Superman Returns definitely got the short end of the stick in the super hero comics reboot extravaganza sweepstakes. It’s a shame really, though understandable. Brandon Routh does an eery job of recapturing Christopher Reeves likeness and carrying on the legacy but that’s probably the greatest flaw of this movie, that it tried to carry on the legacy too much. Rumor has it that Warner Bros. wants to reboot it yet again with more darkness because hey it worked for Batman like a charm, so why not Superman right? Well, Batman was always dark. Even when he was wearing purple briefs and molesting Robin behind the scenes you can’t argue that the premise of losing your parents to violent crime as a child and re-inventing yourself to become a vigillante while living a double life isn’t potent with all kinds of issues.
Superman on the otherhand flew in from another planet, with super human powers. Although he lost his parents and the planet he was on, he was raised by loving parents. Superman represents a wholesome America hell-bent on doing good no matter what extremes he has to go through. Sure, he battles villains but he also spends a lot of time fishing people out of their own messes or brushes with bad luck. He’s a well-adjusted guy with a pure heart.
In Superman Returns, we literally find Superman returning after paying what was left of his planet a visit wandering the galaxy much like how a burnt out high-powered executive might backpack around the world. He goes back to the Daily Planet to claim his unremarkable job only to find that the love of his life, Lois Lane, has moved on to a new love and even has a child. To add insult to injury she won a Pullitzer Prize for an article telling the world why they didn’t need Superman.
Lex Luthor is out of jail and up to no good and the world is in chaos as usual. As Superman struggles with his still strong feelings with Lois Lane, he must carry on saving the world and face Lex Luthor. I thought the movie was well done. Nothing really amazing but not badly written. The Daily Planet is a tough sell in this age when all newspapers are struggling and Clark Kent transforming into Superman in broad daylight is hard to swallow when there are so many cameras around us. Also, the 9/11 attacks change the backdrop of New York so fundamentally and with all the terrorism and minor conflicts in the world, it makes you wonder how many Supermans the world needs.
So, I think the main problem with this movie is with framing the Superman universe in a way that’s relevant to the current audience and making Superman human without sacrificing his wholesomeness. I still struggle to understand Warner Bros. reasons for shelving the Superman franchise. I guess the Darknight success had them expecting big bucks but a $400 million box office on a $200 million budget is nothing to sneeze at and full of potential.