Huh. SUPERMAN RETURNS. Interesting to watch this again now. Not only are there 7 years of 20/20 x-ray vision to look back on it with, but also a recent do-over that I like better. This was the first Superman movie made for a world that might be indifferent to the character of Superman, so they made that the subtext. Superman (Brandon Routh, DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT) has been gone for years studying space rubble or something, meanwhile the world has gotten used to not having him around to babysit them. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth, THE WARRIOR’S WAY) has moved on to the point of having a kid (Tristan Lake Leabu), a fiancee (James Marsden, AMBUSH IN WACO: IN THE LINE OF DUTY), and a Pulitzer Prize for her essay “Why the World Doesn’t Need a Superman” (early draft title: “That Fucking Asshole Superman Got Me Pregnant in Part 2 and Then Flew Off To Space For Some Reason”).
But of course Bryan Singer and company want the world to be like Lois and secretly actually want Superman back, and eventually kiss him on the mouth while he’s unconscious. But the world only patted him on the head. SUPERMAN RETURNS did make money I believe and I think was generally liked okay (75% critics / 63% civilians according to the math wizards at Rotten Tomatoes [as opposed to MAN OF STEEL’s more divided 56% critics / 76% common man]), but it wasn’t the juggernaut they wanted or an excitement-generator like BATMAN BEGINS was, so they floundered a while before deciding not to do another one.
With BATMAN BEGINS, Christopher Nolan took an approach to the character that nobody was really clamoring for and proved that it worked. SUPERMAN RETURNS took the more obvious (but in retrospect clearly wrong) approach of listening to the fans and worshipping at the feet of what they already like. Singer treated it as a sequel to Richard Donner’s 1 1/2 quarter-century-old Superman movies. He got Routh, who looked like Christopher Reeve, to play the Super-man. He re-used the John Williams theme song and recordings of Marlon Brando any time he needed to squeeze out some emotion. He had Kevin Spacey play Lex Luthor as a funny super villain like Gene Hackman’s version, with another lady-in-old-timey-hat sidekick (Parker Posey in a rare solo appearance away from Triple-H). On the extras disc Singer talks about going to pitch his idea to Richard Donner to try to get the job. He says he thinks you can’t do this movie without getting the blessing of Richard Donner. I wonder if Nolan thought he had to get the blessing of Tim Burton? Or is the blessing not for making a Superman movie, but for biting Donner’s style?
By the way, Singer uses some lens flares in this one, and most of them are probly created by computers and not by the yellow sun that powers Superman. Aren’t we supposed to be against that? Don’t we have to bring it up every time Singer is ever discussed again? From what I understand that’s the rule. That would be really productive and not annoying at all in my opinion and I always really respect people who do that with other filmatists and I figure they have alot of good insights that are worth listening to.
One question that I haven’t really seen addressed about Superman returning: what the fuck was he doing in space all that time? He says that astronomers discovered the remains of his planet so he went to investigate. Did it just take him that long to fly there and back, or did he stop and look around for a while? What was there really to see? Did he run some tests or something? I don’t really understand what he was up to. Also, when Superman flies into space for several years does he occasionally have to stop in the middle of space to sleep? Or did he really stay awake for that long? I mean I guess he kinda lays around the Kent house for a bit when he gets back but in my opinion he should be more tired than that if he’s been flying for years with no rest.
Also what about pissing. Does Superman pee in space, how does that whole thing work.
A problem I have is how young Superman and Lois seem. That wouldn’t matter if it was a new story, but they keep telling us these are the same people from the other movies some years later. Gotta be around 5-7 years since a baby was born and grew into a kid. And it’s hard to accept these babyfaces talking like they’re supposed to be old timers looking back over long relationships and careers.
I like Routh though (fuck you, TED). I mean, admittedly I like Cavill’s version better, but Routh has a good dorky Clark Kent and likably whitebread Superman who flies in, saves the day, asks everybody if they’re okay, and demonstrates good posture. One criticism: when he’s Clark Kent I’m pretty sure he never does any work at all, he just stands around looking awkward while Lois talks about him across the room. I don’t know if he seriously knows how to write or if he just pretends to push buttons on the keyboard. In my opinion Perry White was kinda stupid to rehire him.
Routh’s Superman is skinnier than Cavill’s, but I guess with those Kryptonian genetics he could be a skeleton and still pick up buildings. No reason to be downing creatine.
And The Boz isn’t as miscast as I remembered. Actually I liked her this time. As a mother in a bad spot she’s good, it’s just the veteran reporter part she’s too young to pull off. Maybe later.
