An image from the 2015 documentary The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?
Photo: Super Skull Ship
This piece was originally published in June. We are recirculating it now timed to The Flash’s streaming debut on HBO Max. Warning: many spoilers ahead!
Superhero movies are all seemingly multiverse-centric these days, which means they are also increasingly dependent on cameos. The Flash gets its nostalgic kicks primarily from Michael Keaton reprising his role as the Caped Crusader in Tim Burton’s Batman films. He teams up with Barry Allen, a.k.a. the Flash (Ezra Miller), and newcomer Supergirl (Sasha Calle) to thwart an alien invasion led by General Zod, played by Michael Shannon retreading his villainous turn from 2013’s Man of Steel. The movie’s trailers showcase these roles, though The Flash still packs in surprises for completists and continuity obsessives. The most curious of them all may be a CGI recreation of a famous Hollywood star in an almost-blockbuster with its own intriguing history: Somehow, Nicolas Cage’s Superman lives.
In the movie’s climax, when Barry and his numerous selves keep rewriting time, even more alternate realities begin collapsing in on the DCEU. Through tears in the fabric of space and the wonders of underbaked CGI, the Barrys glimpse alternate versions of several familiar characters. We see rubbery visions of Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Helen Slater’s Supergirl from their respective films in the ’70s and ’80s — characters from the same continuity who never shared the screen until now. We also see Adam West’s Batman from the 1960s TV show, and George Reeves’s Superman from the 1950s Adventures of Superman series. The latter appears alongside a version of Jay Garrick, the Flash who sports a Mercury helmet with metallic wings and who predates Barry in the comics by several years (though he never appeared in the ‘50s Superman show).
But the most recognizable cameo next to Reeve happens to be a version of Superman that almost was, one that sharp-eyed DC fans will likely anticipate the moment they glimpse him from behind, his long hair flowing in the wind as he battles a giant spider. This Superman is played by none other than Nic Cage — or, at least, an expressionless digital recreation of a younger Cage from the ’90s — as the iteration of Superman he was meant to have played in Tim Burton’s Superman Lives.
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