Thank you, Bryan Singer. Thank you, because I was beginning to think that disliking all these big-budget blockbusters was actually my problem, that I’d become so intolerant of mediocrity and so quick to dismiss and reject that all my inner rage about these terrible films I put myself through had twisted around in on itself and I’d basically disappeared up my own arse.
I’ve never been a big Superman fan. I don’t really like Superman. His seemingly-unending range of abilities, almost unlimited in scope and power, makes him less of a superhero and more of a God, and I’ve felt this makes him a bit smug at times. It is an established internet fact, no less, that Superman is a dick.
Combine this with his ridiculous costume, his grating small-town morality and the nagging, ever-present awareness that Superman could do so much more beyond preventing bank robberies in Metropolis — because, God knows, those poor banks need special attention and care — and you end up with a fairly unlikeable individual. Why is he wasting so much time saving cats from trees and preventing burglaries? In the grand scheme of things, these are minor, easily-dealt with problems — why is he not helping to put an end to famine, global warming, terrorism? So many of the world’s problems could be solved in an instant if he only had the inclination.
So I thought this, but I had a moment of clarity during Superman Returns. Superman is flying high above the planet, calmly listening to the noise of the world below, all the cries for help, deciding where to go next — it’s a standout moment in a film that is full of them.
So he’s flying, listening, and he focuses on one particular cry for help — it turns out to be a woman in a runaway car. My first thought was “What? The entire world and that’s what he decides to deal with? Surely with seatbelts, airbags, crumple zones and the like, all she needs to do is drive into a wall and then it’s over aside from a touch of whiplash.” But then my second thought was “What if that is the worst thing going on in this world?”
And then it hit me — yes, Superman is an underdeveloped, oversimplistic, paragon of virtue, but he appeals — at least partly — because he lives in a world where petty crime is about as bad as things ever get (save for the occasional criminal genius) — he lives in a world as seen through the eyes of a six-year old. Yes, it’s true that in our world, Superman’s time would be better spent preventing gang rapes and child abuse than jewellery-store heists, but it’s not our world that these stories are set in — instead, it’s a safer, primary-coloured world we sometimes wish we could inhabit.
You’re not seeing the big picture
From the very beginning, with the use of the tremendous score and the then-futuristic-now-retro 3D titles from the original films, Superman Returns hits all the right notes. Singer’s direction is on top-form here, from the thrilling plane rescue to Superman’s fall to earth. As is the trend these days, it’s a long film, nearly three hours, but unlike King Kong or Dead Man’s Chest, it’s over before you know it and leaves you wanting more.
Casting is good — Brandon Routh is excellent as Superman but even more so as the underused Clark, Kevin Spacey excels as Lex Luthor with just the right mixture of camp and malice, Frank Langella is a statesman-like Perry White and Sam Huntington is perfect as a properly-geeky Jimmy Olsen. My only quibble is with Kate Bosworth; she didn’t make for a good Lois Lane — a bit too Dawson’s Creek for my liking.
I really didn’t think I was going to like this one as much as I did. With Smallville still sadly on our screens and memories of the woeful Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman still grating, it never felt as if Superman needed to make a return, as he was still quite clearly with us. But Singer has shown me that Superman did need to make a return, to show these other upstarts how the job is supposed to be done.