After giving us two really excellent comic book movies in X-Men and X2: X-Men United, Bryan Singer left the budding franchise to make Superman Returns, and the genre took a bit of a step back.
I believe the biggest problem with this film is that it was a love letter to the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeves films and it’s this love that causes the film to fail because Superman Returns neither works as a sequel nor does it stand on its own. I will give Singer credit for making a Superman film that doesn’t bother with another rendition of the origin story but then he ruins that by taking certain elements of the Donner film that would have been better left forgotten i.e. The Kiss of Forgetfulness.
In Bryan Singer’s film Superman (Brandon Routh doing his best Christopher Reeve impression) has been missing for five years as he’s been off looking for remains of an exploded Krypton (which defines the term “waste of time”) and when finally returns he discover Lois has a five year old son. This is very disturbing because we later learn that it is Superman’s but Lois doesn’t know that, well until the kid chucks a piano, because the one time she and Supes had sex has been erased from her memory. So she had this kid without a clue as to who the father is or how she even got pregnant. We have to hope that around the time she slept with Superman she was maybe seeing Richard White (James Marsden) on the side so she wouldn’t think she had some kind of Immaculate Conception.
One of my biggest complaints about the Superman movie universe is that the Fortress of Solitude is possibly the most inaccurately named thing in the universe. IT DOESN’T EVEN HAVE DOORS! What part of fortress do these writers not understand? People just waltz right in and screw around with his shit. In the original comics he had to use a giant key that only someone with Super Strength could lift and then in All Star Superman we see it as a small key laying right in front of the door but it’s made out of immensely heavy dwarf star matter.
Even his computer has terrible security. In both Superman II and Superman Returns Lex Luthor strolls on in, pops in a crystal and then starts asking questions. WTF? So not only does Luthor “break” in to the Fortress of Solitude twice but good ole Jor-El’s computer program just coughs up sensitive information without even asking for a password.
You would think an advance alien race would have a computer system that could tell if the person standing in front of it was in fact Superman or at least be able to tell the difference between a kyrptonian and a human. Basically all the destruction in Superman Returns can all be laid at Superman’s feet on the grounds of gross negligence.
Speaking of Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), who is the best casting choice in the movie, we run into another major problem with the story, his plan is terrible. Even dumber than dropping California into the ocean and hoping no one notices. In this film he gets some crystals and information from the ever talkative Jor-El and this sets him off on a plan to create a continent from which he can, I don’t know, rule the world? He gloats about how this new continent will displace enough water to flood much of the world leaving him sitting pretty with tons of kyrptonian technology to back him up. The problem is we see none of this. His continent is rather small and a bit of a shit hole.
When it rises out of the ocean it causes Metropolis a bit of a bother with a minor quake that Superman handles with ease, but where is that rushing water we were promised? Even an island as small as we see it should still cause massive tsunamis that would lay waste to the coastline. And what about this super science that the kyrptonian crystals were to bestow on Lex? Bupkis. Not one kyrptonian weapon or defense systems is seen, which would pretty much guarantee that Lex’s rule would last for as long as it takes the nearest Navy vessel to arrive and blow him to kingdom come. Even if this didn’t happen, who would want to live in this bleak hellscape? What kind of rent could Lex charge on a place like that? It doesn’t even seem to have any soil so you’d have to import food and seeing as you supposedly just wiped out much of Americas heartland that could be tricky. And how exactly is Lex not in prison? We are told that Superman was off in space so was unable to testify at Lex Luthor’s appeal hearing, now there are couple of things wrong with that; can Superman even testify in court? He has no legal identity to be sworn in by, and secondly Lex Luthor was a wanted fugitive even before trying to drop California into the ocean so he’d still be stuck in jail for all the other things the authorities wanted him for.
Why the world doesn’t need Superman; This is the title of Lois Lane’s (Kate Bosworth) Pulitzer Prize winning article and is more fitting as maybe an editorial in small college campus paper (Note: Miss Bosworth does look like she just got out of college and certainly not like the Lois Lane from the Donner films who at least looked like a grown-up). Sure the world doesn’t need Superman but he is really nice to have around when planes fall out of the sky and natural or man-made disasters threaten the lives of thousands. Without Superman the world and humanity would trundle on but with a slightly elevated casualty count. But in the case of Lois Lane herself, that’s a completely different story. I’m not sure how she survived the five years Superman was off in space.
Now there are many good moments in this movie; the shuttle disaster where Superman saves Lois and a plane full of reporters is pure awesomeness, his walking into mini-gun fire and taking one in the eye was boss, and his flying around Metropolis during the earthquake was decent Superman stuff. Sadly those nice moments are undercut by a superhero who turns out to be a deadbeat dad that’s now stalking his ex-girlfriend he mind wiped years ago.
• No one wonders why Clark never answered emails or phone calls for those five years that Superman was off in space.
• On the farm Clark Kent’s dog wants to play fetch, Clark throws ball into the next county. What a dick.
• Whines, “I’m still Superman!” as he gets his ass kicked by Lex Luthor. This is not a very heroic moment.
• Superman lands and walks around on an island made of kryptonite and does not notice this fact until he is punched.
• Space Jesus
So as a loving tribute to a classic seventies superhero movie it kind of drops the ball, and as a stand-alone Superman movie it’s saddled with too much baggage for it to work, but Bryan Singer is still a talented director and at no point are you bored during this film. Superman never kills anyone during it’s entire run time though, so it does have that over certain other man of steel.
Film grad who spends most his time trying to catch up on his "To Watch" pile of movies.