Flashback! To “Superman Returns…”

Yes, I thought I should see this, so I saw it. Saw it a little while ago, actually.
Oh, what did I think?

Well, the effects were really good, Kevin Spacey was (as expected) incredibly brilliant in his continuation of Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor stylings, wow! WOW! And let’s not overlook Parker Posey, she was fabulous too…WOW! They nailed this one, for sure. Terrifically fun stuff.

Also, I love the opportunity that a Superman movie gives us to imagine a world where Superman is it – no Batman, no Green Lantern, nothing getting in the way. Short of re-reading the earliest strips, it’s hard to call that long-ago feeling back to life…so, in that sense, I really appreciated this movie.

But there is another sense in which I did not appreciate it at all.

No, it isn’t what you’re thinking, although hey, I obviously agree with all those points of yours. As much as there was to like in this movie, there was a lot to dislike in it too, and I can’t say it didn’t irritate the hell out of me. It irritated the hell out of me! But there was something more important than all that stuff. And, oh, say, is that today’s date? Is it really Valentine’s Day already? Okay, let’s talk some Valentine’s Day stuff then. Flowers. Chocolate. Love.

For God’s sake, where is the love for Clark Kent in this movie?

I can’t believe I’m the only one who’s…well, sure, yes, perhaps actually a bit offended on behalf of ol’ Clark. What has he done, after all, to deserve such disrespect? Look, they don’t even care enough about him to give more than a minute to suspecting he’s Superman…and I’m talking about the filmmakers, here. Good Lord, what has gone wrong? How can this have been forgotten? For a second, as the DVD title sequence played, I thought I was going to see something that was really, really like Superman…they played the shot of him in the elevator, resignedly removing his glasses, and I thought they were going to get it right…and then inexplicably they got it wrong. Wrong! How could you get that, of all things, so wrong? There were so many things to do, so many ways to go, so much freshness to be brought to this, and yet they just glossed over it entirely. I can think of at least a half-dozen ways to use Clark better here, just off the top of my head…Christ, he didn’t even work on a story! He even came back on the very same day as Superman, and no one took the slightest notice! Well, but how could they…except for Jimmy, they didn’t even notice that he was back at all. Lois, you heartless cow. Perry, you cold bastard. How can you be so unfeeling? Man, I’ll tell you, if the people I knew cared so little for me, I’d leave Earth too.

Yeah, there’s a lot to pick apart in this movie, but this is the worst thing, because this is the main symptom of what was wrong with it. That Clark Kent is secretly Superman is an extremely important part of Superman’s mystique, an extremely important part of people’s interest and affection for the character. It is not an accident; it is not a minor detail. It’s what people read the comics for, what they know about the comics if they know nothing else. Clark Kent is the gateway to reader/viewer identification with Superman, and closing that gateway makes no sense, no sense at all. I mean I could go on, but if you don’t already agree with me, I can’t think of any simpler way to say it. Where’s Clark? What happened to Clark? Is Clark all right? Say, has anyone seen Clark? Christ, he doesn’t even need the glasses: he’s ended up completely invisible, anyway. Because he’s ended up completely unloved.

Even by the audience.

And, that’s just wrong.

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6 responses to “Flashback! To “Superman Returns…”

  1. The original Superman contains one of my absolute favorite lines in any movie:

    “Why would anyone want to make a total stranger look like a fool?”

    It sums up what is so perfect about Christopher Reeve’s Clark/Superman, and by extension exactly what you’re talking about with regard to forgetting about Clark. Not only does he disguise himself, he debases himself, so that no one will suspect he’s Superman. John Byrne’s revamp was on to something when it suggested that the secret identity was a “fortress of solitude,” but it didn’t take into account the extra level of security that Wimpy Clark would provide.

    I liked Superman Returns a lot — not as much as I expected to, but those were lofty expectations — mostly because it made me feel very sympathetic towards Superman. It humanized Superman, almost in a way that the Reeve movies could not, because Reeve’s Superman was so iconic, monolithic, etc. However, Reeve could make Superman imposing precisely because he could make Clark so different. For a film that cherishes the Reeve movies so much, it seems like an odd choice; but maybe Singer and Routh knew they couldn’t pull off Reeve’s amazing Clark-to-Superman transformations, and decided not to try.

