He’s Back! (Superman Returns, 2006)
So, nearly twenty years later, after numerous failed attempts to bring Superman back to the big screen Warner Brothers managed a major coup. The wrangled Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris away from the X-Men franchise to bring Superman back. This seemed like a decent idea. One of the things Singer talked about was a love for the character and the first two Superman films. He wanted to stay in a loose continuity with those films and ignore films III ad IV entirely. They set out and found a guy who bore a striking resemblance to Reeve, named Brandon Routh. Truthfully, it would have been wiser to simply begin again with a new continuity, especially since they were starting with an actress ten years younger than Margot Kidder was in Superman II. And to facilitate the “Returns” part they had Superman go on a five year journey to explore the floating rocks of Krypton.
Here is part of the problem with that. In the end of Superman II? Superman promises the President he will never leave the world in the lurch like that again. So, if we are to understand this…Superman very quickly breaks that promise. Superman returns to earth and Clark Kent returns to the Daily Planet…with nobody noticing the huge coincidence. Lois has a child who may be Superman’s (because they had sex in part 2) and has moved on, now dating Perry white’s son Richard White (James Marsden, in a move that caused Cyclops to be killed in X:3 due to scheduling needs). Clark struggles with this, and is bothered by an article written in the time he was gone called “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman”. In the meantime, Lex Luthor has been scheming by marrying an old wealthy widow who is on her deathbed. She gives Lex everything in her will, as the family stands outside pounding on the door. Why wasn’t Lex in Prison? Superman missed the trial because he left.
Lex goes back to the Fortress of Solitude and starts gathering the green crystals that contain Krypton’s records as well as ones similar to the crystal Clark used to build the Fortress in the first film. He also steals Kryptonite to facilitate a masterful crime. Well, not really. See, Superman is full of loving homages to the first two Superman films. This would not be a problem if it was done sparingly, but almost every shot seems to re-create Singer’s favorite things from the first movie. Clark running towards the camera ripping open his shirt? Of course you pay respects with that. But Lex Luthor making another land grab?! Arg. If they had started over, as a brand new Superman, they could have still used Kevin Spacey and done business man Luthor. Spacey could have defined the role that way. He is great in the role…
Superman saves the day in the end, as expected, but not without getting creepy. Superman keeps watch as he suspects Lois’ son is his son as well. Can we pause a moment and reflect on this. Superman wiped Lois’ memory of their time together. How frightening must it have been to be pregnant with no idea how you got pregnant? And Superman left shortly after, but his super hearing did not pick up on the forming child? Superman runs out on his pregnant girlfriend who he has removed any memory of…and now acts like a jilted ex-lover. It is an embarrassing storyline.
One thing this film does well is it’s actions scenes. Superman’s heroics are grand and exciting. Superman saves people with great feats of strength and heroism. The plane sequence is especially fun to watch.
I also really liked Brandon Routh. I felt that, considering what he was given in the story, he made the most of it. He is likeable most of the time, except those stalker moments. I was sorry to see that this film ended any chance he would return as Superman. If they had started over, we might have seen him begin a new and exciting franchise.
Superman Returns was a disappointing return, ironically enough. It did not revitalize a dormant franchise, it nearly put it to sleep.