Nicolas Cage’s The Flash Cameo, Explained: Was It AI?

July 10, 2024 - Movies

The Flash has one of the most interesting development periods in the history of DC films. Announced back in 2014, it went through various directors and release dates before the finished film finally came out in June 2023, as the DCEU was coming to an end and a new DCU franchise was on the horizon. It was marketed as being one of the best superhero movies of all time, all while dealing with the controversies surrounding its lead star, Ezra Miller. In the end, The Flash came and went, becoming a box office bomb and just one of many failed DC film adaptations.

One of the film’s biggest controversies was the CGI, particularly in the film’s climax, which saw the filmmakers use digital deep fakes of deceased celebrities like Christopher Reeve and George Reeves as their incarnations of Superman. One of the biggest head-scratchers, however, was the appearance of Nicolas Cage as Superman fighting a giant spider. This felt out of place to most general audiences as it was the only cameo not of a pre-established DC role, but for many fans, it was a payoff to a canceled film project that never saw the light of day.

Yet, since the film’s release, star Nicolas Cage has made statements regarding The Flash cameo to make many wonder if it was really him. Did Warner Bros. use A.I. to create the added image, or did they rework Nicolas Cage’s role without letting him know the context?

Nicolas Cage Was Almost Superman

In the mid-’90s, as the Batman film franchise was going strong, Warner Bros. was looking at reviving the Superman franchise, which had not seen a new release since the movies fizzled out with 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. By 1995, producer Jon Peters began developing a new Superman script, which eventually led to acclaimed filmmaker Kevin Smith being attached to the project as the writer. Peters gave Smith a series of rules, such as how he didn’t want Superman to fly or wear his classic costume and also wanted him to fight a giant spider in the third act.

Smith’s script titled Superman Lives was submitted in 1996 and featured Brainiac unleashing Doomsday to kill Superman, who would later be revived using the Eradicator technology, which would attach to Superman as a new suit to wear. The script quickly picked up steam when Tim Burton signed on to direct, but shortly after that, Smith was dropped from the project as Burton brought on Wesley Strick to rewrite the project.

Nicolas Cage was cast as Superman, and the project began to move forward. Yet in 1998, Warner Bros. pulled the plug on Superman Lives after a series of major box office misfires, including Batman and Robin, the previous summer. Burton dropped out quickly and went on to direct Sleepy Hollow, while Cage remained on board until 2000, trying to get the project off the ground before eventually departing the project.


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Yet following the late great Jon Schnepp’s 2015 documentaryThe Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?, fans started to become curious as to what Nicolas Cage and Tim Burton’s Superman Lives movie would have been. In 2018, Cage finally got to play Superman in a film adaptation, just not one many would expect. He lent his voice to the character in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. When it became clear The Flash would be a multiverse movie, many were hoping to see Nicolas Cage’s cameo as Superman, even though the cameo itself might not make sense to general moviegoers. That is what happened as over 25 years after the plans for Superman Lives fell through, Nicolas Cage’s Superman fought the fabled giant spider.

Yet this is not what Cage signed up for when he filmed the cameo.

Nicolas Cage’s Cameo Was Heavily Altered

The accusation of The Flash using AI comes from a series of interviews Nicolas Cage did after the movie came out and while promoting Dream Scenario. The first was in a conversation with Yahoo News, where he spoke about how different the scene in the finished film was from what he filmed. There was no giant spider in the sequence he filmed, which caught Cage off guard when he saw the film. He said “When I went to the picture, it was me fighting a giant spider. I did not do that. That was not what I did.”

Cage then said he was not accusing the filmmakers of using AI to change his performance or alter anything, instead saying it was classic CGI. He spoke about how he and former Superman Lives director Tim Burton have responded to AI use in the filmmaking process.

“I don’t think it was [created by] AI. I know Tim is upset about AI, as I am. It was CGI, OK, so that they could de-age me, and I’m fighting a spider. I didn’t do any of that, so I don’t know what happened there. … But I get where Tim’s coming from. I know what he means. I would be very unhappy if people were taking my art … and appropriating them. I get it. I mean, I’m with him in that regard. AI is a nightmare to me. It’s inhumane. You can’t get more inhumane than artificial intelligence.”

A following interview Nicolas Cage did with Wired is where the AI concerns were brought up again. Cage didn’t directly accuse the filmmakers but then followed it up with a “maybe they did.” This comment was then blown out to make it seem like Nicolas Cage accused people of suing AI, with many taking it as they used it to create him in The Flash without him knowing. The full context of the quote is that Cage filmed a scene for The Flash, but it was drastically changed in post-production. What was on-screen was not what he was told would be there, and he was given a different direction on set. Cage’s full quote was:

“There’s an agreement and a mutual understanding and a contract that you’ve gone into knowing both sides and knowing full well what we’re getting into. I’m not saying they used AI on the Superman thing. Maybe they did. I don’t know. Maybe it was just CGI, but whatever it was, that’s not what I did on the set. As much as I love [director] Andy [Muschietti] and [sister and film producer] Barbara [Muschietti]—and I do think they’re great—it’s still not what I was told to do on set.”

There’s a Big Difference Between CGI and AI

Warner Bros.

As the fear over AI in film becomes a real growing concern, one must remember to be careful of when the term is used because words do have meaning. It cannot just become a catch-all for any creative decision one does not like. There is a major difference between using CGI to alter an actor’s performance and using AI to create an actor in a scene or alter their performance. While using CGI to change an actor’s performance is questionable, that is also essentially what film editing is. It is all in the service of crafting the best story and hiring real people to do that job where, as AI takes the job away from the digital effects artist who is already underappreciated in this business.


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The act of calling all questionable CGI in a movie AI-generated or throwing it around in a dismissive way has the negative effect of also weakening or cheapening the criticism. It draws attention away from actual film and television projects that have been caught using AI-generated images and artwork because “Nicolas Cage in the Flash is AI” are headlines that grab attention and spread to various channels where people will mistake it as fact.

There are many problems with The Flash, particularly the troubling accusations of recreating Christopher Reeve’s likeness without the involvement of Reeve’s family; the use of AI is, as of this moment, not one of the faults of the film. Instead, Cage’s involvement as Superman in The Flash feels like fan service for a specific audience that, in the end, meant nothing in the larger context of the movie.

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