Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Death of Superman?

Gitesh Pandya has the opening day numbers for Superman Returns. It did $21M on Wednesday, putting it on track to perform like last year's War of the Worlds.

I saw Superman this afternoon and can't really get it up to write anything about it. I've been a DC guy since childhood and the movie is a desecration of everything I've ever loved about comic books. It's so cloying and self-conscious and stupid that I don't even quite know what to say.

Just to take one example, while I understand that Superman himself defies the laws of gravity, is his costume supposed to do so, too? Whenever Supes is landing feet first, his cape hangs demurely at his ankles. It's kind of ridiculous.

Again, that's a microscopic point, but it's a telling one. Superhero movies require such an enormous suspension of disbelief just going in the door that they have to take extra care with all the little details.

Superman also suffers from terrible movie logic at nearly every turn. Events happen and choices are made not because they make sense, but because the story needs to go from Point A to Point B. Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor is ridiculous; he's a low-level thug with neither intelligence nor imagination. But he does have flair. Lots of it. Anthony Lane said that Superman was a quarter inch from camp. I wouldn't go that far.

(Btw, Luthor's evil plot is ripped from one of Cobra Commander's schemes in the Marvel G.I. Joe comic. Just sayin'.)

And all of these complaints leave out the betrayal of the geeks. The Superman we see onscreen in this movie bears no relation to any version of the character we've ever seen before. If Superman meant anything to you growing up, you'll be begging for an appearance by Doomsday before the first reel is done.

I'm a big fan of Bryan Singer. The Usual Supects is pretty wonderful, as are the two X-Men movies and House. And I don't genuflect before the original Richard Donner Superman--it was a nice movie, but certainly not unsurpassable.

But Superman Returns is so daft that it's difficult to find the words to describe it. Maybe the most damning thing to be said is this: There are reports that the budget hit $260M, making it one of the most expensive movies ever produced.

You sure don't see those dollars on the the screen.

Update: Just as another aside, there are some jump cuts during one of the big action sequences when all of a sudden you see, filling the screen, the mug of Richard Branson, who's playing one of the members of the space shuttle crew. I think he has one line. But it's an incredibly jarring cameo, and his face pops up on screen two or three times for no apparent reason other than he's Richard Branson. I wonder if he compensated the studio for this part.


Anonymous said...


Superman Returns doesn't open in Japan until August so I can't comment on the movies merits or lack of until then, but can we please stop the critique of superhero kinetcis? Ever since video games and CGI have taken special effects to a new level of "reality" over the past decade, suddenly everyone has a PhD in physics. Only the Comic Book Store Guy from The Simpsons can get away with such nerdy nitpicking. When we're looking for air currents and cape contours as Superman lands, we're devoiding ourselves of the magic and escapism of seeing him fly. It's missing the point. You admit it's a microscopic point, so why even bother?

Anonymous said...

Like the dog that goes back to its vomit, JVL is once again pontificating about box office numbers. Will JVL finally be right about box office numbers?

Anonymous said...

The movie was absolutely awesome. Superman Returns made me even more of a Superman fan, and that's a tough thing to do. The music was breathtaking, the effects were awesome, Brandon Routh did such an excellent job as Superman and Clark Kent, Lex Luthor was evil and twisted as can be and the movie had an unexpected twist in the end and several touching moments.

When I found out they were making a new Superman movie, I was completely disturbed as far as I was concerned, you can do anything you want but you can't mess with my Superman...but, I would never have guessed just how awesome Superman Returns would be. They couldn't have made me happier.