We all know that we were once very close to getting a Superman movie directed by Tim Burton and starring Nic Cage, titled Superman Lives. We've heard legends -– that it was based on the Death of Superman storyline, that Superman's outfit was radically redesigned, that it would have been godawful, etc.
And now, one of Superman' Lives' many scripts has apparently surfaced — specifically, the one by screenwriter Wesley Strick, after Kevin Smith was fired. Assuming it's real — and we don't know for certain that it is (although it's certainly banal enough to be authentic '90s Hollywood drivel) — it gives us an insight into the Superman movie we almost had –- and why we should all get on our knees and thank Zod we didn't. Here are some of the most notable travesties from the disaster that was narrowly averted.
The movie begins with a young college professor in some sort of oddly foreign locale. Of course, it turns out it's none other than Jor-El, going to check on I.A.C., the "Intelligence, Artificial, Cybernetic" currently a bitchy A.I. in the shape of a glowy ball, but who will eventually surpass ALF as the lamest alien comedian of all time. IAC complains that Jor-El turned him off (although why is he speaking?), while Jor-El says IAC's need for power made him "untenable"
After a bit of chiding on both sides, IAC redubs himself Brainiac ("because [my brain] is so big" the hyper-advanced alien-computer explains], and reveals that he's 1) somehow developed little spider-legs, and 2) drilled down to Krypton's core and is destroying the planet. Brianiac tells Jor-El he'll let Krypton go if Jor-El gives him a mysterious "perfect" AI named "K" that generates its own power. Jor-El politely declines and runs the hell home.
There, Jor-El says some stuff about how since he made Brainiac, Brainiac is kind of his son, but his wife Lana thinks that's dumb. Jor-El readies two ships -– one for his family and K, and one for himself, after he sees if he can stop Brainiac. But as the couple puts K and his baby in the spaceship, Brainiac attacks, and Jor-El is forced to launch the ship before Lara can get into it. After a bit of nonsense about Jor-El being his dad, Brainiac kills Jor-El and Lara, and hops in the other spaceship just as Krypton explodes.
30 Years later! Brainiac is traveling through space with a bunch of alien animals; he's also turned the Kryptonian rocket into a spaceship resembling a skull, in two of the many indications that the movie's screenwriter already seems to have forgotten that Brainiac is technically a robot. Anyways, he finds Earth and locks on its biggest energy source –- a Lexcorp power plant, obviously –- and then he tells one of his alien critters to "fetch his cape!" I'm so serious.
The screenwriter describes Lex as, and I'm quoting here, "the boomer love child of Robert Vesco and Leona Helmsley." Lex is giving a press conference about some doohickey that lead him to discover two alien spaceships landing on Earth 30 years ago, one near Smallville, one in the Arctic. Clark is of course covering the conference. He calls Perry White, who says:
You'll cover Smallville — local boy, human interest, "Hick Town In the Headlines" ... I'll send Lois to the Arctic, she'll think that's fun: longjohns, frostbite, stuck on a tundra with twenty men ...
Clark leaves, and there's some chatter amongst the background character, where it slowly becomes obvious that no one knows Superman is an alien. In fact, they hope Superman finds the alien that landed, and kills it.
The next day, Clark walks to work, and surreptitiously helps people on the way –- he drags a bus about to hit a guy to a stop, he moves a tired delivery boy's papers, and –- I can barely believe I'm about to type this –- he cooks the raw meat a homeless woman is eating from the garbage with his heat vision. That's right. Clark sees a woman eating garbage out of a garbage can, and his solution is to heat up her goddamn food.
At Smallville, Lex Luthor's team of scientists finds a bolt and everyone seems to think it proves the alien thing. Even Clark goes to Ma and Pa Kent's grave to ask them about the bolt… because it turns out Clark doesn't realize he's an alien either. He thought he was a human all this while… and is now beginning to suspect otherwise.
Back in Lexcorp, the power levels are going down; an aggravated Lex heads to a sub-basement and meets Brainiac, who kills a bunch of technicians. Lex -– in full-on toadying mode from Superman II –- asks Brainiac if he's the alien that landed here 30 years ago, and shows him the bolt. Brainiac sees that it's Kryptonian, realizes "K" is here, and presses his holo-sphere against Lex's face, "a strange sort of cyber-kiss." All right then.
In the Arctic, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Luthor's Arctic team are somewhat surprised to see Clark Kent walking past. In a blizzard. In his business suit. They make brief small talk, and then Clark continues on. Lois and Jimmy are perplexed, but not as much as they probably should be to suddenly discover their co-worker talking a walk in the Arctic in a suit and tie.
