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Face-Off: Superman Returns vs. Man of Steel

03.22.2016by: Brian Bitner
In our previous Face-Off, we unleashed two mysterious monster movies against each other in CLOVERFIELD vs. MONSTERS. While I probably like MONSTERS more, I conceded that CLOVERFIELD is the better film overall, an opinion every single one of you who responded seemed to share.

This weekend, after a decade or so of Batman vs. Superman rumors, Zack Snyder's BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE finally hits theaters. Superman has had plenty of ups and downs in the movie world, but it looks like we now have a stable son of Krypton in Henry Cavill. Bryan Singer unsuccessfully attempted to reboot the Superman franchise in 2006, which Zack Snyder followed up with his own successful reboot in 2013. Both films were met with a fair bit of criticism, though, so this week it's a battle of tights in SUPERMAN RETURNS V MAN OF STEEL!
LEAD
While he doesn't bring much new to the role, Brandon Routh does a solid job as both Superman and Clark Kent. In a film that wants to pay tribute to the Christopher Reeve era, Routh is a great choice. It's kind of weird he's now playing a different DC character on TV, right?
Henry Cavill might actually be Superman. This guy is ripped, handsome, charming, powerful, and anything else you might want in a superhero. I'll be interested to see whether we get to see a classically dorky Clark Kent in BvS, but as for this film, Cavill knocks it out of the stratosphere.
SUPPORTING CAST
Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane
Marlon Brando (archived) as Jor-El
Frank Langella as Perry White
Eva Marie Saint as Martha Kent
James Marsden as Richard White
Parker Posey as Kitty Kowalski
Sam Huntington as Jimmy Olsen
Tristan Lake Leabu as Jason White

Between SUPERMAN RETURNS, X-MEN, and THE NOTEBOOK, James Marsden finds himself very specifically typecast as the guy who is involved with the lead's love interest but isn't a bad guy so it's complicated.
Amy Adams as Lois Lane
Russell Crowe as Jor-El
Laurence Fishburne as Perry White
Diane Lane as Martha Kent
Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent
Christopher Meloni as Colonel Nathan Hardy
Harry Lennix as General Swanwick
Antje Traue as Faora-Ul

The MAN OF STEEL cast certainly gives a more grounded performance all around, but I'm calling this a tie as I think the actors in both movies give exactly the performances their respective movies call for.
VILLAIN
Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor is dream come true casting. Spacey gives a familiar John Doe, Frank Underwood, smug bad guy performance but also isn't afraid to occasionally take the character off the rails. Unfortunately, Luthor is just not an interesting villain in this film. Between his real estate plan, his thugs doing all of his dirty work, and the tee-hee Lex and Kitty on an island ending, the villain here feels like more of a joke than a threat.
As General Zod, Michael Shannon does his usual thing of almost taking a character too far. If this film was less hammy, I'd say his performance was too much, but Shannon is exactly the Zod MAN OF STEEL needs. As for the character, Zod feels sufficiently dangerous- a constant threat both to Superman and the planet Earth. It's also nice to have a villain who feels justified and righteous in his reasoning in a way that almost makes us understand where he's coming from.
PLOT
Superman returns to Earth after five years away just in time for Lex Luthor to unleash a master plan to shove some crystals together thereby creating a giant land mass. Billions will die in the process, but it's okay because real estate is super exciting.
General Zod comes to Earth to seek out Kal-El, bringing with him a tentacled dubstep world engine that will turn Earth into Krypton unless the polarity of the phantom drive is singularized and you know what I have no idea what this movie is about nobody wins this category.
DIRECTING
It's impressive how well Bryan Singer captures the feel of Richard Donner's SUPERMAN films. Unfortunately, he spends so much time focused on that and that alone that the film suffers as a result. For one, it's a 2006 movie trying to pay homage to movies from the late 1970's which themselves feature a heavy 1940's/1950's influence. The result is a film that feels a little goofy at times and takes some getting used to. Moreover, most people's primary problem with SUPERMAN RETURNS is how boring they find it. For a movie that might have been pretty solid at two hours or so, SUPERMAN RETURNS clocks in at a chubby, unwarranted 2:34.
There is a beautiful hour or so in the middle of this film- no doubt heavily influenced by Christopher Nolan's involvement. The downside is that the somber, real moments make the rest of the movie look ridiculous by comparison. The pacing and tone are incredibly disjointed, and Zack Snyder eventually does the Zack Snyder thing where he tries to see how much eye candy he can shove into every scene. For a film that spends so much time trying to be gritty and grounded, it opens with a twenty minute long scene on Krytpon that feels more like THOR or AVATAR than any Superman movie we've ever seen. Oh, and let's not forget the moment Zod throws a satellite at Superman after they wrassle their way into space.
WRITING
"How many F's in catastrophic?" This is a question the Pulitzer Prize winning Lois Lane asks in a movie Bryan Singer claims he made primarily for women. Because SUPERMAN RETURNS is trying to be several things at once, the writing feels equally disjointed, ranging from "gee willikers" moments all the way up to parallels of Superman as a tortured Christ figure. I really like a lot of what this film was trying to do; it just never quite got there.
MAN OF STEEL also has plenty of issues. The technobabble scene where Superman and the scientists discuss how to stop the world engine actually gave me a visceral reaction the first time I saw it and took me out of the rest of the movie as a result. That said, many of the down to earth, philosophical moments are quite strong and are among the few things that keep MAN OF STEEL from feeling like just another comic book movie.
FAITHFULNESS
Here's where I have to give SUPERMAN RETURNS a point. Incorporating unused footage of Marlon Brando, adopting John Williams' theme, and keeping the playful and iconic tone of a classic superhero story all make this movie stand out as something special, even if only to fans of the early films.
I'm sure the more comic booky of you will tell me how MAN OF STEEL is incredibly faithful to a specific Superman series or whatever, but the bloated CGI-laden action, the convoluted plot, and the dark tone just make this feel like some other comic book movie that Superman stumbled into.
BOX OFFICE & ACCOLADES
IMDB: 6.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 76% (Audience Score: 61%)
Metacritic: 72 (User Score: 6.6)
Domestic Total Gross: $200,081,192
IMDB: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 56% (Audience Score: 76%)
Metacritic: 55 (User Score: 7.5)
Domestic Total Gross: $291,045,518
MAN OF STEEL
Okay, we all knew how this one was going to end, but I have neither the hate for SUPERMAN RETURNS nor the love for MAN OF STEEL that a lot of movie fans seem to have, so I wanted to see what a side by side comparison looked like. I'm sure you Snyder fans out there will tell me how MAN OF STEEL should have won even harder than it did, but there's just too much pomp and inconsistency for me to let it have a run away victory. Are you excited to check out BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE this weekend, or are you more excited for the other angsty billionaire vs. superhuman dogooder film, which shall henceforth be known as IRON MAN V CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR?

Agree? Disagree? Which do you prefer?
POST YOUR CHOICE BELOW!

If you have a suggestion for a future Face-Off, let us know below or send me an email at brianbitner@joblo.com.

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