Join Date: Jun 2002
Re: What's So Bad About Superman Returns?
By any reasonable standard, SUPERMAN RETURNS isn't a bad film. Nor is it a really dark film or a morose film. Its got lots of humor in it. Overall its a fairly serious film, with a few key dark elements. The film is very well made. Well cast, well acted, well executed, well scored, and it has very good special effects. The superhero/disaster action is fantastic, the film is beautiful visually and has wonderful emotion, the romantic elements work quite well, and Superman’s burden/dedication is felt. The film has moments of real joy, and moments of real despair.
The "vague sequel" thing, I think people just need to get over some of the issues they've invented to have with that. Its obvious that the film is not directly or completely tied to any previous Superman film, but rather to memorable moments of the existing franchise. It doesn't really matter that Lois didn't remember sleeping with Superman at the end of SUPERMAN II, because in this film, she did remember spending the night with Superman.
Most people’s main problems with the movie seem to revolve around two things:
The first is the fact that it was a sequel to the Donnerverse instead of a reboot. Ironically, more than half of fans wanted this approach prior to the film. Then they whined when they got it.
Then there’s the second issue, the reaction to the modern moral exploration, notably Superman having a kid out of wedlock, failing to say goodbye, and daring to still have feelings for Lois upon his return. This seems to be the most burning issue people have with the film. That Superman isn’t perfect. That he is capable of being fallible. He can be selfish. He can abandon those he protects. He can make big mistakes. And I get that, but I also find the portrayal refreshing and revealing. Ultimately and realistically, he must CHOOSE to be Superman. He is Superman precisely because he chooses to serve as an example of the best of humanity. I find that a whole lot more powerful than a man who just IS good because he is good in the comics. I also find it a little sad that so many people (fans) couldn't stomach this interpretation of the character. Mind you, this is an extension of a character who was shown to be somewhat selfish, human, etc, in the first two Superman films. But showing it in modern terms in a loose sequel to those films was just too much.
As time goes on, its interesting to me that its fine if Bruce Wayne is a flawed individual in the recent Batman franchise and its okay for most people because that's Chris Nolan doing his take on the character, but Superman’s not allowed to have serious doubts or flaws in Singer's film. Essentially, Chris Nolan is allowed to make his version of Batman but Bryan Singer was not allowed to make his, based on a previous version by Richard Donner, who made his version of the character as well. I find that to be a bit of a double standard a lot of fans have applied.
SUPERMAN RETURNS has some key flaws. It doesn’t explore its central concept (Superman abandoning Earth and them moving on) well enough. There’s not much in the way of character development. Storywise, there’s Superman finding his place in the world again and adjusting to a new normal, but not much in the way of actual character development, for him or his supporting cast.
Yes, there could have been more superhero action. But this was a story about a man (Luthor) VS Superman. That was the choice they made, and superhero slugfests don't really enter into that. Even with that, I can’t say it wasn’t an exciting film, because the plane sequence alone is incredible, and the final rescue sequence is also very good.
Not using the opening visit to Krypton was a mistake. Really, the execution of the whole "Superman finds out Krypton is out there" angle is a bit lacking. Originally, Luthor was to be revealed to have engineered the whole thing as part of his long term revenge plot. The final film doesn't reflect this, and should have.
Luthor's plot gets a lot of flack in general, and executionwise, it's not very realistic or very deep, but it also makes perfect sense in context. He has crystals that wreak havoc. He can grow weapons, land, etc. Luthor would very much have the upper hand against the rest of the world with this Kryptonian technology. But that's not the point. The point is never supposed to be just that he is creating land to sell. He's already rich after swindling the old woman.
The point is that the plot is Luthor perverting Superman's heritage to hurt and kill a lot of people and then kill Superman. That is the most important part of Luthor's plan. The land grab is just how Luthor justifies the scale of it. But afterward, it is clearly revealed he has ulterior motives. The land grab scheme itself would be a long term development. The land would continue to grow. The immediate benefit for Luthor is the death of Superman.
The acting is solid across the board. Spacey is fantastic, as are Marsden and Langella and Eva Marie Saint. Brandon Routh is not a good actor. He was, however, pretty much born to play Clark Kent and Superman and so his acting ability isn't really at issue in this film. He was solid in the role, with several impressive moments in the film. He sold the quieter, more introspective Superman of this film quite well, with only minor acting missteps, notably a few sequences earlier in the film. And Kate Bosworth was fine as Lois Lane. She had relatively little to work with characterwise, but made for an appropriately “throwback”, matured and calmer version of Lois Lane. There's nothing inherently wrong with her performance. People just apparently didn't want to see "calmer, working mom Lois".
The beating of Superman by Luthor and his goons is great. A fantastic reversal, and one of the more brutal moments in superhero film/lore.
The final sequence where Superman saves Metropolis is fantastic. Superman lifting the Kryptonite land mass is fantastic, and the way Superman survives the incident is obvious. He's drawing all the power he can from the Sun, and expending all his energy in a life sacrificing feat. Why people have such problems with this is beyond me. SUperman soaking in the sun is a beautiful moment (probably one of the best in superhero film).
As a continuance/closure to the Reeve Superman mythology, SUPERMAN RETURNS is a success. Its not what the character needed longterm, and its a bit of an oddity. Its really a pretty original movie overall. There's a lot of noise made about how it is basically just a rehash of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, which isn't true. The plot is markedly different, though there are obvious parallells, and the focus of the story is entirely different. There is not "lots" of dialogue from previous films. A couple of lines, tops.
I would say that despite its presentation of Superman as a less morally absolute character, the film did showcase the key elements of the Superman mythos, it just did it a bit differently and less obviously. Superman's dedication to Earth was shown, but here it was shown as a rededication and a realization that, though he wants a normal life, he has greater duties to Earth/Metropolis and eventually, to Lois, Richard and Jason. Superman was shown quite clearly to be resisting the temptation to go further with Lois, or to force the issue. He allowed her to make the decision about who she wanted to be with. Superman's essential goodness is very much found in the film. He sacrifices his life (twice) to stop Luthor.
And the movie was indeed moderately successful. Whether it made enough money or was ultimately a disappointment or not, WB was going to go ahead with a sequel and developed several iterations of one until two films changed the superhero film landscape and the profit potential of superhero films: THE DARK KNIGHT, and IRON MAN. And eventually, Singer moved on to other projects.
Regardless, I feel blessed to live in a world where we get both SUPERMAN RETURNS and MAN OF STEEL.
Writer and Lyricist of GOTHAM'S KNIGHT: THE BATMAN MUSICAL
And if I'm right
The future's looking bright
A symbol in the skies at night