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Monday, November 17, 2008

Why the World Doesn't Need Superman Returns

I saw Superman Returns this weekend and boy-howdy did it suck. I think it actually made me sick. The day after I woke up with a massive migraine and feeling cruddy like I had a hangover. My wife yelled at me to stop ranting about how stupid the movie was and everything they did wrong. So let me clear my head by ranting on my blog. I realize this is all about two years too late, but bear with me.

First of all, if you're going to kickstart the series, don't repeat the same damn thing you did in the first two movies. Lex Luthor - again. Plot to seize real estate - again. Lex uses kryptonite on Superman and leaves him be, expecting him to die - again. We see Superman discovering his powers (very extraneously) - again (by the way, why is he wearing glasses in this scene? He shouldn't need them, they're part of his secret identity, which its clear he hasn't established at this point). Lois cannot consolidate her love of Superman - again. Lex invades the fortress of solitude - again. Superman first saves Lois during a flying accident, after which she faints - again. Lex's girlfriend sees the evil in Lex and good in Superman and has a change of heart - again. Christ, even the credit sequence and music is the same. You got your sequel in my remake and my remake in your sequel. The only thing different is his superficial son, who doesn't do anything.

Superman has a rich storyline, there's no reason you should have to revisit material. There's plenty of excellent villains to choose from. Darkseid, Braniac, Doomsday. How about Supergirl or the bottled city of Candor? You need to give Superman something to overcome. Lex Luthor is the stupidest bad guy and no one seems to want to admit it. Even his origin story is ludicrous. You can't do anything with him. The Joker's got a lot of diversity (Jack Nicholson as creepy uncle, Heath Ledger as clever serial killer anarchist, Cesar Romero as career criminal with a prankster motif), but Lex Luthor has no character, and he poses no legitimate threat to Superman, or the world.

Now that the villain is out of the way, let's talk about Superman. He irresponsibly leaves the planet he swore to himself to protect for five years, then comes back with no consequences. I would expect some people who had relatives who died in an earthquake to be resentful (also its terribly convenient that Lex gets out of prison at the same time). Then the movie focuses a hell of a lot more on Clark Kent observing what the world thinks about Superman than actually being Superman. The movie should be called "Clark Kent Returns". Its more about his love for Lois that can't be reconciled between his two identities.

Superman is a ridiculous person. His powers consist of whatever the writers need at the time. He can stop his own heart, throw the symbol from his chest onto something. Lose his powers and then regain them. Take away people's memory. Reverse time. In this movie, they apparently needed him to lift things. Oh, he's also gained the powers of a peeping tom. Meanwhile banks are getting robbed by a guy who can build his own mini-gun.

There's nothing particularly noble about Superman's mission. He's not trying to avenge his parents, he's not trying to prevent things from happening that ruined his own life, he's not using great power that comes with great responsibility. He's blah. He lifts things. He's as personality-less as the natural disasters he prevents.

The problem with Superman in general is that he's a C-grade superhero in an A-grade body. It's exactly what Lex is talking about with Prometheus taking the fire from the gods. Superman is a god. He can't be killed. He's invulnerable to everything, and we know he'll always be as such. He can't get shot. He can't take the blame and let a villain be a heroic martyr for the city. He can't face his own demons of too much power or have his personal life conflict with his hero life. The only thing that takes him down from God status is a rare element that only appears when it needs to. Where's the emotional investment? Where's the relation from viewer to hero? Where's the danger? Superman lives a life full of convenient plot devices. He is his own deus ex machina.

People, let me make a bold statement. Superman is done. He should have been done a long time ago, but somehow he still manages to hang on, maybe because of some noble idea that since he was the first, he needs our respect. He doesn't. You ever read the old Superman comics? His heroic conflicts boil down to two things - keeping his secret identity or being in two places at once. And each time we know its all going to go back to status quo. There's no Barbara Gordon to become permanently paralyzed or Robin to come into conflict with Batman and split off. There's no sense of adventure. Superman exists on too grand a scale to make him appealing. It would be like watching God. Since He's all-powerful and all-knowing, there would be no tension, you know what's going to happen and it doesn't matter. People, wash this titan away and let the new gods rule the land.

And Supes? Ditch the spit curl.
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