Superman Returns (2006)

There's been some discussion recently of what, exactly, it is that Superman represents. Is there some weird religious agenda being played out inside those tights? Is he a closeted homosexual? Or is he really a symbol of all that's good and right with the world, an impossible ideal of truth, justice, and all the rest of it?

The thing is, whatever it is that Superman might be theoretically argued to represent, he's still incredibly dull. He's the ultimate do-gooder, a picture-perfect goodie-two-shoes, defending the world from megalomaniacs and small-time pickpockets alike. He's the proto-typical all-American hero, and after a twenty-year hiatus, hes back on the big screen.

Superman Returns is a bit of an odd beast. It's not, like Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, a complete re-imagining of the Superman story; but quite where it fits into the movie chronology is hard to say, even without taking into account the comics and numerous television programmes starring Superman over the last few decades. It seems the characters have remained the same, though smaller details of the previous storylines are forgotten -- perfect for an entirely new audience, or anyone who hasn't watched any of the old movies for a while; though more attentive fans might be a bit confused.

So Superman has been gone for five years. Astronomers found what they thought might be the remains of the planet Krypton, and without saying a word to anyone, he jetted off into space to see what was out there. Having discovered absolutely sod all, he returned to earth, where apparently no-one at the Daily Planet minded that hot-shot reporter Clark Kent had been pulling a sickie for five years -- or noticed that he reappeared at the same time as Superman, and looks sort of like him, at the right angle and in the right light -- and therefore let him pick up exactly where he left off.

Well, not exactly. In Superman's absence, Lois Lane has got engaged and had a child. She's also (if she wasn't before) become so incredibly rude and abrupt, not to mention having picked up a nicotine addiction, that it's hard to see why Superman (and indeed the rather sweet Richard White) wouldn't just find someone else. But that's beside the point. Point is, Superman's back, and Lois hasn't just sat at home waiting by the window for him. Oh, the angst!

As if that weren't enough (and it really isn't), super-criminal Lex Luthor has been let off his two consecutive life sentences due to Supes's non-attendance at a court hearing, and promptly discovered Supermans crystal fortress in the Antarctic. Using Kryptonian technology, he's discovered a way of growing new land -- land that will become invaluable since its production will cause most of the United States to find themselves suddenly up to their eyeballs in seawater -- and what's more, it's laced with pretty green Kryptonite, effectively rendering Superman useless.

Cue some fight scenes, some attempts at tension via kidnapping Lois and the kid, and good eventually triumphing over evil. The thing is, it's all so incredibly boring. Everyone knows Superman's going to save the day and the baddies will be punished. Lois's new bloke is such a nice guy that we have no motivation to root for Superman to win back her heart -- after all, he's the epitome of unreliability -- and the super-child is the typically irritating floppy-haired movie moppet. There is just absolutely nothing interesting about this movie; everything slots neatly into its designated space, the peril is never so great that a Superman-assisted easy way out isn't immediately obvious, and the story just isn't engrossing enough. There's something missing deep down at the core of this movie; it's a movie-by-numbers, without any real spark of originality.

The fact that Lois Lane won the Pulitzer Prize for an article entitled "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman" makes jokes along those lines all too easy, but it's also slightly questionable considering what's happened in the five years he's been absent. An early draft of the script included a scene of Superman visiting Ground Zero, with the implication that if only he'd been around on September 11th 2001, he might have been able to stop the disaster from happening. It's probably for the best that this scene was never filmed, considering that the very least of the issues about that would be that Superman presides over Metropolis, a fictionalised New York that is never quite the same as the real thing. The problem is that that scene almost feels like it was included -- the movie seems to be making a half-hearted attempt to recreate onscreen a more innocent, more idealistic world in which a caped superhero could solve all the planet's problems, and although audiences might again be persuaded to believe a man can fly, that's just one leap of faith too far. Even, it seems, for the filmmakers themselves, whose cop-outs leave Superman Returns nothing more than an arse-numbingly long piece of bland nonsense.

Roll on May 2007, that's all I'm saying.

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