Friday, 27 June 2014

Superman Lives But He Could Have Been Nicolas Cage

I've already written about Superman several times, from my initial reaction to seeing the Superman with a hobo beard, to how he and Captain America exhibit similar ideals, to how it was totally okay that [Spoiler] he killed Zod in Man of Steel. But rather than focus on all the things that make him a wonderful icon and expression of the best humanity can strive for, this post is all about one of the great tragedies of recent history: that we never got to see Nicolas Cage as Superman in the 1990s.
This almost happened but we flew too close to the sun and it was taken away from us.

Now Cage gets a lot of hate on the internet, or rather, is the butt of many a meme. He is alternatively derided for just taking any role for the paycheck or just deemed as insane as the many, many crazy characters he plays with a sort of unrestrained manic energy that no sane person could ever muster.
Also, it might be because his face can do this.
Most people's faces cannot exhibit this much crazy without imploding.

A lot of this also has to do with the fact he has been in quite a large number of terrible movies over the course of his three decade career. Like, a lot of terrible movies. And a large percentage of them have happened in the past decade which has coloured people's perceptions of Nicolas Cage somewhat.

His highest rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes is Red Rock West with 95%. His lowest is Deadfall with 0%, with 20 movies since 2000 not cracking 40%. That's a lot of suckitude to be true. But he has also appear in nine 'fresh' movies in that same period that have scored over 60%, with four of those scoring over 80%. So, somewhat of a hit-or-miss ratio...

In fact, his movies are so sporadically great or unbelievably awful, that some thoughtful person designed a Nicolas Cage Movie Roulette site, where you can be just as indiscriminate in your choice of a Cage movie as he appears to be in choosing the roles he plays.

Unfortunately, the posters alone won't quite enlighten you to which movies are good and which are bad.

And that's the thing about Nicolas Cage, he doesn't care what movies he's in. Not because he's just in it for the paycheck, although that can't hurt, but because he just takes whatever role is offered his way with no consideration of whether the film will actually be good, or what the role will do to his reputation. And that's because Nicolas Cage is the Neil Young of movies.

According to the guru of defending celebrities who get more hate than they deserve, Adam Todd Brown: "Just like Neil Young, we tend to forget that, even back when it seemed like he was doing nothing but great work, a quick examination of the facts reveals that there has never been a time when Nicolas Cage wasn't shitting on his body of work by making movies so terrible that they border on self-sabotage."

Just to belabor the point, let's jump back to that 95% rated movie I mentioned earlier, Cage followed that up with buddy comedy about race relations with Samuel L. Jackson that currently has a 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
How could this possibly go wrong?

But Cage is actually a fantastic actor. No, seriously. People forget he's been nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Actor and won it for Leaving Las Vegas. Speaking at an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit last year, Ethan Hawke, himself consider a decent actor, praised Cage, calling him "the only actor since Marlon Brando that's actually done anything new with the art of acting". This before adding that he has "successfully taken us away from an obsession with naturalism into a kind of presentation style of acting that I imagine was popular with the old troubadours." Simply put, Cage acts a performance where he makes you aware you're watching a performance because of its over the top quality.

He wants to you experience a visceral reaction to what he's doing, where the lines of reality are blurred such that even his most measured performances have a surreal quality to them. You can't tell what elements are part of the performance and what are real.

Like that time he actually ate a cockroach in Vampire's Kiss. Yes, he really ate a cockroach in the most artificial of circumstances, a movie scene, just because he wanted people to be pulled out of the immersion of the movie by his performance and the grossness of the eating a cockroach.
That's an actual cockroach which he totally ate.
Did I mention he has a fear of insects?

Furthermore, scientists estimate Cage's face can express around 300,000 expressions. Simultaneously able to display nearly every conceivable emotion at once through the superb nuances and elasticity of his face, Cage could have perfectly conveyed the sadness, loneliness, despair, and anger, that an alien living among humans would feel. While still expressing the hope, honesty, strength, and compassion that Superman exudes from every pore of his being.

His Superman would have been alone and awkward in a crowd but with a wry smile for everyone. An alien never fully at home but willing to protect his adopted home with all his might.
Plus City of Angels showed his aptitude at silently stalking his love interest without them knowing, a pivotal Superman trait later displayed by Brandon Routh in Superman Returns.

This is all assuming they were going to make what would be the greatest Superman movie of all time, the one where we realise that Superman can't save everyone and he has to choose which people to save. Any time Superman fixes a dam or saves a factory from burning down/blowing up, he's letting someone somewhere get mugged. And he knows he that they're getting mugged. Because of his superhearing he can hear everything around him for miles and miles, but he made the choice to save the people he is saving now. And he has to do this all the time. Constantly weighing up which people to save, how important different disasters are, deciding where he is needed most but always wanting to save everyone because he's Superman.

