, would be fear of oneself, self-doubt and being ashamed of what you were capable of. Extrapolating that to adulthood became a fascinating psychological profile of someone who was not pretending to be Clark Kent, but who wasClark Kent. Who had become that kind of a character who is not able or willing to accept who he was and what his destiny was.
“The idea in the movie was that he became Superman because he realised he had to finally own his strength and what he’d always been. I don’t know if that’s what Zack and Chris [Nolan] are doing, but it looks like that’s part of the idea and I could not be more thrilled to see that movie. That to me was always the way to go.”
So, Warner Bros. had an original plan for bringing Batman v Superman to the big screen but it eventually failed. The characters obviously had contrasting fortunes when they were eventually handed their own projects. Christopher Nolan breathed spectacular and thrilling new life into the legend of Batman with his nearly-flawless Dark Knight trilogy (2008’s The Dark Knight may never be beaten) but Bryan Singer’s efforts to revive Superman failed.