I went to see Superman Returns last week, and I liked it. It's kind of funny how a lot of fanboys are picking nits at it, as well as how a few big-time critics (such as Roger Ebert) are finding the film to be something other than what they expected. But that's the problem with Superman; he's so many different things to so many different people, it's difficult for one single interpretation to please everyone.
In the case of Superman Returns, the choice was made to make the movie a sequel of sorts to the original Superman and Superman II movies. (And, in some eyes, a blatant "reimagining" or remaking of the first movie.) That set up direct comparisons between the first movie and this one, and between Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel. Some moviegoers found this new film lacking in comparison with the first; I found it superior.
To understand my take on the new movie, you have to understand that while I liked the original Superman movie in general, there were lots of pieces of it that I didn't like at all. I liked Chris Reeve's portrayal of the Big Blue Boy Scout, but thought his turn as Clark Kent was a bit too broad. I liked the Smallville scenes, but thought the Krypton passages boring and unnecessary. I didn't much like Margot Kidder as Lois Lane (too ditzy, not aggressive enough), and I hated Gene Hackman's portrayal of Lex Luthor (way too comedic). In general, I liked the Superman parts of Superman, but disliked just about everything else.
In Superman Returns, they took similar situations and played them more seriously -- which I think worked quite well. Routh's Superman is just as earnest as Reeve's was, but his Clark Kent is more believable -- mild mannered as opposed to nerdy. I also thought that Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane was a lot more believable as an aggressive reporter and independent woman, and Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor -- while still a tad too comedic for my tastes -- had the requisite amount of menace. Obviously, the special effects were a few generations improved on the 1978 version, and the subtext of Supes as the ultimate loner and reluctant savior added depth to the entire production. In short, I thought this movie was everything that the original Superman could have been, but wasn't. I liked it.
But I can understand why some people wouldn't. For those who really liked the 1978 version, Superman Returns was maybe too serious. And for those fanboys who stick to the comics canon, there was a lot to find offensive, most notably the apparent closure to Supes' relationship with Lois, and the (spoiler alert!) introduction of what appears to be the Kid of Steel. Not only was none of this in the comics, it also goes against the general trajectory of the comics version of the character.
Of course, everyone has their own idea of who and what Superman is. For folks of a certain age, Superman is Superman the movie, and the Man of Steel is Christopher Reeve. For folks of another age (myself included), Superman is The Adventures of Superman TV show, and the Man of Steel is George Reeves. For yet other folks Superman is the animated character from the 1940s Fleischer cartoons, or from the 1960s New Adventures of Superman cartoons, or the 1970s-1980s Superfriends cartoons, or the more recent Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League cartoons. Still others see Superman as Dean Cain in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, or as Kirk Allyn from the old 1940s serials, or as Tom Welling in Smallville, or as one of the two relatively anonymous dudes from the syndicated Superboy TV series in the late 1980s.
That's not even counting the many ways Superman has been presented in the comics. Depending on when you grew up, the comics Superman might be Siegel and Shuster's squinty eyed crusader for social justice, Wayne Boring's barrel-chested Son of Krypton, Curt Swan's realistic-looking father figure, John Byrne's revamped Man of Steel, Alex Ross' older and grayer legend from Kingdom Come, or any one of dozens of other legitimate pencil-and-ink portrayals.
And that's the point. Superman is something different, and something personal, to everyone. To me, Superman in human form is always George Reeves from the 1950s TV series; in comic-book form, he always looks the way that Curt Swan drew him. That's because those are the versions of Superman that I grew up with as a kid. If I were born a little earlier or a little later, my personal Superman might have been from the Fleischer cartoons or the Christopher Reeve movies.
So I can understand some of the criticism of Superman Returns. My big beef was the choice to tie the new movie to the old ones, thus missing the opportunity to start things really fresh, as Batman Begins did with the Dark Knight franchise. I'm also not that down with Superman as such a young guy; I've always thought Supes was somewhere in his thirties, not his twenties. A younger Superman, as portrayed by Routh, Cain, or Welling, simply lacks authority for me. It's a personal thing.
Those minor annoyances aside, I did enjoy Superman Returns, and look forward to the inevitable sequel. I figure after they've done one or two more, they'll give Big Blue a few years' off and then reboot the franchise with a fresh take from a new team. That's ten years to wait for a truly new Superman -- just about enough time to give another generation its due.
But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.