The opening credits really revealed the true agenda of this movie: Returning the Richard Donner Superman franchise. This was a love note to the first two Supes movies instead of a love note to the characters that inspired those films. On that level, it succeeds, because like those movies, Superman Returns is boring, stilted, awkward, and generally just gets things very very wrong.
No i’ll admit: i harbor a very strong pro-batman bias. And there were signficant changes in character backgrounds in Batman Begins, but the reason the work is because they still stay true to the motivation, and by extension, the predictable actions of the characters that were adapted to the film. Sure, Ra’as Al Ghul might not have been a 1000 year old bedouin genocidal maniac in BB as he was in comics, but his basic character attributes were still in tact: feels humanity is inherently evil and that it is his moral duty to purge it perodically, and he feels so because he tragically lost his wife. This same consistency between the film and comic verisons was executed in every character in Batman Begins. Except for Rachel Dawes, who never existed in comics, and that’s why you see her nipping out in every scene.
And yet in “Superman Returns,” we have a number of glaring inconsistencies. Firstly, Superman abandons earth for selfish reasons. Sure, anyone would want to see the remains of their home alien planet, but I don’t think anyone who’s ever read a single comic book would tell you that Superman actually would leave earth, however temporarily, without leaving another champion to carry the torch. Like a Superman robot or Jimmy Olsen aided by the power of mystical Nordic artifacts.
Lois would not bone the boss’s nephew apparently days after Superman left. And don’t give me that business that Richard White may have been her rebound guy–if there’s one single female character that’s shown repeatedly she can get along fine without any man, it’s Lois Lane, the embodiment of piss and vinegar independence.
Lex Luthor was too gaudy. Sure, he’s a smartass, but the kind that makes you terrfied of what he can do with a phone call, not the kind who provides comic relief via wigs. The most accurate Lex Luthor moment in the film is when, after the guy from “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” drops the sun stone (excuse me, crystal) in the train set sea. And once it starts bubbling, Lex quietly steps back, not warning his cronies because he’s curious what exploding crystal will do to supervillian stooge who shops at Urban Outfitters.
So I guess it all boils down to this: “Superman Returns” excelled at recreating the “Superman” movies. And yet it fails utterly as a Superman movie. “Superman Returns” brushes over the most compelling charater trait that has made Big Blue a Superarchetype for the past 60 years, but beyond that, just a fascinating character that is so easily misunderstood. Superman is three people.
There is the hero, Superman: confident, loved by the people of Metropolis, but burdened by the guilt that even though he’s freakin’ Superman, he can’t save everybody all the time.
There is Kal-El, the last son of Krypton, whose heritage exploded millions of lightyears away. And no matter how much he tries to fit in, he knows he’s not human and can never relate to anyone he will ever meet.
And then there’s Clark Kent, the bumbling, polite product of a romanticized Kansas but with the sharp intuition, instincts and reasoning skills befitting a reporter of what is basically the world’s capitol.
But that’s not what “Superman Returns” is. It’s a guy looking like Christopher Reeve with personal problems like Peter Parker. And that’s why “Superman Returns” isn’t a good Superman movie.