SUPERMAN EXCLUSIVE: Bryan Singer Looks Back at Superman Returns

While talking to Bryan Singer about X-Men: First Class, the opportunity presented itself for the conversation to shift to Superman Returns. I had interviewed him about that film in in 2006, but had never gotten the opportunity to revisit the subject. Until now.

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By EdGross - 3/25/2011
At the outset of this piece, I need to make one point clear: Bryan Singer was under no obligation to talk to me about this subject, but he did so willingly, offering up his views of Superman Returns from the vantage point of today.

Naturally there are going to be haters in the comments section, but this won’t be allowed to turn into a Bryan Singer bashing session. It would be appreciated if comments could be constructive no matter what your views of Superman Returns may be, and that responses be geared more towards what’s being presented in this interview. Now with that out of the way….



VOICES FROM KRYPTON: Were you surprised by people’s reaction to the film?

BRYAN SINGER: It’s hard for me to assess it. My gut response is, “It didn’t do THAT bad.” You know, summer’s a tricky time – I know it’s hard to blame the time, but there’s a bit of an expectation for a summer movie. I think that Superman Returns was a bit nostalgic and romantic, and I don’t think that was what people were expecting, especially in the summer. What I had noticed is that there weren’t a lot of women lining up to see a comic book movie, but they were going to line up to see The Devil Wears Prada, which may have been something I wanted to address. But when you’re making a movie, you’re not thinking about that stuff, you’re thinking, “Wow, I want to make a romantic movie that harkens back to the Richard Donner movie that I loved so much.” And that’s what I did…

VOICES FROM KRYPTON: But focusing on the romantic side of things, especially in a superhero movie, is NOT what people would have expected from you.

BRYAN SINGER: Right, because I was known for the X-Men Pictures, which had been more realistic and edgier. That I think was a big piece of what it was. Plus you had that complicated relationship between the Richard White character and Lois Lane that might have thrown people off. Quentin Tarantino and I had a big conversation about it — he has a fascination with this film and he wrote this whole essay about it, but the Lois Lane part of it has always been a stickler with him. This is me extrapolating, but the relationship in the Donner film was so black and white and here it was complex. Adding to that, of course, was the child that was involved. Again, I really do think I was making the film for that Devil Wears Prada audience of women who wouldn’t normally come to a superhero film.

That’s a tricky thing when you’ve built an audience that likes your comic book films and you deliver a certain tone, and then you bring this completely different tone to them…. You know, I haven’t really talked about this in depth, so I’m just thinking about this off the fly. It’s hard, because I’m proud of it for what it is. I mean, there are a bunch of movies I’ve made where I’m, like, “Yuck, that was weak” or “That could’ve been better,” and I can see why. But with Superman Returns…. If I could go back, I would have tightened the first act. Maybe open with the plane or something.

QUESTION: Truthfully, as much as I love Superman: The Movie, it felt like maybe you were paying too much of an homage to it and Richard Donner.

BRYAN SINGER: Oh, absolutely. What’s interesting is that people know I’m a big Trekkie, and they’re always saying, “Why don’t you do a Star Trek?” and I say, “You know, I think I’m TOO big a fan of Star Trek. You’d feel like you were watching Wrath of Khan again." So with Superman, again, it was romantic and nostalgic and NOT a high octane summer movie like Transformers or something like that. I think people would’ve wanted that from me, knowing what I did with the X-Men, where I shed all the comic-ness and tried to make it real. Here, though, I embraced the comic-ness and made this alternate, bucolic Metropolis. Then there was the music and the whole thing. But I am very much in love with the Donner picture, and for me the journey was exciting because I got the chance to reprise those images and explore it. When you’re fascinated by something and you love it, part of making the movie is trying to please everyone and make a successful movie, but part of it is an experimental kind of thing.



QUESTION: One final point I’d like to make is the fact that Luthor stabs and nearly kills Superman, but it seemed wrong to me that the two characters never came back together again; that there was no comeuppance for Luthor.

