In Superman Returns, it’s doubly problematic, because the script has given him a romantic foil, Lois’s boyfriend, who is constantly risking his life – the mark of a real hero – to save Lois and her child. Whereas Superman risks . . . um . . . well, okay, there’s some kryptonite thrown in, and he almost dies from it, but in every other situation Lois’s boyfriend comes across as the guy we really ought to be rooting for, and Superman as the annoying interloper showing up to save the day at no risk to himself. ~Ross Douthat
I only recently saw the movie myself, having been uninterested in the remake/sequel/whatever when it first came out. I only grudgingly rented it when I was in a mood for what I assumed would be a pair of bad comic book movies (I also watched the third X-Men again to give it a second chance, but it remains as terrible as ever). Going into it with extremely low expectations (the clips I had seen last year were just awful), I was surprised that it wasn’t nearly as terrible as I thought it would be. You may call this damning with faint praise, but I came away with a much higher estimation of the entire movie than I ever thought I would.
A lot of people, including Ross, are giving Kate Bosworth an awfully hard time. She did not dazzle or distinguish herself, but she did a perfectly acceptable job. For some reason, I kept thinking of her as the poor man’s Rachel McAdams (Michael will probably be horrified by this comparison).
Is the entire story completely predictable? Yes. But you already knew that. It’s a Superman movie. Superman wins, Luthor loses, and his old ambiguous, tortured relationship with Lois Lane goes back to being ambiguous and tortured. You are never surprised or deeply moved, but you didn’t go to see a Superman flick looking for surprises or a moving experience. You go to see the whole “faster than a speeding bullet, can leap a tall building in a single bound” bit. Naturally. Had the new Superman taken the “Wonderman” route and thrown the new boyfriend into outer space, well, that would have at least been different…but everyone would be very upset that they had made Superman into just another jealous ex-lover. People like Superman because he isn’t human and has no really good reason to intervene, yet he deigns to hang around and help anyway. People who want deeply human, complex, flawed and slightly crazy superheroes (count me in) are Batman fans to the end. People who want the simple and pure straight arrow as their superhero go for Superman. This is probably a good measure for someone’s tendency towards either pessimism or optimism, but I won’t dwell on that here.
But maybe we’ve all been looking at Superman Returns the wrong way. Maybe Superman shouldn’t be the one we pay attention to. Maybe he is the foil. Maybe the entire movie was a way for James Marsden to play someone genuinely heroic and redeem his career from the unfortunate interlude as the eternally worthless Cyclops in the X-Men movies. By setting him up against Superman, the superhero of superheroes, his Richard White character comes across as that much more impressive. It’s almost enough to keep you from cheering when Marsden/Cyclops is vaporised by the Phoenix when you start watching X-Men III. Almost.