Superman Returns was released in 2006, a year after Warner Brothers released Batman Begins to critical acclaim and financial success, hoping Superman would be their next big franchise to compete in the rapidly expanding comic book movie genre. The film, while successful, wasn't the breakaway hit they hoped for and the franchise was shelved for several years. In 2010 it was announced director Christopher Nolan and writer David S. Goyer, two of the main brains behind the now monstrously huge Batman franchise, had been hired to produce and write the film respectively.
Extremely polarizing director Zack Snyder, most famous for the two hour slow motion fight scene called 300, was hired to direct. Snyder was no stranger to comic book adaptions, in 2009 having made the also very polarizing film Watchmen which I once read described as “loved by fans because it was like the book and hated by fans because it was like the book”. Fans feared the combination of these talents would lead to a dark take on Superman, a hero who is usually not in such stories. These fears were compounded by earlier teaser trailers, which made the movie to look every bit as dark as people suspected it would be. How did it turn out? Let's find out with A Ghoul Versus The Man of Steel.
Our film opens on the planet of Krypton, where our future hero Kal-El is born to his parents Robin Hood and Marian- no wait, her name is Lara. We join a meeting of the council of elders that runs Krypton where Robin Hood (which translates to Jor-El in Kryptonese) is warning the council that Krypton has maybe three weeks left before it explodes. Apparently, they had a huge energy crisis and ended up "harvesting the planet's core" which has now come back to bite them in the ass. The council doesn't believe him because of course they don't.
He asks the council for something some called the codex, which will let him ensure the survival of their race. Before they can answer him, the meeting is interrupted by a gang of rebels that shoot their way into the chambers. They are lead by General Zod, who shoots the council leader dead and orders the rest taken away to be tried for their crimes. Zod asks Jor-El to to join him but is turned down.
Jor-El is able to escape the rebels by stealing one of their guns... and shooting them dead. That's rather violent and out of place for a Superman story, but I suspect we've only begun given the players involved. He steps outside and finds himself suddenly in a Halo video game. He boards his... pet dragon and they fly away to the location of the codex. It's in an underwater cave, Jor-El diving into the water to get there. He quickly gets lost as he takes a wrong turn and winds up in the Fetus Farms from the Matrix. Surfacing in the cave, he grabs the codex... which is a tiny little skull floating in energy. Strange. Exiting the cave he finds a gunship waiting for him, demanding the codex for Zod. Jor-El's pet dragon swoops in and rescues him, taking him back home.
Lana has found a place to send Kal, which is the planet Earth. Studying her information, Jor-El remarks the radiation from the yellow sun will make his son like a god. They kiss him goodbye and place him in a spaceship, ensuring he will survive the destruction of Krypton. Jor-El places the codex in a device above the ship, which turns it into an energy beam that engulfs Kal briefly. He also puts a key looking device into the ship, prepping it for launch. Zod shows up pretty soon after, Jor-El for some stupid reason telling him he had a child by natural birth with Lara which is the first one in centuries.
Zod is outraged by this, calling it heresy. He orders his men to destroy the ship, but Jor-El grabs a gun and... shoots them dead. Damn, this is a very high body count for a Superman movie. Jor-El fights his old friend, giving Lara time to launch the ship. Zod ends up stabbing Jor-El dead, going outside to try to stop the ship but finds the authorities waiting for him. He is arrested as Kal's ship safely flies away in the chaos.
Back in the council chambers, Zod and his cronies are sentenced to “300 somatic reconditioning cycles”, which is not explained at all what that means but I bet it's a real long time. Lana is present at the sentencing, Zod telling her he will find Kal. And by telling, I mean SCREAMING “I WILL FIND HIM!” OVER AND OVER AGAIN because Michael Shannon is here to have fun, not to act. The rebels are painfully sealed up in some kind of carbonite pods that fly up into a ship and the ship takes off into space where it enters a triangle shaped black hole that is maintained by giant space gates. Damn, overkill much?
Later at the House of El, Lara sadly watches as Krypton begins to fall apart. Her last words are “Make a better world than ours Kal” as she is incinerated in the planet's explosion. We follows Clark- I'm not calling him Kal anymore, he's Clark- as his ship enters Earth's orbit and is about to crash near a farm. Twenty minutes in and we're finally on Earth, but that's okay as honestly the Krypton scenes were pretty well done even though they were oddly violent and over-complicated for what SHOULD have been such a simple story.
