Superman Returns—–the Review

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 the 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 you 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 clichéd 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]

55 thoughts on “Superman Returns—–the Review

  1. “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.

    Dont you mean “undiluted CRAP”?? 🙂

  2. GB,

    As an Indian, I don’t have to tell you about traditions. We don’t ask Superman why he wears his Underwear outside his pants…. that is his tradition. We have simply learnt to accept that, no questions asked. Also, this Superman looks well hung, than other from tha past. Again, we just accept the way he is and be happy for him ;-).


  3. @Dangit: No it was not a typo I did mean camp. More information here.

    @Cliff: Unfortunately, I did not spend time looking at Superman’s below-waist muscles and so cannot give you an opinion on that. At least, the way you saw it you enjoyed—so that’s good.

  4. Isn’t it Krrish and not Kkrish is so ekta kapoorish. Unfortunately never a fan of these movies, so no opinion on Superman, batman, caveman etc movies.

    Looking forward to ‘Alag’ review though.

  5. “the only good thing that can be said for him is that he smiles a lot like Christopher Reeve” – presumably the reason why Brandon ‘WHO’ Routh is there in the first place.

    “why noone can recognize Superman as Clark Kent” – yes the glasses and the hair is parted the other way round I guess. or the undie’s over the pants is just too much of a distraction!!

  6. Leave this all aside, after repeated mention, I want to watch “Dariya Dil” soon..

  7. just heard “too mera superman”…. beyond words

  8. while we are at it… ‘main tera lady’!!!!! beyond words indeed

  9. Are you sure you didnt mean “Krrish” when you wrote this review :d — kidding.

    Though superman has always been a bit on the sugary side – will be catching it though; dont know which to see first – SuperKrish or Krishman.


  10. Ah.. Mera lady kidhar who will call me her superman.
    U shud watch Krrish too and do a combined superhero post.

  11. Havent seen the movie as yet so cant disagree with you:).
    Does your knowledge and ability to analyse prevent you to just sit back and enjoy a movie?

  12. Loved the poster of dariya dil! And It should be Macaulay Culkin, not McCauley Culkin.

    Musings that Amuse

  13. Thank you kind sir. You have just saved me from wasting a precious two hours of my life watching this movie. My husband was all gung-ho about seeing it but I just read out your post aloud to him and he has agreed to give it a miss. He’s still planning to catch it on DVD when it comes out though…

  14. Heard it has 20 minutes of 3D scenes… and the only place in India where you can see those effects is the IMAX in Hyderabad, a few kilometres from my house. So I was planning to go despite the rather costly tickets (Rs. 180). But now you have put me in a dilemma…
    Not planning to see Kkrish though. In the trailer Hrithik looked too much like Neo in Matrix.

  15. Hollywood does it again…borrows cliches from bollywood…remember the ‘matrix’ scene when the system comes to life after a kiss….similarly ‘superman returns’ has his ‘superkid'(reminded me of the disastrous ‘Fanaa’) and Lois lane’s kiss resurrects his lifeline. Too cliched to digest!!

  16. Arnav..i have one question for you…where do you get these hilarious pictures from? this one of govinda with kimmy katkar is a riot. and i can’t believe yr hindi movie knowledge is as vast as mine…ahem!

  17. Might GreatBong be a bit off on this?? Or am i just a sucker for semi-chick flicks?

    Whatever the reason, i loved the movie. It was awesome!!!! Just back from catching a late night screening. All the effects and thrils i expected and more and not too much of the sugary stuff that GreatBong mentioned. The baby kissing scene is pretty much the last scene, so i suppose that can be excused.

    Also, the support cast supplies some awesome comic relief at times. Quite a few funny one-liners (sorry, dont want to quote them and kill the effect).

    PS: GreatBong was 100% correct about Kal Penn’s role though. He has a total of 3-4 lines in the entire movie. And doesn’t do much by the way of a henchman either.

    PPS: Man of steel and woman of kleenex making a baby ??? 🙂

  18. U watched Alag.Superb movie isn’t it.But if only the movie didn’t go down the cliched road in the end

  19. @GB
    I will read the post and comment about it later but I can’t stop myself from saying this 🙂

    “The trouble is that superman lives trapped in superman’s body (and of course, he has no choice) which makes him utterly incapable of forming rational, logical views on the subject of strength, fortitude, courage etc.”

    Fine piece of journalism? ‘Somebo-DD-y’ please link me.

  20. “the XMen series being my favorite simply because you began to care for these rather bizarre characters: even the evil ones”

    You bet!
    I love X-Men. Ian McKellan as Magneto is the best of ’em all.

