Superman is having a tough time in both his comic books and mass media appearance. Some people think that the character is simply too difficult to make appealing in this day and age, what with the boyish charm and goody “two-shoes” persona. Others feel that it comes from the fact that he is too powerful to give any real conflict. And finally there’s a sense that whatever they do to make the Man of Tomorrow relevant again, it’ll never truly be the iconic character audiences know and love. Yes, it seems that Clark Kent just hasn’t got that movie, show, or even comic book that has rejuvenated his initial groundbreaking popularity.
Many have tried to analyze why Superman has got the short end of the stick for so long. Just a few days ago, writer Asher Elbein offered his take on the issue in an article for The Atlantic. His overall thesis was that the character isn’t at fault for his criticisms, the problem comes from overeager heads trying to reinvent the character. He talks about Kal El’s most recent iterations, and why they are hurting the character more than helping him. He offers the idea that there’s no real need to reinvent Superman, but rather just get to the core of the character and tell unique stories as the best Superman stories do that. “Stories that stop trying to reboot Superman and instead refine and build on what’s already there. In other words, if you believe in him, the man can fly.”
I agree with the sentiment and feel that it’s not difficult to keep the idea of Superman without reinventing his main ideals. Marvel has had great success bringing Captain America into the movies without sacrificing who he is, for example. However, I do offer a small rebuttal to Mr. Elbein. There is a Superman movie that stays true to Superman and attempts to build on his character by creating a new story for him. It was called Superman Returns and everyone hated it.
Yes, a lot of audiences and fans forget about this movie, or refuse to acknowledge anything about it other than that it existed at one point. It debuted ten years ago, and made very little of an impression then and even less of an impression now. Directed by X-Men director Bryan Singer, the film was trying to bring the Man of Tomorrow back to the mainstream audiences… By trying to recreate a Christopher Reeve Superman film, and keep it in that same continuity. Kind of.
The film is a sort of sequel that takes place after Superman and its first sequel; it blatantly ignores the other two. The main premise is that after Clark Kent (Brandon Routh) leaves Earth for five years to see if there’s any chance that some remaining debris of Krypton has any life on it; he comes back to discover that the world has moved on from Superman. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) even writes a Pulitzer Prize winning piece on how the world doesn’t need the Man of Steel and even raises a kid with Cyclops from the X-Men trilogy. The film tries to analyze the purpose of Superman’s return, while also having Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) create yet another scheme to get real estate and kill Superman.
Honestly after watching three movies of Lex Luthor nearly killing millions of people to try to get some beachfront property it’s hard to not wonder why he doesn’t just buy any with his vast fortune, but I digress.
The story of the film is bizarre; the events don’t occur with logical progression. They’re kind of weirdly tacked on, with little to no sense, and incredibly clumsy transitions. One minute we’re with Lex discussing a plan with a beat that feels like the next scene should be about Luthor acting out his scheme, but then we awkwardly go back to Clark Kent being a dope around Lois Lane. There’s also little structure with the events, and the film almost has these little scenes that are almost independent of the story. There are times when I was wondering why they kept certain moments in the film. Most of them could have been cut and there wouldn’t have been much lost.
Then there are some weird choices that ended up in the final cut that were obviously trying to bring something new to the character, while still keeping to his core. First of all, he’s kind of a stalker. When he finds out that Lois has moved on he out right flies to her house to see what her life is like, and it doesn’t come off as charming. It comes off as really creepy. There’s also the forced interactions and moments of dialogue where they discuss trying to bring back the ideals of Superman in a modern age. And then finally the infamous twist that Lois Lane’s child is also Superman’s kid. It was a stupid reveal then, and it’s still a stupid reveal now. The fact that Superman has a child didn’t add anything to the character or give him more relation, if anything it makes Superman look more like a jerk for not being there for him in the end. And on top of all that, wouldn’t be more tragic if it wasn’t his kid? Wouldn’t the real sadness of the film be that he could never have the life Lois has? It was just something thrown in there to try and build on the legacy of Superman while still understanding his character.
One of the upsides to this movie is that Singer and his team understood the public perception of Superman. He saves everybody he can, he smiles a lot, and he stands for Truth, Justice, and the American way. Brandon Routh actually plays a great Superman, when he’s in the tights he has a confidence and bravado that resonates with those around him. When he’s Clark Kent he’s a little clumsy, but he’s still genuine and nice. He had the Kal El down (even though he does stalk women and break into the bedrooms of children), and it’s a shame that he was given this script that wasn’t trying to reintroduce audiences to the character. The film was trying to reintroduce the Christopher Reeve Superman movies to audiences.
That’s the biggest problem with the movie, it’s trying way too hard to be something it didn’t need to. Sure the story and script are a wreck, and the special effects were held back by the technical limitations of 2006 (they did NOT hold up), but those could have been fixed/forgiven if it was its own movie. The writers Michael Doughery and Dan Harris clearly understood Superman, and Bryan Singer did the best job he could with the script. But they wanted to continue a story that audiences lost interest in over twenty years before its release. All the actors do a fantastic job, Kevin Spacey is almost eerily identical to Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, and Kate Bosworth played a fun Lois Lane. And if this were a reboot, or a re-imagining, or just creating a new franchise the movie could have worked.
There are so many fans who complain that Warner Bros. doesn’t get Superman, and that he’s not getting the proper treatment he deserves with the Zack Snyder and the current direction. Well all I have to say to that is simply that they did make the ultimate movie that understood the character. Nobody liked it, and nobody wanted to see anything more with it, so no wonder the studios are constantly trying to reinvent Superman, and going to people like Zack Snyder to see what happens.
It’s certainly not the worst Superman movie. There are elements that are very enjoyable, but in trying to somehow both be a tried and true Christopher Reeve Superman film, and create a new story that can help audiences identify with the Man of Steel it fails miserably. It should have taken a bigger risk by being its own movie, but instead we got a boring, uninteresting film that may be authentic to Superman, but wasn’t interesting for the audience. I would say that you should give it a watch if you’re curious as there are some diamonds in the rough.
Next time we take a look at what many people consider as the greatest adaptation of Batman, The Dark Knight. Strap yourselves in, because it’s going to be a long one.