Superman Matt and the Dullard Public

returns

The forthcoming movie Superman Returns has aroused some controversy. This controversy is not just regarding the changes being made to the image, persona and ethos of the character, but also over the rights of dedicated fans to defend their disapproval of these changes.

Let’s begin by looking at some of the better decisions which have been made by Warner Brothers and director Bryan Singer. First of all, Singer has decided to keep the original score composed by John Williams for the first film. A wise choice, considering that the sound of the fanfare almost audibly pronouncing the name ‘Superman!’ is as iconic a part of the character as the logo on his chest. Secondly, the casting of Kevin Spacey for the role of Lex Luthor is an obvious, if not altogether inspired, choice. Spacey’s incredible diversity makes him perfect for the role of someone so dark and sinister who manages to project a public persona of philanthropic integrity. Finally, the shots which have been revealed so far of Brandon Routh as Clark Kent look fantastic. He looks geeky, clumsy and awkward; exactly as Clark Kent should look. The question of how a simple pair of glasses can fool the world has been around as long as Superman, but Christopher Reeve was able to convince us of the Kent/Superman duality so well because he played the two differently. Superman is macho and confident, while Clark Kent is a clumsy goof. The pictures of Routh portraying the Kent side of this persona appear to work well because he looks geeky. Also, with his big spectacles and a mop of hair flopping down over his forehead, most of his face is obscured, further reinforcing the believability of the secret identity. In the original radio series Bud Collyer achieved this effect by reading the Clark Kent lines in a tenor voice and lowering it to a baritone for Superman. This duality is an essential part of the character that was sadly missed in the television interpretation starring Dean Cain.

Now to move on to the inevitable downside. Two weeks ago, the first official picture of Brandon Routh wearing the Superman costume was released. Needless to say, every two-bit fanboy across the globe rushed to get his two-pennies worth heard on the Internet forums, myself included. What amazed me, however, was that all over the media the suit was described as being ‘classical’ and ‘traditional’, that it was faithful to the suit worn by Reeve, and well received to widespread applause. First of all, none of this is true. The suit is only traditional compared to the leather suits worn in Singer’s X-Men movies , which are obviously a much further departure from their original comic book designs. But also, how can a newspaper with a bold headline reading ‘First Look at Routh as Superman!’ proclaim underneath that the picture has been well received? No-one had seen it yet! Furthermore, a recent opinion poll showed that a 52% majority in fact do not like the suit. A recent Sandy Collora article explains why:

The biggest and most obvious problem I feel with it, is the fact that everything about it, including Brandon Routh himself, is just too small. The symbol, the neckline, the shorts, the boots… It all looks wrong to me. Really wrong. If anything, Routh looks more like an odd, little too old, doesn’t quite fit into the costume, version of Superboy to me, rather than a real Superman. It lacks power, presence and an overall cohesiveness that makes it somehow look like someone dressed up like Superman, but it’s not SUPERMAN . . . .

Superman’s costume is already designed, it just needs to be translated into a different medium, from the page, to the screen. Nothing needs to be ‘updated’, changed, or re-designed??Which prompts the question: Why change the costume? Well, I think the answer to that question lies somewhere in the fact that this film is basically a 200 million dollar commercial to sell action figures and toys

I think there are two more important points not mentioned by Collora in his article. The first is to do with the shorts. I realise that the ‘pants over the tights’ thing has been a matter of contention for a long time. However, I feel that this feature actually adds to the masculinity of the look, if it is co-ordinated well with the rest of the suit, and worn by someone convincingly macho anyway. In the original, unmodified picture, Routh is wearing what look to me like French knickers . The second is that his hair is not black and his eyes are not blue. Dying his hair is a simple matter, and Orlando Bloom’s contact lenses in Lord of the Rings were perfectly convincing, so why could they not be used here?

Ok, that’s my rant about the suit out the way. Another problem with the film is the casting of Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. Although she is undoubtedly a talented actress, she does not embody the character at all. Lois Lane is a strong feminine role, and Kate Bosworth just looks like a ditsy Superman groupie. I’m reluctant to make any suggestions, but there are other actresses who could have more adequately portrayed this part.

