SUPERMAN EXCLUSIVE: Bryan Singer Looks Back at Superman Returns
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.
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.
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.
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But above all else — and to quote Woody from Toy Story — play nice!
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