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Old 03-07-2017, 12:55 PM   #1
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Default Supergirl's take on Superman showed Bryan Singer what could have been

Back in 2006, Bryan Singer's Superman Returns hit theatres, while it garnered a very solid critical response, it wasn't the financial success Warner Brothers had hoped for and fans were very mixed on the film. Now over a decade later its sort of become forgotten in time, however a two episode stint for a new Superman on the CW's Supergirl made me think about Superman Returns, I realised after watching that what they approached it on Supergirl is the way Bryan Singer should have. Here are a few points to show what I mean:

Vague History

When it was announced that Bryan Singer was bringing Superman back to the big screen I was ecstatic. He said all the right things in the lead up to the film. One of his bighest selling points for many fans at the time was that the film would exist in the Universe created by Richard Donner and the Salkinds. Singer used the now infamous words 'vague history' to describe his vision of what the film would be. By 'Vague History' he meant the film would use the first two Christopher Reeve adventures as a starting point for his Superman, he would take elements from those Reeve films, the classic Williams theme, he cast Brandon Routh as Superman a man who clearly looked a lot like Christopher Reeve. He also took some of the design elements (most notably Krypton) and even went as far as to reuse Marlon Brando's Jor El as a talking head in the Fortress of Solitude just as had been in the Richard Donner Classic. Singer said that Superman didn't really need a re-told origin at that point and at the time he was probably right (although thanks to this film he would need one after). He had pitched to the execs at Warner Brothers that people knew Superman's origin too well by that point, there was the 1978 Donner film, the animated series, countless TV interpretations including the simultaneously airing Smallville (which was all origin) etc. Singer even reused the structure of the Donner film, Krypton (although much of this was cut), Smallville and Metropolis, which is a bit strange for a non-origin but he did get to Metropolis a fair bit quicker than Donner did. All this would allow Superman to simply 'Return' rather than completely start again.

All that in mind, what we should have got in 2006 was a return of a Superman of the past (but with a new spin). What we got however just didn't work. They gave us a little of a new spin but the finished film felt more like a bizarro (pun intended) quasi sequel/reboot/remake mash up and it just didn't quite work. Singer had tried to incorporate too many elements of different Superman lore without actually getting to the core of the character and honaging the film he loved so much Superman 1978. Now on Supergirl they also wanted to no age the Donner film and with that they also made it feel like Superman the Movie could be vague history. But what Supergirl did was a much better than what Bryan Singer had attempted to do on Superman Returns.

Paying Homage

In Superman Returns Singer tried to pay homage to the classic Donner film by simply recreating moments and reusing dialogue, what you may call pilfering. I imagine as he and the writers pitched ideas they got excited at the notion of redoing moments from the original (which always makes me think why didn't he just do a remake?). Here's a few 'homages' that just didn't work:
- Routh's Superman used the phrase "statistically speaking its still the safest way to travel" (after the admittedly epic Plane Sequence) to the people on the plane but it just felt like he was copying that moment.
- Lex Luthor's main squeeze in the film Kitty Kowlaski portrayed by Parker Posey (the replacement for Valerie Perrine's Miss Tessmacher) had exchanges with Lex that were carbon copies from the original: Lex: You Know what My Father always used to say to me", Kitty' Get Out', Lex: "No Before that". Again the original is better, more natural.
- References to Lex Luthor getting our of jail because Superman didn't show up for court. This is just bad, while it tries to reference he had committed crimes before (we're assuming the Earthquake in Superman the Movie). This just makes Superman look bad, as if he wouldn't have known this? Leaving for a planet surely would have waited until Justice had been served.

Fast forward to 2016, Supergirl introduces the new Superman portrayed by Tyler Hoechlin, here we see a Superman with all the charm of the Chris Reeve version, a klutzy Clark also similar to the Reeve version yet it wasn't a carbon copy. A Clark/Superman who didn't get bogged down by, directorial/writer choices of trying to be a copy of Reeve, they simply pay homage to that classic version whilst balancing different aspects of other interpretations aswell as fresh take from Hoechlin. In the first episode Hoechlin appeared we got many homages/references to the classic Donner film:
- Lena Luthor using the statistically speaking line, this was an improvement, it felt like a homage rather than a copy. It probably helped that a different character said it but it felt fresh and humorous unlike the way the line was delivered in Superman Returns. This worked better than simply having characters repeat lines from another movie, delivered by the previous actor (especially as we are supposed to believe in the new versions)
- We had Cat Grant scream "MISS TESSMACHER" again this was a nice homage,
- Wynn asking Superman about the Earthquake caused by Lex Luthor. Even though this cannot work as a direct continuation to Donner's classic this is exactly how you make something seem like 'vague history'. Also unlike the more obscure reference to Lex's past crimes in Returns this makes Superman look good. Lex went crazy, Superman stopped him. Lex is now serving multiple life sentences for his crimes.

There were others and I could go on but its no comparison that the homages in Supergirl worked while the ones in Superman Returns felt forced and uncomfortable.

Lois & Clark

Singer got the dynamic between Lois & Clark all wrong, if this was set in the Donnerverse the two should have been friends. Even though Lois wasn't romantically interested in Clark like she was Superman she respected him and even tried to help him by asking him to "stand up straight". In Returns Lois is dismissive of him and pretty much just ignores him, even laughing at him at one point. Singer also failed to recreate the romance between Lois & Clark, now that was part bad writing and part poor casting (Kate Bosworth) but still for a man who loved Donner's Superman this is another aspect where he completely missed the point.

