Years before Christopher Nolan re-invented Batman with his Dark Knight trilogy, director Darren Aronofsky — whose new horror-thriller Mother! opens today — tried to take the Caped Crusader to a darker place. Aronofsky was approached by Warner Bros. in 1999 to adapt Batman: Year One, legendary comics creator Frank Miller’s gritty take on the superhero’s early crimefighting days. The studio ultimately passed on the project — but now, in the era of Logan and Batman v. Superman, it’s pretty clear that Aronofsky’s R-rated superhero concept was ahead of its time. While promoting Mother!, Aronofsky talked to Yahoo Movies about why his raw vision for Batman never got off the ground. Watch it above.
“It’s funny, I think we were just sort of out of time with our idea,” Aronofsky told Yahoo Movies. “I understood that [with] comics, there’s room for all different types of titles, but I think Hollywood at that time was still in the Golden Age of comics, and they were still just doing the classic titles in classic ways.”
Coming off his breakthrough Pi in 1998 and the critical and commercial disappointment of Joel Schumacher’s campy Batman and Robin (1997), Aronofsky initially pitched his vision for another gritty, grounded-in-reality Miller-penned comic as a way to reboot Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, with Clint Eastwood to star as an older, broken-down Batman. Warners liked the idea but it never got off the drawing board, and Aronofsky eventually turned his energy to adapting Batman: Year One, which offers a non-canonical, noirish version of the classic origin tale. (Here’s a review of the script.)
And Aronofsky had a specific actor at the top of his wishlist. “I always wanted Joaquin Phoenix for Batman,” the director revealed. But Warners torpedoed the idea of his R-rated superhero film and instead focused on Nolan‘s Dark Knight saga.
It has taken years for Hollywood to catch up with the idea, long established in the comics themselves, that alternate visions of a comics character can exist side-by-side (and Warners even co-opted elements of The Dark Knight Returns for Batman v Superman). Aronofsky is excited to see Warners’ upcoming experiment with this idea, a stand-alone Joker film directed by The Hangover‘s Todd Phillips and produced by Martin Scorsese.
“I think audiences now, they’ve seen enough comic films that they’re game for that,” he said. “So I think we were a little bit out of time for our idea.”
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