This June will see the return of Superman to the big screen. Now, we all know the big guy, right? He codified the superhero genre, is DC's flagship character, and has the most paper-thin civilian disguise ever. The 2013 installment will be Superman's sixth live-action movie; a fresh start after 2006's Superman Returns derailed a movie series that had been derailed 19 years before that. Yeah, it was a disaster, and I think a new movie on the horizon merits looking back at what went wrong.

Now, there's a lot to complain about the 2006 movie, which is unfortunate because it had so much going for it. The cast is solid. Brandon Routh pulls off playing the Man of Steel and Kevin Spacey is at his hammy best as villain Lex Luthor. With the first two X-Men movies under his belt, Bryan Singer was a great choice to direct and does well. And the special effects are fantastic-indicative of the movie's massive cost. So what went wrong? There's a lot to nitpick, but I'll limit my focus to three areas. Really, anyone interested in writing fiction should take note: this movie is a perfect example of how a flawed starting point can compound and completely destroy the whole effort.

Superman Returns follows the continuity of the first two Christopher Reeve movies from 1978 and 1980. The first movie covers the usual origin: Krypton exploded, and the Kents find the spaceship with a baby inside. Clark Kent goes to work at The Daily Planet, meets Lois Lane and makes a splash as Superman. Meanwhile, Luthor plans to plunge California into the ocean (for a convoluted real-estate scheme, no less). Movie #2 sees Superman give up his powers to be with Lois, just when three super-powered villains arrive to wreak havoc on Earth. Superman realizes his mistake, gets his powers back to save the day, erases Lois' knowledge of his secret identity and vows to never let the people of Earth down again. I glossed over a lot, but you get the idea.

Step 1:

The movie stumbles out of the gate, as we're informed that Superman left Earth five years earlier because he thought Krypton still existed out there. One question: why did he think that? Watch the movie, and you will… not even get a half-decent explanation. Huh? This is the starting point for the entire movie's plot. You can't just gloss over it, especially when so many questions are raised:

Why did the hero think it was worth leaving those he protects?

Why didn't he tell anywhere where he was going?

Why didn't he ensure his arch-foe Luthor would remain locked up in the interim?
(They even say Luthor got released because Superman wasn't there to testify at the trial. D'oh!)

Since he was going to be gone for an undetermined amount of time, why didn't Superman install a security system for his arctic headquarters, which contain advanced alien technology? (Gee, I wonder where Luthor decided to go after his release. Again, d'oh!) And unsurprisingly, Krypton is still destroyed, leaving Superman looking like a big chump.

And it somehow gets worse. Since this movie wants to follow established continuity, they're stuck with the second movie's very last line-Superman saying, "Sorry I've been away so long. I won't let you down again. " Well, not only did he let them down again, but based on the timeline, he does so almost immediately after he said that. Great, not only is Superman a chump, but he has no short-term memory whatsoever.

Step 2:
With superhero movies these days, you usually get a few mythology gags to some previous part of the franchise. Nerdy fans like me tend to get a thrill out of that because it suggests that TPTB did their homework. Well, director Bryan Singer is an admitted fan of both Superman and Richard Donner's 1978 original. Yeah, well, Joel Schumacher was a Batman fan and look how that turned out.

Superman arrives on Earth. Luthor is up to something evil. Superman makes a public rescue during an aerial mishap-Lois Lane among the rescued. Superman struggles with his feelings for Lois. Lex's plan is a real-estate scheme that will kill many innocent people. Implementation of said plan creates other disasters that keep Superman preoccupied. Okay, which movie did I just describe? True, there are new elements, but they're slapped around a beat-for-beat recreation of a movie that was made 18 years before this one.

There's nothing wrong with acknowledging what came before. Some of the recycled material even works, like John Williams' theme and especially the airplane rescue (easily the movie's best scene). Still, Superman had been around for 70 years up to this point, but five movies in, they have to crib material wholesale? Was it so hard to come up with something else? I'm pretty sure Superman does more than interfere with Luthor's real-estate ventures every few years. I'm left wondering why Superman doesn't notice a nearly identical pattern developing. I'm also wondering why Warner Bros. spent good money to make a lesser version of a movie that the target audience already had in their DVD collections. It's like Gus van Sant's Psycho all over again.

Step 3:

So far, Superman's just been a chump redoing his first movie. It's annoying, but not that bad. The other shoe drops when Clark returns to The Daily Planet offices. (Yeah, not only can he come back to work after a five year sabbatical, but none of these hot shot reporters notice when Superman reappears about an hour later. Go figure.) Getting reacquainted with everyone, Clark meets Jason, Lois' son, who-wouldn't you know it?-was born about nine months after Superman left.

Yes, I'm afraid so. Everyone thinks the kid's father is Lois' current beau, Richard, but the movie takes way too long to reveal what we all guessed immediately: he's Superman's kid. The second movie demonstrated that Clark and Lois were intimate before the memory reset, so Singer and his writers decided to reveal that Lois got pregnant.

Now, to be fair, Superman didn't know Lois was pregnant with his kid. Still, doesn't this look horrible? First, think about how the movie glosses over what Lois went through. Superman's been gone for months and her belly keeps getting larger? Her memory was erased; she doesn't even know what really happened. Wouldn't that be a horrible situation to be in, especially with the kid clearly not taking after his supposed father? Second, Superman gets saddled with a really bad character flaw. Here's a contrast for you: over the years, Marvel Comics got two different story proposals that would've given Spider-Man illegitimate children. They rejected both. Why? Well, amazingly enough, Marvel didn't want their flagship character to look a deadbeat dad.

And just to make a bad situation worse is Superman's reaction to Lois' current relationship. Lois tells the big guy point-blank that she wants nothing to do with him. (Ostensibly, this is only because he left without a word five years ago. It's vague if she knew before the end that he's Jason's father or for how long.) Our hero responds by… using his powers to covertly follow her. That's just creepy. It's like My Super Ex-Girlfriend… and about as funny. I just can't believe DC didn't take issue with its flagship character being portrayed as a moronic deadbeat dad that stalks the ex-girlfriend he knocked up.

The movie has other issues, but these three get to the heart of it. The genesis for this story was severely ill-conceived. It's quite apparent Singer and the writers wanted to get to a specific point, but weren't willing to lay the groundwork to get there. Seriously, they were quite surprised when people began throwing around words like "super-chump, " "do-over " and "deadbeat dad. " They couldn't see the forest through the trees. Unfortunately, the protagonist's characterization suffers for it, which in turn causes overriding problems a solid cast can't overcome. Here's hoping for a better offering this June.

View Superman Returns Trailer

Terence Salmon is a senior majoring in English. Interests include sci-fi, horror, comedy, procrastinating until the last possible minute, and writing two sentence submissions I don't expect you to read without shaking your head.