The Superman Movie That Time Forgot:
A Look Back on Superman Returns

By Felix Quinonez

March 30, 2016

He's great as everything except Superman. Pretty much.

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In the movie, Lois, his old flame has moved on. She is now a mother and engaged. She has recently won a Pulitzer Prize for penning an article, “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” And in the real world, audiences have also moved on to darker and more brooding heroes. Does Lois still have a place in her life - and heart - for Superman? And in a post 9/11 world, would audiences embrace a primary-colored relic from a bygone era?

But of course, you can’t have a superhero movie without a villain and here, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) plays that role. Because Superman wasn’t around to testify against him, Luthor was released from prison. Now free, Luthor is up to his old tricks, literally.

After swindling an old dying woman out of her fortune, Luthor travels to the Fortress of Solitude to steal Kryptonian crystals. His plan is to combine the crystals with kryptonite and grow a new continental landmass in the Northern Atlantic Ocean, one that will cause sea levels to rise dramatically, killing billions of people. He would then have control of the only available land. And this is definitely one of the weakest points of the movie. It’s not that Spacey doesn’t deliver a strong performance - more on that later - it’s that his real estate plot is basically lifted from the 1978 movie. And to be honest, the scheme is just ridiculous. You would think a criminal mastermind would be able to come up with something better. Now it’s up to Superman to stop him while figuring out his relationship with Lois and place in the world.


In capable hands, comic book characters have always been great vehicles for real world commentary. And Singer certainly doesn’t shy away in this regard. The movie uses Superman’s five year absence to touch on the passage of time. He returns to earth to find what every one learns at one point in their lives; that life never stops moving forward, no matter how much we might - sometimes - want it to.

The world he comes back to has changed a lot. And, for all his power, he really doesn’t know how to deal with that. There’s something undeniably sweet in watching the Man of Steel himself trying to make things the way they used to be. He even slips into his old rooftop interview routine in hopes that perhaps - if he tries really hard - he can erase the last five years. It’s really no different than how we often try to hold on to things when we are afraid to move on.

And this sense of change has also spread to the people in Superman’s life. One of the film’s best qualities is actually overlooked because of its subtlety. There is no doubt that there is something different - maybe even off - about the supporting cast. While Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) could arguably be referred to as the comic relief - he does provide moments of levity - he seems mellower and less innocent. Lois is still the ever-intrepid reporter but is lacking the warmth she once had beneath the surface. In its place is a more cynical outlook of someone who has been hurt. And Perry White (Frank Langella) isn’t the volcano always on the verge of exploding. Instead, he seems more tired and world-weary. It’s easy to dismiss these as a sort of shortcoming of the actors, and some viewers and critics have done just that. But that isn’t the case. It’s actually a quiet implication that these characters have been getting older and more pessimistic while Superman was gone. This can, again, be seen as a reflection of the audience as they ask why they should care that he is back.

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