In 2011 Bryan Singer gave a interview in which he revealed some of the reasons why he thought Superman Returns failed critically and at the box office, and among them he included what he considered an attempt to make a Superman film to interest the Devil Wears Prada crowd: i.e., women. And while Singer’s language isn’t that of blaming, I still wish he’d come up with a different wording in the intervening years between then and now, when in the newest issue of Empire Magazine he says again that Superman Returns was a movie made for a female audience.
First of all, I think it’s important to distinguish between the two reasons why folks like to hate on Superman Returns. One, perhaps the smaller more obsessed with Hollywood minutiae one, is that SR was the movie Singer made instead of continuing his successful shepherding of the X-Men franchise, leaving the third movie in the trilogy to Brett Ratner and his uniformly panned X-Men: The Last Stand. As the sages say: Superman Returns is the worst thing to happen to the X-Men franchise.
But to focus on that as a reason to hate Superman Returns partially excludes the fact that it was simply a bad movie, full of a number of what might generously be called “unintentionally implied moral and intellectual lapses on the part of various characters” but more accurately be called plot holes. It couldn’t even be redeemed even by the masterful casting of Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. Seriously, I’d buy a full price DVD of just his scenes. (Then again, I’d do the same thing for all of Sir Ian McKellen‘s scenes in The Golden Compass.)
For Singer to say that part of the movie’s failure lies in his attempt to pull in an audience of women who don’t normally go to see superhero films, it asks the listener to imagine what parts of the movie were intended for that audience. Here’s Singer’s most recent statement to Empire:
Half of [the reception to Superman Returns‘] 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. 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’y know what would have helped. Probably nothing.
Singer seems honestly regretful and bewildered by his mistakes in Superman Returns, and I feel for him. Mistakes happen even to professionals, and even with blockbuster franchises and millions of dollars on the line. But in an industry that believes, against a continuously growing mountain of recent contradictory evidence, that women are not a significant enough portion of the audience for the action genre to pander to or even acknowledge, statements like these are very easily twisted to support the status quo.
Could an attempt to entice the folks who would “line up to see The Devil Wears Prada” have led Singer to make some decisions about Superman Returns that he might otherwise not have? Sure. But that probably wouldn’t have kept the movie from giving us a Superman who chooses to be an absent father because it’s “safer” for his super-powered son to not know his own dad, or one where Superman saves the day by apparently lifting a continent made out of kryptonite with his bare hands. And for heaven’s sake, even if the kid was thrown into the movie in a weird bid to get lades interested, the least that could have been done was to not have Lois Lane have a baby after having her memory of banging Superman erased in Superman 2. That’s just creepy.
Ironically, that audience of women was much more into X-Men and X-Men 2, films that happened to feature multiple female characters of various races and archetypes, and, and this is important, were primarily decent movies as well. That female audience, even the ones lining up for The Devil Wears Prada, would undoubtedly have followed a Bryan Singer X-Men movie featuring Jean Grey and the Phoenix force heavily, as was hinted at the end of his X-Men 2, further than they followed Superman Returns.
(via Comic Book Movie.)