How ‘The Justice League’ Saved ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’
George Miller discusses how his Justice League superhero blockbuster fell apart, paving the way for Mad Max: Fury Road. He also talks “California Love” and The Fast and the Furious.
In our story on the making of the mesmerizing Mad Max: Fury Road, we chronicled the film’s 17-year journey from director George Miller’s epiphany at an L.A crosswalk to the big screen. Everything—and I do mean everything—seemed to get in its path, including 9/11, Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic meltdown, the passing of Heath Ledger (who was being courted for Max), the first rains in 15 years to hit Broken Hill, Australia, forcing production to move to Namibia, and an on-set feud between co-stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.
Well, Mad Max: Fury Road is finally here and it was definitely worth the wait. But it probably wouldn’t have happened if Miller’s Justice League superhero team-up had come to fruition.
If you recall, back in 2007, Warner Bros. announced it was ready to roll on Justice League: Mortal, a $220 million blockbuster superhero film on The Justice League—essentially DC Comics’ version of The Avengers—that was set to hit theaters in July 2009. The script was locked, the costumes and concept art were conceived, and the entire film was cast.
It’s cast included: Armie Hammer as Batman, DJ Cotrona as Superman, Adam Brody as The Flash, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Common as Green Lantern, Santiago Cabrera as Aquaman, Teresa Palmer as Talia Al Ghul, Zoe Kazan as Iris Allen, Mad Max: Fury Road villain Hugh Keays-Byrne as Martian Manhunter, and Jay Baruchel as the main villain, Maxwell Lord.
If the film merited a sequel (or sequels)—which, with the visionary Miller at the helm, odds are it would have—then it’s safe to say production on Mad Max: Fury Road, which began in 2011, would have been further delayed, and may have been scrapped entirely.
Of course, it didn’t. And a new Justice League film, directed by Zack Snyder, is set to hit theaters in 2018. Here’s why Justice League: Mortal fell apart:
“Everyone was very keen to do it, but there was a writers strike, so there was a deadline,” Miller told The Daily Beast. “In order to do it in Australia, there was a new government with new rebate legislation, and this was the first film to come up, so we had to get in that window before the writers strike and get it approved for the rebate, which is quite significant. Even the board that they put together wasn’t very experienced, and they thought that it had to be only Australian content, so much like how the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the Florida recount, there was a 4-3 overruling in the tribunal. We lost Justice League by one vote! So they turned down the film, and before we could appeal, the writers strike happened.”
Well, there you have it. Miller could have supplanted Zack Snyder as one of the architects—along with Christopher Nolan—of the DC film universe, but it wasn’t meant to be.
During our chat, I asked Miller about whether the success of the Fast and the Furious franchise helped Mad Max: Fury Road get made, reigniting our love for not only car films but non-CG action. “I never thought about that!” he replied. “But yeah, I think so. CG allows you to do anything—you can defy the laws of physics, make people fly, have spacecrafts—and they can do that relatively easy with green screen. The cars themselves are real world, and we wanted to do it old school with real cars, real people, real desert, and no green screen—and do it chronologically, so when there are attritions in the cars and the people, you can see it in the movie. Even though the movie happens over three days, to shoot it over 130 days was a slow-motion version of the physical experience. Most of the cast was able to do really scary stunts, relatively-speaking.”
Miller’s The Road Warrior, the second installment in the Mad Max franchise, set the blueprint for all future post-apocalyptic landscapes on film. But the most blatant ripoff was Kevin Costner’s 1995 movie Waterworld, which cost a then-record $172 million to make. Believe it or not, gentle George not only has no qualms with Waterworld, but gave the movie his blessing.“I got to know Dennis Gassner, the wonderful designer, and Dean Semler, the cameraman who shot the last two Mad Max’s and Waterworld, and I went to visit the set of Waterworld, and there were people saying, ‘You should sue,’ but it wasn’t the thing to do,” Miller recalls. “It was great that they were doing it, and I thought the set was fantastic.”
One set he didn’t visit, however, is “California Love.” Tupac’s classic rap song, featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman, had its music video directed by Hype Williams, and it was heavily inspired by Miller’s third Mad Max movie, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. In fact, Williams, Tupac, and Dre never reached out to Miller before filming the music video—he only caught wind of it after it had premiered on MTV.
“No, they never reached out!” a chuckling Miller says. “I’ve never hung out with Tupac.”