Armchair Screenwriter: The Martian Manhunter

Posted: July 14, 2011 in Braak, comic books
Tags: , , , ,

So, let me think about this a little.  I feel like, because we don’t have the “hero discovers his powers” option available to us (actually we do, but let me save that for a minute), then this is another “superhero” movie that needs to not have the superhero be the protagonist (see:  Aquaman).  And we also kind of need to scale the Martian Manhunter back a little bit, too, because his powers are:  flight, super-strength, invincibility, super-speed, laser eyes, shapechangeing, telepathy, intangibility…it is a lot of powers.  It’s basically “all the powers,” and it’s hard to sell drama when your main character is a guy with all the powers.

Hm.  Okay, here’s what I think:  no one cares about the Martian Manhunter.  I mean, 90% of the people who you’d want to watch this movie have never even heard of the Martian Manhunter.  Batman, people know.  Superman, the Flash.  Green Lantern (as the Onion pointed out) just barely.  Some of the Marvel guys are lesser-known heroes, but they all have really good hooks, and you basically know what you’re getting from them right away:  Iron Man is a man…of iron!  Spider-Man is a man with the powers…of a spider!  The X-men are fighting to protect a world that hates and fears them.  The Hulk is a huge hulking monster.  ET CETERA.

But Martian Manhunter?  He doesn’t even do that much manhunting in the comics, and pointing out that he’s Martian means you have to explain, right away, where the hell all the other Martians went.

So….and here’s the point I’m getting to…despite the fact that Time Warner owns a DC property with a trademarked name, there’s actually no reason to call a movie like this “The Martian Manhunter,” or even to use that name (or J’onn J’onzz because I mean come on) in the movie.  Or to treat the Manhunter as a superhero, or to even really pretend this is a superhero movie at all.

Hah.  Okay, so if it’s not a superhero movie, what is it?  Let’s take what Holland said yesterday in the comments and run with it:  Mad Men + My Favorite Martian + the X-Files + The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Let’s say that the government has captured an alien, with the power to read minds and change its shape, and use that to fuel a thematic undercurrent of paranoia and identity crises.  Maybe more Invasion of the Body Snatchers than Day the Earth Stood Still.

It’s the late 1950s, maybe the early-to-mid 1960s, right in the middle of the Cold War hysteria.  There’s a government agent who is the main character (I always want to make characters like these female, because I want there to be more parts for women to do in movies, but maybe it’s not feasible here, maybe I should just relax).  Anyway, he gets home one day to find himself murdered. He is about to be inducted into a top-secret agency (for fun, let’s have this be the precursor to Checkmate), and so they’ve erased his previous identity.

The agency takes him in and shows him that they’ve caught an alien and are keeping it prisoner.  Good so far.  The alien is the forerunner of an alien invasion.  For some reason (let’s say latent psychic powers?) this particular agent is the one with the best chance of communicating with the alien.

Only, obviously, the alien is J’onn and he’s come to warn about the invasion, but actually the invasion has already happened and Checkmate ARE the aliens, they’ve brought the agent in to get some other kind of information out of J’onn.  Maybe he’s got access to some kind of weapon?  Better, I think, is that they don’t know that there aren’t any other Green Martians, and they want to know the location of the rest of J’onn’s race.  I like this, because it let’s us punch up the “last of my kind” reveal — not only am I the last Green Martian, but also there’s no Green Martian fleet coming to save you.

The agent helps J’onn escape, J’onn finds a young Amanda Waller and, with a nascent Suicide Squad, infiltrates the White Martian mothership and self-destructs the invasion fleet, something something something.

That’s okay, but I want it to be crazier, actually.  If we’re going to do psychics and shapechangers and paranoia, let’s just DO it, you know?

So, actually the agent IS J’onn, only he doesn’t know it because he’s imprinted himself with an artificial personality so that he can walk freely among humans.  And the alien that Checkmate has is a hoax they’re using to draw him out.  In this, Checkmate is a human organization, like the Architects of Fear in that Outer Limits episode — only it turns out that they HAVE been infiltrated by aliens, so once J’onn comes in contact with them, his alien personality starts manifesting, trying to get him to remember — only THIS isn’t his real personality either, it’s a fake personality that the White Martians have made to trick him into remembering the location of the rest of his fleet.

