After three television series, two animated series and a major comic book storyline that killed him off and brought him back from the dead, Superman was ready for his big return to the silver screen. By 2006, Marvel was dominating with their first wave of films that included such hits as Spider-Man and X-Men. On the other hand, DC Comics had more misfires (Catwoman, Steel) than hits but the tide had changed with 2005’s Batman Begins. On paper, Superman
Returns seemed to have all the ingredients for a big hit. Then why did it take another 7 years for our hero in the red cape to come back?
After the Superman franchise ended with a thud called Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, all efforts seemed to focus on TV. However, numerous projects had been attempted for years and included such unlikely leading men as Nicolas Cage and James Caviezel. Bryan Singer, who had directed the first two X-Men movies, was eventually attached to the film and made a bold decision to make it a sequel to the first two movies, forgetting the last two. Even at the earliest stages, the script had Superman returning after a long absence. The key role of Superman was given to newcomer Brandon Routh. Christopher Reeves’ widow Dana gave him her blessing, commenting on how much the two were similar in appearance. I agree, Routh looked very much like Christopher Reeve and, at times, acted and sounded the same as well. However, Routh lacked one thing Reeve had in spades: charisma. Unfortunately, that lack of charisma would be one of the reasons why we never got a sequel to Superman Returns.
Acting like Superman III and IV never happened was a good thing. Those movies were misfires, despite some of the better elements in III. Our movie opens with Superman returning to Earth after an absence of five years. He left Earth to find the remains of Krypton but, after finding nothing but a graveyard, he opted to return to his adopted home. He finds that his Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth, Straw Dogs) now has a serious boyfriend, Perry White’s nephew Richard (James Marsden, X-Men), and a son named Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu). Frank Langella is now in the role of Perry White while Sam Huntington is Jimmy Olsen. Returning to the Daily Planet, Clark Kent tries to assimilate back into society but he’s struggling with the thought of Lois with another man. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is back with another plot to reshape the world into his own vision. This is the grandest of his plots to date. Returning to the Fortress of Solitude, he steals the crystals in order to create a new landmass that will wipe out 2/3 of North America. Superman’s return puts a wrench in the works but Lex has interlaced his new continent with Kryptonite with hopes of killing Superman once and for
Superman Returns is full of pros and cons. Routh does channel Reeve at times. However, as previously mentioned, he lacked the charisma and charm needed to carry the lead role. Even with a refreshed costume, he was just never exciting as Superman. Despite all the convincing scenes, he just never worked for me. The supporting cast is a toss-up. Bosworth didn’t seem to be Lois Lane to me. She lacked the strength Margot Kidder brought to the role. However, Langella and Huntington were good in their supporting roles. Kevin Spacey was great as Lex Luthor, pushing him beyond the campiness of Gene Hackman into an egotistical genius. But really, did we need Lex as the bad guy again? Someone new and fresh would have been better. It was nice to see the late Marlon Brando back as Jor-El via the footage cut from the theatrical version of Superman II. Having the music of John Williams, as interpreted by John Ottman, was a huge plus. Special effects were great as well. The biggest problem is the script and a plot twist no real Superman fan could accept.
The movie is just lackluster. It has no spirit and really isn’t fun to watch. It’s not a bad movie. In fact, there are some cool moments. However, it’s just lacking the key factors that make a movie truly great. It made plenty of money at the box office. A sequel was announced with the entire cast signed on. Brainiac and Bizarro were discussed as main villains. But, it didn’t make as much money as Warner Brothers had envisioned and, by 2008, they made a decision to reboot the franchise altogether. Brandon Routh was now out as Superman and his career never really recovered.
The one key storyline that really irritated me was the introduction of Jason, Lois and Superman’s son. For me, if you are attempting to revive a theatrical comic book franchise, you should probably listen to the fan boys and give them what they want: super battles between good and evil. Instead, we get a general lack of action and we get Son of Superman, a character never in the comic books at all. I really disliked this plot point and just don’t understand why they went that route. Nobody else seemed to like it either. Reaction was mixed and the audience really wasn’t left wanting more.
In the end, I did like Superman Returns. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two movies but it was better than III and IV. It just wasn’t a movie that pulls you in for multiple repeat viewings. The few really good moments we get are interspersed between long and boring scenes that seem part-homage and part pandering to the viewer, giving the audience a rehash of familiar scenery. Yet, that pandering is then thrown out the window by introducing a super son. I do recommend checking this one out but go into it with reservations and awareness at the ready.
Now, after a 7-year absence, Superman is back. For Father’s Day, I’m going to see the new Man of Steel. By Monday, you’ll hear my spoiler-free thoughts as I wrap up the Krypton Kountdown.