Although the creators distanced themselves from this comparison early on, the original description of Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s creator-owned series Nemesis was “What if Batman were the Joker?” Imagine a millionaire playboy with all the tools, all the skills, and all the same motivations — but turned to a life of crime? Imagine a twisted funhouse mirror version of the Dark Knight, clad in all white but with only dark intentions inside his head. This succinct high concept proved to be a high-action comic series, blending McNiven’s intense rendering and panel-to-panel storytelling with Millar’s nearly-trademarked tongue-in-cheek, unapologetic, action.
Like many of Mark Millar’s recent creator-owned books, the movie options flew fast and furiously after the book’s debut. In August 2010, just three months after the series’ debut, 20th Century Fox bought the movie option with legendary action director Tony Scott penciled in at the helm. In the intervening two years, the potential movie hasn’t gone beyond the script stage and Scott has since sadly passed away. But despite these unfortunate circumstances, the potential for a Nemesis movie remains unsullied and this is how I’d do it.
The super-hero film genre has firmly covered its bases when showing different kinds of heroes (and even anti-heroes) as leading men, but there has yet to be a full on, Tony Montoya-like figure (not even Hancock). Millar and McNiven’s Nemesis perfectly boils that down and serves it up like a baseball pitcher betraying his own team with the perfect pitch to hit a home run.
For the movie, I’d carry through the explosion-laden, action-first film-making reminiscent of Crank, Shoot ‘Em Up or Smoking Aces, delivering a move that is unabashedly short on substance (unless that substance is gunpowder). And a facet which most people overlook in Nemesis is how it discreetly sets itself up for franchise opportunity; the title comes from the leading villain of the piece, but at the end (spoilers!) after he dies its revealed his adversary, police Chief Inspector Blake Morrow, is in for more like him in an almost assembly-line factory of silver-spooned super villains.
This isn’t your typical action movie. It needs someone who can exaggerate the stakes without turning it into a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, and I’d pick none other than The Grey’s Joe Carnahan. This writer/director did the aforementioned Smoking Aces, which I think is the closest thing to an application to do Nemesis that I could imagine. Carnahan’s an easy choice, as he’s already been announced as writing a script when Tony Scott was in to direct. With Carnahan apparently already on and off Daredevil, this would be a great back-up play and have the benefit of not having to deal with complicated rights issues like a Marvel or DC character.
Nemesis – Michael Keaton: This is either the greatest choice ever or the worst. By putting his in here, I’m rooting for the former. Keaton has never been able to really replicate the heights he achieved in Tim Burton’s Batman movies (or the previous Beetlejuice), but casting him as Nemesis would be a bit of stunt-casting (given his role as Batman) but it’s shored up by true acting ability. Imagine him tuning into that bit of craziness from Beetlejuice, or perhaps just the scene in Batman where he asks the Joker “you wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts!”
Blake Morrow – Liam Neeson: I almost enlisted Dennis Quaid in this one, but after I cast Keaton they didn’t seem to match up well with each other. Instead, Liam Neeson seemed more suitable, and given his role in Taken and having acted previously with Carnahan in The Grey, I think he’d be great. He’d also be a great character to hang this on as a potential franchise.
Stuart Lee – Idris Elba: Elba has quietly become one of an elite group of actors who has acted in several different comic-to-film franchises with Losers, Thor and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, but that wouldn’t stop me from enlisting him for one more. Elba-as-Lee would be an excellent second to Neeson-as-Morrow and his part in the third act could be a real mind-bender.
The President – Richard Gere: Yes, he has a name in the comic… but really, I’d boil it down to being the President, or Mr. President. It’s more about the office anyway, and Gere would be an ideal sympathetic character, especially sharing a space with Neeson and Keaton.