This doesn’t work, of course, because there is no fleet for him to remember, but it does cause him to recall his actual personality.  That’s when he discovers that the Checkmate that found him isn’t the real Checkmate — it’s a fake Checkmate created by Amanda Waller that was designed to be infiltrated by the White Martians, full of people with mind-wiped personalities so that no on would catch on, and the REAL Checkmate actually is working against the White Martians, but they need J’onn’s help to destroy the alien spacecraft.

You could probably even throw another reversal in there, when it seems like J’onn actually reveals himself as a spy for the White Martians, only to turn out to be a double-agent.  Maybe put a prototype Suicide Squad in there, too.

The thing is, you could put all of this together in a movie and leave all of these Easter Eggs in it, references to things that show up later in Green Lantern, on the for instance, and just not make a big deal about it, because who cares?  The handful of people who know about the Martian Manhunter will get it right away; for everyone else, it’s all meaningless, and this is just an insanely awesome, telepathic shapechanging alien paranoia movie.

  1. Moff says:

    I feel like one artificially implanted personality is pretty good, but two or more is like come the fuck on.

    (Not just in this treatment; I mean that as a general rule.)

  2. braak says:

    That’s what I like about it. If I’m going to make a movie with artificial personalities, I want it to be a god-damn insane spiral of ever-increasing fake personalities, so that at the end of the movie no one has any idea what the fuck just happened.

  3. Moff says:

    I think this is why they are reluctant to let you make movies.

  4. braak says:

    Yes, but who suffers for it? Only the entire movie-going populace. This movie would be GREAT.

  5. Jeff Holland says:

    1) I’m pretty sure, recognition or not, Time-Warner would still appreciate it if you called their Martian Manhunter movie “Martian Manhunter.”

    2) I’m kinda with Moff on this one, you may have gone one rug-pull too many with the identity stuff.

    3) So, let’s go back a bit, find the heart of the story. What are you hoping audiences will get out of this movie? The thing I liked about tying it into the J’onn/Faraday interactions from “New Frontier” was it said something, in a Twilight-Zone kind of way, about relating to strangers/foreigners in a tense time. And J’onn, even more than Superman, is an immigrant story (since Kal-El at least LOOKS human, whereas J’onn has to choose to blend in). You know my mantra: What’s the story you’re REALLY trying to tell?

    4) On second thought, oof, good god, there’s no way a movie studio would try to sell something called “Martian Manhunter.” You’d need a hell of a good alternate title to get everyone (studio and audience) on board. I got nothing just now.

    5) Which means: The only way you’d ever get an audience to pay attention to J’onn J’onzz is to make him a featured character in a Justice League film. A backdoor-pilot kind of situation.

    6) So, wait, what is DC’s reasoning for not wanting to make a Justice League movie in the “Avengers” style? Other than, “Well, we kinda made Superman and Batman into their own things so we’d have to redo them to fit with our other properties”? Arrrgh, you guys…

  6. braak says:

    2) I think a fake identity and a telepathic projection claiming to be the real him isn’t actually that much. You can keep them spread out, essentially dividing the movie into thirds: first he finds out he’s not who he thought he was and discovers his mentor (part one into part two) and then he finds out that his mentor is actually his enemy (part two into part three). The Checkmate thing is mostly just window-dressing; like in The Prisoner, or in any really good espionage movie, in the end it actually doesn’t matter who any of these people really are or what they want — what matters is that dude is trying to get the nuclear launch codes, and somebody has to stop him.

    3) There’s at least two…maybe three or four potential hearts of the movie. The immigrant one is there, and pretty obvious, I think — J’onn creating a fake identity to protect himself in a foreign land is a pretty straightforward metaphor for assimilationism. It’s highlighted by using Amanda Waller (a black woman working in the 1950s) as the Checkmate contact — if there’s anyone who knows what it’s like to be alone in a hostile environment, far from friends and a homeland that you can never hope to see again, it’s a black woman working in the government in the 1950s.

    But you could also make the thing fundamentally a story about Cold War paranoia, and how deception essentially breeds deception — this is about people who, in attempting to catch invisible enemies, are literally creating the circumstances that permit those enemies, and a guy who has to figure out how to survive in this environment. I think “Taught Paranoid Thriller” is a pretty strong heart, actually, even if it’s not about your hu-man feelings — kind of the same sense as North by Northwest.

