SUPERMAN RETURNS...the second Coming? (Mild spoiler warning)

JoeM's picture
Submitted by JoeM on Fri, 2006-06-30 06:00

"Calling all citizens from all over the world/
This is Captain America calling/
I bailed you out when you were down on your knees/
So would you catch me now I'm falling."
-The Kinks

Ok, so I quoted the wrong song (This instead of the Kink's (Wish I could Fly Like) Superman. But the song remains the same, only the name has changed.

I just saw SUPERMAN RETURNS tonight, and I have to say, it left me a little raw. And let's just say that the theater went dead silent towards the end, including the IGNORANT FUCKING BITCH ON THE CELLPHONE. It's going to take a few days to digest it, so I'm just gonna offer up my immediate impressions. (Jes' for you, Rex...)

Director Bryan Singer's take on the Man of Tomorrow reminds me of Rand's description of the talent of Fritz Lang and his masterpiece SIEGFRIED. Gods and Monsters loom over this movie. Prometheus, Jesus, and God himself. Of Superman's role in this movie? There was a tagline for a comic book series that went "More than human, Less than Gods."
In addition to Singer's "Twilight of the Idols", he also embodies Lang's dictum that in art, "Nothing is accidental." Remember this when you see it, not only visually, but thematically. Singer did his homework, and succeeds in creating a stylized universe (literally!), reconnecting Superman with his science fiction roots. The effects, of course, are excellent.

Well, Roger Ebert titled his review "Atlas Yawns." Yes, he does. I don't know if it's for the same reason that Ebert thinks, but hmmm....

Most of Ebert's review revolves around a comparison of this film versus the first two Superman films (this is supposed to be set five years later than SUPERMAN II.) There's a wierd disconnect here; BATMAN BEGINS basically started over, disregarding both the campy Adam West and the Tim Burton films. But this one not only uses the same John Williams score, but unused footage of Marlon Brando as well, yet the style is different. the previous films were done in the late seventies-early eighties, and this is post 9/11. Visually, the first Superman movies were contempory for their time, and this one is a hybrid of today's technological world and the 1940's era of Superman's first appearance. Art Deco looms over the Daily Planet, and the look of Lois Lane is close to her orginal appearance.
More importantly, however, is the characters themselves. Ebert bemoans the loss of a certain manic energy, bordering on camp, that was in the original movies. Brendan Routh is no Christopher Reeve, and Kate Bosworth is no Margo Kidder, and Kevin Spacy is no Gene Hackman (though he did bring his own talent to the role.) Because of the connection to the previous movies, it is next to impossible NOT to compare the actors. Hell, it's five years later, yet Clark and Lois look younger. Ah, but "nothing is accidental." Singer knew what he was up against in his changes to the characters. This is a different time. There are allusions to 9/11 and the general state of the world. In the original series, there was a certain naive quality to the characters. Manic energy, and a little camp, but not at the expense of values. It was fun, and we "believed that a man can fly." Sure, a Superman can. But this one asks, "what about me?". "Must there be a Superman?" He's been away for years, and the world had to get along without him. In real life, song after song sang of Superman's disappearance. Crash Test Dummie's "Superman's Song." Our Lady Peace with "Superman's Dead." Three Doors Down with "Kryptonite."

Mankind HAS gotten on without him, but at a price. Just as Rand wrote that art served as spiritual fuel, so did Superman, the first comic book superhero, born in the time of World War II, serve as fuel for the heroic. But the template used was that of a messiah, and the fuel become a drug. Self reliance gave way to the welfare state. And when Atlas decides to shrug, the rest had learned to sink or swim. And the grownups playing children in the first series gave way to children playing grownups in Singer's version.

"Nothing is accidental."

Unfortunately for those of the Objective mindset, Atlas Yawns is an apt phrase; anyone who's read ATLAS SHRUGGED will recognize the Christian pose of the failed messiah Superman. But the reaction to the film will be a good barometer of the culture at large. Will the public embrace this modern day interpretation of Jesus Christ pose? Lex Luthor doesn't bank on it.

"Nothing is accidental."

