Welcome back to my “Good Things About…” feature, where I attempt to find the redeeming qualities in some of the worst superhero/sci-fi/fantasy/geek culture movies of all-time. This time I take a look at Superman Returns, the polarizing 2006 Bryan Singer film that famously turned Superman into a sulky, emo super-stalker.
History has not been kind to Superman Returns. Although it grossed a total of $391 million worldwide, it was projected to make almost twice as much, and was viewed as a commercial flop by the studio. Initial reaction from fans was mixed, but almost overnight, it seemed to transition to outright loathing.
It’s hard to fathom now, but in 2006, director Bryan Singer was fresh off essentially creating the modern superhero movie with his sucessful X-Men franchise, and had about as much caché with the geek crowd as Joss Whedon does here in 2013. All that good fortune seemed to be dashed in an instant however, when he delivered a Superman movie that saw our hero abandon Earth for five years to do some brooding and soul-searching in space; return to do some more moping (and creepy stalking) when he finds out that the love of his life has moved on and had a kid (oh, that kid); and foil yet another real-estate plot engineered by his arch-nemesis Lex Luthor. All of this, mind you, happened without a single kick or punch thrown.
Now that we are on the eve of Zack Synder and Christopher Nolan’s sweeping, yet introspective reboot of Superman’s origin Man of Steel, (which the jury is still out on and which carries enormous burden on its shoulders), I thought it would be fitting to look back on Returns and examine some of its positive elements. So, without further ado, here are:
Four Good Things About…Superman Returns!
4.) The Music
Superman Returns slavish devotion to the continuity of the Donner films turned out to be a detriment to the film, but I never heard any complaints about the epic musical score by composer John Ottman, who wisely incorporated many of the cues from John Williams classic 1978 Superman soundtrack. The Man of Steel last graced screens in 1987, so by the time 2006 rolled around, it was a thrill to hear the majesty and grandeur of one of the most iconic musical themes ever written. It instantly gets the heart racing, the imagination soaring. and truly makes you believe a man can fly. Hans Zimmer has a Herculean task ahead of him trying to create a new soundscape for Superman in Man of Steel, because the Williams theme has become synonymous with the character.
3.) The Plane Rescue
One of the main beefs fans had with Bryan Singer’s take on Superman was the lack of action and super-feats performed by the last son of Krytpon. Superman Returns relied heavily on introspection and symbolism, but audiences in 2006 were starving for large-scale superhero spectacle; a battle between super-powered titans resulting in billions of dollars in collateral damage. Sadly, Superman never threw a single punch in the film, but the sequence early on in the movie that heralds his “return” — the thrilling mid-air rescue of a plummeting experimental aircraft — perfectly captured what Superman is all about. After saving hundreds of lives and safely guiding the fiery wreck to the ground, he even delivers the classic line “Statistically speaking, flying is still the safest way to travel,” without a hint of irony.
2.) It Looks Gorgeous
Superman Returns might not have lived up to expectations in terms of action and spectacle, but there’s no discounting the film’s solid direction and overall aesthetic beauty. Returns is beautifully shot — from the golden wheat fields of Smallville, to the grime-noir steel canyons of Metropolis, and the storm-lashed crystalline continent Luthor manufactures at the climax — director Bryan Singer and Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel did a fantastic job ensuring Superman’s return was sumptuous and epic. Everything about the production from the art design to the special effects was top-notch (it should be for $200 million), it’s just a shame the mopey screenplay sabotaged what is a magnificent-looking movie.
1.) Brandon Routh
Superman Returns is burdened with myriad problems — from horrific mis-casting (Kate Bosworth), to an over-reliance on Messianic Christ allegory — but none of the movie’s shortcomings should be pinned on Brandon Routh, who made a terrific Superman. He bore a striking resemblance to Christopher Reeve, and projected the same kindness, strength, integrity, and heart that made Reeve’s Man of Steel so iconic. Routh also brought a unique approach to Clark Kent. Rather than ape Christopher Reeve’s nervous, bumbling version of Superman’s mild-mannered alter-ego, Routh’s Kent was simply unremarkable and invisible to those around him; he faded into the woodwork, which was the perfect way to throw off folks from suspecting that he was Earth’s Greatest superhero.