BRYAN SINGER: I’ve always felt that the origin of Superman is the story of Moses – the child sent on a ship to fulfill a destiny. And this was a story about Christ – it’s all about sacrifice: “The world, I hear their cries.” So what happens? He gets the knife in the side and later he falls to the earth in the shape of a crucifix. It was kind of nailing you on the head, but I enjoyed that, because I’ve always found the myth of Christ compelling and moving. So I hoped to do my own take, which is heavy shit for a summer movie. But definitely the nostalgic, romantic aspects of it worked against people’s expectations of it in the climate. And if I was going to do another one, it would be a reboot. I would go back and redo the original, but I only thought of that recently. It would be a much less romantic, more balls-to-the-wall action movie. It would be a very different pace than Superman Returns, which I can say at this point because I have distance from it now.

Please share your feelings about the above.

But above all else — and to quote Woody from Toy Story — play nice!
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StrangerX - 3/25/2011, 8:08 AM
Returns could have been so much more. :(
EdGross - 3/25/2011, 8:10 AM
Agreed. But at least Singer has a point of view on the subject, which I believe is the first time we've heard from him retrospectively on the film.
SHHH - 3/25/2011, 8:12 AM


Singer Made A Differnt type of suoerman movie... Nostalgia

Stumblin - 3/25/2011, 8:14 AM
Great interview Ed! I'm glad you asked a lot of the questions that we comic book geeks have been asking about this movie.

When Superman Returns was announced I was hoping for something different, not a two hour homage. I like a good nod towards something nostalgic but to me he worried more about grasping the style and feel of the original Superman and not make this movie his own.
spider1489 - 3/25/2011, 8:16 AM
i really think superman and alot of potentailly, but this is what i hate frm film makers, they only care about what they like and not the fans, just like Raimi did to spiderman 3, he is not a fan of venom, but put him in the movie last minute just because (the studio) fans expected him and then really destroyed a great charactor with so much potential.
BatLantern - 3/25/2011, 8:16 AM
nice interview
Deadshot - 3/25/2011, 8:17 AM
I highly dislike Bryan Singer and his films.
EdGross - 3/25/2011, 8:17 AM
I really do believe it was a situation where Bryan Singer was so excited to pay honor to a film he genuinely loved that he got swept away by the nostalgia of it and wanted to try and recapture it.
spider1489 - 3/25/2011, 8:18 AM
damn, a romantic movie! [frick] you SINGER! IT SUPERMAN! WE WANT MORE ACTION!! dont worry though, Synder will show you how it is DONE! XD
Knightstalker - 3/25/2011, 8:20 AM
At least he can admit that it wasn't the movie it should have been.
Naqoyqatsi - 3/25/2011, 8:20 AM
In my opinion Singer is the only director to successfully "reboot" a franchise. What I love about Returns that it seems everyone else seemed to have missed what Singer accomplished. What he did that was so brilliant was continue the same character created by Donner and take Superman into an alternate reality after Superman II. By keeping themes and music similar, he let us know this character already exists but we're taking him into this new world now. And to all those haters who think adding a child to the mix was a bad idea, Superman and Lois bang in the second film, you're going to tell me that Supes didn't slip one past the goalie. It makes sense that there is a child in the second one. And anyone who has read where Singer was planning to take the second of his films knows, that It would have played out very well. So please, stop hating this movie for what it wasn't and start appreciating what it is.
Exiles - 3/25/2011, 8:21 AM
well atleast he admits to a degree that it wasn't good, I didn't like the movie simply because it wasn't the one I was expecting, I don't mind him exploring Superman's psych and how isolated he feels but seriously a bit more action wouldn't have hurt the film, he's superman after all, I wanted to see a modern take on Superman. Could have been worse(like Superman 3 and 4), but it wasn't good either.

Exiles - 3/25/2011, 8:22 AM
Return wasn't a reboot it was a sequel to Donner's Superman movie.
Shadowelfz - 3/25/2011, 8:23 AM
The fact that Superman didn't punch anyone once in the whole movie has nothing to do with the fact it didn't do as well as it should, right? It was the timing and too much homage. No, it wasn't really a bad movie he just went too far in one direction rather than sticking in the hot zone where romance, action, comedy and drama interesect to form a good CBM. You cant have a movie about the star of Action comics without action.

... and the kid didn't help. By introducting a kid Singer had to commit to the development of the kid in any movie there on, which nobody wanted to see.
JohnWilbanks - 3/25/2011, 8:24 AM
"Here, though, I embraced the comic-ness and made this alternate, bucolic Metropolis." Really?

I actually enjoyed Superman Returns for what is was, but embraced the comic-ness of it made me laugh.