I’m not a fan of Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington, JUNGLE 2 JUNGLE). Not the actor’s fault, but he’s just another not-funny comic relief character. Good move ditching that dead weight in MAN OF STEEL. (in part 2 he’ll be played by Matt Damon) In general I think the humor in this movie is pretty lame. One exception is when Posey finds one of her two little dogs alone with a small pile of hair. She asks “Weren’t there two of those?” but nobody else seems to notice. Also I like when a big bald thug with an evil clown tattoo on the back of his head sits down to do the “Heart and Soul” piano duet with Superman’s bastard son.
My big problem with the movie is Lex Luthor. Fuck that guy. As far as comic book villains go he’s not as bad as Colin Farrell’s Guy Who Is Really Good at Flicking Stuff from DAREDEVIL, but it’s still crazy that they were willing to settle on this idiot as the antagonist in a movie they were spending so much money on. In my original review I simplified Luthor’s plan to make a joke, but here is seriously the steps of his scheme, as far as I understand them.
1. Fuck an old lady named Gertrude (Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in 1948) and inherit her boat
2. Go to Antarctica and sneak into Superman’s secret cave. I’m not sure if they really needed anything they found there or if it just kinda gave them a thrill to be sneaking around in his place, like the kids in THE BLING RING.
3. Add water (to a crystal)
4. Cut the brakes on Parker Posey’s car to distract Superman while stealing a rock from the museum. No clue how they knew that Superman would prioritize this over the break-in or anything else happening in the world.
5. Repeat step 3
6. Stab Superman with Kryptonite
Meanwhile Lex and his couple of thugs sit in a crystal cave that they grew. How are they gonna maintain ownership of this new continent if a military force comes in? I don’t know. Do they expect to have actual houses there, or are they seriously gonna live in a cave? I don’t know. Does this look like a very attractive piece of property?
I’m gonna go with “no.” I mean, you can clean that shit up, but can you even grow gross on it?
What do they plan to do when Superman pulls the Kryptonite out and comes after them again? They haven’t thought that far ahead. Also they didn’t count on Parker Posey not agreeing with killing billions of people to build a cave and ratting them out. They shoulda made sure everybody was on the same page I guess.
That’s why I don’t think this movie holds up, but it’s not a total bust. I mean, I like all the Superman stuff. I still like the airplane rescue scene, the part where a bullet bounces off his eyeball, the part where he floats in space hearing the troubles all around the world. There’s a scene where some of the buildings in Metropolis are falling apart, and he flies around and saves like 3 or 4 people, so I guess that’s what the angry mob wanted from MAN OF STEEL, was to redo the same scene from the movie they didn’t like a few years ago, so they can sleep soundly knowing that a handful of the 11 million people in Metropolis (2000 census) were definitely not crushed offscreen. It’s a cool scene, though.
I also forgot all about the part at the end where he pushes himself to the brink flying the giant crystal pile into space and then passes out and falls all the way to earth. It’s upping the ante of the cool scene in earlier Summer Movie Flashback HULK where he falls from the upper atmosphere after riding a fighter jet. Like Hulk he survives the fall, but this time he’s hospitalized, in a coma. He’s brought down to earth literally and figuratively.
One little sad touch is that Lois, being a bigshot and everything, is allowed into the hospital to visit Superman, even though she’s with a different dude now, and won’t even tell her kid that that’s his dad. But poor Ma Kent (Eva Marie Saint, NORTH BY FUCKING NORTHWEST), who raised him since birth, has to stand outside in the crowd just pretending to be in the same boat as everybody else.
Like in MAN OF STEEL later, these issues of surrogate parenting are important. Not just with the Kents, but this new character of Lois’s fiancee. When Superman finds out the kid is his son (Bizarro Billy Jean) he’s also smart enough to know that the boy’s grown up with this other guy as dad and he has to respect that connection. Just like the Kents are more his parents than holographic Marlon Brando is. And the relationship between Superman and stepdad is pretty good, they’re both kinda jealous of each other but polite. They each save each other and are man enough to say thank you. I remember reading that Singer was adopted, so it makes sense that he added an extra layer of adoptive parent drama.
What Superman should do, he should give Lois some money for child support and then just leave the kid a magic crystal that can project his head saying wise things. That’s more than what he got from his dad.
SUPERMAN RETURNS is okay. It’s Lex Luthor Returns that I got a problem with.
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other movies that came out that summer: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST, LADY IN THE WATER, MIAMI VICE, SNAKES ON A PLANE
highest grossing movie that year: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.