Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Written by Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris
Directed by Bryan Singer

A distant planet explodes, announcing the arrival. It is followed swiftly by large retro/electro credits flying directly towards the audience while a familiar score reemerges after twenty years. Superman has returned. From the very start, director Bryan Singer infuses his interpretation with an energy that reverberates respect and admiration for the legend that is Superman. Care is being taken and a calculated effort is being made not to disparage a character that is beloved by so many, Singer included. At a two and half hour running time, SUPERMAN flies by (not faster than a speeding bullet but fast enough). Not noticing the time ordinarily signifies an enjoyable event but here it serves better as a mask to hide the multitude of strange decisions that make the mighty SUPERMAN RETURNS weak and exposed.

Like any revival of a lucrative movie franchise, the script for SUPERMAN RETURNS went through many hands before it ended up in those of Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, past Singer collaborators (X-MEN 2). Despite the amount of care being given to this project, the script choices, above all else, are responsible for occasionally killing the illusion. The jarring plot points fall into two categories, bizarre and irresponsible. The bizarre is best exemplified in a scene meant to show that Superman has started cleaning up the streets of the world again. After saving many situations from ruin around the world, Superman, played by the impeccably smooth-skinned Brandon Routh, finds himself back in Metropolis, where he is about to foil a bank robbery. The robber has positioned himself on the top of the bank with a rapid-fire machine gun so large that it requires an immense stand to prop itself upon. I am first unclear how the robber felt his mission would go so wrong that it made sense to bring such a monstrosity. Mind you, the building does end up surrounded by police officers so I guess it was good he planned ahead. However, when Superman has the gun turned on him, each bullet is deflected because, and I’m sure had I done any research before going I would have known that Superman is completely indestructible. You can even shoot him in the eye and he’ll get you anyway. He’s that frickin’ awesome. And I know this because Singer just spent a good ten minutes shoving it in my face. Fear not, I gave nothing of the story away as the scene serves no purpose in the larger picture.

Superman stands for truth, justice and all that is good and noble. So why does he have no issue putting the moves on Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), a woman in a long term relationship with a six-year-old child? My brother would argue that nowhere does it say that Superman stands for loyalty but I’m fairly positive he’s supposed to be comparatively selfless. Whereas it makes perfect logistical sense for Lois to have moved on after Superman disappeared six years prior without a word (although, judging from the age of her son, she moved on pretty quickly), it makes for a very poor example of a couple to hope for. Lois’s boyfriend, Richard White (James Marsden working with Singer for the first time with his eyes open), is a good man. Sure, he’s a little jealous of Superman but he’s a good father and a supporting boyfriend and c’mon, how could you not be jealous of Superman? So why should an audience want for Lois not to be with Richard but with Superman instead? Singer expects his audience to root for Lois and Superman because of their iconic status instead of showing us something tangible between them to build on. Their constant flirting paints Lois as a confused woman who settled for the sake of her child, taints Superman as a guy who despite all his heroics is really out for himself, and leads me to wonder if the next Superman movie will begin with Superman helping Lois tell her son who his real father is. Never mind that Lois’ son, Jason kills a bad guy at one point and no one even thinks to see if the kid might be a little upset or if he understands the severity of what he’s done. That’s a whole other level of irresponsibility that I don’t have time for.

Superman is everything that everyone wishes they could be. He changes the world; he saves people’s lives; he is indestructible and inherently good without having to try. What Singer forgets more than anything is that he is also Clark Kent. Clark is not meant to stand out, he is not meant to save the world. However, he does exist. In SUPERMAN RETURNS, Clark is more the myth that Superman is. At no point, do we see any aspect of Clark, the real-life ego of this superhero, manifest himself in Superman. Superman embodies the best of what we all can be but if he is entirely disconnected from the person he really is, then he is not a better version of himself but rather an entirely different version that is trying to be someone he’s not.

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