  21. Dude,
    You just spoiled the movie for a lot of people who wouldnt have known that the kid is Superman’s progeny.
    Yes, after seeing the movie I was a bit confused as to where this franchise is heading now. After all now we have a super-kid in the family. But Iam sure Bryan Singer has something up his sleeve. If he fails to pull this off in the next Superman film then he will have different things up his… like what Joel Schumacher got from the fans after Batman & Robin.
    One difference from Krissh and SR. After Krissh, all the people coming out from the theatre had a stupid grin on their face. After SR, none of the people coming out the theatre had any expression on their faces…kind of like a post lobotomy expression ( if there is any).

    BTW I enjoyed both of them and would recommend them to all. Only people who like marriage videos made by Yash Chopra Inc and his franchisees like Adi and Karan should keep off. There is no marriage dance here. Even Superman doesnt sing a “lori” to his son. Maybe they would have Lori Lemaris in the next movie (tell me if you get the pun).

  22. You know … I really can’t wait for your Krrish review. Post that one first before Alag. Please.

    Sad to know that Kal Penn is an extra in the movie. Had read a couple of interviews someplace stating that South Asian characters are finally coming into their own in Hollywood yada yada yada…

  23. I missed the speed of Superman more than anything else, even Harry Potter flies faster on his broom than Superman does:(

  24. @Sanjay: Sorry for the spelling error. I did not like Alag incidentally.

    @Maverick: Good point—people are obviously never looking at his face…

    @Nishit: Indeed it is.

    @Suyog: Have no seen Krrish yet.

    @Parikshit: Dont think I will be able to watch Krrish any time soon.

    @Vin: I dont pay $9 to go and NOT enjoy a movie. The only expectation I have is I do not get bored and over here I was disappointed by thar criterion. I incidentally loved XMen III: The Last Stand….so I do not analyze everything to death.

    @IndianArchie: Sorry.

    @Rohini: Good choice IMHO.

    @Joy Forever: No 3D where I saw it. Again I think I will be in the minority of people who did not like this movie—so..

    @Carey: Felt the same way too…did not mention that as it’s a spoiler.

    @dangit: I dont know but where were the funny one liners? That guy who seemed to be compulsively taping everything? The bald guy with the clown on the back of his head? Just didnt make me laugh and I suppose no one else in the place I watched it in.

    @Vikram: Again sorry. I hated “Alag” right from Tom Alter’s opening mega ham scene to the outright crazy ending, the dream sequences, the songs, and the “guest” appearances.

    @An Ideal Boy: 🙂

    @Anon: Agree ! Magneto rocks.

    @Mandar: I never thought that was meant to be a surprise. If I remember correctly (I may be wrong), the fact that the child is not the boyfriend’s son is revealed pretty early on. And for anyone who has seen the previous movies, its no-brainer to deduce whose child that could be.

    And no I didnt get the pun.

    @Tapan: Alas. I am yet to see Krrish. And I won’t be able to before Bollygrounds has it. Saw Alag and did not like it at all….despite my high expectations.

    @Deepa: There were some instances of his speed in the movie (the jet set-piece) but I would have expected, with the CGI weaponry at his command, that Singer would be able to amaze us more with Superman’s superman-ness than he was able to. (He was able to make us wow at Magneto and Dr. Xavier’s power in that amazing set-piece at Grand Central Station from the first XMen)

  25. Ah Greatbong, you might have missed the point where Superman is likened to Christ. You might be banned from certain cinemas after writing in such a way.. LOL..

    Good review as always..

  26. WHat or who is an IMHO?

  27. Saurabh Jayawant July 1, 2006 — 4:59 pm

    I though Martha Kent died in Part III, how come they brought her back to life????

  28. @Rohini: IMHO is short for “In My Humble Opinion”

  29. hmmm… Krrish.. there is this one blog post I found before the movie had been released… check it out !!

  30. I think u have overexaggerated a bit. “The discovery of fatherhood turns Superman into a doting suburban dad” is hardly true. One scene at the end of the movie where he meets his son can hardly qualify him as a “doting suburban dad”. Also as far as I could see he went through little self-doubt and fear like Batman and little teen angst like Spiderman. Also his son was not really a “saccharine” sweet kid. Granted there were a few cheesy-romantic moments, but those go without saying in any movie, Hollywood or Bollywood… All in all it was a pretty good movie

  31. @Aravind: Very interesting article you linked to there.

    @Rohini: Answered by Joy Forever

    @: I didnt remember that— a long time since I watched the Superman series !

    @Sach1tb: And I am accused of being hypercritical !

    @Sonu: 1) A very protracted sequence at the end if I may add( do not intentionally produce details)

    2) A “little” self-doubt? I beg to disagree…..

    3) Son wasnt a saccharinely sweet kid—your call.

    4) A “few”? Oh ok…you have a high tolerance level for such stuff.

