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The Darkest Batman Movie You Never Got To See

Even in his lighter incarnations, Batman has always been one of the darker characters in all of comics lore. As much as we're used to the brooding depictions offered up by Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and Ben Affleck in the DC Extended Universe, however, we almost got a big-screen version of the Caped Crusader that was even darker, according to legendary screenwriter Akiva Goldsman.

The scribe recently sat down with Collider for a long talk about his storied career, and, in the course of that conversation, the many failed attempts by studio Warner Bros. to rehabilitate the characters of Batman and Superman in the late '90s were discussed. Goldsman was brought in to bat cleanup (no pun intended) on a script with the working title Batman v. Superman: Asylum, the first draft of which had been penned by Andrew Kevin Walker, whose most well-known prior project was a lighthearted little picture called Se7en.

At that time, director Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm) was attached to the project, and while no offers had been made, the studio had its principals in mind: Colin Farrell was being eyed for the role of Batman, and Jude Law was up for the part of Superman. To hear Goldsman tell it, the material he was working with was a few shades darker than any of the screen interpretations of the Dark Knight that we've gotten in the years since.

What did Akiva Goldsman have to say about Batman v. Superman: Asylum?

Goldsman says that, after he took his pass at the screenplay, the project entered pre-production. "It was the darkest thing you've ever seen," he recalled. "It started with Alfred's funeral, and Bruce has fallen in love and renounced being Batman. The Joker kills his wife, and then you discover it was all a lie. Just that the love itself was constructed by the Joker to break [Wayne's spirit]."

The story was a bit more convoluted than that brief synopsis might suggest, which we'll get to in a moment. Goldsman went on to say that, without the current selection of tried-and-true templates for successful superhero pictures from which to choose, the ideas that he and Walker got down on the page ultimately wouldn't have translated very well to film.

"It was a time where you would be able to get these sort of stories together in script form but they couldn't quite land in the world," he said. "Somehow, the expectations [for the project] — whether they be audience or corporate or directorial — it wasn't landing quite in the way I think we imagined when we put them on the page."

Indeed, the entire screenplay for Asylum has been available online for quite some time and, if anything, it's an even wilder ride than Goldsman's description would indicate. Interestingly, the flick wouldn't have been a reboot, but would have taken place in the same continuity as Tim Burton's 1989 Batman — and, as such, it would have opened with the Joker presumed dead.

What other details have come out about Batman v. Superman: Asylum?

In the screenplay, Batman and Superman are best buddies; Bruce Wayne is retired and about to marry a brilliant scientist, and Supes is getting a divorce from Lois Lane. Near the beginning of the flick, Big Blue prevents an angry mob from murdering a terrorist, and here's where it starts to get convoluted: this terrorist is actually the Joker, brought back to life by Lex Luthor for the express purpose of murdering Batman's wife, who was a phony plant in the whole plan. Superman's failure to stop the murder is all part of this plan, as is Batman's subsequent crusade against his former friend. The flick ends with Supes once again preventing the Joker's murder, this time at the hands of Batman, after the villain reveals the entire needlessly complicated scheme (via Gizmodo).

That's really only scratching the surface of the profound craziness of the Asylum screenplay, and we can verify that Goldsman's remarks about great ideas on the page not landing in the real world make perfect sense once you've read the thing. It also goes to show that Warner Bros. and DC Films were working out the kinks in their plans for their two most iconic characters for a very long time — something that the two studios had still failed to achieve by the time they served us up the undercooked mess that was 2016's Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Even as you read this, the big screen future of Superman is just as up in the air as ... well, Superman, himself. Meanwhile, we'll soon get the third cinematic iteration of Batman in just under a decade when writer-director Matt Reeves' reboot The Batman hits screens in 2021. As it turns out, doing justice to beloved characters on the big screen is nowhere near as easy as Marvel Studios makes it look.