Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Superman Retreads

(N.B.: This is not really a review. It's more like a few idiosyncratic observations.)

I'm not sure how it happened, but my opinion of Superman Returns (Bryan Singer, B-) has steadily decreased from B+ to B to B- as time has passed. I figure I'd better commit myself to a blog entry before things get worse and Superman gets downgraded to just plain old Average C. As it is, he's only slightly above average and that's too bad. Too bad because I'm one of the few (I think) who really likes Superman (better than Batman and Spiderman and Ghost Rider) and doesn't think he's a stodgy old boy scout. Too bad, because a director with a little les nostalgia in his eyes and a little more daring could have made a fresh, sparkling film for 2006, instead of the backward-looking homage to the 1978 film we actually got. Everything about Superman Returns feels unnecessary, in the sense that if we wanted a film like this we could have just turned to the original Richard Donner film. Why make this new one?

Imagine for a moment some possible ideas for a new Superman film, a film meant to jumpstart the franchise for the 21st century (and also note that these are just a few off-the-cuff ideas I came up with, or borrowed from other, better sources):

*It's 1942 and a (Golden Age) Superman must defend the Daily Star, Metropolis, and the Allied forces from a (magical, kryptonite-fortified) Spear of Destiny-weilding Hitler. Imagine Superman fighting scientifically enhanced Nazi supermen and throwing tanks across the fields of France (and as Clark Kent, exposing Lex Luthor as a shameless war profiteer who's getting rich selling arms to the Axis).

*Imagine Superman is dying (one of Lex Luthor's schemes and the idea Grant Morrison has come up with in his All-Star Superman comic), so what else does he do except go to his Fortress of Solitude and develop a serum that gives Lois the same powers as himself for 24 hours. Oh, and he also reveals to her his secret identity as Clark Kent.

*How about Braniac as the big bad? Or maybe a riff on the "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" Alan Moore story? What if Superman returned and found Lex Luthor elected president?!

Any idea that has some gumption or a spark of innovation would have been just the thing to revitalize the Superman movie franchise and make it feel necessary. Instead, Bryan Singer indulged his love for the original Christopher Reeve version and delivered a well-made (boring) semi-remake. I guess I'm just not infatuated enough with Donner's movie to get all starry-eyed with this too-long (154 min.) tribute to it. Don't get me wrong: the performances are generally good (loved Kevin Spacey), the special effects dazzling (loved the bullet glancing off Superman's eye), the story well-told (if ill-chosen). But did we really need another Lex Luthor land scheme? (Lex Luthor O'Hara: "Why Kitty Scarlett Kowalski, you mean to tell me that land doesn't mean anything to you?! Why, land's the only thing that matters, the only thing worth fighting for, worth dying for. Because it's the only thing that lasts." *unless Superman throws it into space of course*)

Was Singer's notion of a fresh idea really just to add a cute kid to the mix? Wow, I can't wait to see the sequel in which Superman agonizes over what to do about his bastard son. That sounds like a great storyline for a superhero movie!

Seriously, I sound a lot harsher about this movie than I really feel. I did like it. It's just a disappointment insofar as it's supposed to be a restart of the franchise and instead it just feels like a retread of a movie from 30 years ago. Superman returned alright. I just wish he could've flown in a different direction.


LeaJo said...

I really like all of your ideas and you know, if the movie would have went with any of those plot lines instead I probably would have really liked those resulting movies too.

I guess for me, instead of thinking about what they could have done I'm happy with looking at what they did do because I think what's there is really, really good. This movie actually made me care and feel for Superman who's a superhero I don't normally pay much attention to (despite watching Smallville for 4 seasons, but I think that probably had more to do with Tom Welling and Michael Rosenbaum...you know how it goes). I do agree with you that Kevin Spacey was freaking amazing (I would see the movie again just for him) and the movie did feel a bit too long (although compared to Pirates, Superman seemed to go by really fast).

Do you think maybe the reason why they decided to pay homage to the 1976 version is because they felt it would be a good introduction to Superman for a lot of younger people (like my brothers and I) who had never seen the old one? And now that they have sort of "reintroduced" Superman to the movie-going public, they can branch off and do the more "unconventional" Superman ideas that you had in future movies? The sequels won't follow the same pattern that this movie did (at least I hope they don't).

The Derelict said...

Do you think maybe the reason why they decided to pay homage to the 1976 version is because they felt it would be a good introduction to Superman for a lot of younger people (like my brothers and I) who had never seen the old one?

I actually read a few reviews that mentioned this point, about how great the movie was for introducing Superman to a new generation. So, yeah, I get that angle.

But think about a superhero movie we both really liked, Batman Begins.

Now, imagine if the filmmakers wanted to restart the franchise where Tim Burton had left-off and did a kind of sequel/remake to Batman and Batman Returns. Might not be too bad, especially since I kinda liked Burton's take on Batman and Gotham.

But didn't Batman Begins benefit from being a reimagining? Didn't it feel fresher, more daring, more original?

It's too bad that Superman Returns had to arrive at so late in the game (re: Superhero movies), but it just feels so unnecessary, like, if I want to watch a superhero movie, I'm not going to pick it first, second, or even third (in fact, counting The Incredibles, I'm not going to even pick it fourth).