After Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin belly-flopped, Warner Bros. returned to the drawing board for several years, inviting different creators and filmmakers to pitch their vision for the next Dark Knight film. In 1999, Darren Aronofsky boarded the project and brought comic book legend Frank Miller along with him for the ride, as they aimed to adapt Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s 1987 iconic story Batman: Year One for the big screen.
Much like The Dark Knight Returns, Year One is a gritty, hard-boiled tale that goes back to the start of Bruce Wayne’s crime-fighting career, while also focusing on Jim Gordon’s rise through the Gotham City Police Department ranks. It’s an action-heavy adaptation that shows how far the roots of corruption extend in Gotham City, highlighting how it isn’t just the colourful villains that must be conquered but also those who are sworn to protect and do anything but. Elements of this story made their way into Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and Matt Reeves’ The Batman, as both these movies utilised Year One as an influence in the narrative.
What Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller’s Batman film would have been like
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Frank Miller revealed several details about the project. The writer explained how Darren Aronofsky had been a fan of the Batman: Year One story and wanted to tackle it in a fearless way. “I was surprised at the time, because I tend to be the more radical of any team I’m on, but it was Darren who was much more radical than I was,” Miller stated. “I said ‘Darren, would you be willing to be faithful to the comics?’ and he was ready to rip the eyes out of them.”
Miller discussed how he and Aronofsky enjoyed collaborating on the screenplay. In this story, Bruce Wayne turns down his inheritance as he wants to prove himself in his own way. He lives on the streets and works as a cook as he learns how to defend his city from criminal threats. Finally, he accepts his fortune and travels the world to study martial arts and learn the detective skills that will help make him Batman. At the same time, Jim Gordon is new to the force, while also handling life as a father and husband. Initially, he hunts down the mysterious vigilante running amok in the city, but they team up as allies in the end.
Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One would certainly not be aimed at children with its darker themes and violence. Instead, it would be a much more mature property targeted at older fans – something that was uncommon for comic book movies in the early 2000s. Discussing Warner Bros.’ first reaction to their script, Miller said: “I think I heard a shriek of horror at first. They were shocked at how bold it was and wanted it to be softened as much as it could be and then we wanted it to be as hard as it could be.”
Aronofsky also opened up to Empire about the failed film, saying: “The studio wanted Freddie Prinze Jr and I wanted Joaquin Phoenix. I remember thinking, ‘Uh oh, we’re making two different films here.’ That’s a true story. It was a different time. The Batman I wrote was definitely a way different type of take than they ended up making.”
In the end, Aronofsky and Miller departed the project in 2002; however, Miller said it was an amicable separation and understandable since they weren’t on the same page of how to tackle the movie. Ultimately, Batman: Year One did receive a film adaptation in the end as it was turned into an animated film in 2011, which stars Ben McKenzie as Batman and Bryan Cranston as Jim Gordon.