Seriously the film had one of the best scenes in cinema history (airplane scene), the story was moving, the music was great, but overall it was a re-hash of the original and that's why it doesn't resonate with me...
spider1489 - 3/25/2011, 8:25 AM
OK , i will admit superman returns was only lacking a good villian, superman just really needed a great epic battle which was reduced to a big rock. but i did enjoyed the continue story frm donners superman.


just two things needed to change frm the movie, a worthy villian and no superbaby
StrangerX - 3/25/2011, 8:26 AM
If he made Jason into Conner Kent, and it turned out to be Lex's doing it would have been cool, but noooooo.
simonthedigger - 3/25/2011, 8:27 AM
Respect the source material. And by source material, I do not mean the Donner movies. That is all.
WaylonJones - 3/25/2011, 8:28 AM
Good stuff Ed I have always wondered what he thought about the film x number of year later
Juwon - 3/25/2011, 8:28 AM
He made the movie a fan of Richard Donner would make and not a fan of Superman. He must feel really bad as he had a golden opportunity to bring DC back in full flight with the two greatest heroes taking off about the same period. But now it looks like it will get the treatment it deserves. I like Bryan Singer I think he is a bit of a genius with the work on X-Men and Usual Suspects and I think I would give him another stab at Superman if he ever wanted it.
capreborn - 3/25/2011, 8:28 AM
Richard Donner Superman really is dated so why do it ? do your own thing
Zounds - 3/25/2011, 8:30 AM
Did Tarantino ever complete his review/essay of Superman Returns ?
Verdugo - 3/25/2011, 8:31 AM
I can’t believe that Bryan Singer consciously wanted to make Superman Returns a chick flik. That idea was doomed from the start. I bet most of Superman’s readers are males, and so are most of the public attracted by a trailer that shows a flying man carrying a plane. Obviously the movie was going to attract the wrong audience and it was destined to fail.
Besides that, what really pissed me off is that Singer look for inspiration in Donner movies, instead of looking at Superman comics. Don’t get me wrong I’m 36 years old and I saw Superman at the theaters when I was a kid and love it. But the whole purpose of making a new movie was to make it relevant for a fresh audience, not to make a tribute to the 70’s.
Singer I hope you never come close to another comic icon ever again. You really blew it.
ultimatefan1974 - 3/25/2011, 8:33 AM
My take on this is simple: the movie Singer wanted to make, and the one the fans wanted to see, were two different movies. I don´t blame him for that. Directors must go with their gut, and his gut about it at the time was to make the movie he made. Maybe he was chosen wrong, maybe he didn´t have the right sensibilities to make the movie that should have been made, but he did the best he could from his perspective. I´ll place him above someone who did just what the studio told him to do for a buncha money, like Schumacher with Batman & Robin, any day of the week.
continuezero - 3/25/2011, 8:33 AM
Question for Everyone:

Based on where Singer was going to take the 2nd movie in terms of Brainiac and him assuming his kid's body etc etc...if Returns ended with an after credit scene showing the meteor heading into space and Brainiac's ship being alerted and it cut off with Brainiac headed for earth (similar to a Marvel-esque after credit scene or Starscream taking off after TF 1)...would that hace created a buzz to see a sequel?

IMO...I woulda been totally hyped to see a sequel if they had the after credit scene like that. I remember the feeling I had when after X 2 they panned away and they showed the Phoenix in the water...subtle but I was sold on X3 immediately. Would that have worked for Returns?
Ethic - 3/25/2011, 8:34 AM
@ Naqoyqatsi

It's cool you enjoyed the film dude, and I understand it hit the mark in your opinion.
I thought it was okay, but found it more frustrating in repeated attempts at watching it.

But dude, beautiful, brilliantly successful reboots don't get re-rebooted nearly immediately.
And they especially don't leave the majority of the core fan-base disappointed.
It may have been the right film for good number of people including yourself, but you can't dismiss the majority as "simply not getting it".

In my opinion, Singer didn't understand the broader appeal that Superman has to everyone.
What he understood was his love for romantic the atmosphere in Singer's version.

Andyboy - 3/25/2011, 8:35 AM
Genuinely don't understand the hatred for the movie. I love it and I cried with joy when I first saw it. Sure, the 3rd act could probably be trimmed a bit and a different villain would've been nice, but i really liked it. As much as i'm looking forward to the reboot, i'd love to see singer do another one
EdGross - 3/25/2011, 8:35 AM
Thanks for the feedback all. Keep it coming.

