Friday, January 5, 2007

Superman Sinned

Everyone has different criteria for deciding whether or not a film is "good". My friend Juan's value system is very clear on this point: if someone kicks someone else at any point in the movie, it's good. He once demanded that I accompany him to a screening of Mortal Kombat (Tagline: Nothing In This World Has Prepared You For This. Truer words never written.) and I went. Now, this is a movie that he had seen before, but he paid money to see it again with me. I spent the first half of the flick rolling my eyes and threatening to call immigration on him, but suddenly Juan's "Rosebud" moment appeared on the screen: Johnny Cage stands in a well manicured forest, then kicks Scorpion! Or perhaps, Skorpion. Or maybe it was Sub-Zero, whoever. Then Juan turns to me and nods knowingly. Kick accomplished, he's satisfied with the evening.

Upon leaving the theater, I accost him, using my well honed wit and razor sharp mind to probe his motivation for inflicting this film on me. "What the fuuuuuuck??!!"

"Did you see that kick? Bla-DOW!!!" Juan attempts to replicate Johhny Cage's kick to the best of his ability while we exit the theater into the mall. Pass
erby unsurprisingly decide to grant the large, semi-high-kicking Mexican the right of way. "Good shit, man."

"But... but the rest of the movie sucked. It was just one kick..." No matter. If you put the Mortal Kombat DVD in to this day, he'll sit for an hour and wat
ch to get to that kick.

This is exactly how I'll be with the Superman Returns DVD. I'll watch to get to the two or three scenes of Superman doing Super Things. The rest of the time I'll be emitting a low growl that will cause my cat to slink and hide under the dining room table.


Most of the movie is actually not too bad. It has some wonderf
ul scenes of Superman flying around, shooting lasers from his eyes and generally being awesome. Kate Bosworth (fatal vulnerability: food. Actual photo at left) plays a bland and malnourished Lois Lane, Kevin Spacey plays Kevin Spacey but without a toupee and Brandon Routh plays Christopher Reeve. Some kid plays Superman's ignored bastard, which is the part of the movie most people absolutely hate. The addition of the child is unnecessary at best, but he's not intolerable. Supes and Lois spent some serious quality time in the Fortress of Solitude- one of the greatest bachelor pads of all time- so it's not out of the realm of possibility that they could have reproduced.

What bothers me most about this film is the central core of the plot (okay, Superman lifting up an entire continent of kryptonite over his head when in the scene before he was rendered helpless by a tiny chunk of it bothered me, but it pales in comparison with my main gripe). Fact: Superman is a nice guy. In fact, he's just about the nicest guy ever, next to Jesus. Or me. He looks out for everyone, saves cats in trees and gives plane crash survivors friendly, comforting lectures on why air travel really is the safest form of transportation. In fact, most people who don't like Superman point to one of two reasons: He's too powerful with no weaknesses, or he's just too darned nice.

I call bullshit on the first reason. Superman h
as more weaknesses than any character ever created.
  • Kryptonite- Green kryptonite weakens and kills him (except at the end of Superman Returns where he lifts a continent of it. Seriously, wtf?). Red kryptonite has random but temporary effects on him, and Superman tends to get exposed to it whenever the writers run out of actual ideas. Gold kryptonite wipes out his powers permanently, black kryptonite gives him a split personality, plaid kryptonite forces him to play the bagpipes and on and on.
  • Red sun- If he flies under a red sun he loses his powers. Villains have even used a "red sun-lamp" on him and it's worked. If I were them I'd be basking under that thing 24/7 just to see if it worked the other way around.
  • Magic- He's weak to it. No real explanation given. When you've got as many vulnerabilities as Supes has, you can just keep piling on, apparently.
  • Psychic attacks
  • Sonic attacks
  • Jimmy Olsen- This kid gets in trouble every other issue and Superman has to start intergalactic wars to save his dumb ass. Jimmy Olsen is Lois without the sex. At least... naw, they couldn't be... eww.
As to whether or not he's too nice? That's a matter of personal taste, but there's no doubt he's the nicest guy in comics. He's the best person you can get, basically, consistently making the right choices and helping others. But not in Superman Returns.

In the film, Superman leaves Earth to see if he can find any remnants of Krypton, his homeworld. Hoping for survivors, or anything, really. He just had to see for himself that it was really gone. Totally understandable. But in doing so he pulls one of the biggest dick-moves of all time: he doesn't tell Lois that he's going.