Now to move onto the plot. The synopsis is that Superman has been away for several years, possibly back on Krypton although this has not been confirmed. First of all, Krypton was destroyed. Second of all, why would Superman abandon Earth, the planet he protects and loves so much, for several years? I reserve judgement on this until I see the film, but the script writers better have come up with a pretty damn good reason. During his absence, the people of Earth have learned to get by without him, and the movie explores the question, does the world really need Superman? First of all, this is a rehashing of Spiderman 2, which explored this aspect of superhero mythology. Why have they not come up with an original story idea? Secondly, Sandy Collora points out how young Routh looks. Admittedly, he is older than Christopher Reeve was when he first wore the cape, but Reeve looked old enough to be Superman, and Superboy has been played by someone of 30 in a TV series. It’s how old you look that’s important. With Routh looking so young, one can’t help but wonder how young a Superman he was when he originally left Earth if he has been gone for several years.

Some people have suggested that the new suit sets the tone for what will be a darker and more serious film. The simple fact is that Superman always has and always will be a symbol of hope. He can’t be everywhere all the time to avert every disaster or tragedy, but the people of Metropolis know every time they see that blue and red streak flash over them in the sky that they are safe. People love Superman; they don’t question whether or not they need him.

That pretty much sums up what I feel is going to be wrong with this film. No doubt it will be a box-office smash, and the ensuing merchandising takings will be through the roof. People who have never read a Superman comic and can barely remember the original movies will flock in their millions to see the new film, and will probably love it as well, seeing how people can be so easily bought these days with flashy special effects and action sequences. Unfortunately for true fans of Superman (who have been criticised for raising these objections), this movie will represent a blemish on the otherwise immaculate history of a well loved cultural icon.

Review written by Matt Goldman



4 comments


    Robert

    May 7, 2005

    To be honest, I never liked Superman. The guy can fly, is strong, has laser-eyes, frozen breath, and pretty much every other superpower they could think of. How can anyone like a virtually indestructible superhero?

    Will the film be successful? Maybe. My suspicion is that the current era of comic book movies is once again drawing to a close, and that Superman might just be the big flop to end the trend for a while.

    That said, the film I’m most eagerly awaiting is Sin City. The visuals in the trailer look unbelievably amazing – don’t know whether the movie will be any good, but something looking this good deserves my money for the admission price even if the story sucks.

    markbanerji

    May 7, 2005

    *Faster than a speeding bullet with the possible exception of bad news..*

    While it is perhaps tempting to view Reeves turn in the red cape as sacrosant as he demonstrated real life superman qualities, S III and IV were quite lamentable. While the character has been particualry enduring almost never got of the ground as it was originally turned down by almost every comics publisher in the USA. The new superman may indeed appear more “metrosexual”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metrosexual than metropolis but there has always been an element of camp factor in comic super heros transition to the live action interpretations. Superman had gained his powers as a result of the differences in the Earths gravity compared to krypton and hence his suit is only required to protect his modesty and look like the american flag.

    This is of course unlike poor Batman who needs all those bullet proof suits ,gadgets and the cars the chicks dig the cars. The Xmen too need some additional protection as there powers are limited to particularly areas and dare I say so was there following before the big screen so were less identified by there costume. There has been a number of television series since the last big screen encounter and continuity is always a problem particularly in series that try to reimagine the past. Just look at the current “Battlestar Galactica”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0314979/ series..say no more. As to why the new Superman looks so young perhaps its all that “time dilation”:http://www.sciam.com/askexpert_question.cfm?articleID=000BA7D8-2FB2-1E6D-A98A809EC5880105&pageNumber=1&catID=3 of flying close to the speed of light or who know perhpaps hes had a nip and a tuck.He is after all he is an alien and as Yoda said ‘When 900 years you reach this good youll look not hmmm.’

    Kevin

    May 7, 2005

    Superman always seemed a little flawed to me also, although I
    though the way Miller handled him in “Dark Knight Returns
    etc”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/
    1563893428/103-4695214-3510216?v=glance worked well.

    Kaijukid

    May 7, 2005

    Comic books fans don’t know how to be open minded and objective anymore. They change Superman’s suit in the most MINIMAL ways, maintain the fundamental pride of the character’s look, and yet fans raise hell. You guys still have a little time before the film comes out. Grow up a little before you go see it.

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