PG-13 because Superman borderline has his own crucifixion in this movie. Also, the most noble hero of all time apparently has had premarital sex (which happened in Superman II and doesn't really deal with fatherhood in the most responsible way.) Otherwise, the movie is full of danger and action set pieces that could be anxiety inducing for younger audiences. I mean, it's Superman Returns. I'm going to talk about some dark stuff, but the movie almost seems ignorant of what it is showing on screen.
DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer
Brandon Routh just announced that he's going to play Superman again on the CW Arrowverse. Yeah, that's a good reason to rewatch this movie. Here's the deal: I adored this movie at one point in time. I had a really gnarly Superman Returns poster hanging in my room in 2003. I was in college. It was a different time. Also, I always hate old me. I don't know how I expect to get people to like me if I keep mentioning me that this current iteration of me is going to suck one day, but I've also stressed that I'm a huge hypocrite. Anyway, I was obsessed with Superman Returns. It was a tonal continuation of one of my favorite movies of all time. I've finally run into another movie that doesn't hold up like it used to.
No one really loved Superman Returns. Okay, fanboys and the unobjective love Superman Returns. I still think that this movie is way better than Man of Steel. (What if I write this blog for so long that one day, I'll like Man of Steel? Gah.) The biggest complaint I hear about Superman Returns is the same complaint I hear about The Force Awakens: "It's just the same movie all over again." Oh, yeah. Superman Returns is derivative of the first Superman movie. I can't deny it. It was written as a love letter to Richard Donner's original film. I get that. That's what I wanted and that's what I got. My complaint isn't that it hits a lot of the same beats as the previous movie. Okay, Lex's land grab schemes is a bit far, but I don't want to make that the center of my argument. What I really want to talk about is that Superman Returns got some parts really right and some parts really wrong. It actually takes a 2019 viewing to see how really problematic this movie is. Remember, in 2006, Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer were rad. I find it remarkably appropriate that both of them are tied to this movie knowing their reputations now because the theme of this movie is scary. It actually is really scary. In 2006, I was super duper lonely. It was a sad time. I was moping around everywhere. I was 23 and my love life was nothing. I would start dating my life three years later, so everything turned out okay. But I was a nice guy. I liked comic books and I liked being sympathetic. Some of you already see where this is going. For those who don't, I'm going to spell it out. I thought I deserved more. I kept being this nice guy and expecting something for it. Superman was my role model. Oh, I know. I had a fictional role model. I'm the picture of health. I'm not saying it's a problem looking up to Superman. He stands for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Yeah, I can get behind that. But Bryan Singer did something really uncomfortable with Superman that is really sly. He made Superman entitled. When Sam Raimi made Spider-Man 2, he talked about the trials and sacrifices that come with being a hero. Peter Parker experiments with not being a superhero. His life starts falling into place and things start to work out for him. But he realizes that he's being the bad guy by having his cake and eating it too. Superman Returns kind of plays with the same moral complexities. Superman did something very personal for himself. He abandoned the people of Earth, quietly. He didn't tell the people he loved where he was going and if he would be back. He simply left Earth and left Lois Lane all alone without a trace. What is interesting is that there would be consequences. Like I said, people change with time. I thought Superman Returns was a good movie in 2006. Lois Lane found a significant other. Samesies.
Bryan Singer, taking a huge risk, split apart one of the greatest fictional couples in literature. Yeah, I said it. I'm sorry, but you have Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, and Lois and Clark. I know. I teach English. I should be better than this. But Lois Lane and Clark Kent have always been one of those great couples. There's something about the chemistry there between the headstrong reporter and the Man of Steel that just works. While I applaud doing something different with the characters, especially in a film that is so tied to the past, there is a major problem with the result of this. What happens, and it is really uncomfortable, is that we root for them to get back together. I know, lots of movies have people leave their significant others for the sake of true love. I'm the one who always complains about it because I have a really high horse that constantly needs grooming. Because we need Lois and Clark together and Superman unangsty by the end of the film, he needs to be forgiven for his snooping and overinvolvement in Lois's life. I will give the film credit. Lois and Clark aren't formally reunited by the end of the film. Superman Returns was supposed to start the ball rolling on more Superman films that never happened. I'm sure that was set up for future films. But Clark, without actually revealing his true identity again, inserts himself into Lois's life without answers. He still gets to be distant Superman, but allowed to be in Richard White and Jason White's life. He has a very romantic flight with Lois Lane that I'm sure Richard would be very upset about. Richard is reading the room really well. He is one of those characters who keeps doing the right thing. He never becomes the bad guy boyfriend in the movie. He's jealous of Superman, but keeps that jealousy in check. It's really weird. Superman is Jason's father. He needs to be in Jason's life. But there's a part at the end where Superman sneaks into Jason's room. He parrots what his father, Jor-El, told him. But he does so from an emotionally distant way. He can't stop being Superman for five seconds. A lot of the film is Superman reminding the world of who he is. One night, and Superman has saved people all over the world. He's on every news station. Superman is meant to be an inspiration, but a lot of this feels like it is to stroke Superman's ego.
