“They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son.”
Almost twenty years after the last movie featuring the first comic book superhero, Warner Bros. released a new film with the hopes of restarting the franchise, but things didn’t go so well.
Superman Returns (2006)
Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris and Bryan Singer
To me, this was one of the greatest cinematic disappoints of the last 20 years. From the moment it was announced, I followed along with news about the upcoming picture and so much about it got me excited. Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor! Bryan Singer – who directed two well-received X-MEN movies – on board to direct! But so many of the choices involved with this movie were problematic. Starting right off, the decision to tie SUPERMAN RETURNS to the first two Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movies ensured that Singer wasn’t telling his own story, just an extension of someone else’s vision.
Sometime after the events of SUPERMAN II, which saw Superman give up his powers to be with Lois only to have the threat of Kryptonian war criminals wreak havoc on Earth, the Man of Steel went off into space to investigate a scientific discovery of Krypton having not blown up. It was a wild goose chase, and in the five years that Superman was gone, Lex Luthor was released from prison, Lois Lane had a kid, got engaged and moved on from her infatuation with Superman. The order of which happened when is never made clear.
Lois being a mother to a somewhat sickly child and engaged to her boss’ nephew is the only real new ground tread in the film, other than turning Clark Kent into a mope, pining over Lois. But with Lois angry with Superman and hardly remembering that he existed, Clark’s spying on Lois and trying to get back into her good graces aren’t just problematic now, they were pretty questionable in 2006, too.
Of course, the first person to connect the dots that Lois’ son may not be her fiancee’s is Luthor, who captured a snooping Lois on his yacht. Luthor’s motivations in this movie are the same as they were in past movies. He continues to be obsessed with really weird land deals and wants to create a new continent made of Kryptonian crystals that he stole from Superman’s Fortress and kryptonite taken from a museum. It’s just a ridiculous scheme, which is, of course, foiled.
Another issue with the film is that Superman never throws a punch. He rescues the plane Lois is on to re-emerge from his absence and we see him saving people all over the world, but then he gets hit with Kryptonite and Luthor takes advantage of it with a wildly long, uncomfortable beatdown to lead into the third act.
I actually enjoy Brandon Routh as Superman here. Putting him in the role as an extension of Reeve’s turn as the Man of Steel was a good choice, but his performance is hampered by the movie’s portrayal of him as a super emo piñata. Spacey’s Luthor chews up every scene he’s in. And Kate Bosworth as Lois makes me pine for Margot Kidder, which is not something I ever thought would happen. She just has no charisma and, really, looks like she’s barely out of high school.
Land deals, broken hearts and fathers abandoning their sons. It’s everything you want from a Superman movie. It could have been so much better. It probably should have been. It’s not a bad film, not really, but the characterizations of these characters are stuck in a late-1970s or early-1980s mentality. An update to everyone to match the changing times or evolved source material would have made a deep impact in the film. And the whole super-stalker thing is just creepy.