Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Trick of the Mind: Superman vs. Batman vs. Superman

Remember them?

(File this under “Stuff I don’t give a shit about, but for some reason still feel the need to comment on.”)

Amid all the noise about Sucker Punch (especially after its collapsing box office) there’s been a lot of talk regarding Zack Snyder’s impending “reboot” of the Superman movie franchise. And almost always embedded in there is some kind of dismissal of Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns as a failure.

I suppose failure is in the eye of the beholder, so it’s pointless to argue against this notion. But I didn’t hate Superman Returns, and I remember that I wasn’t alone in this assessment. And, perhaps more importantly, I seem to recall the movie doing fairly well. Indeed, its performance, both critically and financially, at the time mirrored another big Warner superhero movie, Batman Begins (directed, of course by this new Superman’s producer, one Christopher Nolan). To wit:

Batman Begins

Superman Returns

I’m admittedly being a bit of a devil’s advocate here, since I actually adore Batman Begins to death and only kind of liked Superman Returns. And yes, in both of the above metrics (such as they are) Superman comes off a little less successful than Batman – but only by a little. In fact, Superman made a bit more money overseas, and it had a bigger opening weekend. (Though it did open over the July 4th weekend, so that was to be expected.)

Superman Returns did, however, cost a sizable chunk more than Batman Begins, and that was probably the biggest nail in its coffin. Still, at the time, the consensus on both these films seemed to be that their box offices had been a bit less than hoped for but still respectable, and that it’d be interesting to see how the franchises would develop, yadda yadda yadda. And obviously that turned out to be key – Batman Begins begat The Dark Knight, while Superman Returns begat…well, what, exactly? It couldn’t even improve the career prospects of its stars. (Even Kevin Spacey kind of vanished in its wake.)

But still, this notion that Singer’s Superman flick was a bust straight out the gate seems a bit revisionist, at best. It wasn’t.

I mention all this not because I care about it, but because it seems like a minor example of how we so often wind up rewriting history in our minds based on later perceptions and events. What if that godawful third X-Men movie (which I think Singer declined to direct so he could tackle Superman) hadn’t been a huge box office hit? Would Singer then have looked like some kind of golden god, a superhero-franchise-whisperer? Instead, Brett Ratner outgrossed him. What if Valkyrie had been a hit?

Who the hell knows? Who the hell cares? Heck, even I don’t care, and I’m the guy who just wasted an entire blog post on this.


  1. I don't really care that the third X-Men movie was a big hit - it was terrible. Terrible. TERRIBLE. Singer leaving X-Men destroyed that franchise. (That Wolverine movie didn't help.)

    Singer's Superman was fine, it was just... dull. I liked the implicit acceptance of previous Superman movies as being in the canon, but no matter how Superman-y Brandon Routh looked, there just wasn't much there. Ultimately, they made a very standard, bland Superman movie at a time when the truly interesting superhero movies focus on the flaws of the superhero character, and Singer did not manage to identify a world view that allowed us to see Superman as a flawed hero, or create a world that allowed him to be interesting despite his lack thereof. Ultimately, Singer's film suffered not because it wasn't a hit but because it wasn't a HUGE hit. And if you are directing Superman, it had better hit BIG.

    Regardless, the upcoming Snyder Superman film holds little interest for me. Snyder is quite good at recreating comic sequences on screen. He is, however, very, very bad at making movies. 300 was awful (and was directly responsible for an unbelievable number of bad movies starring Gerard Butler). Sucker Punch looks awful (I thankfully do not have a job that requires that I see it). Watchmen was not all that bad... but not really good, either. Too busy, too focused on recreating the panels from the graphic novel, and revealed Snyder to have a not-so-startling inability to identify good actors (he can identify a "look," but acting chops are apparently a bonus). Sure, there are some good performances in that movie - Jackie Earl Haley and Patrick Wilson are great - but they come from people who don't need the guidance of a strong director to get there.

    So: what is Snyder going to bring to this Superman that Singer did not bring to his? Snyder's eye for talent is worse, his ability to get good performances worse, his ability to edit out on-screen clutter much, much worse, and his eye for story... possibly non-existent. It's sort of amazing that they'd let him direct Superman, really. I have to assume Christopher Nolan knows something I don't (he obviously knows a lot more than I do about a lot of things, so maybe he has some inside info on this one too), because I just don't see it.

  2. Snyder needs really good source material to make something even halfway good. Watchmen was enjoyable, but it was slavishly loyal to its amazing source material, and most if not all of its good aspects could be attributed to Alan Moore far more than to Snyder. With 300, he was adapting a lousy, racist, stupid comic, and made a lousy, racist, stupid movie.

    So what's his source material going to be for Superman?

    And the problem of Superman Returns was that it was painfully dull and generic. It was difficult to even get energized enough to dismiss it; it hardly called for any response whatsoever.