Superman Returns (2006)

supermanreturns_1Starring Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Sam Huntington, Eva Marie Saint, Marlon Brando, Kal Penn, Tristan Lake Leabu

Directed by Bryan Singer

Expectations: I’m so excited.


There’s a point in Superman Returns when Lex Luthor looks upon his villainous creation and notes that it “lacks the human element.” This same thing could be said of the film overall. Superman Returns does its best to recapture the Donner magic, but instead of taking his lead and going forward with courage, Bryan Singer largely just trades on the built-up nostalgia for Donner’s classic film. But big-budget films are inherently different than they were in 1978, so while Superman Returns might replicate certain visuals and characters, it never recaptures the tone or the wonder that make Superman: The Movie a film that continually resonates with audiences. It is still enjoyable at times, though, even if millions of dollars in CG are in some ways less successful than the simple blue-screen FX of 1978 in making us believe that a man can fly.

By calling this a sequel to Superman and Superman II, Singer willfully puts his film up alongside one of the best and most successful superhero films of all time (and its troubled, but fun sequel). Singer’s film is nothing close to that level, and connecting it with things like Marlon Brando and the John Williams theme only shines a light directly on the film’s flaws. Any new Superman movie is already working against a huge amount of hype, but to say “This one is the true sequel to the great films you remember!” is really ballsy.

supermanreturns_2Or is it? Wouldn’t it have been more daring to manage that hype by completely re-imagining the cinematic version of Superman? They can call this an homage to Donner’s Superman, but it feels more like no one involved was confident enough in their visions for the character, so they just fell back on what they knew had worked before. This is yet another in a long line of poor decisions for the Superman film franchise, going all the way back to replacing Donner on Superman II. If you read through the stuff that happened between Superman IV and Superman Returns on the Superman in film Wikipedia entry, the decision to “go nostalgic” (as opposed to “going creative”) feels even cheaper. The people in charge of the Superman franchise clearly didn’t know what to do with him. In that way, the backlash against this movie is completely warranted, especially as Batman Begins came out the year prior and showed that a re-imagined superhero could far surpass previous filmed efforts.

Brandon Routh does a great job as both Superman and Clark Kent, but at the same time I feel bad for him. By not allowing him to define the character for the modern era, Routh is basically stuck doing a Reeve impression for most of the film. I’m sure his casting was largely dependent on his striking resemblance to Reeve as well, which is more than a little cheap. James Marsden, who plays Lois’s husband, seems like he would have made a good Superman that could have looked the part without actually trying to resurrect Christopher Reeve’s ghost. And what’s with the costume? It looks more like the dirty suit of evil Supes in Superman III than Superman’s costume.

supermanreturns_3But wait! I did like this movie. I know it might not sound that way, but despite all the issues I had, I was entertained. My patience was tried many times, as the film is much too long, but the heroic moments were grand and fit the character. Especially Superman’s “return to Earth,” which was pure popcorn-muchin’ fun. I have to admit, though, it’s really hard to talk about the positive aspects of Superman Returns. Many things are good, and some are cool, but none of them carry the imagination or wow factor of Donner’s Superman. It’s unfair to compare the two, but Singer basically asked for it here, so I feel like I have to. In any case, Superman Returns wasn’t nearly as bad as I’ve heard, but I think a large part of its bad rap is due to how poorly it ends. Ah geez… this was supposed to be the positive paragraph.

And I still didn’t even go over all of my problems. Superman leaving Earth for five years is poorly explained and seems more like a dumb screenwriting convention than anything meaningful. And five years away has made Superman into a stalker? And no one at the Daily Planet except for the two people closest to Lois have any conception of what longitude and latitude are? And what’s with Supes lifting all that Kryptonite? Isn’t it… y’know… kryptonite? I just… How… I mean… ERROR… gsadsdaaasad…. DOES NOT COMPUTE.

6 comments to Superman Returns (2006)

  • I need to revisit this one but I’m just like you where I can find plenty of things to hate, but still enjoyed it for the most part. I agree that Routh did a fine job and I wish the story and all was stronger to support him. I think the Jesus parallels were way too big as well, which was not only distracting, but very unnecessary.

    Oh and Sam Worthington is perfect as Jimmy. Wish he’d come back.

    • I can see the Jesus parallels after the fact, but I didn’t notice them while watching. The original Superman does that too a bit, so I think that’s just more of Singer cribbing Donner’s style.

      I can’t wait to see who they’ve gotten for the new one for all those little satellite roles. I’ve avoided so much of the press and trailers for Man of Steel that I’m blissfully unaware. Agreed, though, Sam was a perfect Jimmy.

  • The only good thing about this movie was the plane crash sequence. The rest of it blows. I’m a major superman fan (as you might have guessed) but there’s virtually nothing redeeming about this movie. I agree with all your points on the casting, especially in regards to how Routh played the character of Clark… He was essentially doing his impersonation of Chris reeve. Such a disappointment. If I can find my review of this film, I’ll link it.

    • That place crash, specifically the ending, was great. I didn’t hate the rest of the film, but so much of it just seems wildly misguided. The shot of Superman saving Lois and fam from the helicopter, where he grabs them and then it drops away was pretty cool, but I imagine you were completely enraged to the point of not noticing by that point :). This one just feels sooooooooo mid-2000s mainstream film, which is one of my most hated varieties of film. I think doing Lex Luthor again, and having him once again focus on land was a huge mistake. They shoulda gone cosmic and gave us something that couldn’t have been done in the past. I don’t think it’s horrible, but it’s definitely not the Superman movie people wanted after such a long wait.

  • There were some good moments to the film, but it had some serious flaws, and most of them are down to the plot. Part of it’s the whole “give Superman a kid” subplot, but my biggest issue was that the main plot is simply a direct rehash of the first Superman movie. Lex Luthor decides to destroy the coast to force people to buy into his real estate development… it’s a little different, but it’s mostly the same. A little novelty would have been nice (and this is one of my big concerns with the upcoming film as well, since it’s rehashing a villain that’s only known because of the second film).

    • Totally agree. The rehashing of the original Superman plot was ridiculous. I think it all goes back to that flawed homage idea that this film was built upon. I’m also worried that Man of Steel will feel too familiar by using Zod. As soon as I found that out I was disappointed, but maybe they can make it work. That Richard Donner Superman II was pretty fantastic.

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