Superman Returns (Bryan Singer, 2006)

Superman Returns

I really wanted to like this. I know that it was not critically well received, though I hadn’t read any reviews so hadn’t any specific foreknowledge of why, but Singer has form – The Usual Suspects and the first two X-Men films – and has earned a reputation as an intelligent filmmaker.

So why is this film so fucking dull?

Firstly, you have to look at its stars. Brandon Routh isn’t bad, precisely, but he doesn’t have the charisma to really dominate scenes the way he should and, with his overlong hair and kiss curl, comes across as a bit of an emo superhero; watching him, I realised how good Christopher Reeve actually was. Kate Bosworth as Lois is similarly competent-but-no-better. Kevin Spacey gives a good account as Lex Luther but is underwritten and only really has much to do in a couple of scenes.

Secondly, it’s bloody long. It’s about two and a half hours long, and feels it. The story just isn’t that complex that it requires so long and there are plenty of scenes that look as if they’ve just been included to look good, without achieving that sufficiently, including one “crucified superhero” (haven’t we already seen that in the last Matrix film?) shot that is simply risible.

Then there is the nature of Superman himself. It’s been a truism for as long as I can remember that Superman is too powerful to be dramatically interesting; he always comes across as a bully. Hence the need to artificially introduce peril by the introduction of Kryptonite into every storyline in order to generate a few brief moments of peril – which is duly done here. Superman is fundamentally a boring character and it takes a creative approach to mould a watchable story around him.

That brings us to, for me, the biggest problem – Singer’s approach. Singer wants to make thoughtful films but seems to struggle to find a balance here. On the one hand, he tries to remain faithful to the generally light-hearted and rather cheesy Christopher Reeve template, almost slavishly so, with many nods to those films, to which this is an overt sequel rather than the currently fashionable ‘reboots’. On the other, he tries to introduce quasi-philosophical points such as questioning the role for a superhero in a world that has carried on without him, and whether he has responsibilities. But we’ve already seen these points explored, in Watchmen, Singer’s own X-Men films and even Kill Bill (Bill’s meditation on Clark being the alter-ego, rather than Superman, sardonically commenting on humanity’s frailty) and it all seems a bit perfunctory here, with interruptions to the story and to no great effect.

I have to admit that I was always a Marvel comics fan and never ‘got’ the DC ones, but it seems to me that the X-Men naturally supported the kind of story Singer wanted to tell, while Superman required too much of a stretch.

Here’s hoping that Joss Whedon doesn’t similarly get burned with The Avengers.

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One response

  1. Quite right. A film in this genre can be excused for being annoyingly hokum, but this was just unremittingly boring. The direction was so bad generally that I would be more inclined to blame the director for the poor performances than I would the actors.

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