Superman’s my man. Been that way for as long as I can remember. I don’t actually recall the first time I became aware of the idea of Superman, but I definitely remember having something of an infatuation with him as early as the age of five.
Something about the entire concept of this figure, this all-powerful being who could, by all means, rule the world through his god-like powers, but instead chooses to help mankind, well, it spoke to me. We could go into some full-fledged review of my Christian upbringing and how that applies, or that I was a nerdy kid who wished he had cool powers so everyone liked him, but the fact of the matter is, I was enthralled. I didn’t have much of a comic collection as a kid, but I would read everything I could get my hands on. The local library had the novelization of the Death and Return of Superman comic series. I read it multiple times. In fact, it wasn’t until high school when I actually got my hands on the version with the pictures. Nick at Nite had the old black and white series with George Reeves. I watched it every chance I got.
There was even a book called The Gospel According to Superman which went into great detail trying to show how Supes was a type of Christ. At first I just read through it for the little comic strips that appeared here and there throughout the book. Finally, I needed more to quench my thirst and read through that whole thing numerous times as well.
I was obsessed, but somewhat quietly so…for reasons I’m still not entirely certain.
So, seeing as I was only 6 when Superman 4 came out, I spent most of my life waiting for Superman, so to speak…or, more precisely, waiting for him to make another appearance on the silver screen. I followed the process of Superman Lives (the Tim Burton/McG/every director ever attempt to resurrect the series) as closely as possible in the world of dialup internet at best. That movie scared me…everything about it seemed wrong, although I was excited to know they were going to attempt something as crazy as the death and return of Superman. But I needed it. I craved it.
So, when Superman Returns was announced and was stated to be a sequel to Superman 2 (easily the best of the original movies), I was ecstatic. It had to be perfect, right? I mean, if you’re looking at following up a battle with Zod, it’s got to be epic. And with new special effects and everything, and holy crap, look at how much Brandon Routh looks like Chris Reeve!
So, I’ll admit, when the movie came to the screen and I sat there opening night, my expectations might have been a little high. In fact, I’d be willing to state that my enjoyment of Man of Steel could be directly tied into my disappointment with Superman Returns. I had been burned before and all that.
And actually, I should add, that immediately following the movie, like, walking out of the theater, I was actually kind of happy with it. I mean, Superman was back! As the minutes passed and I reflected on what had happened and what hadn’t happened, and the fact that the only punches thrown were by Lex Luthor and superbaby and…well, let’s just say, my disappointment came on quickly, but was not as immediate as it should have been.
All the same, I didn’t watch it again. In fact, not until this past weekend (almost 10 years after the movie was initially released) did I watch that flick again.
My simple review on the second watch was that I fell asleep. I almost never fall asleep during movies and I could NOT keep my eyes open. Granted, we had been up late the night before watching Guardians of the Galaxy at the drive in, but this was at freaking 8pm…and I was watching Superman. I’ve watched the overdrawn opening sequence of the first of the Chris Reeve films at 2am and sat on the edge of my seat…this is not a good sign.
I rewatched the rest of the movie, the bits I missed, this morning…and here’s my thoughts…
First…Man of Steel and Superman Returns work of the same basic plot. I thought that when watching MoS last summer. Of course, MoS made up for the passive-Superman by crafting an action-sequence so long that it actually itself becomes boring, but that’s a discussion for a different day.
Here’s the main difference between the Superman film that failed and the one that succeeded. This is ignoring the whole “I went to outer space for five years and also I birthed a superbaby” junk that Superman Returns puts into place. Simply put, Superman Returns gives us a Superman who’s just sad. He’s depressed. He spends a fair portion of the movie stalking Lois Lane as an ex-boyfriend would, except, of course, for the fact that he has X-ray vision. He’s creepy… But more importantly, he appears just plain weak. Sure, that was probably an attempt to show that he was still just a man, even with all the powers and junk…but that’s just not who Superman is. He’s Jonathan Kent’s son, the kid who will try to take the high road whenever possible. Not the creepy guy in the corner listening in on his ex-girlfriend’s conversations. This Superman was no Superman. He lacked any form of strength of character, the thing that makes Superman who he is. And ultimately, we just don’t care about him. Why should we?
This movie makes it all too apparent the question that Lois Lane wins a Pulitzer for in this very movie. The world doesn’t need this Superman, and that seems to be the most important thing that comes from the movie. James Marsden’s character appears to be more Superman-like than Superman himself.
That’s a problem.
And that’s why Man of Steel won. They were able to show a Clark who was battling his demons, but was still, ultimately, a man we wished we could be. He dealt with the questions his father put before him, difficult questions like, should you let kids die just to hide your powers. He struggled with them. He didn’t go all emo and hide in a corner hoping that someone would notice him and love him again. He didn’t steal people off of rooftops to try to rip them away from their current boyfriends.
He was Superman.
And…as my wife likes to tell me…Henry Cavill is much more interesting to look at…
So, in short…finally rewatching Superman Returns, I agree with my younger self. It sucks. And seeing the difference between these two movies gets me all the more excited for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where we get to see the testosterone flow even harder…until Wonder Woman comes in and kicks both of their butts.
Have fun out there!