So you've probably heard that Bryan Singer made Superman Returns in part as a tribute to the 1978 Richard Donner movie, and if you haven't heard it, you've probably seen the movie and noticed how strongy it's influenced by Donner's film. This is not a good thing, and here are nine reasons why the Donner Superman should not be the template for other movies:
1. Margot freakin' Kidder. It's depressing to watch the screen tests of other actresses who were considered for the part of Lois Lane -- Ann Archer, Stockard Channing -- because they're all better than Kidder. There are several ways to play Lois; she can be a tough, career-oriented reporter, or she can be a simpering sweetie swooning over Superman, or she can be some combination of the two. But Kidder gives us a neurotic, screechy, thoroughly unappealing Lois.
2. John Williams' theme borrows both from Erich Wolfgang Korngold's King's Row score and the old Universal Pictures logo theme.
3. Lex Luthor is portrayed as an idiot, or at least he would come off as an idiot if it weren't for the fact that...
4. ...Luthor is surrounded by sidekicks who are even more idiotic than he is.
5. It's another one of those portrayals of Clark Kent where Kent is a complete caricature of a bumbling idiot -- Superman's parody of what ordinary humans are like. This doesn't make any sense: Clark was Clark Kent long before he became Superman, and the personality of Superman is an extention of the way Clark Kent was raised. But more than that, it's boring, because it robs Clark Kent of the chance to be an interesting character: we can't care about Clark because he's clearly just an act, not a person. "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" and "Superman: the Animated Series" both did a much better job with Clark (though it was a little silly that the animated Clark looked so ridiculously muscular).
6. One of the better sequences in the film, the flying scene with Clark and Lois, is nearly wrecked by the decision to have Lois recite Leslie Bricusse lyrics in voice-over.
7. It's another one of those big '70s productions that was mostly shot in England (Star Wars is another) because studio space was cheaper there, and because English special-effects technicians were better than American ones at the time. The problem with that is that too many scenes are clearly populated by English people faking (or dubbed with) American accents.
8. Filming the exterior Metropolis scenes in New York, and generally not trying to pretend that Metropolis is anywhere other than New York, means that Metropolis has no real identity of its own as a city. The point of Metropolis or Gotham City is that they're like New York but they're not exactly the same; they have their own quirks. Not here, though.
9. It's just too damn long. Almost two-and-a-half hours, split between a) A story we all knew coming in and b) A villainous Lex Luthor plot that isn't very interesting.
And you can put Marlon Brando's accent as reason # 10, but frankly it's just too easy.
Now, none of that means that the Donner Superman is a bad movie; I think it's a very entertaining movie and a lot of the sequences are deservedly famous. But to make it the direct inspiration for a new Superman movie seems a bit misguided; you'd think Bryan Singer would want to try to improve on the older film, the way Christopher Nolan actually tried to improve on earlier Batman movies.
In case you're not all Supermanned out, Paul Dini has his thoughts on Superman Returns.