And Zounds, I have no idea if Tarantino every finished, but I'll bet it would be a great read.
Andyboy - 3/25/2011, 8:39 AM
i didn't like the kid aspect too, thinking about it!
BIGBMH - 3/25/2011, 8:39 AM
Nice interview. It's respectful, but still addressess the reality of the problems of the movie.
EdGross - 3/25/2011, 8:39 AM
I really don't understand how he makes himself look like an idiot by commenting honestly about his feelings regarding the film and what he had in mind. It may not be what a lot of other people wanted, but it was his vision.
DasBoot - 3/25/2011, 8:43 AM
I'm glad he has his distance from it now! I don't see how he could reboot his own franchise... Trying to make a comic movie that mainly plays to the tastes of the female chick flick loving audience is misguided at best
GUNSMITH - 3/25/2011, 8:43 AM
NOBODY WANTED TO WATCH AN EMO SUPERMAN. THE GUYS FACES JUST TURN SOUR WITH THAT..LIKE WHERES THE ACTION? THE SUPERHUMAN BATTLES, BREAK SOME BUILDINGS THROW A CAR..SUMMER WAS MEANT TO LET LOSE AND HAVE FUN.."I WANTED TO FIND KRYPTON" "WHY THE WORLD DOESNT NEED SUPERMAN""SUPERMAN HAS A BOY WITH LOIS"..ITS TOO MUCH DRAMA OVERKILL A THESE WEEPY LINES..THIS IS WHY ZACK SNYDER WILL BLOW RETURNS OUT OF THE WATER AND DO THING FANS WILL LOVE, FRESH..LIKE A WHAT IF THERE WASN'T ANY SUPERMAN FILMS BEFORE..THATS HOW YOU WOW US, PUMP IT UP WITH ACTION..THATS SUPERMAN
LEEE777 - 3/25/2011, 8:45 AM
SUPERMAN RETURNS is going to look a masterpiece once STINGERS [frick]ed X-MEN: FIST A$$ up!



Check out SamadCBM original in FAN-FIC >>>>>>>>>>


STINGER ALERT!



An wayyy to delete my first post lol.
marvel72 - 3/25/2011, 8:45 AM
the movie is shit,the best scene involved the plane rescue.

if he didn't f*ck up the story so much,they would of continued the movies,no zack snyder reboot.

we may of even been seeing different heroes like the green lantern & the flash lot sooner.
Orphix - 3/25/2011, 8:45 AM
The main trouble I had with the pictures (after the pacing of the first act) is that Marsdens character is by far the most interesting.

In fact in many ways it would have been a better if he was the main protagonist. The idea that Superman could steal your girlfriend and you were powerless to stop it cause he is superman!!!

It would be like if Christ had risen again and decided to get jiggy with your missus!!
EdGross - 3/25/2011, 8:48 AM
Leee, I removed your post because right at the outset I stated that I wouldn't allow this to become a Bryan Singer bashing session. The guy kindly discussed the film with me, which I'm sharing with you guys, and I'm not going to let him get ripped apart for his views.
dahamma - 3/25/2011, 8:49 AM
@CaptainProg, you sir, are correct.

It was such a borefest. Romantics in CBM are fine. But in Returns it was like the main objective of the film almost. Like that scene with him looking in on Louis, it was just...eh. The airplane scene was the best part. But lets be honest, the MAJORITY of comic book readers are MALES. Why the HECK would you make a movie for middle aged, devil wear prada watchin women? You fail singer. DOnt touch another CBM again. Im already tired of your X Men too >:P!
dahamma - 3/25/2011, 8:51 AM
i cant wait for Snyder to give us the REAL man of steel!
luxterg - 3/25/2011, 8:51 AM
"Again, I really do think I was making the film for that Devil Wears Prada audience of women who wouldn’t normally come to a superhero film."

Sorry for the negative comment Ed, but the movie was a disaster. I'm just happy that Singer finally admits that he was making a romantic fluff piece for older women as opposed to .. you know... US!!

$200 million for that crap. I still get upset thinking about it. I even saw it twice in theaters trying to convince myself it was great because I wanted it that bad lol !!
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