Reign of the Supermen #284: Brandon Routh

Source: Superman Returns (2006)
Type: FilmSo I watched Superman Returns again this weekend, intent on re-evaluating it. I'm afraid not much has changed in the past 5 years, except perhaps Brandon Routh's cred. Five years of living with the idea that he IS Superman (until the next movie supplants him), and enjoying his geek-friendly turns hanging out with Zack, Miri and Chuck. He's got the look for sure, and the costume works for him (even if it needed to be a little redder). He's got a pleasant on-screen personality that sells Superman's wholesomeness. The problems his Superman has are all down to the script and really aren't his fault. These boil down to two things really. First, playing up the Christ figure elements leads to pretentiousness at best, and complete nonsense at worse ("The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son"?? What the heck does this mean in the context of this film?)

Secondly, and more importantly, is the script's fetishization of Richard Donner's two films. I understand from the DVD extras that the movie probably wouldn't have been made if Bryan Singer hadn't secured Donner's blessing, but the fact that it takes place in the Donnerverse is what keeps this Superman movie from taking off. I enjoyed the Donner films as much as the next guy, but they are a bit cheesy. On purpose, of course, just like the Batman series was campy. It's how comic book properties were seen and part of why the franchises were enjoyable. Cut to 2006 and it's a different world where more naturalism is required. And the film IS naturalistic, but in an effort to pay homage to Superman I and II and place Returns in the same continuum, we've got Superman putting on a cheesy public persona ("The only safe way to travel", etc.). Routh isn't really given the chance to make the character his own, because the script insists on Christopher Reeve's version of both Superman as big blue boyscout and Clark Kent as clumsy doofus. And so it goes for the entire movie, Kryptonian crystals and all. The same theme tune, I could have accepted, but everything else? And what makes this slightly bizarre is that all the recast actors look younger than their 1970s counterparts even if it's meant to be five years later.

It's a very pretty movie, no doubt about it. Visually stunning. But it's incredibly indulgent as well. In that sense, I was reminded of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. At two and a half hours, it's too long and needed harsher editing. Nothing wrong with grand and sweeping, but there are longueurs here. And plenty of stuff that's not integral to the story. Did we need the flashback to Clark's youth, running through corn fields? Did we need the scene in which Martha Kent muses on the possibility of there being other Kryptonians out there, despite the fact that none arrive in those 2½ hours? Surely, the answer is no. And while we're on listing the film's flaws, I should mention the fact that Superman doesn't throw a single punch in this movie. Not a one. It's all lifting and pulling and slowly advancing on opponents. I think somebody owes us a Super punch-up movie. And then there's Lois Lane, who is put to shame by the 40s and 50s Loises I've recently discovered as far as being a strong and independent action heroine goes. It's terrible that our most recent Lois also seems the least "liberated".

I'll tell you who comes up smelling like roses though: James Marsden as Lois' boyfriend Richard White. If Lois' already announced new boyfriend is anything like Richard, I think I can find a way to accept it. Richard is a good guy, a selfless hero in his own right, and as deserving of Lois Lane as he is undeserving of her loving another man. And Marsden plays it with the right amount of ambiguity. Does he know Jason isn't his son? Yeah, I think he does, but he's too much of a gentleman to ever say anything. I hope that "Jonathan Carroll" is the same kind of guy, a guy I can feel sorry for knowing that Lois has a thing for Superman, a guy I can root for.

There are other good things here, of course. The film creates a number of memorable iconic images: The plane crash, the bullet in the eye, the corn field run ending with a near crash in a barn (it's memorable even if I don't think it makes the best use of the movie's time), Superman's Atlas moment. Kevin Spacey is a fun Lex Luthor whom I much prefer to Hackman's. Sam Huntington's Jimmy, Frank Langella's Perry and Parker Posey's Kitty are all good in their minor roles. The film also takes some chances with the mythos. Giving Superman and Lois a son is much more extreme than having the two of them get married, and something that was attempted in the comics by Donner himself (and in 2006, so I wonder why Chris Kent isn't called Jason), but only with the most comic booky of manipulations (with an easy, no-consequences, exit too). So I give it props for that.

What? I make no mention of the ludicrous finale in which Superman lifts a hundred billion tons of kryptonite? Do I need to? You know the score.

To bring the discussion back to Routh, I think he made a fine Superman and I wish he's been allowed to go in a more surprising direction. I'll always miss the follow-up movie in which he might actually have gotten to punch a giant Brainiac robot or something.

13 comments:

Craig Oxbrow said...

I'm somewhat perplexed that Lois is now dating a noted magic realist author.

Siskoid said...

I guess there are no name checks in comics like there are in movies!

Eric TF Bat said...

I rewatched most of Superman: The Barely Moving recently, and was struck by how much more it owed to Adam West than to George Reeve. I think the credits in Superman Retreads were wrong: they should have said "starring Brandon Routh as Christopher Reeve", because that's who he was playing - and playing very well. But Chris Reeve was never remotely Superman, and Brandon was one step further removed. I hope one day someone can do a version of the Big Blue Boy Scout that doesn't suck, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

F. Douglas Wall said...

The main problem I saw with Superman was that it was not a Superman movie. It was a Lex Luthor movie. While I understand how important Lex is to the mythos, he's the one thing really holding the Superman franchise back.

In any other superhero franchise, when a new movie is announced, everyone asks "Who's the villain?" With Superman, the question becomes "What's Lex Luthor up to this time?"