We suddenly cut to a fishing vessel out in the sea, where a grown up and bearded Clark works. The ship gets a distress call from a nearby oil rig, the coast guard following up by saying rescue is impossible. Not for Clark though, where he is able to rescue them and lead them to a helipad where a coast guard chopper picks them up. Clark also saves the chopper from getting crushed by a falling tower, doing all of this with absolutely no attempt to hide his identity. The chopper flies away to safety and he falls unconscious into the water, which leads us to our first flashback of maaaaaaaaaaany. This film has many, many problems but one of the more prominent is ANYTIME anything even remotely interesting happens, they queue up a flashback of Clark as a kid to kill the momentum dead.
Back in the present, Clark emerges from the water and steals some clothes. He was completely on fire, but oddly his pants survived. He must buy pants from the same store the Incredible Hulk does. Hey, was that clothes stealing scene pointless enough for you? It was? Sorry, here's another flashback. This time Clark is a young teen on a school bus, being teased by Pete Ross (who in the good ol' days of the REAL Superman was his best friend growing up). The bus blows a tire and goes off a bridge into the water, Clark pushing the bus to safety before everyone can drown. Everyone on the bus sees him do this, including a young Lana Lang (usually portrayed as his teenage girlfriend).
Later on the Kent Farm, Pete Ross's mom talks to the Kents about what Clark did. Martha tries to tell her the kids didn't see what they thought they saw but Mrs. Ross insists it was an act of God. I'm surprised Martha didn't try to convince her it was swamp gas. We see Clark's adopted father is another Robin Hood, which really makes me wonder how Clark didn't grow up to become the Green Arrow.
Robin Hood 2.0 is upset Clark used his powers to save everyone, prompting Clark to angrily ask “What was I supposed to do? Let them die?”. And here we get the part where this movie completely lost me for good. Robin Hood replies “Maybe, but there's more at stake here than our lives or the lives of those around us. When the world finds out what you can do, it's gonna change everything; our beliefs, our notions of what it means to be human... everything.”
THAT'S NOT A FUCKING ANSWER ROBIN HOOD! Jonathan and Martha Kent have always been Clark's moral compass. Jonathan Kent always wanted Clark's abilities kept a secret, but he always taught him how precious life is as well as trusting his instincts. The real Jonathan would have been concerned about Clark getting taken away by the government, but he would NEVER reply that “maybe” Clark should have let a BUS FULL OF KIDS DIE.
But this is Robin Hood and not Jonathan Kent so I guess it all makes sense. Clark asks if God gave him these powers, so Robin shows him the spaceship he keeps in the barn. He also gives Clark the key the other Robin Hood made, saying he took it to a metallurgist at Kansas State University who examined it and found it didn't exist on the periodic table. That sounds pretty stupid to me, because logically any scientist just might want to do some follow up on a freaking new element, but I think you can see what kind of movie this is going to be already.
Back to the present again, we now find Clark working at a bar in Canada. He overhears two soldiers discussing the Americans have found a strange object in the area and are investigating it. And since we're in a hole-in-the-wall bar, we have to have the scene where an asshole redneck has to harass the waitress. Clark intervenes, the guy dumping a beer on his head. You can tell Clark wants to MURDER this guy, but he keeps his cool and leaves. Later the redneck goes outside to his truck, finding a couple of alternations have been mysteriously made to it. Clark pretty much demolished the truck, which makes me wonder how NO ONE would have heard the noise this would have made.
Cut to the discovery site of the object, we find the military has set up a large camp. A helicopter lands and- AHHHH! Jodi Melville gets out. RUN! Run, she's going to eat us all! No wait, that's just the Daily Planet's star reporter Lois Lane, played by the lovely Amy Adams. For those of you playing at home, which I guess is everyone, Adams played a super powered cannibal on the Superman prequel TV series Smallville. She's greeted by- OH NO! Wes Keenan! Run Lois, he's programmed to kill you!
No wait it's just Tahmoh Penikett, another Smallville actor who played a mind controlled assassin with Kryptonian powers. Here, he's just a soldier. Clark, who has somehow secured a job at a military facility because they TOTALLY hire drifters to work at their top secret dig sites, also works there and carries Lois bags for her.
Lois meets the man running the show, Air Force Colonel Hardy. Assisting him in studying the object is Dr. Emil Hamilton, who in the Superman mythos is a scientist that often helps out Superman with the power of SCIENCE! Here in the movie he works for DARPA as a military adviser. They next meet with... Dr. Emil Hamilton?! Huh? Oh, it's just the guy who played Hamilton on Smallville, here he's playing an unnamed scientist. I really do appreciate the Smallville actor cameos, but I'm still frothing at the mouth over “maybe”.
