It was supposed to be a spectacular film. After a 19-year hiatus, Superman was making his triumphant return to the big screen for a new generation. Warner Brothers had given the project a 300-million-dollar budget, and Bryan Singer, riding a wave of adoration for his brilliant handling of X-Men 2, was directing. Not being a true diehard, I can’t say for certain that this was the stuff of every fanboy’s dream – but to say that this film was hotly anticipated would be an understatement.
Unfortunately, as I left the theater on that opening night six years ago, I was indeed disappointed. I had suffered through what seemed like three hours of underwhelming cinema. So much had been promised, but little was actually delivered. With my head low, I walked home from the theater on that very late night in June.
With the Man of Steel release date being just one year away now, I decided to give Superman Returns another go-around, and I must say that I enjoyed it immensely. If I were to sum up my current feelings about the film in one word, it would be ‘refreshing.’ It was nice to see a superhero movie that wasn’t so much like every other film in the genre. This alternative take on the modern superhero caused Superman Returns to be a critical darling, but ultimately led to the film’s poor reception with audiences.
As I reflect on Returns, I can’t help but think that audience reception would be different if the film were released today. I suspect that moviegoers may be growing tired of the over-saturation of conventional superhero movies at this point. Of the more recent genre films, I believe that Captain America is a step in the right direction, largely because Captain America’s idenitity is an integral part of the story. This stands in contrast to the Iron Man series, in which Tony Stark spends the majority of the films either fighting or preparing to fight bad guys, with little in the way of character development. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the Iron Man films, but for me they were far from ideal superhero fare.
Of course Superman Returns wasn’t perfect. Brandon Routh’s Superman/Clark Kent lacked the boldness and confidence that many fans have come to expect from the more recent comics and animated series. Furthermore, the fact that Lois’s love interest (James Marsden) was both cooler and more likable than Kent was almost unforgivable.
But for all that there was to dislike, there was certainly more to love. The film itself was absolutely gorgeous, the dramatic scenes were captivating, and the cast delivered solid (and in some cases exceptional) performances. Kevin Spacey’s take on Lex Luthor was particularly special – less calculating and diabolical than previous interpretations, but significantly more psychotic.
Fast-forward six years, and the release date of Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot approaches. With that film on the horizon, I can’t help but feel sad about the Superman sequel that we’re not getting. The finale of Returns left us in a great place character-wise, and Bryan Singer appears to have learned his lesson about not having enough action to balance out his drama. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to Man of Steel next summer. Be sure to come back to Movie Fail at this time one year from now to check out our review.
For those of you who hated Superman Returns when it first came out (and I know you’re out there), you owe it to yourself to give it another viewing. Try looking at it as a drama first, superhero movie second. Be sure to let me know what you think via Twitter, or in the comments below!
Follow Tim Nicholson on Twitter @mchatin1.