After the mega-success (and mostly positive reception) of Zack Snyder's DC hero reboot, Man of Steel, not to mention the upcoming shared universe story to be featured in its Batman vs. Superman sequel, it's easy to forget that Warner Bros. struggled for over 20 years to relaunch the fan-favorite franchise. Without question, Christopher Reeve left an indelible mark on the Kryptonian hero and will be, for many, not just A Superman but THE definitive take on the character. Nevertheless, since that time several other actors have prepared to don the super-boots and cape in a wide range of attempted projects.
A few actually made it to the screen, Brandon Routh starred in Brian Singer's divisive quasi-sequel Superman Returns and after ten seasons, Smallville star Tom Welling was digitally inserted into a super-suit (the same one as Routh) for the CW show's series finale; however, several did not make it past the pre-production stage - including George Miller's cancelled Justice League film which would have seen G.I. Joe: Retaliation actor D.J. Cotrona in the Superman role as well as Tim Burton's axed attempt Superman Lives starring Nicholas Cage. Now, fifteen years later the Ghost Rider actor is opening up about the cancelled project - including how he planned to approach the iconic role.
Speaking with The Metro newspaper, while promoting The Croods' DVD/Blu-ray release, the actor addressed the 1998 Man of Steel movie that was never filmed - calling his planned portrayal of Superman "gutsy" as well as asserting that, while the project was "very close" to fruition, Warner Bros. was too scared to invest in Burton and Cage's ideas:
"Look, I’m not going to be one of these guys that’s going to be, like, lamenting things. But is Tim Burton one of my favourite directors? Yes. Did I see some of the drawings of where he wanted to go? Yes. And I will tell you, they were fantastic and it would have been a mind-blowing experience. Did I have a concept of how to play the character? Yes, and I can tell you it would have been gutsy. So maybe Warner Brothers got scared because they had two artists that weren’t afraid to take chances."
For anyone unfamiliar, Burton's film was based on a script by comic book writer/feature film director (and Superman fan) Kevin Smith - which would later be heavily re-written by Wesley Strick (who had contributed on Burton's Batman Returns) as well as Dan Gilroy (known best, at the time, for Chasers). The final story that Burton was prepared to shoot would have depicted a loose interpretation of the "Death of Superman" storyline where Doomsday was sent by Brainiac and successfully kills the Man of Steel - so that Brainiac, later dubbed "Lexiac" (after merging with Lex Luthor), could destroy Earth. Superman would have been revived in the Fortress of Solitude by a mysterious force, "K," later revealed to be residual energy from his deceased Kryptonian parents, and manages to save the day in the nick of time. The film closed with Lois Lane revealing that she is pregnant with Superman's child (Singer, apparently, wasn't the only one interested in that plot line).
It's hard to know exactly how Burton's take on Superman would have turned out - given that budget constraints were a major reason the film never made it in front of cameras. Yet, most fans consider Smith's script to have been the best of the polished treatments - which was subsequently whittled down and, frankly, convoluted in subsequent rewrites by other contributors (the choice to merge Brainiac and Lex Luthor was especially poorly received by fans). Similarly, it's unclear what Cage means when he claims his take on Superman would have been "gutsy" - since Burton's planned shooting script doesn't feature a particularly different iteration of its main character. While it's impossible to know, since the film was never shot, it seems as though a lot of the "gutsier" (read: controversial) choices would have translated into risky implementation of iconic villains (mashing Lex Luthor and Braniac together as well as casting Doomsday in a sidekick role) not a particularly unique approach to Superman himself. Still, casting Cage could be consider a pretty gutsy move by Burton - so it's definitely possible that the often quirky actor might have, under the right circumstances, brought something interesting to the part.
For anyone interested in Cage's larger views on the superhero movie industry, the actor commented on the relationship between comic books and animated features - claiming that he doesn't read comics anymore but appreciates their role in modern mythology:
"The truth is I’m not obsessed with comics. I don’t read comics as a 49-year-old man. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but I have other interests that are more in tune with where I’m at right now. But I’m loyal and I will never forget the impressions that comics gave me as a child. They are like primitive cartoons and those characters became like a modern mythology that’s touched the world. So animated movies are like cousins to comics."
The comment is an interesting reversal for the actor who, at San Diego Comic-Con, has often talked-up his love of reading comic books. It is possible that, at the time, he may have simply been talking about comic books that he read not comic books he is actively reading - or Cage may simply have been trying to ground his comic book clout, while pitching a Ghost Rider sequel that few people expected to be good, at the world's biggest comic book convention.
If you're interested in learning more about Tim Burton and Nicholas Cage's cancelled Superman Lives film, check out the introduction for Jon Schnepp's upcoming Kickstarter-funded documentary about the film below:
As for the Man of Steel's future, we'll see Henry Cavill return to the role in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman team up (which will also, at least, feature Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman) - so make sure to check back for further updates.
The untitled Man of Steel sequel (a.k.a. Batman vs. Superman) hits theaters July 17, 2015.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future updates on Batman vs. Superman as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.