Before the 2013 Man of Steel reboot of Superman made the Big Blue Boy Scout a viable big screen franchise again, X-Men: Days of Future Past director Bryan Singer gave it a shot with the 2006 film Superman Returns. We remember that film as a disappointment now, but at the time it was met with generally favorable (if not exactly enthusiastic) reviews and earned $391 million worldwide on a production budget of roughly $270 million. Now, that might not sound like much of a disaster, but when you take into account marketing, percentage of ticket sales that went back to theaters, and back-end deals, the film likely wasn't all that profitable at the box office.
On paper, it must've sounded like a surefire hit: the celebrated director of The Usual Suspects, who ushered in the modern superhero blockbuster with X-Men and X2: X-Men United, would take on the most iconic hero of them all, picking up the continuity established by Richard Donner's 1978 Superman: The Movie and the Richard Lester-directed Superman II.
Bryan Singer and screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris would ignore the last two films with the late, great Christopher Reeve in the role but follow in the original series' footsteps by casting a talented unknown (Brandon Routh) as Clark Kent/Superman and a veteran star as nemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey). It didn't really work.
In the wake of Man of Steel's success, Bryan Singer has chimed in (again) on what he might have done differently, looking back. While talking about his return to the X-Men universe with Days of Future Past, Singer was asked how he feels about the ongoing perception of Superman Returns as one of the worst comic book movies ever made. He told Empire Magazine (via CBM):
"Half of that I understand and half of it I never will. It was a movie made for a certain kind of audience. Perhaps more of a female audience. It wasn't what it needed to be, I guess."
And if Singer could do it over again, what kind of changes would he make? He had this to say:
"I think I could lop the first quarter off and start the movie a bit more aggressively and maybe find a way to start the movie with the jet disaster sequence or something. I could have grabbed the audience a little more quickly. I don't know what would have helped. Probably nothing. If I could go again, I would do an origin. I would reboot it."
This is not the first time Singer has talked about his film in relation to Man of Steel, and it seems he intended Superman Returns to be more accessible to audiences who generally prefer to stay away from superhero movies. Unfortunately, it seems he went about it in the wrong way.
When it came time to cast the Man of Tomorrow, Singer had a very specific type in mind for Superman Returns, and while he evidently knew Henry Cavill at the time, he didn't cast him for a reason:
"Um...I think Henry Cavill is great. I knew Henry. He and I were friends years ago. Oddly enough, the reason I didn't cast him was because I was making a sequel to Christopher Reeve and I wanted somebody who embodied Reeve more."
As mentioned above, Singer's sequel would've shared the title of Zack Snyder's, but not the villain. Singer originally wanted Jude Law to play General Zod in Superman Returns, but when Law turned down the role, Singer dropped the character altogether. As for the sequel, Singer opens up on the idea they were kicking around:
"We did explore it a little. Just hammering out ideas. I think Darkseid was going to be the villain. It was pretty world-destroying, actually."
One of the main problems many fans had with Superman Returns was the emo tone and generally passive nature of its hero. We longed for a movie which showed Superman actually throwing a punch - pitting Supes against Darkseid, a powerful New God from the planet Apokolips, probably would've leveled the playing field and given fans a good fight.
A good fight is what fans witnessed with the city-decimating finale of Man of Steel, and while Superman's neck-snapping defeat of General Zod proved rather controversial, the eye-popping level of destruction had a purpose to it. Bryan Singer ultimately sings his praises of Zack Snyder's vision, but hints at criticisms as well, saying:
"I am in awe of the world building and the scope of that picture. It's tough for me. I'm not a critic and it starts to get into a weird thing where one director is talking about another director. I know how hard it is to make a movie, especially one of these movies and especially a Superman movie, and there was so much I was impressed with in that movie. There were things I might have done a little differently just because of the way I view the character. Don't misinterpret that as me not liking something. It's not 'Bryan Singer's review of Man Of Steel'!"
Bryan Singer is a great filmmaker, with no reason whatsoever to feel insecure or inferior, but he seemingly can't let this Superman thing go. He has made similar comments about X-Men 3, but his defensiveness with Man of Steel feels more personal. To his credit, Singer never tries to argue that Superman Returns was misunderstood or blame its current unpopularity on fans or critics, but he perhaps just won't face the fact that it's a mediocre film at best. Is it a Batman & Robin-level debacle? No, actually - Superman Returns was clearly crafted with love of the world and character and respect for its lore and fans.
Superman Returns was well-intended, but so many aspects of it were miscalculated, from the inclusion of a bland and miscast Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane to keeping the age-old (clearly dated) screwball comedy dynamic to Lois and Clark's relationship. Man of Steel had its flaws, but it contained many sharp, logical updates instead of rehashing or paying homage to a forty-year-old film.
Singer at least has a chance to channel these frustrations through the X-Men universe, and perhaps signing on for Days of Future Past was a way to exorcise his Superman demons. We're looking forward to it, at any rate.
Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past hits theaters May 23rd, 2014. The next Superman film, Man of Steel 2/Batman vs. Superman, hits theaters May 6th, 2016.