While the common narrative is that "dark" superheroes are something new in Hollywood, with Christopher Nolan‘s "The Dark Knight" commonly pointed to as an example that a more dramatic approach can be executed on a lucrative, blockbuster scale, that’s not exactly true. Back in 1989, Tim Burton‘s "Batman" was considered dark for the era, and despite its quirks, is still serious enough that it was a big departure from the way the character had previously been depicted in various adaptations. The movie was hugely successful, as was the sequel, and Warner Bros. hoped that Burton could bring the same touch to Superman.
In our feature 4 ‘Superman’ Movies That Never Took Flight, we detailed the saga of Burton’s mooted "Superman Lives," which never got off the ground. The short version of the story is that as the project developed, Burton’s initial script was rewritten several times. One of the last to tackle it was Dan Gilroy (the writer/director of this weekend’s "Nightcrawler"), and he reveals what his take on the character would’ve been and the scope of the story.
"I was very much taken by Tim’s approach, which was that Kal-El was not told by Jor-El, before he got put in the little spaceship, who he was or where he came from. So poor little Kal-El, when he winds up on earth, he has no freaking idea where he came from. His biggest fear is that he’s an alien," Gilroy told Indiewire. "Our Superman was in therapy at the beginning of the film. He’s in a relationship with Lois Lane and he can’t commit. Or he was maybe in couple’s therapy. But he can’t commit because he doesn’t know who he is or what is going on with him. He’s hoping that he has some physiological condition that gives him these powers but that he’s still human. It becomes very apparent, though, early in the script, when Lex Luthor uncovers the remnants of the spacecraft, he suddenly realizes – ‘Oh my god, I’m an alien.’ It was all about the psychological trauma of it. I loved it."
Gilroy goes on to explain that a string of bombs at Warner Bros. kiboshed the project, even though they had Nicolas Cage as Superman and Chris Rock as Jimmy Olsen (wow). He believes Burton would’ve made "Superman Lives" really sing. "Tim had a handle on it. Tim understood everything about it. Tim would have created a Superman for the ages. I really feel that," he says.
We’ll have to just imagine what could’ve been, but this weekend, be sure to see "Nightcrawler." Below you can see Gilroy break down a scene from the film. Check it out.