There's a line in the film that I never caught before. It's the result of a cut scene that has the line read real awkward. It's the scene that I refer to as the Crucifixion. Lex Luthor is torturing Superman on his new Kryptonite island. He stabs him in the side (eventually). That scene. It's the scene that I make sure that my kids aren't watching because it is a bit too brutal, especially considering the tone of the rest of the film. But a henchman is dragging Superman away by the head and the subtitles has Superman screaming "I'm still Superman!" It's really bleak. But that line makes no sense until you realize that one of the earlier versions of the script had Clark quit being Superman. The showing off element makes sense if you knew that he quit being Superman at one point. Okay, that's fine. But the film the way it is, Superman never really accepts responsibility for what he has done. He left Earth. From one standpoint, all of the disasters of the past five years kind of fall on Superman's shoulders a bit. But from a completely objective standpoint, Jason and Lois are his direct responsibility. Superman slept with Lois Lane, got her pregnant, and left. Realistically, he probably didn't know about the pregnancy. Okay, that's B- okay. But he also slept with the love of his life and then didn't tell her he was leaving. She raised this kid on her own. She found a guy who didn't mind that she had a kid with an unknown guy. Then Superman has the nerve to try to insert himself into Lois's life again? What? This even bugged me then. But the takeaway is that...he's Superman. He's done so much good that he deserves happiness. AND THAT'S WHERE THE MOVIE IS A PROBLEM. This is a stretch, but it's a stretch I can't get rid of. Both Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey have lived this philosophy. If Bryan Singer is the monster that people say he is, he keeps getting free passes because he makes really good movies. He thinks his art outweighs the crimes that he has committed. Kevin Spacey came out as gay when he was accused. He thought that he had gone through enough as a closeted gay man that he should deserve happiness once he revealed what he had gone through. That's the message of the movie. Superman drove a wrecking ball through Lois Lane's life. At the end of the day, it's all about Superman's happiness. Do people screw up? Yes. Can Superman screw up? Definitely. But he also has to stop being the Superman persona when that happens. He needs to create a third identity. Superman is for the people of the world. He is the hope and inspiration to millions, myself included. Great. Clark Kent, as most of the world sees him, is the dork and kind of a mask for the real Clark who grew up in Smallville. (Okay, he needs a fourth version.) He needs a version of the Clark who is just figuring stuff out. And that's the person who needs to interact with Lois. Not someone who stops by and becomes a father when he wants to be a father. He needs to be a dad who admitted that he screwed up. There's no romantic attachment there. He burned that bridge when he left. He's allowed forgiveness, but he still needs to be responsible for the damage he's done. Honestly, Clark Kent needs to show up at Richard White and Lois Lane's house, no glasses and tell them everything. He needs to apologize and be a dude. That's what's up.
In terms of actual filmmaking, there's so much good coupled with a bunch of stuff that aren't so good. I like Brandon Routh, the human being. I get the passing resemblance to Christopher Reeve. I always feel like it is so passing that I don't associate the two of them as the same person. Routh does a pretty good, but not great, impersonation of Reeve for the entire film. I wish that this Superman was somewhat different, but I get it. It's the costume and the contact lenses that really bug me. Man, that color blue is terrible. It's really...too much. I remember grumbling about the costume then too, but I put it behind me. It never really reads as Superman to me. I don't know why. I think it might be the texture and the colors. For a movie that completely embraced Donner's Superman, why was the costume a step too far? I get slightly modernizing it. It would have looked bad on digital. But that is a jump too far. I know that Singer had the same attitude with his X-Men costumes, but Superman looks rough. The real bad casting was Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. Geez...I wanted to like her so much. I REALLY wanted to like her. I remember hearing that she didn't want to do Margot Kidder's character at all. But they were meant to be the same person. There are things that she could have done that wouldn't have been Margot Kidder, but would have been Lois Lane. I don't know why Lois Lane is afraid to be intense. The only Lois Lane since Margot Kidder that has captured that intensity was Erica Durance on Smallville (and I suppose Dana Delaney on The Animated Series). But at one point, it stops becoming Lois Lane. Lois is just boring in this movie and I can't really make peace with it. And for all my disgust for Kevin Spacey, he's a really good Lex Luthor. Like, that's what it means to be inspired by a performance without copying it. Spacey is Gene Hackman, but different. There are moments that resonate with that character, but he really wears it well. It's such a good performance and I kind of wish it wasn't. I want to be able to attack Spacey. I don't know why the movie copied the archetypes of Miss Tessmacher and Otis, but didn't actually include them. I like Parker Posey as Kitty, but she did confuse me at times. Regardless, there are some really good choices throughout. Oh, Sam Huntington as Jimmy Olson was inspired. INSPIRED!
I didn't have a bad time in the movie. But I did leave the movie kind of feeling gross this time. I'm a different person living in a different era. I still want to see Routh as Superman again, but I need it to be as far away from a Singer production as possible. There's entertainment to be had, but I think I'll just watch the first two Superman movies again, thank you very much.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.