And there's the rub. As an esthetic judgement, I'd have to say that Singer did a hell of a job, excellent in his commitment to the theme. That theme, however...Well...I've written about this already in THE INCREDIBLE REVOLUTION, where I compare Superman to the Objectivist themes of the heroes in that movie. I've dismissed most of Marcus Bachelor's concern over the equation of evil with technology in THE INCREDIBLES, on the basis of the argument in that article (in addition to the fact that Brad Bird "inherited" the archetype of the mad scientiest as villian from the genre he was examining), but in SUPERMAN RETURNS, Marcus's arguments ring true. Superman is "alien", a metaphor for "not human", "God." Luthor is Prometheus, grabbing the flame from the gods to share with mankind, calling Superman "selfish" (!) for holding power. He just wants to give humankind a taste of that power, and get, of course, his cut. And he does this with brain over brawn. Notice that the industrial revolution is equated with brains, capitalism, and greed. And Lex Luthor. A vicious package deal that suggests the metaphor of the fall of Lucifer and the tempation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

"Nothing is accidental."

Compare this to another human who "saves the day" at one point, flying in a plane. He is a hero, doing the best he can. But it's not enough, and in the end, the noble human still needs a Superman to bail him out. "There but for the grace of God go I." "God helps those who help themselves."

"Nothing is accidental."

There is a scene, most likely not intentional, that parallel's Roark's speech on the nature of different marbles, and their purities. Black and white and grey. And not settling for anything less. There is a positive emphasis on morals in this film, but Rand's defense of religion for it's idea of individual salvation seem geared towards the past, when men were still struggling with an early form of philosophy. Today, it's less forgivable. Also unforgivable is the line, featured prominently in the commercial, "does he still stand for Truth, Justice, and all that stuff?" as a substitute for " The AMERICAN WAY. It is NOT accidental, and the ommision speaks volumes, and is a necessary to connect with the Christian theme, since America stands for all thing unholy in the minds of the enemies of capitalism and individualism. For the integration of theme and dialogue, I give kudos; for the omission, a big "FUCK YOU."

The raw parts of the film are towards the end, and I won't discuss them in order not to spoil anything. But I have a feeling most people will see it one of two ways, either they will embrace it, or, like a tired Atlas, simply yawn.

One small spoiler, for those familiar with the first movies: In the end, Lex Luthor finally gets his "beachfront property."

( categories: )

Hero to match the world

Rick Giles's picture

But also it's more of a confession of my general approach to the idea of crime and justice

Agree with your observation but favour the other interpretation.

That is, that civilisation is not on an ever upward pathway up and up at all. It is in danger and needs major conscious effort to keep ticking and to destroy its enemies. It's a job for an arborist like Batman, not a hedge clipper like Superman.

Batman is the one at war with the culture. Superman's not at war, he's more of a bell boy in the hotel of the world.


Landon Erp's picture

Well after that response it's clear to me that there was a bigger difference I ignored.

Bruce Wayne's prime motivating factor is his actions as Batman. He sees the world as a place which has huge almost insurmountable problems. He feels compelled to spend the bulk of his time, energy, and resources fighting this fight which on some level he considers doomed anyway.

Clark Kent/Kal El's prime motivating factor is just living a happy productive life. He sees any criminal action as out of the ordinary, temporary, and easily fixed. He has no desire to lurk in the shadows or spend every waking hour searching out evil, he reacts to it when he encounters it and then he returns to his normal life as soon as possible.

I'm not speaking of any particular version just the characters on the whole.

But also it's more of a confession of my general approach to the idea of crime and justice.

As to the father & son issue. My assessment seemed like something that the viewer was being handheld through.

Superman is thinking a lot about his role as savior. Jor El is speaking of it to him. The knowledge of the circumstances under which Jor-El sent his son to earth are touched on. Superman's son looks longingly at the costume.

I thought it was being a little blunt.


Inking is sexy.

How you like your heroes

Rick Giles's picture

I feel kind of compelled to talk about two of the issues being discussed,

Surprise surprise. (;

Counter that to Superman. How scary would it be to see a guy who can move planets, fly and shoot lazer beams out of his eyes skulking in shadows and spooking out his opponents. I mean that in a bad way. He's a decent honest guy (so honest he can't bring himself to wear a mask).