    In conclusion, if you found the story engrossing and unpredictable, then what can I say? I just did not.

  32. I thought the movie had too many unnecessary moments, the kid was totally unneeded, Lex Luthor’s role was underdeveloped, superman was too human……all those things.

    But it was all thought of hours after the movie finished.

    For the 2.5 hours I was in the theater, I continuously gaped at the screen. I was ready to cheer when supes stopped the plane from crashing, and placed it in the baseball stadium.

    There were many little things I did like about this movie……mostly the reverence to the original.

    Perhaps not quite a comic book movie classic…..but made with the spirit of superman behind it….

    Not great………but not bad either. Supes lifting the landmass was well worth watching 🙂

  33. @Sunil: Here’s where my experience differed. For the duration of the time I was in the theatre, I was totally “out” of the movie experience—at no point (except when the bullet flattens in contact with his eye) did I ever sit up in my seat. In contrast, I was rivetted by XMen III and came out of the theatre with adrenaline pumping….and XMen III I found later had been torn apart by critics. But I LOVED it. Can’t say the same for Superman.

  34. @ Joy Forever

    Thanks. One learns something new everyday 🙂

  35. Arnab – did u know that Puneet Issar played the role of a Bollywood version of superman once … can’t recall the name of the movie …

    needless to say it was almost as successful commercially as Prabhu-ji’s Goonda or Dalal

    i think u should also blog on how and why Prabhuji has been dumped by Zee (Zee Alpha) from compering a TV show on the lines of American Idol …

  36. I think a modern adaptation of Hanuman would be better than movies like Krrish. Think about it, the mordern Hamuman would battle terror in Sri Lanka, promote Ayurveda and build infrastructure (bridge to Lanka) 🙂 Just a thought anyway….

  37. Dude,
    Me thinks that the Superkid was meant to be a surprise. At least in the trailers they were showing that maybe he was Richard’s kid. So when the kid throws the piano across the room ( they didnt show this actually so he might not have thrown it too) we get the idea that the kid might be super too. Being the evil genius that he is, Lex gets it first in the Kryptonite and exposition scene. Dont tell me that you are a bigger genuis than Lex… If you are then “aap Prabhuji se thode kum aur Lex se thode jyaada hai”. ( dialogue from a film that was almost as great as any Prabhuji one)
    BTW about Lori I was having phun about , see this too get it.
    Superman is a sucker for all girls that have names that start with LL.
    Now I do the painful act of explaining and then taking out all the phun part of the pun. Lori – Yash Chopra and franchisee films. Lori – Superman’s mermaid girlfriend. Some things are better left unsaid, like Kal Penn did. ( maybe he thought he was acting in a silent movie)

    See Krissh and tell me how Dr. Arya is a mix of Dr. Evil and Lex. And Aaron Echart from Paycheck!

  38. Loved x-men III myself…….even though some critics didn’t. Particularly the last bit…..where Magneto hurls those cars and Pyro set them ablaze. And then the iceman-pyro fight………when he finally becomes iceman.

    I’m going to see that movie again (and I’ve already seen it twice in the theater….!). The X-men movies were a benchmark in comic book movies. Spiderman pales in comparison, supes disappoints and suchlike. The only movie that came close was Batman Returns.

    But then……for a comic book buff….it’s all good. Without the comparisons.

  39. NDTV did a ‘Krrish vs Superman’ – of course at the Box Office – story. They ended with ‘…whatever the outcome, our Indian hero is already a winner in one respect – he’s figured out where underwear’s meant to be worn!’

    Not news or reporting, but how true. Reb Bull drivers came out costumed as Supie sans the undies – mebbe its time for the superheroes to get this right.

  40. Bang on the money, as usual. Don’t know how Bryan Singer produced this cheesy stuff. Think he would have been much better off completing X-3 with Rattner doing Superman as originally planned. Somehow, they managed to screw up both movies.

    And Superman is not the greatest character to make a movie on as his backstory is one of the weakest, unbelievable (sic!) and uninteresting (as compared to say, Batman or any of the X-men).

  41. I loved Superman Returns period. For me the big budget Hollywood blockbusters are what gives me my daily kick, and i just go there to freak out on effects and the action. I dont think we need to compare Superman with Batman and Spidey. Actually im a big Spidey fan and find him the most interesting of all. I think the background score was outstanding, it was a tribute to John Williams orginal score.And i loved the effects and action sequences. Especially the sequence where Superman saves the aircraft. Actually my attitude for these super hero movies and for that matter any Hollywood blockbuster is go with an open mind and just enjoy. And i think this is where Superman Returns succeds, it hooked me for the 3 hrs on screen. Brandon Routh is not bad, he makes a good superman. Bryan Singer has done a good job again. I wouldnt want to compare Singer’s XMen with this, for the simple reason, XMen is more dark and complex, Superman is a straightforward good vs evil story. Hey whatever i am willing to watch Superman Returns any number of times than a wedding video or NRI romances.

