Here’s how I remember some of the more recent comic book films from the past few years:
The Dark Knight was dark and moody.
Spider-Man was bright and bouncing.
The Incredible Hulk…green, of course. And powerful.
All these films were distinct and entertaining. But none of them were beautiful.
Superman Returns was beautiful.
It was bold and majestic. Director Bryan Singer made me believe a man could fly, again. The man was Brandon Routh, who stepped into the shoes of the beloved Christopher Reeve and managed to do what was in my estimation a brilliant job. Superman Returns was a throwback to the classic Reeve films (Superman: The Movie and Superman II) and at the end of its 2+ hours, left me feeling hopeful.
Now that hope is dead.
At the end of August, Warner Bros. Pictures Group President Jeff Robinov announced that rather than continue with the mythology that Richard Donner created for film and Bryan Singer followed, the film company would do a complete Superman franchise reboot. The reboot has become a common practice with comic films today and is usually utilized when previous films have underperformed (Batman and Robin in 1997 led to Batman Begins in 2005, Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003 begat 2008’s The Incredible Hulk).
According to a Robinov interview in the Wall Street Journal, “Superman didn’t quite work as a film in the way that we wanted it to. It didn’t position the character the way he needed to be positioned. Had ‘Superman’ worked in 2006, we would have had a movie for Christmas of this year or 2009, but now the plan is just to reintroduce Superman…”
I’m not sure which film Mr. Robinov was watching, but to say that Superman Returns “didn’t quite work” is a pretty ignorant statement, considering Warner Bros. had no issues green lighting the story Singer presented with writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris. No doubt the decision to reboot comes not from the strength of the beautiful but occasionally flawed final product, but from its perceived financial failure. The key word is perceived.
According to Boxofficemojo.com, Superman Returns’ budget was an inflated $270 million. Of course, all that money doesn’t show up on screen. That number includes the various pay or play deals and failed attempts to reboot the franchise that were made in the years following 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest For Peace and the ultimate decision to hire Singer in 2004. By the time Superman Returns ended its theatrical run following in June 2006 premier, the film had grossed $200 million domestically, and another $193 worldwide for a total take of $393 million. Even with its ridiculous budget, those are solid numbers and don’t even include the DVD sales, which by all accounts have been solid. If there’s any financial failure, I don’t see it.
Further more, Superman Returns’ North American take was only $5 million less than that of Batman Begins.
And we know how the next film in that franchise turned out.
But clearly in this case, perception is reality. And the perceived failure of Superman Returns has brought us to the end of the film saga Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve began 30 years ago. It’s left us without the chance to see what Brandon Routh could have accomplished in the next film. It leaves us without the chance to see Bryan Singer create a sequel he teased would be his Wrath of Khan. The decision to reboot The Man of Steel now leaves us with many questions, with one standing out above all others:
Whatever the answer is, I hope the next film finds some measure of beauty that Superman Returns contains. But knowing how Hollywood works you’ll forgive me if I’m missing the optimism. I hope I’m wrong.