Sean K. Cureton

Superman Returns In Fleeting Relief

In My Favorite Movies on May 7, 2016 at 2:24 pm
Superman Returns

Warner Bros. Pictures

Superman Returns
Directed by Bryan Singer
Commercial Release: June 28th, 2006

In the years since Bryan Singer first reestablished the comic book superhero for mainstream movie-going audiences in X-Men from the year 2000, the intellectual properties beholden to Marvel Comics and DC Comics have become synonymous with big budget success. This year alone has already seen the theatrical release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice from Warner Bros. Pictures and Captain America: Civil War from Marvel Studios, with each motion picture being met with respectively wide appeal. The one aspect that both films share is in the financially crucial realm of box office revenue. Each movie has been met with varying degrees of critical praise and fan reception, but each of them will result in copious sequels and stand-alone spin-offs down the road. The age of the superhero movie as being not just a summer season spectacle but also a national past time for audiences of all ages is upon us.

Personally, I don’t remember a time when movies starring caped crusaders from comic book panels that I had largely never read weren’t a facet of the contemporary movie-going experience. Films like Singer’s aforementioned X-Men, noted genre film director Sam Raimi’s initial Spider-Man trilogy, and Oscar-winning auteur Ang Lee’s Hulk are the movies that introduced me to the basic concept of the superhero archetype. The influence of each film has diminished in the interceding years among general audiences while the meticulously packaged world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has simultaneously promoted a total recall on the genre from the ground up. The Incredible Hulk has been recreated twice over since actor Eric Bana made his first stumbling attempt at the role, Spider-Man has been the center of intense creative friction which may have finally given rise to the greatest cinematic adaptation of the character yet, and Singer’s X-Men film franchise is heading into what could be considered its third generation of original motion picture events. The superhero is the new Humphrey Bogart, Clint Eastwood, and Woody Allen all wrapped up in one attractive package.

There will be no shortage of the new, gritty, and realistic superhero for the foreseeable future, just as there is no end in sight for the inherently marketable Marvel Cinematic Universe. Christopher Nolan truly broke the mold with his The Dark Knight trilogy starting in 2005, and in its wake Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. Pictures have followed its thematically alluring suit. But what Nolan has inexplicably wrought by the making of his Batman movies is the illusion that superhero movies are for adults. The Dark Knight is a stunning crime drama that served to help establish a tone for contemporary Oscar-caliber filmmaking, but it also features certain noted comic book characters designed to appeal to children. The Dark Knight, regardless of its explicit narrative content, is not really a superhero movie, nor is it a Batman movie; it is a psychological-thriller masquerading under the guise of the comic book brand.

Of the superhero movies that I can still stomach, one of the high water marks in my mind is Superman Returns from 2006. Produced and directed by Singer during his brief reprieve from the X-Men franchise, the movie sees actor Brandon Routh in the role of Krypton’s last son, having returned to Metropolis after five years spent in isolation amidst the remains of his long-since demolished alien home. Picking up where director Richard Lester’s Superman II left viewers in 1980, and abandoning the content previously established by the two preceding Superman films, Superman Returns offers an antiquated take on the mythological superhero narrative for twenty-first century audiences. In the role of Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman, Routh strikes a pose that appears largely in keeping with the look of the late Christopher Reeve, and manages to carry the heft of a remarkably Messianic narrative with poise and style. Remarkably, Superman Returns plays like an attempted resurgence of the aesthetic featured in the original Fleischer & Famous Superman cartoons of the 1940s, which simultaneously serves as its singular charm and most glaring blind spot.

Coming out only a year after Batman Begins, Superman Returns feels like a movie made out of time. If it had come out ten years earlier in the midst of the optimism and malaise of the 1990s, it might have been a bigger hit, albeit a smaller source for national attention. Films like the body horror themed X-Men, the languorously meditative Hulk, and the whimsical romantic-comedy Spider-Man just don’t fit into the contemporary superhero model and platform currently established by films like Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Yet all of those films boil down to the same comic book men in multi-colored tights. The superhero movie is always going to be about the perennial pursuit of a childish fever dream that might yet save us from amoral nihilism, standing up as a metaphor to be extrapolated upon in fleeting relief; enter Superman Returns.

Superman Returns is available to own on Blu-Ray, DVD, and VOD, and is one of My Favorite Movies.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: