Intended to revive the dormant franchise, director Bryan Singer's 2006 film Superman Returns received its fair share of criticism for regurgitating another Lex Luthor real-estate scheme, a lack of action, and a slavish devotion to the Richard Donner era. However, its flaws had everything to do with writing and direction, and nothing to do with star Brandon Routh, whose performance earned praise.
The relatively modest box office success of Superman Returns wasn't what Warner Bros. envisioned to trumpet the Man of Steel's return to the big screen, which led to the cancellation of planned sequel, seemingly ending any hopes for Routh to the iconic blue-and-red suit again. However, 13 years later, the actor had given a second chance, and an opportunity to silence doubters, as part of the Arrowverse's "Crisis on Infinite Earths."
Routh debuted in 2014 as Ray Palmer, aka The Atom, on The CW's Arrow, before going onto star in the spinoff DC's Legends of Tomorrow. As part of the upcoming Arrowverse crossover, he'll play a version of Superman alongside The CW's current Man of Steel actor, Tyler Hoechlin. More details may be provided today at Comic-Con International, during the network's Arrowverse presentation.
It's a welcome return, as Routh in Superman Returns imbued the hero with genuine emotion, something needed to help audiences connect to, essentially, a cosmic savior. His Clark Kent was as awkward and clumsy, yet as earnest and lovable as Christoper Reeve's fan-favorite portrayal. That's something we never really got from Henry Cavill's interpretation. Routh's Superman was caring and self-sacrificing, as seen when he gave his life to protect the planet by throwing a Kryptonian land mass into orbit. The actor embodied the altruistic essence of the character, yet took flak for the film's weaknesses.
There's only so much a good actor can do with a flawed script, and this prevented some fans from viewing Routh as the closest we've come to another Reeve on the big screen. That said, Routh wasn't a carbon copy of the late actor, as he added his own nerdy spin to the intrepid Daily Planet reporter.
Routh went on to become a cult favorite in such comic book adaptations as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. However, what makes his return as Superman so appealing is how virtuous he is in the role of the Arrowvers's Ray Palmer. Once again, Routh gives us a selfless hero on Legends of Tomorrow, best exemplified by his Season 3 "Gumball" arc. As a child, he found an alien baby Dominator, and his older self returned to help his younger self get Gumball to his mother, and safely off-planet. While the Atom didn't possess Superman's powers, the way he conducted himself was in line with the warm, compassionate character we've seen from Reeve.
Simply put, Routh understands what makes such heroes appealing. It isn't sulking and glares; it's a soft voice, a sense of endearment and an innocence that makes these character more relatable.
Looking back on Superman Returns, Routh was judged by some fans a little too harshly, perhaps because expectations were high at a time when superhero movies like Spider-Man and X-Men were on the upswing. It's about time we stop making him pay for that.
Routh shouldn't have been collateral damage from the film's failings, but that's the nature of the business. As seen with Tyler Hoechin's appearances as the Man of Steel, the writers and producers of the Arrowverse get Superman; they know he shouldn't be doom and gloom. He ought to be uplifting, and with Routh, we'll get that in droves.
Airing this fall on The CW, "Crisis on Infinite Earths" will span Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, DC's Legends of Tomorrow and Batwoman.