2006Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Kate Bosworth, Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey
s far as I was concerned prior to seeing this movie, Superman was merely a logo for boxers and T-shirts. I’d never seen any of the original Superman movies or read any of the old comic books. I dimly knew that kryptonite was super-harmful (or super-helpful?), and that Clark Kent was a nerdy alter ego. Thankfully, Superman Returns speedily compensated for my cultural failings, and I quickly caught onto the machinations of this particular universe. Omnipotent Superman muscles his way through looming plot-holes. Nobody ever notices the feeble disguise of Clark Kent. I eagerly accept such premises in a world based on comic books.
Unfortunately, Superman Returns does not always run like clockwork. After spending years searching for his home planet, Superman (Brandon Routh) returns to Earth to find his love, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), about to win a Pulitzer for an editorial titled “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” In tow behind Lois, a husband and child best signify ongoing life in lieu of superheroes. Nonetheless, Superman finds many disasters to avert, and the villainous Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) invents a plot complicated enough to warrant a 154-minute running time.
Despite the amusing antics of Lex Luthor, the real meat of Superman Returns lies in, well, the return of Superman. He is physically and morally flawless. Aside from portraying the ultimate all-American, the film also liberally splatters Christ imagery across the screen. Superman hovers over the planet, his noble face impressively filling the entire screen. What’s not to like?
First of all, Superman is a blatant media whore. No matter how many countless lives are saved, that self-satisfied grin begins to wear on one’s nerves. Superman possesses the affable charm of a bar star coasting on his good looks. When a woman begs him for a date, Superman implicitly draws the encounter out, soaking in every iota of praise before a firm, gentlemanly rejection. Irritatingly, the man still utterly deserves all this acclaim. He’s Superman. If you got the chance to sleep with him, you would. Consequently, even though I think Superman is a bland character, I very much appreciated the complex conjuration of sour grapes and barely-concealed jealousy Superman Returns evoked in me.
By depicting Superman as a callous deserter, the story perfectly captures the odd balance between messiah and all-powerful hypocrite. Sadly, the filmmakers establish a fascinating premise only to let Superman off the hook far too easily. Lois Lane is angered by Superman’s effortless swoop back into the public consciousness, but as she tearfully begins a rebuttal editorial titled “Why the World Needs Superman” toward the end of the film, the audience never understands the evolution of her character.
Superman Returns is entertaining enough. A lengthy running time flies by, due mainly to Bryan Singer’s assured direction. The dialogue is pretty bad, but the visuals occasionally veer into truly remarkable territory. Still, as far as cinematic portrayals of Jesus go, Superman Returns reminds me more of Mel Gibson’s banal Passion than, say, Scorsese’s intriguing Last Temptation. Lex Luthor interestingly claims, “Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don’t share their power with mankind.” However, this accusation never really applies and, despite his visible transgressions, Superman remains a flawless, dull character. What could have been a fascinating take on divine authority, natural supremacy, and American exceptionalism becomes an empty paean.
Superman Returns is playing in theatres across the country.