Dr. I'm Not Playing Hamilton But Should Be Because I'm A Better Actor reveals the object is trapped deep in the ice, and the ice that surrounding it is nearly 20,000 years old. Later that night Lois walks around the base, taking pictures with her Nikon D3S camera. Warning: severe nitpicking coming up ahead. This scene REALLY struck out for me. The Nikon D3S is OLD in camera years, it came out in 2009 and was replaced by the D4 in 2012. This film came out in 2013. How in the world does Nikon not want their current model advertised? This film is so inept it can't even get the advertising right.
Back to the review, Lois reviews the pictures she's taken and notices Clark sneaking around so she follows him. Clark uses his heat vision to create a tunnel to burrow his way to the object, which is a giant ship. Inside, he finds a console that his key will fit into which causes an image of Jor-El to appear down a hallway, Clark trying to chase it down but it keeps vanishing. He finds a room with cryopods in it, one having a long dead body in it and the other open and empty. The body actually belongs to his cousin Kara (better known as Supergirl), but you'd have to buy a spin off comic book to find this out.
The Nikon camera enters the ship, followed by Lois. She encounters a hovering drone who is obviously a Canon fan because it attacks her and breaks the camera. Clark appears to save her, destroying the drone. Seeing Lois has a gash in her stomach from the attack, he uses his heat vision to cauterize the wound.
We cut to outside, as we see the ship rise out of the ice and fly away. A chopper surveying the area finds Lois lying in the ice, because Clark gallantly left her there to freeze to death. She begins narrating on her experience as the scenery changes to her reading the story out loud to Morpheus, who is now the editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet but he won't print the story because it's about aliens and they're not real. He can totally get behind sentient computer programs that build virtual worlds, but aliens? That's ridiculous! This forces Lois to leak her story to a guy to post on his shady website since Morpheus won't publish it.
Cut to the Arctic, where Clark has parked his new ship. He meets with the image of Jor-El, who reveals he's the downloaded consciousness of the real Jor-El or something. Hologram Robin Hood gives us a massive plot download as we learn the history of the rise and fall of Krypton. The ship Clark took was part of a scout fleet that explored the galaxy for possible worlds to colonize. We learn they colonized worlds by using giant tripod looking machines, which will be important later.
Jor-El gives Clark a tour of the ship, which we finds has another Matrix Fetus Farm on it. He explains that on Krypton all children had predetermined futures, that they were bred for one job and job only. The Els didn't believe in that, they felt children should be able to follow their own dreams. Clark asks the question people have been asking for decades, “why didn't you come with me?” and we get this gem: “We couldn't, Kal. No matter how much we wanted to. No matter how we loved you. Your mother, Lara, and I were a product of the failures of our world as much as Zod was. It's hard to explain.”
He actually says “It's hard to explain”. Wow, the Robin Hoods in this film SUCK at answering questions. Ever since we left Krypton the film has gotten awful, you can tell they just want to get all the talky stuff out of the way as fast as possible so we're just getting hammered with info overloads. Next on the tour is a Superman costume, Jor-El explaining the “S” is the symbol of the House of El and it means hope. Luckily for Clark the costume fits like a glove because all Kryptonians are the same body size apparently. Why was this costume on a scout ship in the first place? This is where I'm starting to find it really hard to believe Goyer wrote this movie, he usually has such an attention for detail where you're not forced to ask yourself questions like this while watching one of his stories.
Clark walks outside, and SHOCKINGLY it's not in slow motion. I do have to say I really admire Snyder's restraint here, not a single slow motion shot in the film yet. Clark tries out flying, smiling and laughing while he does. This probably pissed off Snyder so much that an actor in his film DARED to show emotion besides anger, but I guess he had no other shots so had to use this take. He crashes into a mountain, that nasty and TOTALLY OUT OF PLACE IN THIS MOVIE smile gone. Hopefully we never, EVER see it again. I come to a Snyder movie to see angsty overly-serious characters alternating between being monotone or screaming their lungs out, not people having fun and enjoying things.
