I’m still not too sure what Warner was expecting with “Superman Returns.” I mean it made just as much as “Batman Begins” in its theatrical run, and director Bryan Singer does the best to connect this reboot to the successful Richard Donner films, so what is it that makes this film the bane of the Superman movie verse? Very few people understand Superman, nor do they really understand why he’s such an amazing character. I’ve experienced no end of people complaining that “Superman Returns” didn’t feature Superman punching things and fighting bad guys. In reality, that’s been the downfall of the character.
He’s become the lug head of the DC Universe. He’s become the bouncer in the club who punches people and never thinks ahead of time. Director Bryan Singer understood that Superman faced an immense dilemma and above all else, “Superman Returns” is Superman’s battle to become relevant again. Superman is not only about fighting intergalactic bad guys, and punching buildings. Superman, above all else, cherishes life. He is tasked with preserving it thanks to the amazing abilities he possesses in his genetic code. He could very well dominate the world if he wanted to, but he instead uses his super breath to snuff out a fire, and implores his laser beam eyes to blast away shards of glass that threaten to kill innocent bystanders on the ground below him.
Superman is a guardian angel first, and a fighter second. If the film has its fault, it’s that director Bryan Singer paints too much from the Palette of Richard Donner. He wants his film to be a Richard Donner entry, thus he takes the opportunity to recall many of the famous lines and scenes from Donner’s films. The film also is much too long in the tooth, with a heavy emphasis on Parker Posey’s character for some inexplicable reason. But like every comic book movie ever made, you have to forgive some elements, and enjoy the ride as a whole. “Superman Returns” is not so much an adventure, as it is a character’s journey back in to the world. Superman took his very first journey of selfishness, seeking his home world and looking for perhaps a family he always dreamed of having.
He never realized he belonged on Earth the whole time. Now that he’s returned, he realizes that Earth not only moved on without him, but that they no longer need a Superman. It’s the classic adage “You can’t go home again.” Ma Kent is dating a new man, Jimmy Olsen is a bolder photographer, Lex Luthor is still a slimy worm trying to build a new empire for himself, and Lois Lane has moved on more than Clark can comprehend. She is now dating the nephew of Perry White, and has a son. To make matters worse, Richard White (as played by James Marsden) isn’t just a good man, but he’s a noble one. He treats Lois with patience and love, he’s become the surrogate father to Lois’ son, and he is a kind individual. If given powers, he’d be his own Superman. He even has his own means of flight, as an aspiring pilot.
So Superman (as well as the writers) have to tip toe and figure out if Lois really even wants Superman anymore. Superman not only has to battle Lex Luthor once again, but he has to earn his way in to the minds and hearts of Metropolis once again. In doing so, he shows that there’s always a need for a protector, even if they’re not always a necessity. Brandon Routh does a fantastic job as Clark Kent and Superman, giving way to the social awkwardness, and alienation that Clark is accustomed to. Routh has the look and dashing bravado of Superman, and really grasps the role with his charisma and charm. Kate Bosworth is also a fine Lois Lane with a soft beauty and grace that makes her this bolder mother figure, while James Marsden’s portrayal of Richard White is dignified and likable.
We want Superman to win Lois back, but we also don’t want Richard to walk away a loser. Kevin Spacey also has a blast in the role of Luthor, giving him a demented bent that makes him menacing and deadly. “Superman Returns” plants the seeds for a future storyline when we slowly realize who Lois’ son’s father is, and allowed to continue further, I think Singer could have developed a fine narrative. It’s a shame that “Superman Returns” is given the brunt of the blame for stalling of the Superman movie-verse because, in spite of its flaws, it’s a wonderful and beautiful look at Superman’s re-emergence in to a darker world in need of hope.