I must admit that I’m no fan of action packed movies and by no means did I think Superman Returns was the best movie of the summer. The plot was weak, acting mediocre and it was way too long… two-and-a-half hours. However something about the film got me thinking.
To set the scene, Superman, played by newcomer Brandon Routh, has been gone for five years. Upon his return, he finds a darker and more depraved world than the one he left behind. That enduring villain Lex Luthor, played exceptionally well by veteran actor Kevin Spacey, is once again out to take over the world. Without blinking an eyelid, Luthor sets out to destroy billions of people after discovering powers in a crystal from Superman’s obsolete planet. By comparing himself to Prometheus, the Greek mythological figure, Luthor displays an arrogance, egotism and complacency all too evident in modern day tyrants from Adolf Hitler to North Korea’s Kim Jong-il.
Superman immediately jumps back into his “knight in shining armour” role and takes action to right wrongs in the name of Truth and Justice. Amongst all of this, the saga between Superman and his ladylove, Lois Lane (played by Kate Bosworth) continues. I could go on and on about the million and one defects I found in Lois Lane. When Clark Kent returns to work, after his sabbatical, the first thing he does is go to Lois’ office. There he finds a picture of Lois with a little boy and a man: her son (is the Man of Steel the father?) and her fiancé.
As the movie unfolds, Lois becomes more loathsome with each passing moment. She’s mad at Superman for having left her and ends up winning a Pulitzer Prize for writing an article entitled “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman”. She’s embarked upon a relationship with Richard White (played by James Marsden), and has a son with him. Richard is anxious to get married but Lois can’t seem to commit. Could it be that she’s still in love with Superman although she claims to hate him? What I most dislike about Lois is that she blatantly lies to Richard, repeatedly, throughout the movie. She even endangers her son’s life in order to get a “scoop” about Lex Luthor. Despite all this, she has two men — one human and the other a superhero — head over heels in love with her.
One redeeming character in this movie is Kitty Kowalski, played by the adorable and effervescent Parker Posey. Kitty is Lex’s girlfriend and faithfully stands by him. That is, of course, until Superman saves her from a car that has spun out of control. Shortly thereafter, Lex tries to kill Superman and Kitty watches in agony. Her tears are genuine and the viewer can see not only her anguish but also how her faith in Superman has transformed her. Her transformation is so significant that she deceives Lex and actually ends up saving the world. In short, Kitty is the real superhero of this film.
Despite these reservations, the film’s real message is in a world saturated with negativity and violence, Superman’s idealism is needed now, more than ever. At one point in the movie, Superman tells Lois that he can hear everything that is going on in the world. Lois states, “The world doesn’t need a saviour”, but Superman responds “Every day I hear them crying out for one.”
He’s right. Young people are longing for someone they can look up too and adults are exhausted by the negativity they must confront day in and day out. Theatregoers are rushing to see this movie because people are searching for Supermen in their everyday lives — not his superhuman powers but his morality, honesty and goodness. A genuine superhero is someone who is dependable, loyal and good-hearted. Even Superman’s physical appearance points to that. He has the clean-cut look and baby face reminiscent of Wally and Beaver Cleaver. This film clearly shows that the world cannot live without idealism but there is no reason why it should. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t want heroes and why we shouldn’t strive to be heroes ourselves.
The world needs hope. The world needs faith. The world needs heroes. The world does need Superman — no matter what Lois Lane says!
Guiomar Barbi lives in Washington DC. From 2001 to 2003, she lived in Rome and worked at the US Embassy to the Holy See.
PS — On a lighter note, it was refreshing to see a strapping young man come to the defence of so many women. Too bad it is fictitious!