Review: ‘The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?’

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I admit, this was completely off my radar in 2015. It wasn’t until its recent release on Showtime that I finally got around to watching this fascinating documentary. Written and directed by Jon Schnepp, this wonderful 104-minute documentary takes a very close look at one of the most interesting (and controversial) comic films in history that never was. Originally written by Kevin Smith, starring Nicolas Cage, and was to be directed by Tim Burton. Superman Lives was to be a reboot in the cinematic Superman franchise that was inspired by The Death Of Superman story arc and had the plug pulled just three short weeks prior to filming after almost two long years of pre-production. So what went wrong?

To answer that, the film takes us back to the ’90s in a time where comic films were almost non-existent outside of the ’80s Christopher Reeves Superman and ’90s Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman films. A time when Hollywood did not believe that comic films should use the actual comics as source material. A time when films and comics were viewed as comparing apples to oranges. A time when all future comic films were being weighed in the balance of the critical disaster aftermath of Joel Schumacher’s 1997 Batman and Robin film. How far we have come with the recent box office success of Deadpool, which is almost 100% inspired by its comic source material.

The film features many one on one interviews with Kevin Smith, Tim Burton, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Jon Peters, and many more from additional script writers and artist behind the concept art for the film. Was very interesting to check out footage of Nicholas Cage in a very ’90s style Superman suit. Would Cage have made a great Superman? I don’t know, but was definitely an interesting take on the Man of Steel for sure.

One hilarious scene in the film was Kevin Smith’s interview when he recalled how producer, Jon Peters, requested Smith to read him the script as he relaxed on his couch staring at the ceiling as Peters made the camera signs with hands while Smith began to read to him like a 5-year-old being tucked into bed. The scene gets much more comical as Peters goes on to say that he didn’t want Superman to fly, wear a hero suit, and Superman needed to fight a “giant spider.” You can’t make this stuff up–seroiusly funny stuff!

Could Tim Burton re-create his Batman magic? Would this film been a career game changer for Nicholas Cage? Would this have been a box office success and if so, how would the impact of Superman Lives change the cinematic landscape for better or worse? As we have all been taught from Back To The Future, the past is a delicate thing that can completely change the future. Had this film been released and been a huge disaster, would Hollywood been as willing to green light the 2000 X-Men or the countless other early 2000s comic films that have paved the path for the comic big bang movie boom that has dominated both annual summer box blockbusters and television network series as well?

Sadly, we will never know. Not sure if I think Cage could have pulled it off. What I can say however, is this would have been one funky Superman flick that would be talked about for years to come one way or the other. The concept art actually looked pretty cool too. The film was to include not just Lex Luthor and Doomsday, but Brainiac as well. How cool would that have been to watch Brainiac on the big screen?

If you’re a fan of Superman, or comic cinematic history for that matter, be sure to check this film out. Was a hilarious and fascinating in-depth look at the behind the scenes peek of the journey that film projects walk from pre-production to filming. As well as a great look at one of the most (if not the) fascinating and interesting cancelled comic films in cinematic history.

Superman Lives is now available on both Showtime and YouTube.

*Note: This Documentary was originally released on May 1, 2015, and through VOD on July 9, 2015.

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