Darren Aronofsky Would Have Cast Joaquin Phoenix As Batman; Matthew Vaughn Shares His Optimistic Vision For Superman

Darren Aronofsky's Batman pitch was one of the famed projects stewing in development hell for years, cast aside by Warner Bros. executives for being too dark a take on a property that generally attracts families. The project, which Aronofsky worked on with Batman: Year One writer Frank Miller in 1999, envisioned an R-rated Batman who grew up on the streets, fighting villains in a ski mask and wielding brass knuckles.

But Aronofsky didn't get his chance to do his "Travis Bickle"-style Batman, and the Caped Crusader got his gritty, realistic reboot with Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins instead. But with Aronofsky on his mother! press tour, questions about his Batman project keep coming up, and he revealed who he would have cast if his film had come to pass.

Who Aronofsky's Batman Would Be

Aronofsky revealed that if he had helmed his Batman: Year One-inspired film, he would have cast Joaquin Phoenix, then known for his roles in Gladiator, 8mm, and The Yards, as his Bruce Wayne.

Aronofsky told Yahoo Movies:

"I always wanted Joaquin Phoenix for Batman. It's funny, I think we were just sort of out of time with our idea. I understood that [with] comics, that there's room for all different types of titles, but I think Hollywood at that time was still kind of in the Golden Age of comics, and they were still just doing the classic titles in classic ways."

What Aronofsky means by "doing classic titles in classic ways," is that the Batman movies at the time were still known for being family-friendly, having just come off Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin in 1997. Though Tim Burton had given the superhero a Gothic, darker spin, that was walked back in favor of Schumacher's campier take.

But while Aronofsky only seems slightly bitter that his dark and gritty Batman pitch wasn't accepted, it was only five years later that Nolan's hyperrealistic Batman Begins hit theaters, introducing a grimmer Batman — though still relatively family-friendly. Some of Aronofsky's ideas ended up being used in Zack Snyder's DC Extended Universe films like Batman v Superman — and possibly inspired portions of the upcoming Joker origin movie — which fits the hypermasculine tone of the DCEU.

Whatever Happened to Matthew Vaughn's Man of Tomorrow?

Meanwhile, while Aronofsky's days dabbling in the superhero genre may be long past, Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn's time in the genre may be just beginning. Vaughn was reportedly being eyed to direct Man of Steel 2 earlier this year, though as the DCEU expands, the film's release date becomes increasingly dubious.

But Matthew Vaughn told Collider that were he to direct a Superman film, he would eschew Snyder's dark leanings from the first Man of Steel, and make a return to the Man of Tomorrow's earnest, optimistic roots. That's the opposite of what Aronofsky wanted to do with Batman, funnily enough. Vaughn said:

"Weirdly if I did do Superman—and I made the mistake of telling someone yesterday I have spoken about it and then wallop (laughs)—I think my main take would be, it's really boring but make a Superman film. I just don't feel a proper Superman—I think Donner did it to perfection for that time. Just doing the modern—I wanna do a modern version of the Donner [version]. Go back to the source material... For me Superman is color, feel-good, heroic. He's a beacon of light in darkness. And that's what I think Superman should be."

If we're going by Warner Bros.' claimed pivot to a "more fun" and optimistic DCEU, Vaughn's vision for Superman is right on the nose, making him sounds like an increasingly likely choice to helm the Man of Steel sequel. Though it could be argued that Vaughn's ultraviolent films like Kingsman: The Secret Service or Kick-Ass indicate that he is a cynic not suitable for an earnest Superman movie, I believe Vaughn veers more towards camp than cynicism. Though he likes to fall back on unhinged blood and gore, it hasn't prevented him from having fun with characters like in X-Men: First Class and injecting them with a noble righteousness that seems to be missing from the heroes in the DCEU — outside of Wonder Woman, of course.

It seems apt that Aronofsky's overly grim version of a "gangster" Batman has been left in the dust, as it would likely not have started off a new reign of genre-bending superhero films like Nolan's Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Nolan's Batman films don't completely eschew happiness and optimism — Batman Begins is surprisingly funny — but they do prioritize Bruce Wayne's arc into Batman before making any "edgy" choices. Though I may be completely wrong, considering the fact that Warner Bros. is still moving forward with the Joker origin movie.