I really, really wanted to like this film. And I actually did enjoy all of the components of this movie. It’s a beautifully made film, in fact some of the action sequences are breathtaking.
My problem with Superman Returns is, well, Superman.
Superman, the comic book hero, the omnipowerful savior, just doesn’t feel real or relevant. And this story isn’t told as science fiction, per se, and so to see a man fly around in tights is just out-and-out ridiculous.
I’ve tracked the origin of my problems with the Superman universe back to my viewing of Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s masterful deconstruction of Gotham’s hero. I didn’t realize how brilliant and creative Batman Begins really was until seeing Superman Returns, but having seen it, no other comic-book story can compare, not even the latest serials of Spiderman or X-Men.
Batman Begins reinvented the entire genre, making a superhero relevant to today’s movie viewer. We can believe that a Batman figure could exist in our universe. In fact, pop culturists have actually computed a price tag for how much money it would take for an ordinary citizen to become Batman. Nolan’s work on Batman Begins is genius because it does not rely on SPFX to show Batman’s heroics, rather he filmed most of the Caped Crusader’s action without relying on CGI or movie magic.
And no, making Batman more human did not deflate his mythical status. As a comic-book here, Batman isn’t a Superhero, he’s just an ordinary man doing extraordinary things.
Having seen Batman Begins, having seen Chris Nolan deconstruct the comic book universe, having seen the uber-talented Christian Bale play Bruce Wayne, having seen all of this makes Superman Returns look silly in comparison.
I just couldn’t suspend reality enough to accept Superman into my world. Not that the director really wanted that. In fact, throughout this movie and the original films by Richard Donner, we’re just suppose to accept that an all-powerful alien that looks exactly like us has arrived on Earth and is going to do good.
Do you know what kind of panic Superman’s presence in our world would create? In a single stroke, he would have changed the religious outlook of most of humanity (so another planet was also designed in God’s image???). Just the discovery of an Extraterrestial Lifeform would change our entire world.
This kind of impact goes unmentioned in these stories and I find that insulting to the movie goer. But its not the larger issues that really bug me, it’s the trivial ones that, by going unanswered, irk me so much that I cannot enjoy the story. As Roger Ebert points out in his scathing criticism of the movie: “Watching Superman straining to hold a giant airliner, I’m wondering: Why does he strain? Does he have his limits? Would that new Airbus be too much for him? What about if he could stand somewhere? Superman is vulnerable to one, and only one, substance: kryptonite. He knows this. We know this. Lex Luthor knows this. Yet he has been disabled by kryptonite in every one of the movies. Does he think Lex Luthor would pull another stunt without a supply on hand? Why doesn’t he take the most elementary precautions?”
And so on…
This movie sets up Superman as a messiahnic figure, a mantle Superman seems willing to accept. “You wrote that the world doesn’t need a saviour, but every day I hear people crying for one.” Superman says this to Lois Lane at one point in the movie to explain why he carries out an endless set of good deeds. My question for that is: if Superman understands this need for a savior and is willing to take this responsibility on, how can he waste any time walking around like Clark Kent? If he spends eight hours a day dressed up as a newspaper reporter, isn’t he wasting eight hours when he could be saving the world?
And why the hell is he Clark Kent anyway?
I mean, I like Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) as much as anyone. I especially liked her when she was a blonde hottie in Blue Crush, but what is Superman hiding from?
Face it: this is a myth created in a bygone era, when life was simpler and the moviegoing audience was, well, a radiogoing audience. Superman, for all his idealism, is a great figure. But his storytellers haven’t done a good enough job explaining why we should visit Metropolis.
I’ll stick with Gotham.