Attempting flight again, Clark begins to get the hang of it. And with that, fifty minutes into the movie we finally have Superman. Aren't you glad they loaded this movie with pad-tastic flashbacks to really stretch out that enormous run time? I sure am. Elsewhere, Lois uses the power of Movie Montage to find Clark. We follow her as she travels through his old haunts, taking her to an IHOP in Smallville where a grown up Pete Ross works. Sadly we don't get to see Lois interview him over a plate of delicious fluffy pancakes, the kind you can only get at IHOP.
“Come hungry, leave happy!” Wait, no one in this movie is happy. Can we change the sponsor to Applebee's?
Ross leads her to the Kent Farm, where meets Martha. Martha, who is dressed in a Sears uniform, isn't really interested about Clark but instead wants to talk to Lois about crappy and overpriced off-brand electronics. Lois politely declines, as should you. Next Lois is at a grave site, looking at the tombstone of Jonathan Kent. Wait, Martha talked to her? So much for that whole secrecy thing! She hears someone behind her, saying that she knew if she turned over enough stones he'd eventually find her. She turns around, and finds herself facing a confused groundskeeper! No wait, it's just Clark. Lois wants to tell his story but Clark says he doesn't want his story told.
Cue up Flashback #117, as we find the Kents driving down the road. Clark is now a young man, fighting with Robin over his future. Robin wants him to be a farmer now instead of embracing his larger destiny apparently. That whole childhood of telling him he was going to be something great and change the world is out the window now? This movie is so boring it can't even remember it's own continuity. Clark pulls the “I don't have to listen to you, you're not my dad line” and I wish I had a drink. Up ahead Robin sees all the cars on the road have pulled over, as a giant tornado is forming because this is Kansas.
Robin starts organizing everyone to hide under a nearby overpass, as everything he learned about tornado safety he got from the movie Twister. Martha realizes they left their dog in the car so Clark goes to get him but Robin stops him, saying he'll do it. And this is where the movie went from losing me to making me mad. Clark could have EASILY got the dog without revealing his powers to the crowd of people, but that wouldn't give us the overly dramatic scene we're about to see.
Robin frees the dog from the car, but hurts his leg in the process leaving him unable to move. Clark is just watching the entire thing, despite the fact he could have EASILY went and got him without revealing his powers. The tornado hasn't even hit yet, it's patiently waiting for everyone to get into position. When Clark finally realizes he should, you know, do something, Robin holds up his hand “no”. Talk to the hand, cos the head don't want to hear any logic in this film whatsoever.
The tornado sweeps him away to the land of Oz to star in movie hopefully better than this one: Robin Hood and the Wizard of Oz. Lois, moved by that flashback, returns to the Daily Planet. Morpheus has found out about her online leak and is FURIOUS. Between Lois and that idiot son of his Tre, Morpheus' life is just too damn stressful.
Lois says she's dropping the story and he's immediately suspicious why. She lies about her leads not panning out, which he can instantly see through so he suspends her three weeks for her insolence. He does add he believes she's doing the right thing in dropping the story because of how people would react if they knew there were aliens out there.
“You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”
Cut to NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, where General Jason Lock of the Zion Defense Force is getting briefed on a spaceship that just entered Earth's atmosphere. I know I keep making Matrix references, but dammit this movie keeps giving me reason to.
Power everywhere in the world suddenly goes out and a creepy (but very cool) looking broadcast goes over every TV and phone in the world. It's our old friend Zod, telling the people of Earth they have an alien amongst them and he wants him back. He ends with a personal message to Clark, saying he has 24 hours to surrender or he'll have to watch Earth suffer the consequences. This is the part where I'd ask how Zod knows ANYTHING about Clark, but it feels like I've been watching this movie for four hours now so let's just keep things moving.
Lois gets a call from Morpheus, who tells her Agents are on the way- oh. Lois does get taken into custody by Hardy and the military, as the person she gave the story to for his website blabbed that she knows the alien's identity. Flashback time, because you in no way saw THAT coming! A teenage Clark is oddly getting bullied by football jocks right in plain sight of his dad. When the jocks realize this, they take off. Robin tells Clark he has to decide what kind of man he wants to become because no matter what he's going to change the world.
Forgetting the COMPLETELY out of place farming argument earlier, I don't think I understand Robin Hood in this movie. He spends his entire life telling Clark that one day he's going to change the world, but that he has to keep his powers a secret until then. Okay, when was this day going to be? Was there one magic day he had circled on his calendar? Or did Clark have to get enough experience to hit level 99 before he could unlock Superman?
Click here for Part 2!
Click here for Part 2!