Also, I'll just say that I liked Hackman better than Spacey as Lex. Hackman's Lex was clearly having fun and enjoyed thinking on his feet. Spacey was far too driven and angry.

Siskoid said...

It's why I'd really love a Brainiac movie.

Larry E said...

Yes, Brainiac in his many forms would be an awesome screen presence. But somehow, Hollywood's decided the Donnerverse is what we want. I'm waiting to see howone of my favorite actresses, Amy Adams, handles Lois Lane. Having just seen Captain America, I'm tired of coming out of Marvel films asking myself "Why can't DC do that?"

snell said...

Add to the flaws of the movie:

*Luthor's plot being essentially the exact same real estate scheme back from Superman: The Movie...really, we keep bringing back Luthor for real estate schemes (& to keep surrounding himself with ditzy dames??)?

*If you're going to keep bring back Luthor, how can you justify Superman and Luthor sharing almost no screen time together?? Shouldn't a hero and villain have some moral confrontation, something more than the barest lines of dialogue?

snell said...

Oh, and the difference between Batman '66 and Superman '78? Batman '66 knew it was camp. Superman '78 just thought that's how superhero movies were supposed to be...

Siskoid said...

Wow, Returns still generates a lot of hate, doesn't it?

And funny you should mention Batman 66, Snell. Check This Week in Geek in a couple hours from now.

Mitchell Craig said...

And then there's Luthor's Great Land Swindle Scheme...y'know, kill millions to make millions? Didn't really work (for me) in Superman 1978, and makes even less sense in Superman Mopes Around for 21/2 Hours of Screen Time.

Siskoid said...

Movie Lex would probably end up in Arkham, he's got an irrational, pathological crime theme, just like Riddler or Joker.

Austin Gorton said...

I should mention the fact that Superman doesn't throw a single punch in this movie. Not a one. It's all lifting and pulling and slowly advancing on opponents. I think somebody owes us a Super punch-up movie.

Absolutely. I could probably forgive the bewildering fetishization of the alright-but-not-as-awesome-as-everyone-thinks Donner movies if Superman had actually DONE something in the movie. I get that he can't punch out Lex, but couldn't Lex at least have some killer robots or something?

Siskoid said...

Yes. I can't believe I'm gonna say this but: Where was the giant robot spider?!?

 

Blog Archive

Category

5 Things to Like Activities Advice Alien Nation Aliens Say the Darndest Things Alpha Flight Amalgam Ambush Bug Animal Man anime Aquaman Archetypes Archie Heroes Arrowed Asterix Atom Avengers Awards Babylon 5 Batman Battle Shovel Battlestar Galactica Black Canary BnB 2-in1 Books Booster Gold Buffy Canada Captain America Captain Marvel Cat CCGs Charlton Circles of Hell Class Comics Comics Code Approved Conan Contest Cooking Crisis Daredevil Dating Kara Zor-El Dating Lois Lane Dating Lucy Lane Dating Princess Diana DCAU Deadman Dial H Dice Dinosaur Island Dinosaurs Director Profiles Doctor Who Doom Patrol Down the Rabbit Hole Dr. Strange Encyclopedia Fantastic Four Fashion Nightmares Fiasco Films Within Films Flash Flushpoint Foldees French Friday Night Fights Fun with Covers FW Team-Up Galleries Game design Gaming Geekly roundup Geeks Anonymous Geekwear Gimme That Star Trek Godzilla Golden Age Grant Morrison Great Match-Ups of Science Fiction Green Arrow Green Lantern Hawkman Hero Points Podcast Holidays House of Mystery Hulk Human Target Improv Inspiration Intersect Invasion Invasion Podcast Iron Man Jack Kirby Jimmy Olsen JLA JSA Judge Dredd K9 the Series Kirby Motivationals Krypto Kung Fu Learning to Fly Legion Letters pages Liveblog Lonely Hearts Podcast Lord of the Rings Machine Man Motivationals Man-Thing Marquee Masters of the Universe Memes Memorable Moments Metal Men Metamorpho Micronauts Millennium Mini-Comics Monday Morning Macking Movies Mr. Terrific Music Nelvana of the Northern Lights Nightmare Fuel Number Ones Obituaries oHOTmu OR NOT? Old52 One Panel Orville Outsiders Panels from Sheena Paper Dolls Play Podcast Polls Questionable Fridays Radio Rants Reaganocomics Recollected Red Bee Red Tornado Reign Retro-Comics Reviews Rom RPGs Sandman Sapphire & Steel Sarah Jane Adventures Saturday Morning Cartoons SBG for Girls Seasons of DWAITAS Secret Origins Podcast Secret Wars SF Shut Up Star Boy Silver Age Siskoid as Editor Siskoid's Mailbox Space 1999 Spectre Spider-Man Spring Cleaning ST non-fiction ST novels: DS9 ST novels: S.C.E. ST novels: The Shat ST novels: TNG ST novels: TOS Star Trek Streaky Suicide Squad Supergirl Superman Supershill Swamp Thing Tales from Earth-Prime Team Horrible Teen Titans That Franchise I Never Talk About The Prisoner The Thing Then and Now Theory Thor Thursdays of Two Worlds Time Capsule Timeslip Tintin Torchwood Tourist Traps of the Forgotten Realms Toys Turnarounds TV V Waking Life Warehouse 13 Websites What If? Who's This? Whoniverse-B Wikileaked Wonder Woman X-Files X-Men Zero Hour Strikes Zine