Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, as I watch and blog about the movies I own. I've been working my way through the Superman franchise, and today, I'm at the 2006 reboot attempt, Superman Returns. This is originally in my notes at January 23, 2016.
I don't know if I've ever said this online, but I know I've said it to others. I believe that Superman Returns is a film that needed to be made. There's such love and reverence for the Christopher Reeve films, that people were expecting something in the same vein for the long-anticipated new Superman film. Superman Returns effectively got that out of our collective systems, thus paving the way for a more modern take on the Man of Steel. (And that would be Man of Steel.)
It's amazing, how in this past year, we got Jurassic World and our new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. Each one was accused of being too mired in nostalgia for their earlier entries. Well, Superman Returns is SLAVISHLY mired in nostalgia for the Christopher Reeve films. I remember when a friend of mine pointed out that Ra's Al Guhl's plot in Batman Begins was exactly the same as the Joker's in Batman: gas Gotham City into mass-murdering panic. Well, Superman Returns has pretty much the same plot as the first Superman film (Lex Luthor hatches a ridiculously complicated real estate scam), but where as Batman Begin did it subtly, Superman Returns does it a manner that hits you ever the head. It's like, "SEE? THIS IS JUST LIKE THE ORIGINAL FILMS WE ALL LOVE! GET IT? GET IT???"
Ever since Superman returned Lex Luthor to prison at the end of Superman IV, there'd been talk of doing some kind of reboot or new film. It was a long-running rumour throughout the 1990s, with lots of failed starts, the most famous being the one written by Kevin Smith, which eventually attracted Tim Burton as director. But it wasn't until superhero films started become the next big thing in the early 2000s that it was finally made a priority. The ball finally got rolling in 2004, when Bryan Singer's negotiations to do X-Men 3 fell apart, and Warner Brothers were able to woo him away from Marvel.
And that's where the "slavishly nostalgic" for the Richard Donner films comes in. While many comic book adaptations choose to turn a specific storyline into a film, or a certain artist's run, Singer said that the one depiction of Superman he was choosing to base his film on was the Richard Donner films. That made me kind of sad, because I was really looking forward to see the more modern Lex Luthor on the big screen (the billionaire industrialist one), but as I said above, I figure it needed to be made.
That being said, I think Kevin Spacey did a stellar job as Lex Luthor. Yeah, his Lex Luthor is in the same vein as the campy and cartoony Gene Hackman Lex Luthor, but Spacey manages to dial back the campiness and turn up the menace. When he lures Superman to his kryptonite island and has his goons beat up Superman, before slipping a kryptonite shiv through Superman's ribs, you believe Luthor when he says prison changed him.
The plot: when astronomers discover the ruins of Krypton, Superman flies off into deep space to explore them. Superman returns to Earth five years later, and finds that the world moved on without him. Most heartbreaking: Lois Lane is engaged to Perry White's nephew, already has a 5-year old son with the junior White, and finally won her Pulitzer for an editorial titled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." But, while Superman was away and unable to testify at Lex Luthor's trial, Luthor was released from prison, and launches his latest complicated real estate scam: by breaking into the Fortress of Solitude and stealing those Kryptonian crystals that built the Fortress, Luthor seeks to create a new continent in the middle of the Atlantic, and seize control of it. This looks like a job for Superman!
Brandon Routh as Superman. Again, he's not playing Superman as much as he's playing Christopher Reeve's Superman. And there's been a lot of complaints over the years about how he's "Emo Superman," as he pines for Lois from afar, and uses his super-senses to check on her and Richard White's homelife, which is a little stalkery. It would have been nice if he got to do more in the film.
When it was first announced, there was some backlash that Kate Bosworth was a little too young to play Lois Lane, but she does OK. It's great to see Lois Lane do some actual reporter stuff, as she works the phones, chasing down leads, and gets those hard-hitting interviews she's famous for.
Gotta love that music. Going back to the nostalgia, Singer said it was a deal-breaker if he couldn't use the original John Williams themes. Singer's usual composer and collaborator John Ottman does a great job of re-interpreting Williams' themes and slipping in a few of his own new ones.
Singer did so his homework, though, and he gives us some great Superman moments. When Superman makes himself publicly known again by rescuing an airliner, it's one of the best updates of that Superman trope. Instead of seeing bullets bounce of Superman's chest, we see one bounce of his eyeball, which is freakin' amazing. And just the shot of Superman floating above the clouds, drinking in the setting sun, recharging his powers, is beautiful.
Singer got a lot of the Superman iconography right, but he got too steeped down in it. When the movie came around, i was tired of the crystalline Fortress of Solitude, and ready for something closer to the comics. I was done with campy Lex Luthor, and ready for something more modern. Richard Donner's Superman was actually pretty faithful to the Superman of the 1970s...but I was ready for something faithful to the Superman of the 2000s.
Superman Returns was nice, but yeah. I was ready for something new.