Movie fandoms are nearly impossible to be pleased collectively. No matter how immaculately a filmmaker tries to make a superhero film, certain viewers never desist from being outraged by its flaws. Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006) is one of the many examples of it.
Serving as a homage sequel to the first two Superman films (released in 1978 and 1980), the film was nagged by the audience for being too derivative and unoriginal and lacking action scenes. The movie entertained the critics, but the dissatisfaction among the audience reflected on the box office ($391 million global gross against $223 million budget), resulting in the cancellation of the planned sequels.
Jump to 7 years later in 2013, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, a reboot of the Superman story, received better audience response but was globally condemned by critics for having too much of action and relatively, ruining the essence of the character.
To the director’s luck, the film grossed enough ($668 million against a $250 million budget) to lit a sequel, ensuring that the world will remember Henry Cavill’s iteration of the Kryptonian equivalent to Christopher Reeves than that of Brandon Routh. And it happened.
Much more than Routh’s performance, the audience seems to have forgotten the decency of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, which, taking everything into account, was a better film than Man of Steel. It unquestionably wasn’t the best CGI-ed film and was scarce of balls-to-the-wall action scenes. But it had many things which were better than both Zack Snyder Superman films combined.
Here are 7 reasons that justify why Superman Returns is better than Man of Steel.
1) Superman Returns Had An Interesting Story
Since the story was an extension of Superman 1 and 2, the film did not waste time establishing the basics. From the beginning itself, the narrative captivated us in understanding what Luthor is up to.
Clark/Superman’s return after a period of 5-years was a very engaging plot-point. It was interesting to see how the world will react to seeing him again and likewise, for Superman to discern the world in a new light. His realization that Lois has moved past him and is engaged to someone else, also having a child, raised the emotional stakes a lot.
One of the film’s best moments comprised the revelation of Jason’s true identity. The tension between Lois and Richard regarding Superman made the second act emotionally investing and the denouement riveting.
2) Superman and Lois’s Relationship Was Subtle
If compared, Amy Adams’ portrayal as Lois Lane was marginally better. She was 100% fit in the role of a Pulitzer Prize winner. But the writers needlessly shoehorned her in most parts of the story (in both Man of Steel and Batman V Superman) – which wasn’t the case with Kate Bosworth.
Her Lois Lane was as convincing as Amy Adams but also vital to the story. Some of the most sublime scenes in the film comprised her relationship with Superman (their flight after the interview was magical!). The greater emphasis on showcasing their intimacy made the story special, stating that not all superhero movies need to be loud and solely heeded on good versus evil.
3) Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor Was Remarkable
Though as campy as Gene Heckman’s representation, Kevin Spacey added his own charisma as Luthor, making the character twice more entertaining to watch.
The essential traits of the character (love for the real-estate, reverence for himself as a human being, and likewise, hatred for meta-humans which diminishes the humankind) were present in his iteration, and his presence was delightfully menacing. He never had to appear neurotic (like Eissenberg’s portrayal in BvS) to make himself a sinister villain.
4) All Superman Saves Were Amazing
It is ironical that despite a dozen Superman saves by Henry Cavill in Man of Steel and Batman V Superman, none were euphoric. His combat scenes were immensely satisfying, but in terms of pure Superman-ish wonders, his character never got the chance to do what made Christopher Reeves’ version such an icon. And also, Brandon Routh. Not for many. But at least some (including me!).
Seeing him stop a plane from crashing onto a baseball stadium remains an all-time great superhero moment. The whole sequence was magnificently staged, and filmed. The fluidity in the scene was terrific. And it was a giddish pleasure to see Superman giving statistics to the passengers on how air travel remains the safest means of transportation, striving to make them feel better.
Not only that, the movie had several more awesome Superman saves – two during the second act – which includes the bullet-in-the-eye shot – and a series of applause-worthy moments during the third act – him trying to save one life after the other in Metropolis from the havoc unleashed by Luthor.
You may complain of the lack of real action, but Superman Returns justified, repeatedly throughout the film why Kal-El is denoted as super.
5) The Depiction of Daily Planet Was Very Good
Apart from some genuine Superman wonder, the film also gave a good vibe of the Daily Planet. For any Superman fan, Clark Kent’s doings as a journalist are as significant as his endeavours when donning the cape. Bryan Singer’s film accommodated a reasonable amount of time for the primary characters to spend inside the office.
Credit goes to the writers, for they allowed the focus to remain on Lois and her relationship with Superman, in turn, allowing Clark Kent antics to come at the forefront. Frank Langella also made an excellent Perry White (way better than everything Laurence Fishburne did in the Snyder movies), and his chemistry with the lead actors was perfect.
6) The Pacing Was Mesmerizing
Call it my thing, but the pacing in Superman Returns did most of the magic for me. Opposed to the quick-cut-editing and often abrupt pacing, Superman Returns was pieced together magnificently, leading to an outstanding tonal balance.
The film was wholly old-school in its editing style (understandable for its intent of paying homage to the earlier films), comprising long, fluid scenes. Its the one thing which cost Man of Steel the most, to not have a smooth pace and effortless transitions, making the whole ride bumpy. This one was not. The last action scene came thirty-minutes before the end credits and lasted for only five-minutes – an unthinkable scenario for current superhero movies.
7) John Ottman’s Score Was Fantastic
Don’t get me wrong – I love Hans Zimmer’s original composition for Man of Steel. His music is honestly the best thing that has happened to the character’s reimagining, especially if one considers it has been 83-years since the first comic-book came out. But everything John Ottman did with John Williams’ classic score remains incredible.
From the joyous main titles to the absorbing romantic and heroic beats, Ottman’s music is what makes Superman Returns an actual throwback film in the first place.
His score remains in my music library (as does Zimmer’s!) and depending on the mood; I listen to their albums. Sometimes its Ottman. Sometimes Zimmer. But both albums are mind-blowingly good.
What is your opinion? Do you think Superman Returns is better than Man of Steel? Comment below and let me know.