Bryan Singer‘s possibly gay, possibly Jesus superhero tale opens inescapably on Wednesday, and coverage is reaching a crescendo, particularly in the Australian press, which seems to feel more proprietary over the Aussie-shot epic than the US press, which in general seems a little tired of the damn thing.
A quick run-through: At the Sydney Morning Herald, Phillip McCarthy recaps the gay thing while (in a piece from last week) Sacha Molitorisz tackles its sequel, the Christ-metaphor thing, while also wondering whether Singer can possibly make Superman relevant to modern audiences:
It’s a valid question. Superman’s values of "truth, justice and the American way" resonated during World War II and the Cold War, but sound arrogant and unilateral in the wake of two Iraq wars. His superpowers seem old-fashioned and simplistic in an age when the misunderstood mutants of X-Men perfectly embody the Zeitgeist. The 68-year-old Superman has X-ray vision; X-Men’s Rogue absorbs the memories and life force of anyone she touches.
At the Australian, Cefn Ridout looks over the extravagant sets built for the film: "To re-create the Kansas farm where Clark Kent spent his childhood, set workers constructed 7km of road and planted 15ha of corn, then willed it to grow to the required 2m during a seven-year drought." With things like improbable corn (okay, and extravagant special effects) pushing the film’s budget to over $200 million, it has a lot to live up to at the box office, including the general hopes and dreams of Hollywood. According to the BBC, "To date, summer ticket revenues are $1.37 billion (Â£753m), up one percent on last year but down eight percent from 2004. Audiences figures are down 14% on two years ago."
Michael K. Hardy at the Boston Globe ponders Superman’s long-term cross-media appeal. Two theories:
"He’s the ultimate immigrant," said Al Gough , the co-creator, with Miles Millar, of "Smallville." "Superman comes from another planet, grows up in Kansas, then finds success in the big city. He represents the best of what we want to be."
Peter Flynn, who teaches a class on comic books at Emerson College, called the Superman story a secular mythology. It’s a mythology tailor-made for teenage boys, the target audience for comic books.
Jeff Jensen‘s cover story at Entertainment Weekly touches on some similar territory:
The larger question remains: In an era of the vengeance-driven Batman Begins, how relevant is a values-driven Superman Returns? Early versions of the script included nods to a post-9/11 world, but Singer and his writers chose to cut them, feeling it was too much too soon for Superman to address. Still, they do present their hero as a citizen of the world, not just an avatar of ”truth, justice, and the American way.” Singer, who has two more Superman films in mind, believes that the character’s cool lies in his universality. ”Is Superman relevant?” he asks. ”Look around. Aren’t we crying out for him?”
Elsewhere, both Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com and Adrian Turpin at the Independent gather together reference lists of other cinematically adapted superheroes and their powers (the latest to join the list â€” Iron Man, whose own showcase/potential blockbuster has been given a tentative release date of summer 2008, according to E!‘s Joal Ryan, who also reports that director Jon Favreau is looking for "someone with experience but a low profile" to star). And on the evil side, Jeannette Walls at MSNBC notes that Kevin Spacey has claimed Enron’s Kenneth Lay as the inspiration for his Lex Luther.
Apologies if this roundup is a little rote â€” despite the early positive reviews that indicate this might be the better blockbuster of the summer, and the ease with which Superman as a cultural icon lends himself to all kinds of silly pseudo-academic analysis (see "he’s the ultimate immigrant" above), and our general soft spot for Singer, a competent, smart pop director, we find this film utterly uninteresting. We’re not quite sure why. Maybe Superman is just too goofy, in his dashing red underoos. Or too boring. Or maybe it’s the look of the film, like the cast and set were all lightly honey-glazed. Or maybe it just looks joyless and preening. Where’s our dumb fun, dammit?
+ How gay is Superman? (Sydney Morning Herald)
+ Back on a wing and a prayer (Sydney Morning Herald)
+ Able to leap tall orders (The Australian)
+ Superman can ‘rescue Hollywood’ (BBC)
+ Staying power (Boston Globe)
+ Greatest American Hero? (EW)
+ Superheroes: Men in Tights (RogerEbert.com)
+ Superheroes: The power list (Independent)
+ "Iron Man" Can in 2008 (E! Online)
+ Green Beret regrets revealing Aiken encounter (MSNBC)