DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer
May Contain Spoilers!
The return of Superman in 2006 was met with mixed reviews. 2005 had seen Batman Begin(s) his rise to the top of the DC Comic genre, and in my opinion, the top of the comic book adaptation genre full stop. The idea of finally getting Superman back on the big screen after 19 years was brilliant.
There had been so many rumours, director’s and ideas since the 1987 disaster that was Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, with Nic Cage and Tim Burton’s adapt sticking in my mind, but X-Men director Bryan Singer was hired for the job and took some very interesting and classy decisions. Firstly, this was a not a reboot as such, though in many ways, it was in all but name.
This was a recasting of the 1978 Richard Donnor mold, with a Christopher Reeve look-a-like, Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman, though be it with an updated suit and a plot with states that Superman had returned to the remains of Krypton after the events of Superman II, when he defeated Terrance Stamp’s, General Zod.
So, this is a sequel to Superman II, the Richard Lester theatrical version mind, NOT the Richard Donnor cut released after but in the works during, this film’s theatrical release. Confused yet? Now, we take Superman: The Movie as cannon; Superman II, the original cut, as cannon; But we dismiss Supe’s II, The Donnor Cut, for the reason that by the end of this version which my be superior, the events are erased as Superman turns time back, again; We also must ignore the Richard Prior vehicle, Superman III and the flop which was number IV.
This is my problem with Superman Returns. The idea seemed to be that if you make a sequel then you get away from explaining the well-worn origin story of Kal-El’s arrival on earth and eventual decision to become the Man Of Steel we end up with an all this anyway. Granted, he returns, but in manner not dissimilar to the way that he arrived and there’s still flashbacks of his youth.
We also get a plot sequel but it’s hard to take this as a sequel when all but Routh doing great Reeve impression, all the other character’s bear little resemblance to the original cast members and then there’s the sets and production design. Metropolis of the 1978 was New York City of the same era, but Singer’s 2006 Metropolis is an Art Deco work of art and it looks stunning, but not in keeping with the 1978 vision.
So, all besides the events of the first two movies being sighted vaguely in the cannon, with the most notable being references to the article Lois Lane wrote upon meeting and naming Superman entitled “I spent the night with Superman”, and some the of iconic musical cues, that’s about it. Editor/Composer’s John Ottman’s score is nice and makes great use of the John William’s original cues.
The rest is a reworking of the original movie, down to Lex Luthor’s played brilliantly by Kevin Spacey, destructive real estate plans, earthquake of sorts and the obvious angst between Lois and Superman. But this is a treat as this is what Superman: The Movie would have been if it had been shot today. Let’s not forget that Superman: The Movie was a spectacular special effects epic of the time, with the tagline, “You’ll believe a man can fly”. And that may well have been true.
But in this film, you do. The visual effects are outstanding throughout and the general feel is classy and grown up, but that leads to times of ponderously slow pacing, angst and melancholy. But this was clearly what X-Men was to X2. Bryan Singer needs to get it into his head that starting a franchises with films that he will later declare to be trailers for the second as his did with the X-Men series is not a good idea full stop, but certainly not when number 2 isn’t forthcoming.
This was a financial failure which I find hard to accept as it certainly made a large profit but not as much as they were expecting or wanted. This is the end of the franchise as we know it, even though this was clearly only half of the story. We’ll never see how this version was going to pan out and that is crying shame but for me, who is a great fan of the Donnor original and grew up loving Lester’s sequel, this was Superman envisioned at it’s best.
The action sequences were stunning in detail and pacing. A delicate hand, held this Goliath together, as did a great cast with the exception of Kate Bosworth who I feel was the film’s main mis-step in casting. This is a long film clocking in at around two and half hours and is seemingly aimed at an adult audience which is a mistake if ever there was one. Surely a glossy film about a man with limitless superpowers is surely a one for all ages, and kids must be the core audience for this, I know I was for the originals.
Overall, this a beautifully crafted film, well cast, directed and shot but it may be TOO well put together and missed the mark as to who its true audience is. Kids, Teenagers and Fans. Everyone else can like it or lump it. I was 26 when this came out, so I was not a kid, a teenager or a fan of anything more than the films, but I liked it but I didn’t love it. I do however wish that Singer had been allowed to complete his vision and that Superman had returned again; The 2013 Reboot not withstanding…
Tomorrow sees the U.K. release of the Man Of Steel (2013), with the production team behind The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005 – 2012) and the director of Watchmen (2009) and 300 (2006), this could either be a game changer or another noble effort. Only time will tell…
N.B. This review was originally posted on 26th April 2011. This post contains a few minor revisions.