Clark -– who is walking for reasons that are completely unknown –- spies a little glowy crevice, he walks to it, the ice gives, he falls down, and meets K. K gives him History of Superman 101 : his parents, Krypton exploding, etc. And Clark is just stunned to find out he's an alien and not just a regular human who can fly and shot heat rays out of his eyes. After a two minute conversation about the past he never knew he had, Superman leaves K (who, it should be noted, specifically says "I am programmed to protect you," and then doesn't follow him. This will come up again later.)
Back at Lexcorp, an EPA agent is coming to inspect the waste-disposal system. This is apparently a Very Bad Thing, because Lex sends him and his family on an all-expenses paid trip to his amusement park –- Luthorworld — and then Brainiac puts one of his alien creatures on one of the roller coasters to eat him.
The "Plutonian Gnaw Beast" eats some of the track, but Superman catches the roller coasters cars as they fly off, and starts fighting the beast. After knocking it into the water, which Superman realizes it does not enjoy, he flies into the pool, sucks up all the water –- in what would have been the most Superfriends-ian moment of Superman's cinematic career -– and spits it at the monster until it dies. Yes, Superman spits on a monster… to death.
Brainiac quite reasonably wonders why Luthor hadn't mentioned Superman before, quickly deduces who this is, and realizes Earth's yellow sun it was gives him his powers. Meanwhile, Lex is disgusted he's missed a chance to stoke the public's xenophobia against Supes.
A distressed Clark takes Lois on a date to a Japanese Hibachi restaurant, and briefly explains to Lois that 1) he's Superman, 2) he's an alien, and 3) there are some potential reproductive issues, straight out of "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex."
One day, you'll want a baby, and I won't be able to give you one — Or, if I can, he's liable to ... who knows. a human carrying a "super baby", he's liable to — who knows, punch his way out -
Lois, for her part, takes this three-part revelation exceedingly well, until she kisses Superman as Clark, and they both realize it's super, super weird (no pun).
Brainiac insists that Superman needs to meet his Doomsday. Doomsday is of course, a tiny alien pet, with his own tiny nametag that says "Doomsday" on it. Lex is skeptical until it bites off the tip of his finger (which Lex also takes surprisingly well). At which point, Brainiac gets his one good line of the movie:
Never pet a thing named Doomsday.
This is totally mitigated by other phrases Brainiac uses, including "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride" and "mano a monster" and "want to hear a lot of Kryptonian shop talk?" and "the sun is about to exit, stage left." Brainiac isn't an AI, he's a goddamn colloquialism machine. Anyways, those last two lines are in regards to Brainiac and Luthor's plan to block the sun, by Brainiac transforming one of Luthor's satellites into a really big disc. It's dumb.
Three days later, Superman feels like he has the flu. At the Daily Planet, Perry White is assigning "life with no sun" stories, where he utters the most reprehensible line in the entire script:
WHITE (as he exits):
Lane, you cover the feminine angle - how the eclipse affects carpooling, grocery shopping, soap viewership, tranquilizer intake.
Remember, this script was written in 1997, not 1937. Fun!
For some reason, Luthor pilots the sunblocker really close to Earth so Superman can see what it is; as weak as he is, he can only fly up enough to take a look at the tech, before crashing back to Earth. Which is when Luthor releases Doomsday.
The script doesn't describes what Doomsday looks like (this concept art is a possibility), but the fight goes pretty much like it does in The Death of Superman comics, in that they both beat each other to death. Except that the scriptwriter insists that Superman kicks Doomsday "with a super-steel-toed boot." Superman wears steel-toed boots. Uh-huh. Oh, and there's this:
LUTHOR teases his hair into a Don King 'do, and crows):
You loved The Thrilla In Manilla!
You dug The Rumble In the Jungle! Tonight, Brainy and I bring you:
The Superman-Stoppa In Metroppa!
The villains from the '66 Batman show would have too much dignity to say that garbage.
Now here's where things get weird. Lois –- seemingly based entirely by Superman's mention of the word "home" when they met in the Arctic –- steals Superman's corpse from the morgue and flies it to the Arctic, where she drops it down the same crevice Superman had found earlier that Lois never, ever saw. While you're pondering that, let me tell you that Lois literally pushes Superman's corpse into the crack, goes home, and crosses her fingers. Oh, and she put a homeless dude's corpse in Superman's coffin. Glad Lex didn't organize an open-casket funeral!
At the Fortress of Solitude, K puts Superman's body in a big tub of Kryptonian bactine or whatever, and then starts flashing memories of Krypton into Supes' mind. Eventually, Brainiac -– who's been hanging out over Superman's crypt waiting for K to appear (because in Kryptonian "protect" apparently means "show up at his grave several days after he's dead") gets frustrated. Brainiac rips open the coffin and is not pleased to discover "a common vagabond" inside.
