Animadversions.

The weblog of Joshua Drescher

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Review: Superman Returns

July 12th, 2006 · No Comments · Art, Movies

This is mostly spoiler-free, but there are a handful of implied plot-points that I touch on, so click below if you want to see the full deal.

We saw it at the Udvar Hazy Imax, which was an interesting viewing experience. The screen is so large that you actually have to move your head from side to side to follow some of the action. Pretty cool.

After the home-run treatments we’ve seen for Spider-man and Batman (and with Singer’s second X-Men film), I was actually fairly confident that I’d love what was done with Superman. The more I heard and saw leading up to the release of Superman Returns, the more I became convinced that Singer had nailed it. He’d taken great pains to build on the strengths of the old Donner films, going so far as to incorporate old Brando footage and to reuse the original, classic Williams theme. The cast looked strong and the “hook” seemed promising.

Once I saw the film, I enjoyed it, but something about it felt… off.

I’ve had a hard time pinning down exactly WHAT was wrong or missing in the film. Initially, I thought it was the weak latter portion, but Batman Begins featured a similarly predictable final act without it ruining the exceptional earlier portions of the film, so I’m not actually convinced that the ending is what bothered me.

I THINK what bugged me about the film is what has bugged me about many treatments of Superman over the years. He wasn’t presented in an intelligent fashion. He’s just hugely strong and has decent reflexes and relies on those two things to get him through. His relationship with humanity is a weird combination of omnipotent savior and curious puppy-dog.

Throughout the film, there were certainly great moments related to his awesome power - there was childlike glee to be had from seeing him rescue the imperiled airliner in super-dramatic fashion - but the film never managed to elevate him beyond the level of brute heroics. Paul Dini – who has been responsible for most of my favorite takes on Superman over the years - explained it well:

“He’s just not smart. He’s a big galoot. He’s not witty. He’s not ironic. He’s not cautionary. He thinks so small that he’s destined to be disappointed by everyone around him all his life, and they in him. He’s a big dumb Jesus with great abs and tight glutes.”

That’s pretty spot-on.

Say what you will about Superman IV, but by the end of it, Kal-El has learned something truly interesting about his relationship with mankind. He is humbled by the revelation that he cannot – and SHOULD not – “fix” the whole world just because he’s Superman. At the end of Superman Returns all he’s learned is that it’s still tough coping with humans and their stupid emotions (and that mind-wiping his girlfriend at the end of Superman II was probably a bad idea).

As a result, we’re left feeling disconnected from the character. We can’t deify him because he’s too dumb for divinity and we can’t empathize with him because the closest thing to “human” about him is his performance as Clark Kent – which isn’t human at all, but rather a scathing representation of what normal humans SEEM like to him.

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