Holy blockbuster, Batman! Geeks everywhere are aflutter over the news that the Caped Crusader and his superhero cohorts Superman and Wonder Woman are finally flying to the big screen together in a live-action film version of the comic-book classic Justice League of America. ''Except for The Watchmen and Dark Knight, nothing is causing more nerd excitement than Justice League,'' says comic-book writer Brad Meltzer, who relaunched the franchise for DC Comics last year. ''Like X-Men, this is the comic-book creator's crown jewel.''
Though the studio will still not officially confirm it, Warner Bros.' League feature is scheduled to begin production in Australia next February under Happy Feet director George Miller. But some Hollywood power players aren't taking it too well, given that the movie could hinder future plans for DC Comics film franchises, including the ongoing Batman and Superman series, and long-gestating theatrical takes on Wonder Woman and the Flash. Sources say that Warner Bros. was prompted to move quickly on Justice League by three factors: a screenplay that ''they flipped out over''; an open spot in their summer 2009 calendar; and the increasing probability of an industry-wide strike that would shut down all productions by next July. EW has obtained an early version of the script which was written by Kieran and Michele Mulroney and what we've seen remains faithful to the comic book that first appeared in 1960. (Stop reading if you're spoiler-phobic.) All seven original members of the Justice League Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Martian Manhunter are featured in an origins story about the superhero conglomerate. The plot revolves around villainous businessman Maxwell Lord and involves cyborgs called OMACs (One-Man Army Corps), who can take over humans and turn them into killing machines. There are epic battle scenes between Superman and Batman, as well as Superman and Wonder Woman, and League could spawn a slew of additional franchises if it's successful.
But what about the existing franchises? Christian Bale is not expected to star as League's Batman, and many in Hollywood are wondering whether this continuity breach will distract audiences who turn out for Knight next July. Director Christopher Nolan is reportedly unhappy that the studio is making League. (Nolan is currently ''knee-deep'' in production and unavailable for comment, according to his reps.) Sources close to director Bryan Singer say he had to be reassured that Superman: Man of Steel wouldn't be affected. (The film is still in development, and Singer has the option to bow out if the script is not up to par.) And while Brandon Routh has said he would gladly reprise his role as the Man of Steel for League, it's not clear if Warner Bros. wants him for the film. The studio declined to comment for this story, but according to one source familiar with their plans for League, ''Warner doesn't believe they are cannibalizing [these other franchises] partly because it's unlikely Brandon and Christian will be in it. They believe the movies can live in parallel universes.'' Whether Justice will jump-start or derail the Wonder Woman and Flash films is unclear. Sources say that concerns about hurting individual franchises are what kept Warner Bros. president and COO Alan Horn from greenlighting a multi-superhero movie for years.
Insiders confirm that Jessica Biel is in early talks to play Wonder Woman in League, but as with Bale and Routh, the studio might be wary of a crossover; one source says that her contract is unlikely to guarantee that she'd be the star of any future Wonder Woman feature. (Biel's reps declined to comment.) And a Flash movie, which Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy was last attached to direct, now seems to be on hold. But the Flash may not have to put off his solo project for too long. Says one studio insider, ''I don't think you can cannibalize superheroes. The audience has an insatiable appetite for them right now.'' And nothing will whet that appetite more than seeing seven of them bounding across the big screen all at once.
'League' Sneak Peek
EW caught an early glimpse of the Justice League script. Below, a (mostly) spoiler-free first look.
A.k.a. Clark Kent, news reporter. The morally upstanding Man of Steel battles Batman and has more to worry about than Kryptonite.
A.k.a. Diana of Themyscira, Amazonian princess. Revered by the other supers for her beauty and ass-kicking abilities.
The Martian Manhunter
A.k.a. J'onn J'onzz, detective. His power to read minds comes in handy as the villain engages in some nifty mind control.
A.k.a. John Stewart, architect. Designed the Hall of Justice. His emerald power ring shoots beams of energy.
A.k.a. Bruce Wayne. The most human of the bunch is mistrustful of others, which leads to quite a few problems for the clan.
A.k.a. Barry Allen, cop. The most enthusiastic superhero, Flash is happy just to be included, but his ravenous appetite leads to trouble.
A.k.a. Arthur, the Atlantean king. Not a fan of humans, Aquaman is more interested in helping his fellow heroes than lending a hand to land dwellers.