The following is a review of Jon Schnepp’s The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?
For more reasons than one, this is the perfect time for Jon Schnepp’s documentary to be released. Not only is Ant-Man out in theaters in the summer of 2015 – a film infamous for the Edgar Wright-problems – but Avengers: Age of Ultron suffered from problematic quotes from its director back in April 2015. Meanwhile, Superman has not been this relevant since 1978.
Back in the 1990s no comic book movie character was hotter than Batman, in large part due to the job done by Tim Burton in rebuilding the Caped Crusader. At the same time, though, Superman did not have the same hold on audiences as he had once had. Superman III, IV, and Supergirl did not do anything to help the character in the late 1980s, and some people felt that he needed to be rebooted, or, at the very least, remade.
Eventually, Bryan Singer would give us Superman Returns in 2006 – a lukewarm entry in the Superman-franchise. But back in the 1990s there was an opportunity to rebuild Kal-El, like Bruce Wayne had been. In fact, Tim Burton was attached to this project as well. What could possibly make this project (Superman Lives) more intriguing? For starters, Nicolas Cage was to play everyone’s favorite Kryptonian.
Today you would have a tough time convincing people that Cage would be a good Kal-El. That is not due to his talent, but due to the fall he has taken as an acting star. Yet I am pleased to tell you that after watching this documentary, I really really wanted this film to have been made – and I really wanted Cage to be Kal-El.
If you worry about sitting through 105 minutes of a fan trying his hardest to convince you of the aforementioned idea, then I have one message for you – don’t. Sure, Jon Schnepp is clearly a fan – by the end of the film it is obvious that he’d have wanted this film to be made. But this isn’t a fan film, at least not if you attribute any negative connotations to that label.
In the beginning of the documentary, I did worry that perhaps this film would turn out to simply be the creative writers and directors pointing fingers at the meddling producers. And while it does feel that way for a while, the film does not force any one opinion on you – the documentarian does not force any opinion on you. It is not the opinion of Kevin Smith, Jon Peters, or even Tim Burton that end up becoming the star of this documentary.
No, the star of this documentary is what is referred to as the ‘holy grail’. Schnepp makes perfect use of archive footage with Burton and Cage – and this is where this documentary shines. Some internet assumptions about the film are shot down almost immediately, and the project suddenly feels alive – even if it is only reanimated for these 105 minutes.
Yet the best moment for me in the documentary is not when Cage is on screen. Instead, my favorite moments are when the aforementioned finger-pointing is brought up. It seems that Jon Schnepp, as an interviewer, is not afraid to bring anything up in these interviews. If Smith said something about Peters, or Peters said something about Burton – then it is brought up. Nothing is left unsaid in this documentary, and, in that respect, Jon Schnepp does a great job.
Yet there are times when you’re taken out of the documentary. When Schnepp visualizes the ideas of Superman Lives it never looks right. Schnepp could have stuck with only the artwork from the movie, but he does not – and that does hurt the experience slightly.
All in all, Jon Schnepp has created an incredibly fascinating and thought-provoking documentary about the process of filmmaking, the premature backlash of the general public, and the cruel nothingness of What If’s.
Final Score: 8 out of 10 – The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? is a must-watch documentary for all comic book fans, which works perfectly as an essential What If-entry in this golden age of comic book films.
I’m Jeffrey Rex