I vividly remember coming out of the New York City Warner Bros screening room after seeing Superman Returns and being high as a kite on the fact that Bryan Singer had really nailed the feel of the Richard Donner Superman. Then a couple of weeks later I realized that besides being a remarkable ode to nostalgia, Superman Returns kind of sucks. Sadly I had already published my review by then.
What made Superman Returns bad was the fact that it was boring, and the fact that the film didn’t seem to really understand the Superman character. Without a physical threat to keep things interesting and with a Superman who first abandoned humanity and then began stalking Lois Lane, Superman Returns felt like a Superman movie from someone kind of looking to destroy Superman.
Years later Bryan Singer accepts that his movie didn’t work, but I don’t know if his reasoning lines up too much with reality. Here are some excerpts from an interview with Voices of Krypton:
I think that Superman Returns was a bit nostalgic and romantic, and I don’t think that was what people were expecting, especially in the summer. What I had noticed is that there weren’t a lot of women lining up to see a comic book movie, but they were going to line up to see The Devil Wears Prada, which may have been something I wanted to address. But when you’re making a movie, you’re not thinking about that stuff, you’re thinking, “Wow, I want to make a romantic movie that harkens back to the Richard Donner movie that I loved so much.” And that’s what I did…
I’ve always felt that the origin of Superman is the story of Moses – the child sent on a ship to fulfill a destiny. And this was a story about Christ – it’s all about sacrifice: “The world, I hear their cries.” So what happens? He gets the knife in the side and later he falls to the earth in the shape of a crucifix. It was kind of nailing you on the head, but I enjoyed that, because I’ve always found the myth of Christ compelling and moving. So I hoped to do my own take, which is heavy shit for a summer movie. But definitely the nostalgic, romantic aspects of it worked against people’s expectations of it in the climate. And if I was going to do another one, it would be a reboot. I would go back and redo the original, but I only thought of that recently. It would be a much less romantic, more balls-to-the-wall action movie. It would be a very different pace than Superman Returns, which I can say at this point because I have distance from it now.
He’s right - the Christ stuff in Superman Returns was heavy… but heavy handed, not too ‘smart’ for summer. The film’s weaknesses have nothing to do with the release date, but rather a fundamental disconnect with the character.