Superman wakes up –- but now he's not Superman, he's Kal-El! He has no memory of his life on Earth, and only a super-vague notion of Krypton — good job, K! He's also still pretty weak because of the sun thing. So K turns into weird, iridescent armor, which is almost certainly the one being tested out in these horrendous pics. But the armor is even goofier than that, because:
• It has goggles which allow Kal-El to use his x-ray vision"
• The S-emblem is actually a blade –- as in it's got super-sharp edges
• Kal-El can break parts of the S-shield off, and throw them at people — which he does, a lot
• He even has tiny S-shields, which are for all intents and purpose Superman throwing stars
• It can sprout wings like a Stealth bomber
And last but not least, K tells Kal-El that the "S" emblem stands for "Science," which was Jor-El's "passion." This is so dumb, I can barely stand it. Kal-El flies to Metropolis and starts taking care of looters and things, as opposed to, you know, Luthor and Brainiac. When Lois first spots Superman, this is what the script says -– I swear I'm not changing a word:
KAL-EL stands in shadow, intermittently lit by the flickering fires, cloaked in the strange suit, face half-hidden by the x-ray goggles like a hip-hop Phantom of the Opera.
A HIP-HOP PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. God, that sounds like the worst idea for Superman ever, but I'd still watch the hell out of that movie.
Superman doesn't recognize Lois, Lois doesn't recognize Superman, Luthor and Brainiac realize it's Superman pretty quickly, and start bickering. But Brainiac has a plan –- for he and Lex merge the way K and Superman clearly have. Luthor says, "I agree, it's a brilliant merger, bigger than RJR/Nabisco!" The ship fills with what the screenwriter describes as "Kryptonian lounge music" — I'm so serious here -– and they combine. The result: A two-headed dude. Now let the agony wash over you.
Excuse me ... We were supposed to fuse together. Not room together.
Hey I'm clean, I don't smoke, I never leave hairs in the sink ...
Oh, there's more:
I always wanted to be part-real!
I always wanted to be part-fake!
One more for the road!
LUTHOR HALF'S VOICE:
So what's our new corporate name?
BRAINIAC HALF :
Too hair-care. "Luthiac"?
Too mandolin-maker. "Brainlex"?
Later, Kal-El finds Lois and asks her why he kinda sorta recognizes her. Lois tries to explain, but it's all super-awkward (no pun), and Kal-El gives her his S-shield throwing star and flies off. Lexiac almost instantly captures Lois, where Brainiac's head says:
The Baron of Brilliant, Sultan of Smart, guy who put the "I" in IQ.
He's a robot from another planet! Hee hee!
Proving he's the only person in this film with a lick of sense, Jimmy starts breaking windows until Superman shows up –- because Superman is still focused on those damn looters! -– and tells him Lois has been kidnapped. This ends up being needless, though, because Lexiac broadcasts a message (oh, and of course Superman's K-suit has a retractable earpiece) and says they'll trade Lois for K. Superman counters by asking for the satellite instead of Lois, and the Brainiac Half agrees.
Superman flies up — only to be shot by the Sun Gun Lex had placed on the original satellite. Knowing that Superman is powered by the energy of the sun, but Lex and Brainiac seems to be surprised to realize that a gun that fires the energy of the sun has somehow rejuvenated him. It blasts off Superman's K outfit and restores his normal tights -– what are the odds?! –- except the platinum S-shield blade thing.
Then there's some more nonsense, but it boils down to:
• K sacrifices itself to destroy the Sunblocker thing
• Superman acts sad about this, although K was not at all personable
• Superman flies into Lexiac's Skull Ship to get Lois.
• Lexiac releases the Thanagarian Snare Beast, after having this conversation:
That was private property ... My premiums are gonna go sky-high.
And my ever-pressing energy needs will have to be met ... otherwise.
LUTHOR HALF :
Sup on Supe?
You read my RAM-disk ...
• The fight with the Snare Beast does not sound particularly exciting on paper
• The beast gets Lois but she frees herself with the S-throwing-star
• Lois gets sucked out an airlock
• Superman punches Lexiac's two heads simultaneously
• The Snare Beast vomits "Day-Glo Puke" on Superman
• Lexiac does some kind of force-field thing that weakens Superman and stops the monster
• Brianiac tries to lay the "brothers" shit on Superman again
• Superman falls, but Lois catches him because she caught the edge of the ship or something
• Superman powers up with love
• Superman makes Brainiac and Luthor explode with said love
The end. Except for some kids smiling at Superman while he's flying around with Lois. Oh, and also:
Y'know ... We need to set up an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist ...
(Off Lois' puzzled look)
To see whether we can ... you know, reproduce.
The end, folks!