Of course it's different for Superman because when he suits up he's not putting on a costume but taking one off. All the others are doing the opposite. It is Clark Kent that is the disguise, the cape is the reality.

I think there's plenty of scare-factor in Superman, to those with a guilty conscience. It's providence personified. A recurring fable- don't sin or God will smite you; Be good or Santa wont come; Honesty and virtue will see you right, crime doesn't pay. These are abstractions but an invulnerable omniscient man with irresistable power and unbeatable swiftness in bright colours in broad daylight is concrete.

That's what you get out of the scene with the gattling gun and the bullet-in-the-eye. Can't stop this force except by being a good boy all year long.

Superman can just go charging in untie everybody before anyone could stop him, either take all the bullet hits or just pluck them out of the air and just end the whole thing with a few quarter strength punches... It would kind of be overkill to try to totally out think these people wouldn't it.

I don't think so. This is why Batman, the strategist, is superior (and they made this part of the new Batman Begins movie). He becomes more than a man, Batman becomes a spirit. Batman can be ubiquitous whereas Superman cannot. By his intelligence he augments his power, extends it. Guilty conscience doesn't fear a personification but a phantom. Superman just turns up at the scene of the crime but Batman haunts it from the first twinkle in the eye of those who plan it. That makes him the more powerful of the two.

And Batman, because he's monitoring and looking ahead can always achieve more. A stitch in time saves nine. Superman has to wait for the hostage situation, Batman could hit it on the head before things get that far. By using his lesser resources more intelligently Batman can prevent cascades of crime whereas Superman responds to each speeding bullet one at a time.

I guess I'm saying it's not that he can't, just what would be the point most of the time.

Because knowledge is more powerful than physical force.

A Batman of Justice or a 'Napoleon of Crime' will always trump a Superman. It's like a bear trying to fight an ant hive. If superman can only catch one runaway car or sphere or space shuttle at a time it's easy to beat him: drop two at a time. Or three, or three hundred.

I think the "father becomes the son" idea came from how Jor-El was trying to save Krypton but when he realized it was too much for him he sent Kal-El to earth who then acted as a sort of savior for humanity.

The gist of it is that Jor-El had a legacy through Kal-El. Even though Jor-el couldn't save Krypton Kal-El became the perfect earthbound hero.

Knowing, as we do, that this is leftover Marlin Brando footage shot in the old session from the Christopher Reeve movies it's tempting to say it's just a forign jig-saw piece forced into the wrong puzzle.

"The father becomes the son, and the son becomes the father."

Father becomes the son huh?
I'm usually first in line to jump on these nice palindromes but you've got to temper that urge by MAKING SENSE. Or trying to, at least.

Dangling threads

Landon Erp's picture

I feel kind of compelled to talk about two of the issues being discussed, the one which contains some spoiler info is at the bottom of my post.

As to Superman/Batman intelligence. I think to some degree they're products of the culture and they're representative of the idea of the mind body dichotomy.

Granted I saw some really old Superman promotions (somewhere between the 30's and the 50's) where he was described as "Genius in intellect" along with "More powerful than a locomotive." But a lot of it comes back to this thing Harrison Ford figured out.

I saw this special on top film heroes and Indiana Jones was on the list. At one point they described a scene that was to play out as a masterful sword vs. whip ballet... Ford read the script and said "Wait... Indy has a gun right?" and the rest was history.

It's kind of like that, Batman is just a really smart really rich guy who's in really good shape. He needs all the stealth tricks, the massive knowledge of different fighting styles, the detective skills and the psychological "spook out factor" just to be valid. A normal guy doing what he does would get killed so he has to be skilled if he's even going to show up.

Counter that to Superman. How scary would it be to see a guy who can move planets, fly and shoot lazer beams out of his eyes skulking in shadows and spooking out his opponents. I mean that in a bad way. He's a decent honest guy (so honest he can't bring himself to wear a mask).

If there's a hostage situation Batman would have to sneak in, spook some people, tie some other people up, free the hostages and then (more than likely) take out the leader indirectly.