Clockwise from top left:
1) "Is that so Lois? I'm sorry I have to go put out a fire in Boston before stopping a homicide in Manhattan."
2) "I can save them all!"
3) "There's a little girl crying that her alcoholic father is beating her again back in Metropolis but I have to stop this nuclear missile from striking Washington!!!"
4) "I stopped the missile but I couldn't save her..."

That's not the Superman movie we were going to get though. No, the Superman movie we were going to get was based off the biggest (although sadly not the best) Superman story of the 1990s, Death of Superman. And it would have been written by Kevin Smith and directed by Tim Burton. Just imagine that for a second...

A Superman movie written by the man who at the time had brought the world only good things like Clerks and Chasing Amy, where characters exchange swear word peppered language while aimlessly discussing pop culture tidbits like the politics of the independent contractors that worked on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi. And he is basing this story on the best selling Superman comic of the 1990s, where Superman and Doomsday literally punch themselves to death.

Directed by the man whose gothic sensibilities and uniquely weird take on Batman produced the two best (and most commercially successful) Batman movies at the time, who was on something of a creative hot streak that sadly would not last into the 2000s. Starring Nicolas Cage as Superman. Could a more perfectly weird and eccentric actor fit such an idiosyncratically quirky and oddball director?
Wait, don't answer that.

Their collective take on Superman would have been balls to the wall crazy and delightfully offbeat. Nicolas Cage with all his Cagerisms as Superman. Snappy comic book dialogue from a well-established geek Kevin Smith.

In a plot where

-Brainiac comes to Earth because Lex Luthor invited him and he wants to find some Kryptonian power battery or something,
-there is a political subplot with a bill to outlaw superheroes (beating The Incredibles by eight years)
-Superman doesn't 'fly' but moves as a red blur from place to place
-Lex Luthor and Brainiac team up
-Superman wants to marry Lois but she's worried that he cannot commit to her when he needs to be out saving people
-Brainiac blocks out the sun to weaken Superman, creates Doomsday to fight him
-Superman and Doomsday punch each other to death
-Superman is brought back to life but without his powers by a black suit created by the Eradicator, something his father built that helps him or whatever
-the Eradicator destroys the satellite blocking the sun
-Superman saves Lois from a giant spider-like thing called the 'Thangarian Snare Beast' controlled by Brainiac
-defeats Brainiac in the process
-takes evidence to the police that shows Luthor was in cohoots with Brainiac the whole time
-Luthor goes to jail

Directed by the man who brought us Edward Scissorhands. Why did this not happen?

In this sort of Superman movie, Cage could have done his best Adam West impression, adding an appropriate level of camp to a story about an alien who wears bright tights and a cape, and it would have been amazing. And I'm not joking about the Adam West impression, remember how awesome Cage was as Big Daddy in Kick-Ass? That performance was West all the way, in the best possible way: staccato delivery punctured with dramatic pauses and over the top line readings. Also, he was a fatherly and a caring paternal figure, a role Superman occupies for humanity.
"Wait, repeat that last part. I couldn't hear you over all the camp."

That would have been a Superman I'd like to see. Not someone paying reverent homage to Christopher Reeves' Superman (because as great as those movies are, Superman Returns felt like an, at times admittedly beautiful, eulogy in its reverence) nor a dour gritty Man of Steel with a taste for destruction-porn. Rather an actor acknowledging the campiness inherent in superheroes, embracing it but not letting it become the defining feature or not taking the subject matter seriously.

So, we were denied the opportunity of seeing Cage at the commercial peak of his career and at his most emphatically quirky show us his take on the Man of Steel.

But we did get to see Ben Affleck as Superman (well, playing the actor who played Superman back in the 1950s), so it evens out, I guess?
And now Affleck's going to be Batman before he's later cast as Wonder Women five years down the line.

Yeah, it totally evens out.


Nicolas Cage Movies On Rotten Tomatoes

5 Celebrities Who get More Hate Than They Deserve (Part 4)

Nicolas Cage Explains His Acting Style and His Legacy

Nic Cage's Method: Nouveau Shamanic Explained
The importance of Nicolas Cage’s facial expressions in Face/Off: an academic essay

9 Movie Characters Who Are Undeniably Stalkerish

3 Reasons It's So Hard to Make Superman Interesting

Superman Wiki- Superman Lives

Nicolas Cage’s ‘Kick-Ass’ Character Pays Homage To Adam West 

"Death of Superman Lives" Trailer

Nicolas Cage Talks Tim Burton's Superman Lives


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