Bryan Singer’s SUPERMAN RETURNS gets a terribly unfair rap, not least maintained by the simple-minded cacophony of online fanboys, whose criticism seems confined to a small array of gripes (e.g: “Superman just lifts things!”; “Superman’s a deadbeat Dad!”; “Superman’s doesn’t punch anything!” etc) that are tediously parroted in a knee-jerk fashion, with determinedly little or no recognition of the film’s strengths. I’m a hearty defender of Singer’s film, in spite of knowing only too well that he essentially remade (and sequelled) Richard Donner’s hallowed 1978 original with a melancholic sheen.
Brandon Routh was a fine Man of Steel – it’s a genuine shame that he’ll never reprise the role – and I consider the film’s deliriously-exciting airline rescue sequence to be one of the very best action set-pieces produced in the last decade, a bravura showcase of digital effects. Yet, what I continue to find particularly admirable was the film’s bold focus on Superman’s most vital element – behind the invulnerability and superpowers, he’s a man with a vulnerable heart – and the film’s plot presents him with a singular emotional challenge – a son unknown to him – that cannot be overcome by physicality. Granted, it may not have been a plot element that was riven with excitement – and one that couldn’t possibly have been ignored in any sequel – but it effectively mined a seam of emotional drama that most summer blockbusters would be less than concerned with.
Five years on and the recent release on Blu-Ray of the existing five Superman films released between 1978 and 2006 provided the opportunity to finally see the discarded alternate opening to Superman Returns, a seven minute sequence in which Superman travels, via a crystalline spacecraft reminiscent of that which rocketed him to Earth in Donner’s film, to the radioactive remains of the planet Krypton in a fruitless search for survivors. As cut scenes go, it was a bloody expensive excision – reportedly costing $10 million! – but, as you can see below, it was impeccably rendered and provides a nicely moody atmosphere, if perhaps a little too dark, sedately paced and a low-key introducion of our hero.
Does it make a valuable addition to the film? I think so: aside from the opening text, the mission’s failure is only mentioned by Clark to his mother (“That place was a graveyard…”) and it adds a level of gravitas to the later revelation that he was actually duped into leaving Earth, also foreshadowing the climactic peril of New Krypton. It also features a nice development of the detail in Donner’s film that Superman’s S shield motif is actually a family crest of sorts, and it’s certainly dramatic to see it here as a monolithic stone monument. The film’s ultimate opening makes an immediate connection to Donner”s film with the shot of the barren Kryptonian terrain that opened that film – replete with Marlon Brando’s voice over – and so was much more effective in setting out its stall, but the Return to Krypton sequence is far from a deservedly-dumped dud – for ten million clams, one should hope so!