Superman Returns, But When?
This Friday, the Man of Steel roars back to the big screen in what will certainly be the biggest of the summer blockbusters. It’s a triumphant return for this caped cultural icon, and the film just might be the best superhero movie ever, but the retro/modern setting that has previously served the series so well may need a little rethinking.
From the opening credits to the final frames, Superman Returns hearkens back to the original films that first made us believe “a man can fly” not quite thirty years ago. Bryan Singer uses these nostalgic elements to build a powerful foundation for his epic tale of rebirth, unfulfilled destinies, and second chances.
Our cinematic journey begins again on a doomed planet orbiting a distant red sun, and quickly takes us to planet Earth, where five years have passed since the world last caught sight of Krypton’s last son. Many have awaited his return, but others have moved on with their lives — including a newly-liberated Lex Luthor. It seems even supervillains are granted due process, and when a key witness for the prosecution isn’t in the solar system, Lex is free again to dream of location, location, location.
It’s a complex setup for an extraordinary story, but when Supes makes his public reentry, don’t be surprised if the audience cheers with the on-screen crowd. Ours did.
Brandon Routh — as both heroic Kal-El and humble Clark Kent — is a able successor to Christopher Reeve, far beyond mere passing resemblance. Throughout the film, he evokes both the limitless compassion and dark wrath of a god, and the awkward stammering and painful indecision of the lowest of mortals. Kevin Spacey seemed possessed by Gene Hackman in his portrayal as Lex Luthor, with perhaps a dash more mania and venom. Kate Bosworth’s Lois, on the other hand, is a little less edgy and more conflicted than before… but she has her reasons.
The themes of global peril and personal sacrifice that are a pivotal part of the Superman mythology are present, as are some new twists: Was the world better off without its alien savior? What is a son’s responsibility to his father? Do Pomeranians really taste like chicken?
There was one notable hiccup in an otherwise stellar movie. Along with the fashions and architectural accents of the previous films, Metropolis itself seemed mired in the seventies — a romanticized vision of “the big city” that’s poverty-free, trash-free, and minority-free — as whitebread as Superman himself, and in stark contrast to city life in America today. Perhaps this was unavoidable, but it still irks me… just a bit.
Superman has been given new life, and has been introduced to a new generation of moviegoers, and it’s inevitable that we’ll see more of Clark, Lois and Lex in the years to come. I’m confident that Superman will eventually make the leap into the 21st century, and that Bryan Singer is hero enough to make it happen.
Written by Jeff in June of 2006. Last edited March 2019.