Given a second viewing with fresh eyes the 2006 movie doesn’t fly as high as expected but one thing is certain, its star made us believe that a man can truly fly and rightly inherited the cape of the franchise’s originator brilliantly.
How serendipitous! It didn’t escape me that pop-culture personality and DC Daily host Clarke Wolfe @clarkewolfe and I were both feeling a little nostalgic and tuned in to the same frequency over the weekend and dove into a “rewatch” of 2006’s Superman Returns motion picture. Directed by Bryan Singer and starring Brandon Routh the film saw Singer exit the third installment of the competing studio’s X-Men superhero franchise and enter into this refresh of the DC Comics favorite. From the beginning it seemed apparent that for the filmmaker was paying homage to Richard Donner’s Superman which turned a then-unknown Christopher Reeve into an overnight sensation; that film also starred Margot Kidder as Lois Lane and film icon Marlon Brandon was cast in the role of Jor-El and made a figure of significant importance that leads young Clark Kent on a quest to become the Man of Steel.
Singer also enlisted Kevin Spacey as his feature’s arch-nemesis Lex Luther, a role that was originated by Gene Hackman in Donner’s vision, and Kate Bosworth stepped into the role of the intrepid reporter Lois Lane. Many of Singer’s themes and notes for Superman Returns appeared to have been drawn from picking up the reigns of a conclusion or a “third act” to Richard Donner’s own first two Superman movies. Casting Routh as the Man of Steel certainly added to the virtual passing of the baton; the relatively unknown actor bore many striking similarities to his screen predecessor Christopher Reeve as both Superman and Clark Kent, which made it very easy for audiences to accept this film (coming decades after the franchise ended) to come in as either a long time fan or fresh recruit. On the cinematic landscape, the “superhero” genre was only starting to catch its swing and Warner Bros. Studio had high hope.
Revitalizing the Man of Steel, or rather the Superman film franchise at the time appeared, the likeliest direction for the studio to take, especially given the success and acclaim it received with the reboot of another of its most lucrative film properties with director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Superman “returning” seemed like the most well-engineered direction for Warner Bros. to take, but audiences didn’t buy into Bryan Singer’s coopting of Donner’s 1970 blockbuster; the fabrication of which didn’t feel particularly authentic, as the story strove to check every box and land every nostalgic note. From Luthor’s plan to run the ultimate real estate scam, aided by a series of bumbling henchmen (Parker Posey the only exception), and Lois Lane hanging onto her heart’s desire while keeping a secret. The only exceptional exception coming in the casting of Brandon Routh.
A near-dead ringer for Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh settled into the famous cape and curl and with little effort made the role his own. There were only subtle movements and gestures that Routh incorporated into his interpretation of the Man of Tomorrow from the actor of yesteryear that made us believe that a man could fly. All the nobility and virtue, especially the awe that Superman inspired, Routh captured and made apparent, while also going us everything we needed in Superman Returns. Unfortunately, in the age of the cinematic anti-hero, where a darkly haunted caped crusader confronts capitalistic corruption and a hairy Canadian wild man with claws, are what’s selling out at the box office (while a web-slinger net all the rest), the optimism and brightness of Singer’s Superman Returns are lost among the most jaded and cynical filmgoer.
Jott Ottman’s appropriation of John William’s winning story is also among the film’s greatest honorable mentions; when it soars it reaches amazing heights while ringing true. It’s not the Singer didn’t try; his opus to the legend of Superman, one of the most celebrated characters in popular culture, has plenty of heart and soul — it’s perhaps the timing of it that was its undoing. Post 9/11, when the world could have used a Superman, the culture shifted and the public sought its heroes elsewhere. They looked inward, similarly to how Routh looked into the legacy of the character and what it had meant to its fans to bring him into today.
Not surprising that Brandon Routh would reemerge on the slate at Warner Bros. and DC’s table as the highly successful original series Arrow based on the DC heroes cast Routh as Ray Palmer in its third season. Palmer is a billionaire inventor who arrives on the scene to shake things up and has glorified ambitions of his own, that lead him to don a suit of armor that allows him to shrink down and fight crime as The Atom. Palmer (and Routh) would go on to help launch the spin-off series DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and remained a part of the show, recently exiting towards the end of the series most recent fifth season, but not before reprising his role as the Man of Steel in the 5-part epic crossover event “Crisis on Infinite Earths”.