BitDepth 533 - July 18

A benevelolent alien sends his only son on a messianic mission to bring humanity into the light...
Look, up on the screen...

Descending from the heavens, Superman returns to the movies.

"See you in twenty."
Those were the eerily prophetic last words Christopher Reeve said in the blue tights of Superman at the end of Superman IV.
That's how long it took for the lad from Krypton to meet his nemesis on the silver screen again, though that prescience was about all the insight that you'll gather from that unfortunate film, hobbled as it was by underbudgeted special effects and overcooked ideas about Superman's place in a Cold War society.

Mercifully, Superman Returns, Bryan Singer's reimagining of the original hero-with-underwear-on-the-outside skips that sad entry in the franchise, along with the Richard Pryor vehicle, Superman III, which precipitated the superguy's slide into movie limbo.
Over the years, there have been almost continuous attempts to return the character to the screen, some of them parallelling the creative chaos of the comic book incarnation of the character; who has married Lois Lane and been put through twists and turns of plot, design and art in a fight to retain the relevance of an all-powerful superhuman in an era of increasingly flawed four-colour protagonists.

Comic book creators have had a lot to wrestle with. The ageing of their customer base, the growing savvy of their new readers and the intense competition for eyeballs have drawn new readers away from the pages of comics to the three-dimensional combat of video games and other immersive entertainments.
On top of all that comes the movie resurgence of long-time business and character philosophy rival Marvel Comics, who gained success by chipping away at their heroes, not by building them into all-powerful beings.

The sense of pervasive power that's always been under the surface of DC's heroes is threaded all through Singer's Superman Returns, along with a frank admission of the character's messianic overtones.
First there is Jor-El's appropriately necrophiliac offering of his "only son," a dead actor playing a dead character. The stadium-sized adulation that accompany's Superman's return is balanced by his fall, as he endures kicks and cuffs that may or not number 39 as he lies powerless on Luthor's new, kryptonite laced landmass. Then there is his final fall to earth after making a supreme sacrifice, arms spread wide in what young people might call crucifixion stylin'.

But there's room for more than that in Singer's two and a half hour paean to the Man of Steel, and the best moments, the ones that resonate with even an audience jaded by post-Matrix special effects, are those that successfully illustrate the triumphs of human and superhuman endeavour.
While Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane seems too overcome by befuddlement to be an inspiration to today's young women, James Marsden, almost unrecognisable without the red sunglasses that were his whole character in the X-Men films, gives us a Richard White worthy of being Superman's rival in romance.

The success of the original Superman movie series was a fortunate nexus of Richard Donner's enthusiasm to push technology to its limits for a good action scene and Christopher Reeve's uncanny definition of the Clark Kent/Superman character. Beyond making us believe a man could fly (which was really Donner's job), he showed us how a six and a half foot man with a body like an athlete's could hide behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses.

Brandon Routh, as much an unknown as Reeve was when he first donned the tights, inhabits Reeve's characterisation, but limns it with a harder edge, narrowing his bushy eyebrows at crooks with invincible eyes that suggest a harder, more knowing superbeing.
It's going to be interesting to see where Singer takes this version of Superman if he gets a chance at a sequel. He hasn't fully answered the film's central question, one that must have echoed through the halls at Warner during the film's long development. Does the world need a Superman?

I'm pretty sure that Superman VI doesn't need Lex Luthor. The lame latter half of this new film proves that.
Four of the five superflicks have featured Luthor as the conveniently over-the-top bad guy, but comics like Alan Moore's Watchmen and Miracleman and Warren Ellis' Authority are now part of the mainstream of comics fiction. These books deepen the fundamental cynicism that most readers hold for super answers to difficult problems and broaden the notion of villains to include folks who look more like the people who do evil in the news headlines.

Having gotten past the allusions to a Supersaviour, a Superman film that wrestles as convincingly with the consequences of an all-powerful being living among humans is one that's been a rich source of invention in the world of comics over the last twenty years.
Singer did a great job with the themes of prejudice that are the root of the X-Men series, now he must find the human resonance in a godlike alien.
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