And may I say how much it still gives me pleasure that the TLS is paying me to write fannish stuff?
He is, of course, one of the few figures in modern popular culture to have a life in our minds that no longer connects with the vast body of lore known as the Continuity of the DC Comics universe. (Which, along with its Marvel Comics sibling, has by now to form one of the very largest narrative constructions of human culture.) He was born on another planet, carried to Kansas in his space-travelling cradle, reared humbly, and periodically dies to relieve the world's pain. In summary, his career sounds like a Creed, which is why we feel, from time to time, the need to blaspheme. Some of us, come to that, do not clap hands to save Tinkerbelle either.
Superman was invented by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster as at once the ultimate Tough Jew on whom people did not pick, and, in his guise as Clark Kent, the good-hearted greenhorn learning the big city from goyisch sophisticates. At its best, Bryan Singer's new film captures both those aspects of the character in a way that acknowledges seventy years of story. Returning to Metropolis as Clark, he struggles through the Daily Planet with enormous suitcases - not because he is feigning physical weakness but because they hold his life, are unwieldy as well as heavy. When a minor hood steps up and fires a bullet into Superman's eye, it flattens and falls to the ground; Superman looks at him with a glint in his eye that reminds us of what a man of such power could do, who was not such a paragon.
At such moments Brandon Routh captures the magnetism and the strength of the character as well as displaying a gift for physical comedy. Elsewhere - and elsewhere means far too many quarter hours of film - his performance is overly concerned with reverence - not merely to the religious parable, but to the legacy of the late Christopher Reeve. Routh has acknowledged that, much of the time, he did not so much act as imitate Reeve; however much one admired Reeve's patient fortitude in the face of humiliating illness, his knowing twinkle in the part was not something that should have been copied here.
Singer has, to a worrying extent, remade Richard Donner's 1978 movie, but in a darker key; his little bits of homage include recycling some of Marlon Brando's ponderous footage as Superman's Kryptonian father. As Lex Luthor, Gene Hackman wanted to break California from the mainland; reprising not only the part, but the scam, Kevin Spacey's sardonically murderous Luthor builds a new continent that will swamp the East Coast. (Reminded by Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane that this will kill millions, he retorts, in the film's best line 'Millions? Billions...Yet again the Press underestimates me.') There is a gutter viciousness to Spacey's Luthor as he stabs Superman with a deadly Kryptonite shiv that gels inadequately with light comedy touches copied from Donner.
We have, in so many respects, moved on since 1978. Parker Posey is as charming as Luthor's brainless floozy as was Valerie Perrine, but the joke was thin even then. What has worn less well is the assumption that Lois, most brilliant of investigative reporters, has never worked out that her hick colleague is the man of her dreams - this is a worn out piece of 1940s sex war comedy, and both the comics, and the TV show 'Lois and Clark' dispensed with it long ago. It particularly does not work when we realize that Superman's absence on his home world has coincided with Lois' bearing his child, moving on to a more quietly heroic fiance and writing articles of great bitterness on 'Why the world does not need Superman.'
There is nothing wrong with this sort of reimagining - Mark Millar recently produced for DC an alternate universe in which Superman, reared in the Ukraine, became the heir to that other man of steel, Josef Stalin and Grant Morrison's run revisits the charm of the 1950s' Silver Age- but it needs to be more daring and less reverential. In the first two X-Men movies, Singer made good superhero movies because the Marvel characters lack that weight of significance which, for example, has Superman falling spent to Earth, after lifting Luthor's continent, in a posture of crucifixion.
Singer is at his best in, say, a flashback to the young Clark running exhilarated through cornfields and leaping into the sky. The film is intelligently designed; the clash of periods within the material is resolved by having the high tech of a modern newspaper office jammed into an Art Deco office no-one likes to tamper with , which is not a bad metaphor for the film, come to that.. Singer's vast special effects budget makes us believe that a man can fly, all right, but the fatal uncertainty of tone which characterizes the screenplay and performances of 'Superman Returns' leaves us uncertain that we need especially to care.
The book goes reasonably well; the renovation of my flat stretches endlessly into the future.