Tim Burton was responsible for bringing comic book heroes back to the big screen in 1989 with Batman, starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader and for a while at least it looked like he may do the same with the Superman with his proposed Superman lives project starring Nicholas Cage as the Man of Steel.
Although both of his Batman films were successful at the box office, Warner Brothers decided to change the game plan for the third Batman instalment, bringing in Joel Schumacher to take over directorial duties. Recently, both Cage and Keaton have spoken about their experiences with Burton.
Michael Keaton made his successful return to the superhero genre earlier this year as the villain playing The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming and had previously won acclaim for his role in 2014’s Birdman but he will always be associated with the Caped Crusader, in Tim Burton’s reimagined version of Batman and it’s 1992 sequel, Batman Returns.
For a while the actor was linked to a third film in the franchise after the departure of Burton, but eventually walked away from the project and has recently been talking to The Guardian about the reasons behind his decision not to don the cowl again;
“(The film) just wasn’t any good, man. I tried to be patient, but after a certain point, I was like, I can’t take this anymore, this is going to be horrible. But, look, there was some really horrible taste in the 90s, and I probably contributed to that, unfortunately. It was a time of nouveau riche excess, everyone was known for their jets and their stuff.”
The film was made with Val Kilmer replacing Keaton in 1995’s Batman Forever but Keaton informed The Guardian that the decision was easier once he had read the script;
“It sucked! The script never was good. I couldn’t understand why he wanted to do what he wanted to do. I hung on for many meetings. I knew it was in trouble when he (Joel Schumacher) said, ‘Why does everything have to be so dark?'”
The tone had definitely changed from the Burton version and it’s said that Warner Brothers were looking for a more accessible feel to the movie that would allow the potentially huge merchandising opportunity which is usually linked to such a franchise. McDonalds was said to have been displeased with the Batman Returns Happy Meal tie-in deal with the movie featuring a bile spewing man-bird and Catwoman in a bondage themed, latex jumpsuit.
Burton’s plan for a third film was said to have included the villains featured in Batman Forever, but with actor Billy Dee Williams returning as Harvey Dent, later to become Two Face after playing the role in the original Batman film and Robin Williams had been Burton’s actor of choice to play The Riddler. There was also a strong possibility of the Robin character also appearing.
Keaton himself had once proposed that the third film become a prequel of sorts, tracing back the origins of the character but this is said to have been quickly rejected by the studio who instead opted for a straight sequel albeit one with few real ties to Burton’s films.
Whilst Batman Forever was not widely slated by critics, it was a marked departure from Burton’s vision and the less said about Batman and Robin the better. Keaton still holds a a place in many Bat fan’s hearts for his portrayal of the character.
How the Tim Burton/Nicholas Cage team up with Superman would have worked out is anyones guess but the actor himself has offered his own personal perspective on the proposed film. Cage was speaking to Entertainment Weekly recently at the Toronto Film Festival whilst promoting his latest movie, Mom and Dad and wound up talking about the cancelled project entitled Superman Lives;
“I would offer that the movie that Tim and I would have made, in your imagination, is more powerful than any of the Superman movies. I didn’t even have to make the movie and we all know what that movie would have been in your imagination. That is the Superman. That is the movie. Even though you never saw it, it is the Superman.”
Cage was said to have played a much different version of the character than had previously been seen and the story of the failed production of the film itself ended up being the subject of Jon Schnepp’s 2015 documentary, The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? Cage is said to be a huge Superman fan and the film was a passion project for the actor who at the time was riding high as a major box office attraction. The story was said to based on the Doomsday series of comics and there were also rumours of Keaton’s Batman making an appearance in a funeral scene for the presumed to be dead Superman.
Around the same time a series of photos emerged showing the costume tests for Cage, which caused many to suggest that it was probably a blessing that we never got the chance to see the movie which originally had Kevin Smith providing a script treatment. Burton obviously sees it as a missed opportunity and stated the following in 2013;
“It was like Batman all those years ago; there was always a bit of controversy. Like, ‘Oh, it’s too dark.’ It’s like, well, now it looks like a light-hearted romp. We were trying to explore the more human side of the character and get into that whole thing.”
Quite how Superman Lives would have turned out will always be a mystery, but Cage lamented about the failed project to Yahoo Movies in 2015;
“Tim [Burton] is the total artist, a pure artist with a real vision, and I’ve often said that he can create worlds and that’s exactly what he does. I saw some of the tests of different characters and costumes for Krypton and they were just so surreal and so magical and beautiful. He’s definitely one of my favorite filmmakers because of his originality, because of his vision.”
Bryan Singer would eventually take on the project with a very different story in his 2006 film Superman Returns with Brandon Routh in the lead role.