  42. GB-da – IMHO, you’ve been too kind to a pathetic movie. Yet – that Dariya dil was hilarious ! (and why “tera lady”?!, should be teri lady?).

    This Superman was utter trash and definitely Bryan Singer’s worst ever movie. I didn’t expect this bakwaas from the man who made “Usual suspects”. This friend I saw the movie with also commented that the tribute to Christopher and Dana Reeve in end credits was crap.

    I thought the earlier pictures (excl. part III) were good primarily because you got what you wanted – Superman kicking ass, without any hang-ups, performance anxiety or complexes (bar the episode where he gives up his powers).

    Agree on all the points you’ve made. Superman with all these complications is just not the 500-woman-in-a-row-lean-mean-love-making machine that he should be.

    This movie was also suspicously familiar to Fanaa, in that hero comes back to item and finds his cute bacha love-child roaming around. They should have added “Superman, you don’t love me as much as I love you”. But then I hear that that dialogue was originally meant for Cyclops to tell Superman. Talk about gay icon…

  43. you write lengthy stuff.. n yet.. its so readable.. quite haven’t managed to be able to do that..
    u write very well

  44. I saw Superman few hours back. Have to say mixed feelings. Well, I enjoy superhero movies where they throw in a bit of emotion aka Spi II and Batman Begins. So yeah, I enjoyed parts of it. But the ending really dragged and that’s what destroys the movie. The other thing is that the bad guy seems to be no match for our superhero anyway. It was all so predictable.

  45. Comfortably Dumb July 4, 2006 — 7:23 am

    Superman is not necessarily a movie where an actor can showcase his histrionic prowess,now is it…i did not like the movie either…too predictable and really slack but I thought Brandon Routh quite looked the part

  46. I think Brandon Routh fitted the bill just fine.. I mean, Cristopher Reeves, a great person no doubt, wasnt exactly oscar material himself.
    As far as the movie was concerned, yes, it was a bit disappointing. Being a hardcore Superman fan myself, I would have loved it if Bryan Singer, who has an excellent line-up of movies to his credit, had added an element of suspense to the movie. He’s good at it you know. But then, like you said, the movie was indeed a bit cliched *sob*.

    On the other hand, I simply loved the plane scene! Also the part when the bullet hits his eye… Wow! Now THAT is Superman! I guess Bryan can account for it all if he can manage to pull off a ‘Superman Ends’ with Doomsday (Thats how Superman dies in the comics) . That would be some brilliant action. Noone can spoil that story.

  47. And I can’t believe nobody has even mentioned how brazenly Alag was skinned off Powder. Hasn’t this been made public yet or am I the first one to discover this?

  48. GB have u ACTUALLY heard (and remembered) that song from “Dariya dil”?? sir aap MAHAN ho!

  49. Batman Begins was a waaaaaaaaay better movie than SuperMan Returns… The plot..the actors…
    Read what I say ..better MOOOVIE… I’m not talking about a superhero or character.. everybody has a favorite one..
    Personally I’ve always prefered Batman..(Darker..more realistic…a dude with money to spend in fancy gadgets… a kick ass Car..).
    But I do admit that For movies.. there’s been some issues.. like George Clooney’s Batman with nipples..or ..hahha Adam west and the BOMB…
    Anyway.. I like superman too.. But maann…I just couldn’t stand the damn movie..

    The guy that plays Superman has a girlie expression.. I dunno.. looks like Reeve, But lacks the charisma..
    And the whole movie was so freakin’ romantic, looong and boooring.. they turned a GUY ACTION MOVIE.. into a CHICK FLICK..
    i think “the notebook” delivers more intense punch-lines and scenes …
    The only cool thing was the plane .. after that I can’t remember any really cool violent scene like in Superman II… nothing…it was just PINK..
    I mean..give me something like… hanging the crooked cop upside down from a 30th floor in a rainy night and scream….SWEAAAAR TO MEEEEEEEE !!!!!!!!!!… you know??..

    Well… So Superman Left Metropolis when??,, mid 80s ??
    He comes back.. 5 years after .. so.. let’s say..1990??..
    what’s up with the cellphones..and the plasma screens???

    Anyway… it’s just me…

  50. Talking of “Tu mere Superman, main tera lady” some kind soul has put the video in youtube
    God bless his/her soul

  51. Pingback: tramadol
  52. You wanted a Superman movie to address why no one recognizes him and why he “wears underwear outside his tights”? I’m not the only one unsurprised you didn’t like this movie.

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