    You could ALSO make it about my favorite go-to for story, which is personal identity politics. It’s similar to both of the above but essentially: when all identity is revealed to be mutable (that is, everyone in the movie, whether or not they’re Martian, is a kind of shapeshifter) how do you understand what your own identity is? J’onn’s time among humanity (which the White Martians lack, since they never did anything but pretend to be human) has taught him that you understand your own identity by deciding to be the person who stops that guy from launching the nuclear missiles.

    I mean, all of these are built-in to the premise of the story, I’m just not sure which one I like the most. They’re pretty harmonious, though, so a blending of all three of the idea is probably pretty great: pressured to blend in, in a world where there is no trust, how does an alien discover his humanity?

    4) Yeah, no, don’t even bother, man. A movie like this requires a re-assessment of the superhero movie as implicitly a blockbuster film — you could make this one comparatively cheaply, and if you gave it a good name (I was thinking of one of those evocative spy-movie names like “The Star Chamber”) you could make decent money on it while setting the character up for later. It’s kind of what they wanted to do with Green Lantern — setting the movie up as a loss leader for a bigger franchise — only without losing all that money in the first place.

    5) They had a JLA movie in the works; I auditioned for it at one point. But yeah, I don’t know what their plan is. I think the problem with Warner Bros is: Marvel Studios is a movie studio that exists to build and promote a particular set of movies, and so has a business plan that is consistent and reflects that. WB is a gigantic movie studio that makes a lot of movies and only uses DC as an IP resource — so all of the superhero movies have to get shoehorned into the WB’s existing blockbuster-business model.

  7. braak says:

    What if you just called it “The Martian”?

  8. […] there’s redundant characters – assuming it’s Batman who brings the team together, Martian Manhunter isn’t really needed, and Green Arrow’s busy anyway (to say nothing of Superman-equivalent skill […]

  9. the Duke says:

    Adolph (Duke) Mondry MD
    753 Virginia Street
    Plymouth, Michigan 48170
    734-459-6267 DearSir: 5-9-14
    I would like you to evaluate HIGHLY CONNECTED, a screenplay in which an apparently magical science project connects players subconsciously to a force which controls the entire game? Two sixteen year old soul mates, equal in every way, as in HUNGER GAMES, and too smart to take school seriously, avoid summer school by agreeing to take part in the project.
    Supernatural control in the project is catchy, like an infection, and reflects the subconscious of the connected player – villain as well as hero. An antidote is discovered, which disconnects control, but until the connection is discovered and destroyed, a new connection is made and the screenplay twists and turns around the good and evil of the game through an optional number of computer generated special effects featuring a feeble reactive military intervention; controlled meteor trajectory guidance and other controlled natural weaponry; and, a chilling example of a connected monster – half human and half evil fiend – delivering lethal lightning bursts from its finger tips as it pursues the heroes, until comedy and young love save the day and resolve all conflicts. The special effects can be realized quite inexpensively and even deleted for a TV show or stage play or added for a lion’s share of a competitive summer time market without detracting from the story. In any event plenty of latitude exists in the story to completely penetrate any desired market. The screenplay moves along like WAR GAMES, but it defines a much broader game with much higher stakes-the very existence of the universe, not to mention that of the soul mates. Wouldn’t you like Amy Adams, Ema Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, Brooklyn Decker, Ashanti, Beyonce, Rihanna, Kristin Stewart or Jessica Alba to star? How about Justin Timberlake, Tom Cruise, Robert Pattinson,Taylor Lautner or Bradley Cooper?
    I published an editorial on high level scams, wrote a textbook on medical rip-offs; wrote a poem and fictional account of life from an esoteric point of view; and, wrote a novel examining power and control along with its consequences throughout history (especially in the Middle East). I hold two patents.
    I am a retired physician and a mathematician, physicist, and engineer. I own a software company. I am an energy and medical advisor to the White House.
    Yours truly, Adolph (Duke) Mondry MD

  10. braak says:

    Hey, man, I am not sure that a comment on a website is the best place to pitch your screenplay, and I am not sure that I — just a regular person with no producing power or influence at all — am the best person to pitch it to.

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