July 23, 2006

Superman Returns

Superman Remade

Why can't Superman just fight crime for ninety minutes?

(AMC Burlington) Bryan Singer took on a lot of responsibility in restarting a 20-year dormant feature film franchise. Unfortunately, he equals "important for the stockholders" with "important movie about Superman", and as a result, this new Superman, which should be fun and breathtaking and exciting and fun, is Important with a capital I, which equals ponderous and talky and touchy-feely. There's a lot of drama to be mined from Superman: the last survivor of his planet, alone on Earth where he is different from everyone else, trying to find love with a woman who can never know the real man in the suit? This is all good stuff, but I didn't pay $10 for 150 minutes of this. I want to see more than just Superman feeling lonely. Perhaps to make up for the romance and chit chat, it's difficult to resist the tendency to make Supes' feats oversized: Everyone in the movies and TV can kick a door down or bend an iron bar into a pretzel, but only Superman can reattach California to the continental shelf, or spin the planet backwards. This super-sizing of his crime fighting removes all the fun from his work. Who wants to see Superman lifting a billion tons of rock over his head, when he could be throwing Emperor Zod across Times Square? I am surprised that Singer, who was so sure-footed in his two X-Men movies, has stumbled into Boring Metropolis.

supermanreturnsThe main crime-fighting storyline is a remake of the original 1977 Superman: The Movie: Lex Luthor hatches a scheme to create new valuable real estate for his own gain. Luthor steals Kryptonite from a museum to kill Superman with. The rest of the movie is tied up with the love triangle between Lois Lane, Superman, and Lane's fiance Richard (James Marsden). Lane has put aside her love for Superman when he left Earth five years previous, and now she's in a snit because he left "without saying goodbye". Fer Crissake, he's Superman! If you want to love a superhero with a social secretary, try Batman-- he has Alfred around to send regrets to Vicki Vale, et al.

Is Superman Uncool?

In Bryan Singer's new resurrection of the Superman franchise, Lois Lane has set aside her love for Supes and started a family with another reporter (James Marsden), as Superman has been gone from Earth for five years. Lane wins the Pulitzer Prize for her editorial Why The World Doesn't Need Superman. Before we can say why, I would like to ask the question Does The World Need Superman?

It seems like Kal-El has been gone for a lot longer than five years-- it's been twenty years since the Superman movie franchise ended with a whimper in 1986 with Superman IV: The One With Atomic Man. Three years after that, Tim Burton's Batman began a new comic-book hero era in theaters, and the flood of superhero movies has diluted the potency of caped hero stories. In the 20 years since Gene Hackman last donned the bald cap, most every super hero you have ever heard of has had a movie made about them.

Perhaps Superman is boring? He's a goody-two shoes Patriot with no dark side, no human foibles, and no social life. Comic book writer Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Strikes Back), portrays Superman as a single-minded, mildly dense, blindly obedient servant to the American government. Maybe we feel like we know Superman too well, that there's no new story to tell? Perhaps Superman is too powerful? Is it too hard to find a worthy adversary for him?

Superman Lives Returns: Coming Soon Since 1998

Meanwhile, Warner Brothers has been trying to make a new Superman movie for a decade. Why has it taken a decade to get Superman to fly? Firstly, to make a Superman movie on a scale worthy of the material, you have to spend a lot of money. You can't skimp on the enormousness of a Superman movie and expect people to come back again and again. Just look at the bargain-priced Fantastic Four movie to see a lack of spectacle. If you're going to spend $200,000,000 on one movie, the suits were rightfully worried about finding the right script, a dependable director, and the right Superman. Thirdly, the studio was scared of screwing up a franchise which had the potential to be a huge moneymaker. Superman has instant name-recognition around the planet, every knows and loves him, and the characters and stories of Superman are rich and deep. The responsibility starts to weigh on you, yes?

Bust A Block That Hasn't Been Busted Before

As of July 24, Superman Returns (released June 28) has grossed $178 million in the United States, while Pirates 2 (released July 7) has $322 million. Each movie cost over $200 million to produce and promote, and that money shows on screen. What's sad is that both movies could have made more money if they had not come out a week apart. Perhaps Hollywood economists would not agree, but wouldn't Superman Returns have been more successful without strong competition from Captain Jack Sparrow, et al? Why not drop this blockbuster on a un-busted block? How about the spring? If a diminishing-returns sequel like Mission: Impossible 3 can make $122 million in early May (and June), why can't a "summer" blockbuster come out in late April? or March? Haven't you ever gone to the movies in the spring, paying $10 to see underwhelming features like The Pink Panther, Eight Below, V for Vendetta, or Underworld: Evolution? Before the feature, you see a trailer for a summer blockbuster like Superman Returns. By the time the trailer is over, you're so excited about seeing Superman fly with 21st century effects, that you've forgotten what feature you paid to watch. And when you do remember, you sadly regret that you can't watch the blockbuster instead? Here's a crazy idea: Release the summer blockbuster in the spring, and watch the eager moviegoers thank you by handing over their Hamiltons by the handful.