As rumours go, the one this week that Nicolas Cage might end up starring as Superman in Warner Bros’ Flash movie takes some beating. There’s every chance it was dreamed up to create waves in the blogosphere on a slow news day. Yet it is tantalising nonetheless, largely because this is just the sort of role no other actor in Hollywood but Cage would take on.
He is, after all, the actor who felt he was perfect for the role of Kal-El in Tim Burton’s abortive Superman Lives, despite all evidence to the contrary. The excellent 2015 documentary The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? even unearthed footage of the actor in costume, revealing a version of the last son of Krypton resembling a cross between Alice Cooper and an extra from Rollerball. And yet herein lies even more plausibility, for we already know The Flash is set to star Burton’s Batman, Michael Keaton, as a version of the caped crusader who Barry Allen meets after crossing into an alternative reality. Given that Superman Lives would have connected to Burton’s Batman films, why shouldn’t Burton’s Superman also appear?
The famously comic-book-crazy Cage would surely take this role in a second. He jumped at the chance to voice Superman in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018) and did an excellent imitation of Adam West-era Batman as Big Daddy in Kick-Ass (2010). Never mind that in the comics Superman is shown to be eternally in his 20s or early 30s (thanks to his Kryptonian near-immortality), the 56-year-old Cage would still play him in a heartbeat.
The next question, of course, is whether we want him to. There is surely going to come a point in Andy Muschietti’s 2022 film where abundant stunt casting starts to unbalance the narrative. This movie already has Ben Affleck as (another version of) Batman, and there are even suggestions that Christian Bale, Val Kilmer and George Clooney could be asked to return.
Suddenly this looks less like an intriguing big-screen adaptation of the bravura 2011 Flash graphic novel Flashpoint, in which Allen breaks the multiverse after using time travel to save his mother’s life, and a lot more like the superhero equivalent of the rather rubbish 1967 James Bond comedy version of Casino Royale, in which seven different versions of 007 appear, including Woody Allen as “Little Jimmy Bond”. There is surely such a thing as too much fan service, and, in any case, it ought to be hard to track down more than a handful of fans worldwide who really want to see Kilmer or Clooney as the caped crusader again.
On the other hand, this is Hollywood we are talking about, an industry that almost waved through Superman Lives, a movie about a long-haired, emo man of steel that would have climaxed with a scene in which Kal-El fights a giant spider. And it is Warner Bros/ DC we are talking about, the studio that green-lit Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), a slice of celluloid garbage so pungently rotten that the whiff is still detectable four years later.
And yet maybe they could pull this thing off. The Flash could be a car crash waiting to happen, but there is still the nagging temptation to take a quick peek through your fingers at the inevitable, horrifying carnage. As screenwriter Kevin Smith said of Superman Lives: “Now when you think about it, if somebody was to say, ‘Would you like to see a Nic Cage Superman movie?’ I’d be like, ‘Yes, take all my money cos I want to see what that looks like.’”