Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Fixing Movies: Superman Returns

With Man of Steel just around the corner, I am reflecting on Superman's past big screen incarnations.

I was so excited for Superman Returns.  In fact I was so happy to see Superman on screen after decades that it wasn't until the second time that I watched Bryan Singer's movie that I realized that the movie wasn't very good.

Many people attribute the problem to director Bryan Singer's attempt to make a connection to the Richard Donner movies while trying to jumpstart a new franchise.  But that was in no way the problem.  In fact, the nostalgia factor was one of the best parts of the film.  Nevertheless, Zack Snyder is now going out of his way to make sure that his Superman is original in every way he can make it.

But looking back on Superman Returns, here are my ways to fix this movie (in no particular order)

1.  Recast the Leads.

Brandon Routh gets a lot of flack, but his performance is fine.  Yet he has the same basic problem that Kate Bosworth had: they are too young.  If the movie was starting from scratch, this would make sense (see Amazing Spider-Man).  But there is supposed to be history and time behind these characters.  Robert Downey Jr. had to fight like hell to get the part of Iron Man because the studios thought he was too old.  But you needed that maturity to make Iron Man work.  That maturity is missing from the leads here.  Even Lord of the Rings replaced young Stewart Townsend with the more mature Viggo Mortenson for Aragorn.  Superman Returns should have turned to a more world-weathered actor set of actors like Jim Caviezel as Superman and Kate Winslett as Lois.

2.  Show Superman Leaving.

One of the most important lessons of storytelling is "show, don't tell."  But Superman Returns violates that in the opening seconds.  It puts up a text saying that Superman left Earth 5 years earlier to find the remains of Krypton.  But then it flashes forward to Superman coming back.  This cuts out the emotional crux of the movie.  Why does Lois hate and love Superman?  Why is Superman not with Lois even though he loves her?    Imagine a scene at the beginning where Lois begs him to stay, but he felt his call of duty too great.  What a powerful way to begin the film.  And it would create the emotional tether between the two characters that the movie needs.

3.  Have Lex and Superman Fight.

In the movie, Superman gets poisoned by Kryptonite and Lex proceeds to beat the hell out of him.  But wouldn't that scene have been much more interesting if instead of Superman being completely powerless, he was only de-powered.  So when he and Lex fought, it would be closer to equals.  This would have created a lot more tension and been a nice turn around for the villain.  Wouldn't it have been great if Luther became the more physcially imposing one and Superman had to use his brains to save his own life?  That would be a fantastic turnabout

4.  Show More Kryptonian Technology

Lex brags about his superior alien tech.  But we never really get to see it.  If we had a scene where he used alien weapons, then it would have raised the stakes.  This would also give Superman a chance to show off his powers not just against natural disasters but other super-powered individuals.

5.  Redo the Jason's Cover Story

Jason is Lois Lane's son.  He was also born shortly Superman left.  The movie tipped its hand too early.  Instead, the story should have been that she went on assignment for a year, trying to forget Superman.  While out, she adopted a refugee child.  Or maybe she dying cousin who asked her to take on her child.  These cover stories would have held longer so when it is finally revealed that he is Superman's son, it would have more of an impact.

6.  Get Rid of Lois' Fiancee

I know that the point was to show how she had moved on with her life without Superman.  But Jason White is a good guy and because of that, it turns Superman into a stalker.  It also makes the Superman/Lois relationship bitter.  Any time they get closer, it has an element of infidelity to it.

7.  Make the Movie Brighter.

I don't mean this in terms of tone, but actual luminosity.  Like the Hulk movie, the cinematography is incredibly dark.  At first I thought it I was watching a bad print.  But the light and colors are so muted that it is difficult to make out some of the action, especially at night.

8.  Play More with Lois and Clark's History

Superman's Clark Kent persona once again fades into the background.  But what I found incredibly annoying was how little the writers paid attention to the history between the two reporters.  Even if Lois wasn't in love with Clark, they were friends and worked together.  But Superman Returns, has Lois treat him like an absolute nobody.  Especially after watching 10 seasons of Smallville, it was difficult to watch Clark return to just a caricature.

9.  Connect the Action to the Story

There are some really fantastic action sequences in the movie.  But the bank robbery scene, for example, does not connect directly to the overall story.  It was just a nifty visual.  The story telling should have been more efficiant and marrying story and action.

10.  Truth, Justice, and the AMERICAN WAY

I'm sorry, but replacing "the American Way" with "All that Stuff" is beyond stupid.  Superman is an American icon.  He embodies the best spirit of the country.  This inane politically correct move showed how little the writers understood the character.  You may argue that "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" are cheesy.  But watch how Christopher Reeve speaks about them, and his absolute conviction of sincerity sells you on its meaning.


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