No we didn't meet Lois in Supergirl but we got a glimpse into the relationship between her and Clark via a phone call. Compare that to Superman Returns (admittedly the two are in very different stages and Lois doesn't know Clark is Superman) and its night & day.


Taking Clark out of the equation (as I felt that was one aspect Superman Returns got right although they didn't quite capture the good reporter he was unlike Supergirl's take did) and just concentrating on the Man of Steel. In both we have here an already established Superman, neither is a rookie, both are meant to be Supermen who have been there, done that multiple times. However, Routh's Superman (while certainly capable) doesn't feel or look like he's been doing it a long time. Now Tyler himself looks a little young for an established Superman but at least they gave us an explanation (which sure can be provided for the former too but they can't just assume that everyone knows that).

Routh's Superman doesn't have any of the charm, warmth or familiarity of the character, it seems Singer wanted Routh to be a clone of Reeve's Superman, but without the tropes of that version. I feel like here he tried to combine elements of different takes, Fleischer, (George) Reeves and (Christopher) Reeve but he combined all the wrong elements. Tyler Hoechlin was allowed to put himself into the character, he really brings the warmth, charm and familiarity of Superman. Even on Supergirl they combined different elements of Superman past, again Reeves and Reeve but also Superman the animated series but most importantly Tyler's own perspective. Seeing Brandon Routh in a movie like Scott Pilgrim or as his current role of Ray Palmer on DC's Legends of Tomorrow its clear Routh has the chops and ability to portray that type of Superman.

Take the moment when Superman saves the family from the flying machine in National City, here he reassuringly winks at the kid. Sure some can moan its not realistic (a man flying isn't either) or necessary but its an aspect of the character people love to see. With Routh's Superman we didn't get that moment whatsoever and its part of why people felt a distance to the character. No I'm not saying he had to do exactly that, smile or wink etc but a version of the character which is supposed to be that way (remember this is a Donnerverse continuation, vague or not) and simply isn't leaves you feeling cold towards him.

Neither of these actors were fortunate to have a beginning where we could grow with the character and learn to love him. Both had to get you onboard from the off and again Supergirl gets it right where Superman Returns gets it far wrong.

Then take the costumes, sure both have come under critiscm but everything from the colours to the S design are far and away better on Hoechlin's costume. There have been many complaints about the cape clasps but that is far betters than it tucking into his collar displayed on Routh's suit.


Many have said Spacey's Lex Luthor was camp, I actually don't agree with that, I do think there was an element of camp but overall I found him a much darker take than his predecessor Gene Hackman. However, fans wanted to see Superman punch something (for lack of a better term), we wanted to see Superman save people of course but we also wanted to see him throw-down with a comic book villain. Now they could have sorted that in Superman Returns by having Lex actually use some advanced alien technology that he threatens Superman with. But we get none of that, instead we get (admittedly some epic) Superman saving people, landing planes etc but we didn't get to see him throw-down with modern FX as we had wanted. Returns was a 2 hour plus Superman film and the most exciting scene of the whole movie happens in the first hour. Move over to Supergirl which Superman was a guest star (with way less screen-time); we got Superman saving people, holding falling buildings, and Superman taking on not one but two Metallo's, all that and more over the duration of the two episodes. To this day I do not know why Singer didn't give us a proper villain for Superman to throw down with, maybe its his lack of love for comic books (kind of strange for a man who has directed 4 X-Men movies so far) or even a lack of knowledge to what Superman fans wanted. Take the previous incarnations that failed to make it to filming, Superman Reborn, Superman Lives, Superman Flyby etc, they all featured villains for Superman to throw down with. Warner Bros knew that fans wanted this, yet why didn't anyone tell Singer? It was rumoured Singer wanted to use General Zod but Jude Law turned that role down so they scrapped the idea (this adds fuel to my theory in my final Thoughts*).

Final Thoughts

If Singer happened to have seen the episode of Supergirl in question then I can only speculate that possibly the S emblazoned light bulb above his head started flickering. Maybe he did and thought "That's how I should have done it", but I doubt he has seen it or even cares. *I do think Singer let his love for the movies rather than a love for the character, motivate his ideas and executions in Superman Returns. Thankfully the people in charge of Supergirl love these characters, their worlds and are well versed in many aspects of Superman. Singer is not a bad film-maker, I'd say he's a damn good one in all honesty but maybe, just maybe he needed some different heads around him when making Returns. Who knows what we could have ended up with in the end, thankfully for Brandon Routh he has got another crack at the superhero genre and thankfully for those who wanted to see a return of the classic style of Christopher Reeve's Superman you got pretty much that with Tyler Hoehclin on Supergirl.


Last edited by BH/HHH; 08-26-2017 at 04:52 AM.
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Old 03-07-2017, 09:36 PM   #2
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Default Re: Supergirl's take in Superman showed Bryan Singer what could have been

Seeing Brandon Routh in a movie like Scott Pilgrim or as his current role of Ray Palmer on DC's Legends of Tomorrow its clear Routh has the chops and ability to portray that type of Superman.
Yet he still can't seem to catch a break from his heroic past. Superman references have popped up on both The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow:

- In The Flash episode "All-Star Team-Up" (S1E18):

- In the Legends of Tomorrow portion of the crossover:

- In the Legends of Tomorrow episode "Camelot/3000" (S2E12):

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Old 03-30-2017, 03:43 AM   #3
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Default Re: Supergirl's take in Superman showed Bryan Singer what could have been

Excellent post and video. Thank you very much !!
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Last edited by owlowl092; 04-06-2017 at 02:14 PM.
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