  2. I felt sorry for Clark as well.

    It seems the rationale for nobody noticing that Clark looks like Superman is that nobody really pays attention to Clark.

    I was pretty offended, however, that Lois took exception to even being considered Clark’s friend. That’s pretty low.

  3. I agree. Lois came off particularly cold toward Clark given those aspects of their shared history she can presumably remember from the original two films, and it made her that much less likeable. I was cheered a bit by the role Jimmy played, though it wasn’t quite enough.

    (In the tableaux vivant of religious art that Singer intended the film to be, what role do you give the one faithful friend who welcomes back the disguised hero? Surely he’d be the most loyal of the disciples, no?)

    Purely in terms of plot logistics, the unremarked-upon simultaneous returns of Superman and Clark bothered me too…and it’s something that could easily have been finessed away, had Singer really cared about that sort of thing. Let’s say Superman returns, everyone knows it — and then Perry White gets the bright idea to team Lois with the only other reporter ever to get exclusive stories from the guy, inviting a long absent Clark Kent to return to the Daily Planet. Boom, problem solved in a line or two of dialogue. Maybe it would even provide a bit of motivation for the otherwise unexplained coldness of Lois: she could interpret Clark’s return as an undeserved slight, an implied message that she wasn’t good enough to handle the story on her own, and taken out her resentment on an innocent Clark. And then their arc becomes her “forgiving” him, as she remembers that Clark Kent is actually a really nice guy who has always been decent and supportive to her.

    As I say, had Singer really cared about that sort of thing.

  4. Christopher Reeve really did do a good job of the shoulder-straightening Clark/Superman switch, didn’t he? I just watched Superman again, too, and for all its faults I was struck by how sheerly likeable it was…

    Also: RAB, that’s a good solution. Also it would have been easy to say that Clark cut short his sabbatical…holiday…what? Whatever it was…as soon as he, too, heard that Superman was back. Wherever he was. Wonder if he took any pictures, just in case someone asked to see them? And then, of course, nobody did…

    And really, from the point of view of theme, this was a bit of a muddle, wasn’t it? Leaving aside things in the story I didn’t care for (i.e. just about everything that doesn’t have Kevin Spacey or Parker Posey in it), the whole sequence with Superman in the hospital, cape and boots parked tidily in the corner of the room, I just found inexpressibly disquieting in a purely filmic sort of way. Suddenly the question becomes: just who is Superman supposed to be, anyway? It isn’t clear. I would even have put up with Clark only showing up at the end of the movie (although I wouldn’t have preferred it, and I think it would’ve been a mistake), just to indicate something about how Superman processes his angst…even if the overriding aim was to preserve the stuff that Tom liked in this over the stuff I did, I think that would have worked too. Of course for my money, in a “modern” Superman story like this, that has so many emotional unsayables in it, having a character like Clark to lodge tensions in should have been manna from heaven…at the very least, Clark could have been Superman’s brave face, here: the secret identity of a broken heart, right? Exceedingly relatable…and how much better would the scene between Lois and her husband have been if they’d had Clark over for dinner, and then he’d eavesdropped on them as he was leaving the house…?

    Yeah, there’s couple of imponderables here. Also, a friend of mine who is not a comics guy sort of hit it on the head when he said he felt the ending was a bit of a cheat…”what, that’s it? What about all the loose ends? Where’s my closure?” So you see, it isn’t just the comicky folks that have kvetchy issues with it.

    Of course you all knew that already, no doubt. However it was a comfort to me to find it out.

  5. Superman Returns could have been so much better. That, rather than specific plotholes or scenes, is what bugged me after the movie ended. The lack of closure was a big issue for me (and I’m used to that sort of thing, being a comic book reader and an X-Men fan). Luthor was stopped, but it didn’t feel like a victory. The love triangle (quadrilateral?) that did not interest me in the slightest, the lack of follow-through on Lois’ son, and the moping brought the movie down from an A to a B-.

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