A true classic: Superman Returns


[Oh look, it’s manasteel88 again with a sexy blog from the September blog topic about classic movies, and he’s got a great philosophy on classic films, which he uses to explore Superman Returns. Read and comment! Read this month’s topic and submit your blog! – Kauza]

For many, a classic is a film that transcends all audiences and becomes the highlight film not just of the year, or the decade, but one that could stand alone by itself in the next century. Superman Returns can’t do that, but I don’t think a movie made these days really can. With the amount of film being turned out from studios, independents and those lying in between, you can’t hit every person in the audience. I could call Terminator 2 a classic, but I know many other people that would argue with me.

A true classic can only exist inside of you. It’s a film that stays with you long after you are done with it. Something that may have changed your life, or at the very least moved you to an unreasonable extent. It is something that will stay with you forever. Superman Returns is one of those films for me.

I went to Superman Returns twice in theaters, something I have only ever done with two other films in my life. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective with my dad, and Power Rangers: The Movie with my cousins. The first one was because I was a stupid kid and the second one was because I was with a stupid kid.

I didn’t really get why I had been drawn in to the film so much until I found an old box of photos a year or so after the films release of my dad from what I can only assume was the early 1970s. He looked shockingly like Christopher Reeve. This alone gave a bit more weight to the tones of the film.

Superman Returns is about a good number of things. Mostly though, it’s about the changes a man returns to. Superman leaves in search for Krypton and upon his return, he finds the woman he loves with another man. The world still needs saving and Lex Luthor is still evil, but the thing that he loved the most is out of his reach.

Obviously this can drum up any sort of reading from any number of different interpretations. For me it comes back to divorce. I never really grew up in a conventional familial atmosphere. I had a father and mother that loved me, and each other, they just lived in two different houses in two different areas of town. They divorced when I was extremely young, so it wasn’t much of a big deal growing up. This was my normal.

My dad wanted to be with me as much as my mom had me, but that wasn’t the case. He eventually had to move out of town to take care of my ailing grandparents and a couple of years after their deaths, he died.

A decade later, I would sit in a movie theater and unknowingly watch a film that would convey many of the emotions of the hardest parts of my childhood. In a Superman film of all places.

I like to use Kevin Smith’s An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder as the starting point of my analysis because it is the argument that actually cemented my understanding that Superman Returns will not be loved by everyone. His analysis helped me break down why I actually enjoyed the film. I respect Kevin as a writer and enjoy his films. I think he’s wrong in his analysis simply because we viewed the film in two different ways. That’s okay though as I’m sure I’m one of the only people that can see the movie this way.

He came in looking for a blockbuster and found the art house rendition of Richard Donner’s Superman. I came in looking for something like the originals and saw my father. These are two extremely different ways to take the film.

I saw my father in the man of steel. I also saw my father in the man that shared his name, Richard. Both of them were good men and both played their roles in true fashion. Richard was the dad I always wanted to be there. The guy that would take care of me day in and day out. The one that was the normal every day father. Not saying my dad didn’t do that when needed, just he really couldn’t always be there. Divorce creates that barrier.

Superman would be the representation of a father always wanting to be there. Wanting to have this perfect lifestyle and knowing he couldn’t. The whiny emo Superman that floats outside of Lois’s house. He does this because he had his chance and this just wouldn’t work for him. He wanted it to, it just couldn’t work out. So he’s trapped outside always looking in. He could do anything for them, yet he will never have the opportunity.

Richard would always be unable to live up to this ideal Superman while Superman would never be able to live together with Lois. He had his chance and he blew it. He would at the very least try to do the best he could. In a nod close to my life, he dies while trying to do just that.

There is a scene in the hospital where nobody really knows what to make of a man of steel lying there lifeless. They stick needles in him and they break. They even try to resuscitate him with enough electricity to blow a generator and nothing happens. Nobody has the power to bring him back to life. Then Lois and her son come in and with their love, they breathe life in to a god.

Sometimes the fantasy gets a bit too fantastical.

As I took the movie out to write all this, I started viewing the film a bit differently than I did a few years ago. The key that seemed to hold the most weight was Marlon Brando. Bringing his voice in to really push these themes was a brilliant idea.

“You will be different, sometimes you’ll feel like an outcast, but you’ll never be alone. You will make my strength your own. You will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son.”

As a father now with a child this chord really hits home. The film really starts to hammer in the point of legacy and what it will leave on a child. I want to be there always for my child. I want to be able to pass my legacy along. I will never be a man with a child not knowing their true legacy. I have seen my father’s life, I will use his strengths to succeed and will learn from his failures.

Luthor presents all the failures my dad did indeed struggle with before his death. His health was in flux as was his business, his new marriage and the rest of the things in his life. Much like Superman tried to stop his problem, Luthor kept popping up stronger and more determined than before. Eventually he succeeded. He had invaded Superman’s home, he had taken his ex and his child away and he proceeded to stab him in his back. Failures had consumed my father.

While my father struggled with his issues, my mother had always struggled with him. She loved him, but they had always had their problems. This is personified by the headline Lois defines her life and her career on.

“Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.”

That was a struggle she had to deal with all her marriage and long after. Loving a man that infuriated her. Always stuck between why she does and doesn’t need this man.

Now I know that the film isn’t flawless. Bryan Singer couldn’t cast a female lead to save his life, or more importantly his movies. Margot Kidder wasn’t necessarily a great Lois, but she was a good one. Kate Bosworth couldn’t carry an attitude throughout this entire film. Pair this with the fact that the character was beaten so bad in this film that her survival in the end is nothing short of a miracle and she just doesn’t seem believable as Lois Lane.

Everything else we see is on the money. Evil criminal mastermind Luthor is paired up with a group of thugs and needs to make big money really quickly. He proceeds to lie, cheat and steal to destroy Superman and he does. Kevin Spacey just does a great job of showing Luthor’s power.

The biggest point of contention is the plot holes that Kevin Smith outlined pretty clearly. That Lois never questioned the how’s and the why’s of their child. To be fair, this argument hinges absolutely upon the fact that she didn’t know, even subconsciously, that this was Superman’s child. As a woman who had a decent relationship with Superman, she comes off like a woman scorned. At no point in Superman Returns am I to believe that Lois has completely forgotten that magical night they shared together. Some people seem to think that this strange power Superman supposedly gained in the prior movies was an absolute ability. That Lois’s mind and heart could be shaken like this.

I don’t buy it and I believe that this is the point the film comes across with.

I wasn’t old enough to be a part of the generation that believed a man could fly. Those movies while still in my heart, aren’t absolutes as they were for many. This movie was a bit of fan service for a fan that was a bit too young to enjoy any of the original films. It’s a true classic for me.

The fact that this won’t get the sequel I think it deserves is a bit disappointing and Zack Snyder isn’t going to reassure me. I don’t want my Superman to follow the aggressive style that Snyder has brought to life again and again. My Superman is a force of truth, not a force of strength. Singer brought that out. I just don’t go to see a Superman flick to see him punch a hole through someone or something.

Superman Returns is a classic. Maybe not for you, but it is for me. I have a thousand films in my mind that would be considered better across many different demographics, but they might not have had this long lasting effect on me. A person can only truly see this with a select few films. Those films however will remain in our heart as true classics.