Monday, June 10, 2013

Why the World Needs Superman Returns

We're just days away from the release of Man of Steel. In fact, today is the day that the review embargo is lifted and we'll start hearing what the professional critics think of the film.  Regular readers of this blog probably are aware that I've been a massive Superman fan for as long as I can remember.

Though the ad campaign has been so aggressive that I've actively begun avoiding the newest clips and trailers released online, I was very impressed by the first few trailers.  It looks like director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer have done a great job of reinventing Superman.  I've already bought my tickets to the midnight showing and hope that my faith is rewarded.

But already I've noticed an annoying trend in many of the Man of Steel articles already released - the need for the writer to take a potshot at 2006's Superman Returns.  From the way some people talk about it, you'd think that the film was a Catwoman-sized bomb and not a movie that got rather positive reviews and did somewhat solid (if not impressive) box office.

To that end, I have written a piece celebrating Superman Returns, which you can find over at Film School Rejects.

I really enjoyed this movie the first time I saw it and the passage of seven years has done little to dampen that feeling. This is why it’s been so hard to see the narrative shift to the point where it’s assumed this movie was a horrible bomb. There are people I know who loved it in 2006 who have since taken up the anti-Superman talking points, just because it’s cool. Here’s where I blame Warner Bros a little bit. I think if they had pushed forward with a sequel and released another solid film three years later, Returns would be a lot better regarded today. Instead, they dragged their feet for a few years, the momentum dissipated and by the time Christopher Nolan was announced as producer, the internet had decided that whatever its merits, Superman Returns must be a bad movie simply because it failed to spawn a sequel. 

Go here for the rest of the article.


  1. I haven't seen "Superman Returns" but the latest Superman movie really looks good. The Rusell Crow and Kevin Costner re-invisioning of Superman's parent, especially looks fresh.

    Love the passion, Bitter Script Reader. Wish I could get that passion behind some of my script efforts. Maybe someday.

  2. I'm not a huge comic fan, but i am a fan of outrageously cool and fun movies. To date, this looks like the best Hollywood has to offer for 2013. I'm stoked to see it but am forced to see it a week late because of vacation plans... doh!

  3. i'm a superman fan, and a comic book fan for that matter; much less though than the other superheroes simply because it's so hard to give superman a good villain and he's so squeaky clean and one note.

    But I wonder if the huge hype for this movie is going to be it's undoing as the expectations seem so great. We've witness what expectations can do to rabid fans who don't get what they want. In that same note though, maybe the new spin on this is exactly what the fanbase wanted?

    I'm a huge believer that a lot of the fun of a movie is that 'christmas eve' expectations that lead up to the film, and while it's not like that for me, I have some friends who are so stoked for this movie; it's good to see.

    I'm expecting something that makes me by the dvd, I hope they can deliver for all those superman believers. A question that's always gnawed at me, does superman ever cut himself shaving?


  4. I think people want personal turmoil in their comic hero reboots. The last Superman, Green Lantern and fantastic four movies really didn't give the audiences protags that undergo that dramatic twisting of the heart and soul like Batman and to a smaller extent Spiderman. The new Superman looks like it dwells heavily on personal journey rather than action adventure, so here are my fingers crossed.

  5. good point paul, and for me that's why wolverine resonates so much. he's a flawed superhero, who never wanted to be super, who is in love with someone who he can't have and he's always thinking about the wellfare of other people, but the difference is, unlike superman, wolverine has that 'flight' response to his personality that makes him three dimensional.

    I never got that dimension with super man. if you are a superhero and you part your hair, i can't get behind you.

  6. I've tried explaining these heresies to other comic enthusiasts, most often to no avail (I'd rather argue canon with a Jesuit than a comic store owner). Living from issue to issue once puberty sets in I think turns a fanboy’s consciousness inward toward vanishing point, until sooner or later his only remaining subscription is to two-dimensional arguments.

    I’ve also discussed my thoughts on the Superman Problem with some brilliant movie buffs and have likewise been chased out of Hamelin.

    My fellow writers, however, all seemed to get it. “Writing is telepathy,” as Stephen King put it.

