Why I Hated Superman Returns


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.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

4 thoughts on “Why I Hated Superman Returns

  1. What bothered me about Superman Returns was…well, everything, but at the top was the treatment of Lex Luthor. Luthor, the most brilliant and evil of Superman's foes, the one person that Superman can't really beat, and how do you portray him? As a maniacal, moustache-twirling villain who's sole purpose in life is just to kill Superman? No reasoning behind Luthor's hatred, he was obviously just born this way. And then, to top it off, introducing him in the movie as a gigolo to an old lady. That's right, Luthor didn't have anything better to do in the past few years than coming up with a way to scam an old lady out of her fortune. He could have been building weapons for the military, coming up with political strategies for politicians, or rebuilding his company, but that doesn't make any sense to the writers.

    Luthor's hatred of Superman comes down to jealousy. Like the Joker to Batman, Luthor is always trying to show the world that Superman is no better than the rest of us. Instead, we have a guy that gets his kicks out of killing billions of people, when that's nothing like Luthor's character. He's actually very interested in growing society, but he thinks that Superman is holding back innovation. So, really, he would be ecstatic that Superman had left, and LexCorp should have flourished in his absence. I know that they were making a direct sequel to Superman II, but in the end, they didn't understand the source material. There's a sequence in the movie where Luthor's crew finds to Fortress of Solitude. It's the exact same sequence as shown in Superman II, yet Luthor acts like he's just found it. Why? Who cares! Isn't it just cool seeing Marlon Brando again?

    Sorry about the rant, but Superman has been near and dear to my heart since I was a child, and it's so frustrating to continually see people write stories about him that don't understand his character at all.

    • I completely agree with you about Lex Luthor. I don't remember the film terribly well, but I did find the almost comical nature of his villainy somewhat annoying — and completely unbelievable. It was almost as if they tried to take a page from the Batman Forever/Batman & Robin years…It didn't work for me. They did a much better job with Zod in Man of Steel. He is psychotic, but there are clear reasons for it. It fits the character.

      The only thing that I disagree with you about is the reference to the source material. Personally, I find arguments about how adaptations don't "stick to the source" unconvincing. Adaptations aren't necessarily for "fans" so much as for a wider audience. The problem with the film isn't that it doesn't stick to the source material, but rather that what they came up with doesn't make a lot of sense. It's a caricature. It doesn't make any sense for Luthor to have any freedom whatsoever. He's obviously psychotic. He's obviously a caricature of evil. His character doesn't have motivations that we can care about. I think that's what makes villains interesting. They have their own motivations that we understand, even if we disagree with it (like Magneto).

      And no problem. Rant all you want 🙂

  2. "And since he can basically do anything, there's no reason to ever worry that he will fail."

    I can't agree more with you. Heroes are heroes in spite of their limitations, not because they have none. I want a hero that is outmatched, and uses his wits, courage and fibre to triumph. Heroes that are God don't interest me.

    • Exactly. Even The Immortals managed to give their literal gods weaknesses — a lot of them die in that movie. So they're interesting (well, sorta — that movie kind of sucks, but you get the idea).

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