Honestly, I hated Superman Returns because it established Superman as virtually (though not actually) limitless, at which point he becomes uninteresting to me as a hero. Clearly Kryptonite doesn’t really matter. He can lift entire islands of the stuff into the sky, so all this talk about it being his bad news bears is really just nonsense. At best, it’s a nuisance. And since he can basically do anything, there’s no reason to ever worry that he will fail. That’s what makes a good hero for me. We know, deep down, he won’t fail, but on the outside, we see his weaknesses and know that it’s always possible that he will (or she, for that matter).
What also makes Superman a fantastic hero isn’t his strength and other abilities; it’s his constant need to do the right thing, even in the face of terrible adversity. This is why I think the trailer for the new film is so effective (even if the film falls short — haven’t seen it, so I can’t say). The idea that Superman is someone we’re supposed to look up to and an image to strive towards makes him such
a compelling figure, not because he’s got all those powers, but because he is the guy who will brave the storm for his fellow “man”, even if that storm is likely to kill him. (You can see why the military is using Superman to sell volunteering in some of their recent ads, since the idea behind the trailer for the new Superman film clearly jives with the mythic formation of the soldier — the one who sacrifices for others).
And while a lot of that is in Superman Returns, it is trampled by the complete retconning of Superman’s abilities (in my mind, anyway). Yeah, he does go and do the big, dangerous thing, but in doing so, he ceases to be something for which we can reasonably strive. He becomes god or close enough to it that the distinction isn’t relevant. What might have made Superman Returns a better film is if the great hero had to rely on the help of regular humans for once. Maybe the military storms in as Luther is about to deal the final blow to Superman. Maybe, like in Spiderman (the first Raimi film), a bunch of regular folks start chucking rocks and telling Luther to frak off, because if you mess with Superman, you mess with humanity. This would humble Superman, and it would remind us that his abilities are not what makes him who he is. They’re just icing on the cake, as it were. No, what makes Superman admirable is his personal strength and his ability to inspire. Superman has principles, and he sticks to them no matter what. He fights while the rest of us cower, and in doing so, he gives us courage. But in Superman Returns, I don’t need to create my own courage. The god will save me. I can cower away and let greater beings do everything for me. I am weak. I am nothing.
That’s why I hated Superman Returns.
This originally appeared on my Facebook page as a response to Alex Bledsoe.