In defence of Superman ReturnsJames Whatley
Singer’s Supes deserves a re-visit –
Seeing Christopher Reeve as Superman is probably the earliest film memory I can muster and, although the fourth installment in the series is by far and away the worst of Reeve’s tenure, I still get chills when I remember my Dad surprising me with a cinema trip when we were off out to visit one of his building sites:
“Dad! Dad! Look!”
“What is it son?”
“That cinema! Look! They’re showing Superman IV!”
“Are they? We best go and see it then.”
It was planned. He knew what he was doing. Site trips were nothing new and going around with Dad in his truck was always great. There just happened to be some building works next to the cinema where we were (already) headed and I thought they were his.
As I’m sure my 9yr old self would say: it was brill.
Film-wise, we’ve had Superman Returns.
Set in a world where Superman III & IV never happened, Superman Returns is pitched as taking place five years after the events of Superman II. In the original Richard Donner cut of Superman II, scientists discover that Krypton might still exist. Upon learning this, Superman sets out to find his home; a process that takes – you guessed it – five years.
On his return, things have certainly changed. The world has moved on, Lois is with someone else and oh, there’s the small issue of her son as well.
It’s no secret that I am a comic book fan and, on top of that, a film lover also. More often than not, when discussing these two subjects in unison, the conversation eventually arrives at Superman Returns: without doubt, one of the most divisive films I’ve ever come across. People either love it or they hate it.
I love it*.
First up, we need to talk about the fantastic effort that director, Bryan Singer, put into tying this film back into the previous
four two. From digging out old footage of Marlon Brando as Supes’ father, Jor-El, through to embracing that score – this truly is an extension of the Superman canon that I (and by all accounts, Mr Singer) grew up with. However, to build this out successfully, you need more than just a few nods to the subject matter’s celluloid history – you also need a decent cast.
Let’s turn to the star of the show himself – Superman. Brandon Routh is terrific as a modern day Kal-El and at times, especially when he’s in costume (as Clark Kent – thank you Bill), it’s like he’s channeling everything that Christopher Reeve first brought to the character and more. The strength, the weight – it’s all perfect. Swell, in fact.
Next, the city of Metropolis [yes, a city can be a character - and in this instance, a very important one at that]. This isn’t Gotham City, there’s no need for darkness here. There’s a timeless romanticism about Metropolis that Singer manages to capture while still maintaining the fresh feel of a latter day thriving and futuristic city of tomorrow. The Daily Planet may be a newspaper from the 40s, but stuck in the dark ages they ain’t.
Which leads me to Luthor, Lex Luthor.
Revisiting the Superman films of old, you realise that Gene Hackman’s interpretation is good but not brilliant. He captures Lex’s mania quite well, and his villainy too – but the darkness that drives the character forward seems to be missing (and perhaps there’s a little too much humour for my liking too). This is where Kevin Spacey’s take steps up – you can see the twisted anger behind the eyes, the obsession with land (another carry over from the first films) is once again apparent, but this time driven with an undying urge to kill Superman. There’s a part, in the final third of the film where he manages to inflict genuine physical pain upon our hero and… well, it’s just plain nasty. Good job.
Lex Luthor? Check.
Someone is missing… and this where things aren’t exactly perfect. I set out to write this post as the final word on my defence of Superman Returns but, whenever this discussion is played out in the pub, there is one big elephant in the room that, when we realise it’s there, threatens to destroy every and any argument that SR is any good: Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane.
I mean, literally, the worst thing in the entire film. You could argue that the fact that the character has been given A SON probably threw the fans off a little bit but, even if you took that away, she’s simply fundamentally miscast.
There are two arguments here -
- Lois Lane is supposed to be a tough-talking, no-crap taking bullish news hound. This is not the case in SR and it just feels like there was no time dedicated to the development of this character at all.
- If you’re going to very clearly base SR upon and around the original films, then why ignore all of the fantastic foundation work that Margot Kidder laid out for you? OK, so her version of Lois is pretty definitive, but at least try and capture of those smarts? Please? PLEASE? No.
But seriously (and back to the point), Kate Bosworth aside, Superman Returns is a bloody good Superman film.
Alright you could moan that there isn’t enough action, and yes you could bitch about a certain plot device that seems to go against everything else that’s been set up before, but what would be the point? Sometimes it’s nice just to sit back and enjoy the view – and Superman Returns gives us that by the bucket-load. Steeped in nostalgia and soaked in a soft-focus vision of what a world could be like if Superman was real – it deserves a second look, easily.
“Well, I hope this experience hasn’t put any of you off flying…
Statistically speaking, it’s still the safest way to travel.”
Man of Steel is just over a year away and very soon we’ll have a new Superman to marvel at (and pick over). But, for now at least, go and give Superman Returns another look. It really isn’t that bad at all.
And finally.. for the fans out there…
If you followed the film during its shoot, there were rumours of a hugely expensive ($10m!) exploratory ‘Search for Krypton’ opener that Warner Bros cut from the theatrical release. It was denied, however rumours of its existence have long persisted and only recently – and coinciding with the Blu-Ray anthology re-release of all the films as one collection – the footage finally come to light.
A totally unscripted six minute journey through the remnants of Krypton, this pre-credits sequence would’ve set the film up in a totally different way.
What do you think?
*with the exception of Lois Lane, obviously