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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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And although it’s been done before, Superman Returns does focus on the very popular theme of Superman as the outsider. Throughout the movie, his father’s voice reminds him that even though he’s been raised as a human being, he is not one of them. And this sense of otherness permeates throughout the movie. Superman is not only an alien, but because Lois has moved on, he is alienated from arguably his most important connection to this planet.

And that is where one of the most controversial elements of the movie comes in, the son. Many people were baffled by this choice. But the fact is that after actually seeing the remains of Krypton, Superman had to finally let go whatever lingering hope he may have held that he might not be the only one of his kind. And now that Lois has moved on, his ties to earth are almost completely gone. But the introduction of his son shows him that he isn’t alone and still has connections to this planet and - by extension - its people.

Even though Superman’s origins are really more tied to science fiction and pulp magazines, people have always wanted to draw parallels between him and Jesus. And the movie takes that theme and runs - or flies - with it. The movie really gets mileage out of the pre-existing Marlon Brando dialogue (Superman’s father, Jor-El, in the Donner film) and uses it to portray Superman not just as hero but a deity. In a voice over Jor-El tell his son - and the audience - that “for this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you... my only son.”

Of course a more cynical analysis might point out how clumsy it is to literally spell out the themes to audiences. But when looking at this in the context of the movie, and its tone, these expository voice-overs could also be described as earnest. In any case the more interesting connection to Jesus is actually made without words.




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Although the movie does not have a climactic no holds barred brawl, there is a scene where a de-powered Superman suffers a very intense beating at the hands of Luthor and his cronies. This is meant to evoke the suffering Jesus suffered at the hands of the Romans before being crucified. And the similarities don’t end there. After the beatings, they were both stabbed in the side. The romans used a spear and Luthor used a shard of kryptonite that resembles the head of a spear.

So while Superman Returns isn’t perfect, it managed to bring the legend to the present day eschewing irony in favor of an endearing sense of earnestness. And although, as detractors point out, it isn’t filled to the brim with action, it isn’t completely devoid of it either. The airplane rescue scene is both breathtaking and visually stunning. It is one of the best set pieces in any superhero movie.

Instead of reimagining Superman as a gritty, tortured character, Singer aimed to remind audiences what made him so special in the first place. Rather than smothering the film with darkness, Superman Returns aimed for iconic imagery. At one point, Superman is seen literally carrying the world on his shoulders. In another scene he flies above the clouds, bathed in sunlight, evoking his full, golden age splendor. Superman Returns managed to be new and still reverential to the past films. It made the biggest hero relevant again.


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