“How many ‘f’s’ in ‘catastrophic’?”
2006. Rated PG-13. Directed by Bryan Singer. Starring Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Kal Penn, Frank Langella, and Marlon Brando’s reanimated voice.
I’ve been wanting to write this article for a while, but what better time to re-examine Superman Returns, one of the worst superhero movies of all time, than after the runaway success of The Dark Knight, probably the best superhero movie of all time. Superman Returns came out a year after Batman Begins, and followed a similar game plan — reboot a classic movie franchise based on an iconic American superhero under the guidance of a critically acclaimed director. Like I was with Batman director Christopher Nolan, I was a fan of Superman director Bryan Singer, who directed one of my favorite movies, The Usual Suspects, as well as the very solid first two X-Men films. So even though I have never been a huge Superman fan (Superman = America as we would like to think we are, Batman = America as we actually are), I was excited to see what Singer would do.
Unfortunately, he turned in a huge, steaming pile of crap, delivering one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, especially relative to budget, expectations and talent involved. Sure, it’s not Zombie Strippers, but the feeling I had watching Superman Returns was one of tremendous disappointment and then anger at how awful the film is. Part of that comes with the inherent problems with Superman in general (namely, he’s a boring fucking character), but Singer whiffed completely on casting, directing the actors, the themes and the piss-poor story that he co-wrote.
The story begins after Superman (Routh) returns to Earth for the first time in five years after travelling to space to find Krypton. Shockingly, at the EXACT SAME TIME, Clark Kent arrives back at the Daily Planet, where Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter Lois Lane (Bosworth) still works. I love that a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist is not suspicious at all when Superman and Clark Kent each return at the same time after the exact same sabbaticals. Not to mention, his disguise is a *pair of glasses*. Come on, I know this is part of the mythology, but it’s the 21st goddamn Century, can’t we update this at all, in some way or form? There is absolutely no chance that would fool anyone, ever.
Anyway, Lex Luthor (Spacey), after losing his fortune thanks to Superman somehow, has married an old lady to rob her of hers and use the funds to steal Krpytonian crystals to create a new continent because there’s no more land to sell. Or something ridiculous like that. It’s all very predictable and lame, and I’m going to try and not give away spoilers too much, but there is a subplot involving a child who may or may not be Superman’s son (which, like much of the plot, is absolutely stupid) and the finale which involves Superman lifting a continent of Kryptonite out of the ocean, because, well, he believes that he can. Oh, and he’s Jesus Christ — at least, that’s what Singer would want you to think.
Routh was cast, it seems, only because of his uncanny resemblance to a bigger, steroid-era Christopher Reeve, and does nothing to dispel that with his blank slate performance. This works fine as Clark, because Clark is totally lame, but as Superman he shows absolutely zero charisma or likability. Bosworth is an utter disaster as Lane, one of the worst casting choices I’ve ever seen — not only does she look awful and nothing like what Lois should, she brings absolutely nothing to the role. Lois Lane is supposed to be feisty, independent, smart and fiery, and she is none of those thing in this movie, but an unfortunate damsel in distress. I used to watch Lois & Clark, which was a decent show for a couple of seasons, and Teri Hatcher’s Lois was so much better than Bosworth’s horrendous effort.
Spacey and Posey seem to be acting in a different movie, a camp version, apparently. The rest of the movie is so heavy-handed without a hint of humor, yet Singer allowed these two to ham it up and destroy the tone (which may not have been such a bad thing). It is clear that Singer had no cohesive idea for how he wanted the movie to be acted, and that crosses over to the story and the pacing. The movie is 2 1/2 hours long, and I never complain about the length of movies, but it felt like 4 hours long. It was slow, shockingly boring and the action sequences were nothing special. The one positive — it did look fairly good onscreen, but when you spend $150 million, it fucking better.
This isn’t one of the so bad it’s good and worth watching kind of movies. This is one of those so bad, you’ll get angry about wasting so much of your time watching it kind of movies. Batman Begins was a great example of how to restart a franchise, and Superman Returnsis a great example of taking a dead franchise and burying it deeper into the ground. Apparently, they’re making a sequel to it because it made a fair amount of money (an aside: Have you noticed that Routh and Bosworth’s careers have not only not taken off, but completely nosedived?) but I can’t imagine it doing too well, and I certainly will not be seeing it.