Now this is a five year trip. Some have argued that he didn't know how long it would take. But I don't think he'd misjudge the time frame by more than a factor of two, so let's assume he thought it would only take two years.

Imagine if you were going on a polar expedition. It's going to take two years. Do you... I don't know, tell your significant other that you're going? Or do you just disappear with no word at all. You tell them. I'd tell them. Guys in prison for doing things to other people with carving knives would tell them. Not to tell her is an act of cruelty that can only be fully comprehended by the spouses of soldiers missing-in-action. It's the ultimate dick-move, and totally, utterly out of character for Superman by any standard.

Superman's reasoning for not telling her is explained in a scene by Clark Kent (Superman never actually explains it to Lois himself. He just mumbles, "I'm sorry, Lois" in the flying scene. Routh delivers that line like he's apologizing for not picking up an extra bottle of milk from the convenience store). Clark explains that maybe if Supes had told her he was leaving, he wouldn't have had the courage to go. So he kept her wondering in agony (while pregnant with his child, no less) for five years because he was... weak? Superman?? Aaaaarrrrrghhhhh.

This is a Batman move. Bats would do this in a heartbeat. He'd enjoy it. "Why didn't you tell me-" Vicki Vail would start in. He'd finish the conversation with a steely glare, a snarl and the back of his hand. Then he and Alfred would hogtie her, dump her in an alley and finish out the evening by snapping off The Penguin's teeth one by one with a pair of pliers. Goddamn, I love Batman.

The Superman dick-move in Superman Returns does have a precedent, however. It's reminiscent of the biggest flaw in Superman II. At the end of that film, Lois Lane is upset about having to keep Superman's secret identity secret. It bothers her that she has to see him at work every day as Clark Kent (Clark... you can't get another job? Do you have to work at all? "Sorry, Lois, the dental plan here at the Daily Planet is really swell..."). The whole secret identity thing is a real killjoy for her, so he wipes her mind. Without her permission, or even awareness. Even Mary Jane Watson could deal with Peter Parker being Spider Man after a good heart-to-heart, and she's the most shallow character in comics. No, no time to chat about it, Lois. Let's just mind-rape you with this weird chemical I put on my lips. Another Batman dick-move that some lazy writer forced on Superman instead.

Superman Sinned. It ruins the picture for me. Not the worst movie in the series, by any means (Superman III & IV... *shudder*) but the flaw is simply too fatal for me to overcome. Another sequel is in the works, but when Superman Returns Again, I'm hoping he's the one I know and love.

And for Juan's sake, I hope this time he kicks someone.


Juan G Rodriguez said...

Hey, it's not just the kick, but the deliverance. I mean, the whole Liu Kang fight with Sub-Zero, just incredible....Anyway, About Superman Returns, I completely agree with you. Not only did he not tell her, but you don't think he knew? This guy can hear a pin drop at a Metallica concert, see thru walls AND has microscopic vision, WTF can't he see/hear? And the Kryptonite continent? WTF? I mean in Kingdom Come, they mention that he is no longer effected by Kryptonite, but that's after he's been on the planet for like 60 years! And, don't you think Routh was still too skinny for Superman? Did Supes start dieting? Also, I'm tired of Lex being portrayed as kind of a campy funny villain. I want to see the guy who is cold, greedy, uncaring, serious, and bald. Eh, maybe I'm asking for too much....Fuck it, just gimme a good!

Anonymous said...


Great article. I am a die-hard Superman fan, and my reverence of him stems not only my sheer envy of his physical skills (flight, invulnerability and superhuman strength: the only powers I'd ever want), but because he was raised with a strong sense of morals and ethics and refuses to violate that code.

Needless to say, I saw Superman Returns the first day it was out -- in IMAX and 3-D, to boot. The hours leading up to showtime were the closest experience to Christmas Eve I've felt since I was a kid.

Having said that -- yes, I share your disappointment in the movie. I'd seen most of this before, recycled from the first movie, down to Luthor's plan to corner the market on real estate. I could've done without the "S.O.S." (Son of Superman) element as well.

I hope that Mr. Singer and his screenwriters are paying attention to the feedback from you, me and other fans, and will populate the next movie with plenty of action and a foe worthy to go knuckle-to-knuckle with the Man of Steel.

Doomsday, anyone?