Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Legendary Pictures is negotiating with Benjamin Walker to play the archangel Michael in Paradise Lost, the action epic battle between good and evil that is inspired by the John Milton poem. Walker, who just wrapped the title role in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, will go mano a mano against Bradley Cooper’s Lucifer in what I’m told is the war that began all wars. After being cast out of Heaven, Lucifer mounts an army that battles the forces of good, and the film will have cutting-edge visual effects that will make these battles resemble 300 meets Lord of the Rings — but with winged warriors. While Warner Bros is finalizing a release date, I’m told Paradise Lost is likely to reach theaters in fourth-quarter 2013.

Production will begin in January in Sydney, which will give Cooper time to star alongside Jennifer Lawrence in the David O Russell-directed The Silver Linings Playbook for The Weinstein Company.

Paradise Lost is a sprawling fantasy epic that has taken seven years of development to get right. It was originally scripted by Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi, with subsequent drafts by Stuart Hazeldine and Lawrence Kasdan, and the latest draft by Ryan Condal. Paradise Lost is being produced by Legendary’s Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni, and Vincent Newman (Red Dawn). The film’s logistics are still being worked out with Digital Domain, but the picture is likely to be 3D with soaring set pieces.

I just spoke to Proyas, who is prepping the film in Australia and who created arresting visuals in I, Robot and Dark City. He acknowledges that Paradise Lost is a daunting challenge. Walker’s deal isn’t closed yet, but Proyas feels he’s got two actors who’ll represent the good vs. evil battle.

“It’s not just armies battling in an epic war,” Proyas told me. “This is an adventure about the origins of good and evil after Lucifer’s rebellion gets him cast out of Heaven and leads to a struggle with his brother archangel over the soul of mankind, starting with Adam and Eve. That is the scope of the narrative here, and we’ve tried to say as faithful as possible to Milton’s text, particularly its focus on Lucifer’s evolution and the birth of evil. It’s a family saga, about a group of brothers, two in particular, who are on divergent paths, and Lucifer’s feelings of betrayal by his father and family that forge his descent into evil.”

There are three major battle set pieces, Proyas said. One that takes place in Heaven, another in Hell, and a third in Eden. “I’ve sometimes thought that only an insane person would want to make this movie, because it’s visually audacious and has to live up to a classic poem that is so beloved,” Proyas said. “I don’t think the visuals could have been done justice until now, which is the great fun of being a film director in this modern age of visual effects. Despite all those possibilities, the characters are what’s most important. His deal isn’t closed yet, but I think there’s a wonderful duality about Ben’s persona, this combination of great strength and perfect innocence that works so well for Michael. And Bradley is the most charming guy you’ll ever meet, with this extraordinary charisma. Lucifer was the brightest and smartest of the archangels, and even as he descended into evil and evolved into Satan, he’s not just some black-and-white villain. Bradley brings extraordinary depth to that journey.”

This is a big get for Walker, who appeared in smaller roles in films like Flags of Our Fathers and Kinsey before winning the role of the 16th president in Fox’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the Timur Bekmambetov-directed adaptation of Seth Grahame Smith’s Gothic revisionist novel that will be released by Fox on June 22, 2012. Paradise Lost puts Walker squarely in the mix of top young actors. Walker is repped by WME and Inspire Entertainment.