There is one brief sequence in Superman Returns that seems out of place for Superman. After he saves the airplane and lands it in the baseball park, he steps out to a standing ovation. Here’s the uncharacteristic part: Superman stands there, seemingly taking in his own hype. We, the audience, know that he wants to find his place in the world again, but this was ridiculous. In the original film, Superman saves Lois and lands the helicopter on the Daily Planet roof. He gives Lois the famous “statistically speaking” line, and then flies off (obviously not wanting to showboat). In Superman Returns, Superman should have just flown off right after stepping out of the plane. He would have still known that the people were happy to see him again (due to his super-hearing; if you don’t believe that he has it, then you need to re-watch the “super-stalking” sequence at Lois and Richard’s home). It just seems so out-of-character for him. Here’s how the scene should’ve ended: Superman steps out of the plane and flies off as the crowd cheers him on. As he flies further away from the stadium, he can still hear the crowd cheering him. In a close-up shot, he cracks a smile as he continues to fly off. Then we cut to the next scene. This suggested scene shows that Superman knows that the people of Earth are happy to see him again. It accomplishes the same thing as the scene that’s in the film and has just as much impact (perhaps more since it doesn’t have the out-of-character moment), plus it’s a little shorter and has less CGI. This suggested scene also omits Lois fainting as she sees Superman fly away because there was no reason for her to do so. The only reason she does it in Superman Returns is because Bryan Singer had it put in there as another homage to Superman: The Movie (in the original, Lois faints near the helicopter after Superman flies away). One last issue about Lois and the airplane sequence in Superman Returns that needs to be brought up is her physical condition. She’s thin but doesn’t look like she works out; fragile would be a good word to describe her physical condition. This is an important observation because she gets tossed and hurled so many times during the plane sequence, and yet she has no bumps or bruises to show for it. This sequence would have been more realistic if Lois had some visible signs of injury (bruises for instance). Seriously, she should have been bleeding from several places (forehead, mouth, possibly a knee or arm). A person would really have to suspend their disbelief in order to buy the idea that Lois was unharmed by all of the things she hit into and was hit by during the plane sequence.
And what is with the kid? To be fair, it’s not the worst idea to be fully realized in a Superman movie (let’s not forget about Richard Pryor in Superman III, or maybe we should). While it could be said that it is a bold move for little Jason White to be Superman’s son, it just doesn’t quite gel. If more time had been spent in the film developing this part of the story, perhaps the idea of Superman having a son would have been much more accepted. It also would have made Superman’s speech to Jason at the end more significant and powerful. If the story of the kid isn’t developed more in the sequels, then he ought to be killed off. It would have been better if the kid had not been introduced at all, but maybe Bryan Singer will prove us wrong and reveal the kid’s true purpose at some point in the future.
When Clark finds out that the space shuttle is having difficulty in detaching itself from the airplane that Lois is on, he leaves the bar, runs into an alley, and opens his shirt to reveal the ‘S’ of the Superman costume. But why don’t we get to see Clark transform into Superman at that moment? What a wonderful moment that would have been! Instead, after the shirt is opened, the film cuts to the space shuttle and we have to wait a little longer before we finally see Superman. This is an example of Bryan Singer cheating the audience out of a great Superman moment and thus ends up as yet another missed opportunity. In the first Superman film, we get to see Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent transform into Superman right before he flies up to save Lois from the helicopter. In Superman Returns, we don’t get to see Brandon Routh as Clark Kent transform into Superman until very late in the film.
One of the more positive aspects of Superman Returns is the character of Richard White, nephew of Perry White and boyfriend of Lois Lane. He’s kind of like a Superman but without the special powers. He’s a devoted father and an excellent pilot. He’s a sympathetic character because we know that it’s difficult for him that Lois’ previous love interest was Superman. He knows that he can’t compete with Superman, and yet he comes off as a better character than Superman. In fact, the Richard White character can be too likeable because he kind of makes Superman look like a whiny bitch. It didn’t make any sense as to why Superman needed to find his place in the world again. I thought this had been taken care of in the first Superman movie, where his role on Earth had been clearly defined by Jor-El. But somehow, Superman needs to be reminded. Here’s a quote from Superman IV that the Superman in this movie should’ve had in his mind so that he could get over Lois: “Never put one of them above the rest; love all of humanity equally.” It didn’t help that Bryan Singer’s Superman was not only whiny (to a degree), but kind of a stalker as well (another uncharacteristic moment).
One thing that definitely did not belong in Superman Returns was the beating that Superman got from Lex Luthor’s cronies. The whole Jesus angle has by now been taken too far. The scene seemed out of place and almost looked like an outtake from The Passion of the Christ (minus the gore). Had it been in a Batman movie it wouldn’t have seemed out of place, but this is a Superman movie and the audience can’t forget that. I’m not suggesting that the content in a Superman film should be safe for even a five year-old; I’m suggesting that the Biblical allegories should not be shoved down our throats even when most of us already “get it.” Bryan Singer seems to have taken the entire Jesus storyline and replaced him with Superman. The problem with this is that Superman Returns seems more like a PG-13 version of The Passion of the Christ than an actual Superman movie (especially with the “death and resurrection” parts, which occur twice in the last third of the film). And where is the scene where Superman goes to get Lex and bring him to prison? Of course, such a scene would benefit from a pivotal confrontation between him and Lex (the Passion-like beating doesn’t count). It isn’t known if such a scene was written and/or filmed, but it would’ve been a lot better than Lex’s final scene in the film (where he’s stuck on an island with his girlfriend Kitty and his helicopter is out of gas). On a side note regarding the character Kitty (played by Parker Posey), it would’ve helped if it had been established as to how or why she even loves Lex. We know why she loves Superman, but her relationship with Lex is underdeveloped (especially since it seems that Lex doesn’t even love her). Perhaps her motivation to remain in the relationship is a financial one, but even that would need to be clearly defined.
The bottom line: Bryan Singer’s faithfulness to the original films (well, the first two anyway) is what prevented him from being truly creative and bringing something new and exciting in a Superman movie. But, believe it or not, the film is still quite enjoyable and highly recommended despite not quite achieving the epic feel of the first Superman movie. Special mention must be made of the moment when Superman flies above the clouds and recharges his powers; it will no doubt become an iconic Superman image for years to come (although that moment would have been even more powerful had it been done in a wide shot rather than a medium shot of Superman followed by a close-up of his hands). There are those who will care about the little things in this film that could have been better, and there are those who still love the film despite the flaws. To all I say just sit back (whether it’s in a movie theater or your own home) and enjoy the cinematic return of the Man of Steel.
[As an addendum, I would like to say that Bryan Singer’s sequel to Superman Returns never materialized (probably for the best). I’m also very much looking forward to Zack Snyder’s new film Man of Steel, which comes out this Friday. I find it ironic that Christopher Nolan was a producer on the new film (serving as a “godfather” to the project), considering that Bryan Singer was supposed to accomplish with Superman Returns what Nolan had done for Batman Begins. I guess Warner Bros. figured since Bryan Singer failed they’d bring in Nolan himself to help with the next Superman film. We’ll find out if Nolan succeeded on Friday. See you at the movies!]