    Your article was like every screed I’ve wanted to write on the subject and distribute in leaflets from the air. (Reading it was like telepathy, too.) You make an important distinction among critics, lay audiences, and industry A-listers who have something to lose in challenging the vomitorium, one which I’d like to unpack a bit.

    It is my humble belief that all bad impressions of Singer’s film (disregarding Tarantino outliers) hinge entirely on acceptance of the notion "Superman would never abandon Earth,” or Savior proposition. Why? Ideal versus narrative.

    By virtue of being modern American pop culture’s agreed-upon* mythical hero -- our collective avatar, in the Jungian sense -- we tend to project our ideals and, perhaps more importantly, our needs, onto Superman's/Clark's identity. He is "one of us," thus we take for granted his motivation for helping us.

    This omnipotent identity is at odds with the scope of our character’s ambition or awareness, so when our hero follows a perfectly rational narrative motivation -- i.e., leaving Earth in search of Krypton and/or kindred beings -- the premise is rejected. Ironically, it’s the very force that kept thousands of oral myths intact across countless generations of human civilization without a script supervisor: the ideal always, always trumps the narrative.

    "Superman Returns" (2006) added a few wrinkles to the myth and got burned -- in retrospect, as you nimbly illustrate. Unconsciously, most people expect the same story. Lord Raglan’s scale abides; ask any kid with a lightning bolt on his forehead. The 21st-century moviegoer has grown up not as a viewer, but as a *user* of media; hence anything that does not facilitate the popular expectation will meet resistance.

    Of course, the “new realism” model was successful in the "Dark Knight" reboot, at least until the climax of the third movie. Yet I would argue that its success was more a function of the ethos encompassed by the source material. Batman as legend is intrinsic to the character's universe; nobody in his world knows who or what the Bat is, or if he even exists. If a legend derives merely from a more utilitarian truth, then Nolan's series is a Gotham's-eye approximation of an urban legend. The historical Robin Hood. Not so much a PBS documentary, more akin to a historical drama directed by Mel Gibson had Bob Kane written the Gospels.

    I'm unconvinced that the inexorable "Man of Steel" franchise will signal the paradigm shift Warner is looking for (though I do expect to see a good movie Thursday night, notwithstanding). Best-case scenario: I think Christopher Nolan in 2013 will do for Superman onscreen what John Byrne in 1986 did for Superman on the page.

    What’s the cinematic equivalent of "retcon"?


    *Superman was an amalgam of classic tropes throughout history and the first iconic hero propagated via commercial marketing, so does that really count? John Henry might be America’s last, true hero.

    1. Wow. An incredibly thought-out and insightful discussion. At this late hour, I don't have anything to add but "Thanks so much!"

  7. I was so anxious to see Superman Returns, especially knowing it would include the original John Williams theme. I liked the trailers, watched the interviews, and was fully prepared for a great experience when seeing it opening night. Aside from the bedside scene, which I thought was creepy, I didn't have a problem with most of the items you mentioned, such as Superman abandoning us. The story just didn't appeal to me, so therefore I was disappointed. I didn't realize (or perhaps remember) that the reviews were initially positive. I'm not so sure I would have wanted to see any sequels following that track. That said, I can't wait to see Man of Steel and would love to see the franchise achieve more lasting success this time around.

  8. For me, the problem with Superman Returns was the lack of empathy with the Man of Steel. We never quite understood why Superman left Earth in the first place. Okay, he tries to explain it, but it's never shown. This should have been the opening sequence of the movie, in my opinion.

    Oh, and the part with his kid could have worked much better if they didn't try everything in the book to make us believe the little one isn't Superman's flesh and blood. A reveal usually works the other way round. Compare it to the "I am your father" reveal.

  9. Are women watching these? I don't hear of any of my friends going...and the next generation of both my daughters don't seem to be picking up on it either?

    Even my DP husband has gotten so tired of CG effects that he doesn't even want to go any more. He would like to see real photography and REAL explosions (like when he first started in this business). Another family member signed off film production as a dolly grip due to "green screen" just got way too boring...

    Any idea if these movies are working outside of "Fanboys" (and my husband worked on that movie too....on green screens to speak of...)