Best bits: ... Um. Gimme a second.

Worst bits: Put it this way: Jon Cryer as Luthor’s totally bitchin’ New Wave nephew, Lenny Luthor, is a highlight. A HIGHLIGHT. Superman takes Lois for another flight — this time across the country — and both Reeve and Kidder spend the scene seeming embarrassed, lost and ultimately defeated.

Contribution to the zeitgeist: Delivered a death-blow that would keep the Man of Steel off the silver screen for two decades. Also helped drive producers the Cannon Group into Chapter 11.

Terence Stamp (center) as General Zod in Superman II (1980).
Terence Stamp (center) as General Zod in Superman II (1980).
The Man of Steel, Number 1, July 1986.
The Man of Steel, Number 1, July 1986.


Man of Steel
Directed by Zack Synder
Premieres June 14

Super-power the filmmakers pull out of their asses: Superman repairs damage to the Great Wall of China by ... staring at it. Spackle-vision!

Superman Returns (2006)

What it’s about: Superman returns to Earth after five years away to find that Lois and the rest of Metropolis have moved on. Also, Luthor’s got a real-estate scheme. Yes, another one — shut up.

Best bits: Some nice super-set pieces: Superman saves a space-plane, stops bank robbers, etc. One last Superman-Lois nighttime flight across the city strikes an interesting mournful note.

Worst bits: Director Bryan Singer’s tone and imagery are so beholden to the Donner film that Superman Returns never steps out of the 1978 film’s shadow, and devolves into pastiche. Also, Luthor’s got a real-estate scheme.

Contribution to the zeitgeist: The notion that a film can be successful (the film cost $209 million and made nearly twice that globally) but still be considered a franchise-killing failure (the studio had hoped for a final take upward of $500 million or $600 million).

Super-power the filmmakers pull out of their asses: None. Though they sure do hit the Christ imagery — something Donner introduced lightly — with an evangelical fervor.

Man of Steel (2013)

What it’s about: Origin story, first adventures, Kryptonian villains. Once more, with feeling.

Best bits, anticipated: There’s a lot in the trailers to make hardcore fans hopeful: The flying effects look great, as does the shot of the kid with the towel around his neck putting his hands on hips, aka The Superman Shot. Also good: the quotes lifted straight from such high-water comics stories as Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman (“You will give the people an ideal to strive towards.”) and Mark Waid’s Superman: Birthright (“On my world, it means ‘hope.’”)

Worst bits, anticipated: Those first, fishing-boat-centered trailers looked a lot more like Superman VI: The Quest for the Deadliest Catch than anyone was expecting. Plus, the choice of Snyder — a filmmaker who makes great-looking trailers and emotionally empty movies — remains worrisome.

Contribution to the zeitgeist, anticipated: Snyder’s Superman is already everywhere; merchandise featuring Henry Cavill’s lantern jaw has been pumped into stores for months. This version of the Man of Steel will be the one that a generation of kids will embrace, that the popcorn-chomping multitudes will unthinkingly accept, and that the small subset of hardcore fans will passionately debate for years to come.

Super-power the filmmakers pull out of their asses, anticipated: Too soon to say, but given Snyder’s penchant for displays of hypermachismo, look for Superman to stop a crime by flexing his glutes in its general direction.

Glen Weldon is the author of Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, which was released on April 1. It’s on Amazon.

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