Superman can just go charging in untie everybody before anyone could stop him, either take all the bullet hits or just pluck them out of the air and just end the whole thing with a few quarter strength punches... It would kind of be overkill to try to totally out think these people wouldn't it.

I guess I'm saying it's not that he can't, just what would be the point most of the time.

I think the "father becomes the son" idea came from how Jor-El was trying to save Krypton but when he realized it was too much for him he sent Kal-El to earth who then acted as a sort of savior for humanity.

::::::::::::::::::Spoiler alert:::::::::::::::

The gist of it is that Jor-El had a legacy through Kal-El. Even though Jor-el couldn't save Krypton Kal-El became the perfect earthbound hero. And now Kal-El knows that some day he will have a legacy, for now and much of the future he will be alone... he even lost every connection he had to his father (the crystals) but some day his son is going to come to him, ready to take up the Superman mantle and even though he will have missed much of the connection he could've had he will share Jor-El's pride in having been able to impart what each considered the most important lessons of life and legacies.


Inking is sexy.

father becomes the son

JoeM's picture

Scratched my head over that one as well...


Rick Giles's picture

:: consults Solomail ::

I wasn't looking for that kind of showing.

Yes. And if you have the slightest clue as to what the whole 'the father becomes the son...' rap was supposed to tell.

I dont want to spoil it for

JoeM's picture

I dont want to spoil it for everyone else...check your inbox

Fair enough

Rick Giles's picture

I see. I guess there's nothing wrong with that.

Suppose it's true that the 'American Dream' isn't about deeply intellectual transactions. Rather, as you say, concerned with clever old school Tom Sawyery rewards for quick cleverness and good things comming to those who put in the axle greese.

Never the less, I always have had the impression Superman should be super everything. Super smart. Super leader of the Justice League. I haven't seen the new toon but in the old one he contrived a Kryptonite coma to protect himself from death- so I took from that he was a bit of a scientist. In short, I alays thought Superman was a 'Renaissance man' who could do everything. To that extent I wondered why his comics weren't also super funny...

So you're not going to say where Aq man turns up? Because I was looking the whole time, especially the watery bits.

wet wonder

JoeM's picture

I bet you're looking in all the water's in a little less obvious place...

Some writers would argue otherwise, but for the most part, Superman is not dumb, but certainly not a genius. That's why Batman constantly kicks his ass (thank you Frank Miller.)
But that's not accidental, either. The original Superman was born in the Industrial Age, the man of steel was almost a machine! His archetypal villians Lex Luthor and Braniac are geniuses, and the matchup has always been about brains versus brawn. And, as an embassador of the "American way," that meant that being a cornfed Kansas boy, his creators gave him something of the characteristics of the American anti-intellect-in-favor-of-practical-action- mentality, though not openly. That cracker-barrell folksy sort of wisdom of the bible belt that Rand wrote about. And that's why Batman, the supersmart hero, is depicted as dark, cold, scary, while Superman makes us warm and fuzzy.


Rick Giles's picture

Didn't see Aquaman and I was looking. Trying to trick me JM?

Follows of real well from the previous movies which draws attention to the fact that Superman isn't super smart. It's good how he's a well trained 'Thunderbird' but the man lacks nouse.

Very well said, Landon. As

JoeM's picture

Very well said, Landon.

As for Pirates, if you can scrape it up, it's worth it to see on the big screen!

Damn it Joe!

Landon Erp's picture

I'm on a tiny tiny budget here and now you're telling me there's another movie worth checking out.

But I have to agree with the overall review. It is an extremely well executed story but it's different from many films in this genre. Since my love of this genre far predates my Objectivism I can usually count on the simple romanticism of it to pull me through.

At best (Fantastic Four, Batman Begins, The X-men films, The Incredibles, The Richard Donner Superman movies)the morality being executed throughout the story does have some thought put into it and I leave feeling completely satisfied, inspired, and benevolent enough that I just want to give a big smile to everyone I pass on the street for quite a while afterwards.

