I was excited when Superman Returns came out. After X2, my faith in Bryan Singer’s abilities as a superhero director was solidified and after 5 years of Smallville, I was ready to see Superman on the big screen again. I was expecting a film that paid tribute to the Christopher Reeve movies, but still managed to be something all its own. What I got was a lazy rehash of the films I’d already seen and a disappointing lack of originality.
Perhaps it’s best to begin with Superman himself. Having now seen him in Chuck and Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, I know that Brandon Routh is fully capable of playing Superman. However (and here I can only assume where to place the blame), it seems that instead, Singer directed Routh to play Christopher Reeve playing Superman. Which we’ve already seen four times already, and after twenty years, one would expect a portrayal of Superman that has evolved and changed. It’s one thing to give a nod and a wink; it’s quite another to outright imitate. If Routh had been allowed to create his own version of the character, it’s possible that we would be going to see him don the cape for his second or even third outing this weekend instead of Henry Cavill.
Much like Superman himself wasn’t updated, so too was Lex Luthor’s dastardly plot stuck in the past. Real estate is, once more, his main motive, and this time around his goal is to create a new land mass in the middle of the ocean so he can build condos for all his fellow villains. Seriously, you’d think that someone who claims to be a genius would have to foresight to know that people might not want to live on an island whose creation killed millions. It’s the same reason they’re not building apartment buildings at Ground Zero. Sure, he’d have his own personal continent, but no one would want to live there. Considering we’d been watching Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex trying to create his own super soldiers and stealing Lana right out from under Clark’s nose on Smallville, Kevin Spacey’s version of the character came off as almost as camp as Gene Hackman’s.
I could have accepted a repetitive portrayal of Superman and an unimaginative Lex, however, if it hadn’t been for that bloody kid. In an attempt to link Returns to the Christopher Reeve films, Singer ignored the latter entries in the series (as most of us do) and turned his film into a sequel to Superman II. As all of you will remember (but Lois conveniently forgot after Clark’s forget-me-now kiss) is that Lois and Clark finally did the do in the middle of the film. And since nothing short of a Kryptonite condom would be effective contraception, Lois got pregnant. No wonder she wrote an article on why the world is better off without Superman…
So basically, Singer just ignored everything that’s been established in the Superman mythos and decided to give Lois and Clark a kid. Why? It does nothing for the plot. I’d believe Lois married James Marsden even without tricking him into believing the kid was his; hell, it’s more believable that way. Okay, so maybe it adds a bit of tension to the climax, but I would have rather seen Lex don that purple and green robot suit of his and duke it out with Superman on the Kryptonite island.
There’s a time for sequels and there’s a time for reboots, and somehow Superman Returns failed to be either. The world was ready for a new Superman, a new Clark Kent, a new plan from Luthor (or even no Luthor at all). What we didn’t need was for Bryan Singer to write a love letter to Christopher Reeve. Considering WB and DC were just coming off the heels of the very first successful superhero reboot, Batman Begins, one would think someone would have had to foresight to say “Hey guys, maybe we should do Superman differently this time around.” At least they learned their lesson for Man of Steel.
– David Molofsky