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Superman Returns

Saw it last night with some people including Sanchez, whose remarks I largely endorse. First off, I should say that I had simply assumed that, as with Batman Begins, they were just going to reboot the franchise. Instead, plot-wise this is a sequel to the previous Superman II but, as Julian says, it often feels like an adaptation or remake of the Superman movie rather than an adaptation of the comic book. Filmicly it has a lot of good qualities, along with some pacing problems (it's very long) and, I think, a rather elementary plot hole. Further stuff below the fold.

Plot-wise, the key thing involves Lex Luthor growing a giant kryptonite island off the East Coast of the United States. The thing about this is that while it's a very large challenge for Superman, there's no reason at all to think that the United States Navy couldn't just send some boats to the vicinity and blow Luthor and the gang up. The movie even contained some expository dialogue explaining that this wouldn't work because Lex would be in possession of advanced Kryptonian technology, but then they forgot to ever give him advanced Kryptonian technology.

At any rate, I would have been much happier with a reboot. The vast bulk of the interesting Superman storylines deal with the ethical/political implications of that kind of vast power. The comic books tapped into this well by reconceptualizing Lex Luthor not as an evil mad scientist, but as a kind of evil corporate titan and then later politician. That provides a real reason that the villain might pose a challenge to Superman. No matter how invulnerable to bullets or how strong you are, it's extremely hard to combat a foe who enjoys public legitimacy so you can't legally stop him just by kicking ass. This winds up tying in to the core issue. It's fine for, say, Batman to evade the law in pursuit of higher ethical aims precisely because Batman isn't especially powerful. A Superman unconstrained by law and answering only to his own conscience would be a massive threat.

All this stuff has been regularly treated by the comics in a variety of forms -- stories about Batman trying to develop hedges against Superman's massive power, stories about Superman considering whether he shouldn't try to resolve systemic social/political powers, alternate reality storylines where Superman sets himself up as a dictator, etc. At the end of the day, it's not the very deepest ethical question out there, but it's an okay one and could certainly stand a cinematic treatment.

Even more frustratingly, Superman Returns sort of hints it's going to go there. We keep hearing about Lois Lane's famous editorial "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman" but we never learn what the content of that essay was.

June 28, 2006 | Permalink


While kryptonite is very bad for Superman, it is also toxic -- over longer periods of exposure or in large amounts over a short time -- to humans. That might deter a the army or marines, but the navy or air force ought to be able to do something about Luthor. (Why aren't Luthor and his henchmen slowly dying on the island?)

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | Jun 28, 2006 12:54:06 PM

Kevin Spacey's gay!?!?

Posted by: Greg | Jun 28, 2006 1:18:51 PM

It was a loooong movie. The boyhood scenes were nice but I could've done without them. Once the action got going I enjoyed the movie.

What I couldn't get over were 1) his blue eyes were very obviously contacts and very very fake, 2) Lois Lane's son - his haircut was ridiculous -he's an American not some wacky European soccer player but still a very cute child and 3) Lois Lane is banged on the head by a steel door, knocked unconscious but no blood, bruise or any evidence of physical trauma. All that CGI and you can't bother about fake bruises??

Posted by: JenM | Jun 28, 2006 2:47:19 PM

If it's one thing a summer action movie needs, it's an exposition on the contents of an editorial.

Posted by: Homer | Jun 28, 2006 3:16:33 PM

It's fine for, say, Batman to evade the law in pursuit of higher ethical aims precisely because Batman isn't especially powerful. A Superman unconstrained by law and answering only to his own conscience would be a massive threat.

Do you think they're offering a comment here on the Bush administration's attempts to expand executive power? (Okay, that's a stretch, but I just got done reading the New Yorker article on Addington.)

Posted by: huh | Jun 28, 2006 8:26:31 PM

Man does the Bush administration suck. While they were busy fighting an unnecessary war in Iraq, they totally missed the fact that Luthor was building WMDs right off the coast. Morons.

Posted by: blah | Jun 29, 2006 1:40:55 AM

you really out to read the comic novel "the Dark Knight Returns' for a great take on batman vs superman as icons/patsy's .

Posted by: judson | Jun 29, 2006 4:00:50 PM

Whenever they talked about "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman", what went through my head was "now, is this article a real argument or some Maureen Dowd crap?"

Posted by: Becks | Jul 1, 2006 3:48:46 AM

Ummm...the "advanced Kryptonian technology" was the crystals, which he used to cause EMPs and create the "giant kryptonite island."

Posted by: croatoan | Jul 1, 2006 9:03:58 PM

I didn’t and don’t plan to see this movie, casting Kate Bosworth being an abomination and all but can somebody answer this question for me. From what I gather she had Superman’s child and the child has manifested some of his dad’s powers. Now did they address how she carried the child to term without, you know, dying? I would imagine one kick from superbaby when he was inside her would be more then enough to split her tummy in half…

On a somewhat related note, anybody else find it annoying that in Spiderman 2, Peter Parker was strong enough to stop a moving train, but a very human Doc Ock was very much able to take clean punches to the head from him?

Posted by: Lex | Jul 2, 2006 7:24:28 AM

parker is only strong when he focuse his powers and its hard to focus alll you energy when you are throwing punches

This was the worst superman movie ever, i thougt he wasn't able to stand when he is near a tiny bit of the crystals but in the end he was able to lift a hole eiland made out of the crystals en don't forget that he was badly injured.

as for the kid i think the directors are trying to create a new hero eg. batman from the future

Posted by: charzelo | Jul 14, 2006 9:15:01 PM

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