There are other scenarios where I don't necessarily agree with the morality set forth but the story is so well done and the characters make enough of a journey I overlook it (the Spider-man series, some old Shadow radio dramas). And then there is the exact type of hero skewering value destroying filth Rand talked about in "Bootleg Romanticism" (The Joel Schumacher Batman films).

This is a new entry. It is an extremely well done story with a lot of thought placed upon the moral code under which the film applies. There is a great degree of service spent on heroism and it's value in peoples lives (as an inspirational force not so much as literal salvation) but the latter half of this film spends a lot of time dwelling on sacrifice in a somewhat positive light, you feel a sense of tragedy for the man of steel.

The recently re-released dvds of the first series of Superman films contrast this highly. I believe the scene that comes to mind is one which was added for the DVD (I hadn't seen it before and I grew up with these films). It is Kal-El/Superman standing in the fortress of solitude listening to what his father had to tell him after disclosing the full extent of his power and what may be capable through their use. (Protecting these lower creatures, but only as much as they actually need it) And after a night of stopping robberies, saving women falling from helicoptors, saving cat's from trees etc he has returned to the fortress of solitude. Jor-El (his father) points out to his son that he realizes he probably got a great deal of enjoyment out of this (which is likely since you see Christoper Reeve with his huge benevolent smile throughout the whole previous sequence and to a lesser degree through this one).

Superman was doing it because he could and because he enjoyed it. I didn't like the thought of a superman who feels like he has to and cannot stop. But the film was extremely well done by its own standards. So I think this might be a good entry for the current RM discussion.


Inking is sexy.

thumbs up?

JoeM's picture

Eh, Linz...I don't know if I'd consider my review a glowing one...especially after seeing it again...well done for what it was, but what it

The PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequel, however...Smiling

Not supposed to be much more than a fun summer movie, of course....but I loved it, and can't wait for the third one. And there was one seen that reminded me of a description of THE MYSTERIOUS VALLEY, one of Rand's favorite childhood stories (the one with Cyrus, the basis for all her heroes.) Will Turner goes aboard a ship in search of something where he finds a lot of bodies and a few crew members in shock and terror. He finds out why soon enough when he is confronted by some very creepy sea monster men led by Davy Jones himself, complete with tentacles and all sorts of sea slime...but instead of cowering with the rest, Turner takes on the whole lot in defiance.

There was another good scene where the monstrous Davy Jones offers the defeated crew a chance to meet their judgement before God or delay judgement and serve on his undead crew. I thought it was a really good depiction of true horror, the man who fears to confront his own deeds in his life, and the slime of the ocean becomes a fitting covering as the crew take on the properties of the slimiest sea creatures. The scene doesn't hit you over the head or preach, which is why it succeeds.

And, of course, Johnny Depp stole the show as usual.

Holy Pomo-Wanker, Superman!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Cripes! Even the critics here—normally a supercilious pomo-wanking bunch—are giving it the thumbs-up, and grudging praise to Brandon. Maybe even this bah-humbug curmudgeon oughta go see it. Smiling

Great movie

Landon Erp's picture

Saw it last night and really liked it. Though I have to admit the end of the film really stands or falls on your view of sacrifice. But overall I think Routh, Singer, Etc all did an amazing job.


Inking is sexy.

Don't know if anyone

Bosch Fawstin's picture

Don't know if anyone mentioned this, but Brandon Routh, the new Superman actor, is an Ayn Rand fan, listing Atlas Shrugged as one of his favorite books. He even mentioned in an interview that he recalls he was likely reading Atlas Shrugged when he met the director, Brian Singer, for their first meeting at a cafe. I think Routh did a great job and I'm really looking forward to the next one.


xtra credit

JoeM's picture

"And, Joe, you get extra credit for quoting a Kinks song."

Good, because I'm on a "low budget." (yuk, yuk) Smiling

And, Joe, you get extra

Ross Elliot's picture

And, Joe, you get extra credit for quoting a Kinks song Smiling

Sounds really good. I hope

Landon Erp's picture

Sounds really good. I hope it's worth going into the debt I'm going to have to in order to see it.


Inking is sexy.

extra credit

JoeM's picture

If you spot an appearance by Aquaman in the movie. Smiling

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