After a marathon love-making session, satisfied women coo: ” You are a superman”.
They never say “You are batman.” Or “You are spiderman”.
And there’s a reason for that.
It’s because Superman is by definition “super”–all-powerful, faster than a speeding bullet, a man of steel, totally impervious to everything except Kryptonite. He is neither an angsty teenager trying to come to terms with responsibility (Spiderman) nor a man trying to battle his inner demons and conquer fear (Batman). As Bill says in “Kill Bill II”, Superman is unique because while Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne have to wear costumes in order to become superheroes, Superman does the opposite i.e. he has to disguise his super-humanness by donning theÂ garb of the “common man” (Clark Kent).
However, it is this uniqueness of Superman that is sacrificed in “Superman Returns”—Bryan Singer presents him as just another buff guy in blue tights.
Perhaps influenced by the success of the “Spiderman” series and perhaps because the studio-execs did market surveys and found that the alpha male is “out of fashion” (the kind whose life motto is expressed succinctly as “Mard ko kabhi dard nahin hota” ), Bryan Singer presents us a new Superman: a romantically-wounded, ultra-sensitive superguy who flies about with a melancholic expression on his face, tears well up in his eyes a couple of times, and he is found to be doing way-too-many mushy things–the kind that make people go “Awwwwwwwwww…choo cute”–when the audience is crying out for heroism on an epic scale.
While a surfeit of romantic moments would be fine in movies like “Message in a Bottle”, in a Superman movie it’s just anathema.
In “Superman Returns” we have Superman coming back after 5 years—-a time he spent looking for his planet Krypton. In the meanwhile, his sweetheart Lois Lane has a new boyfriend and has given birth to Superman’s lovechild, played by a Macauley Culkin-type, saccharinely cute child. The discovery of fatherhood turns Superman into a doting suburban dad who kisses his little baby on the forehead when he is sleeping, sheds tears for Lois and then in an interminably long sequence, flies off with her on a romantic fly-around with a cheesy musical score playing in the background (It was not the song “Tu mere Superman, main tera lady“, incidentally).
Even this new-age recasting of Superman would have worked had Bryan Singer managed to keep things exciting. He fails here too—-apart from isolated sequences (the plane sequence and bank robbery set-piece where Superman’s superman-ness comes to the fore) the rest of the movie is totally predictable with Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor giving a strictly by-the-numbers performance while Kal Penn, a glorified extra, unintentionally reprises his role as the spaced-out stoner from “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”.
Don’t get me wrong—I am not saying superhero movies have to be Jerry Bruckheimer-type blow-up-everything-in-sight flicks. Not at all. The best superhero movies have healthy doses of emotion and romance—-the XMen series being my favorite simply because youÂ began to care for these rather bizarre characters: even the evil ones. Spiderman I was a brilliant movie (I did not care too much for Spiderman II) because it had the right mix of emotion (Peter Parker’s unrequited love for MJ and his deep sense of guilt at Uncle Ben’s death) and breath-taking action . (And just to show that I am not a curmudgeon, that Spiderman kiss hanging upside down in the rain was way more cinematic than anything Bryan Singer manages in “Superman Returns”)
“Batman Begins” works because Nolan is able to bring out the defining characters of Batman—dark, depressed, self-doubting and fearful– and by doing so is able to rescue the franchise from the undiluted camp that it had degenerated to in the previous movies.
However unlike other successful superhero movies, “Superman Returns” is unable to define its hero—in an attempt to play to the gallery, Bryan Singer tries to put in a bit “Spiderman” and a bit of “Batman” and in the process loses a lot of “Superman”.
Looking beyond the disappointing depiction of Superman, the movie has other flaws too. The story is as clichÃ©d as it could be. There is no tension—you know exactly what is going to happen in the next scene. The dialogues are neither smart, nor snappy nor funny. There are no memorable characters–nobody really pulls at your heartstrings like Uncle Ben and Aunt May do in Spiderman. The acting is universally mediocre (even from Kevin Spacey). And finally, Brandon Routh (Superman) is no Toby McGuire (the only good thing that can be said for him is that he smiles a lot like Christopher Reeve).
The movie also did nothing to throw light on two of Superman’s biggest mysteries: why noone can recognize Superman as Clark Kent (remember Superman does not wear a mask and has only to wear geeky glasses in order to become totally unrecognisable) and why he wears his underwear over his trousers.
“Superman Returns” will be a box office success and many reviewers have already loved the movie but it simply did not work for me.
Just too sugar sweet. And quite quite boring.
[My review of “Alag” will follow. I havent seen “Krrish” yet]