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Brandon Routh’s mopey performance in Superman Returns earned him the title of the first emo Superman.

With Man of Steel opening on Friday, Dave McGinn examines what the early Superman movies can teach us about the superhero genre, for better or for worse. Today's instalment: the failed reboot of Superman Returns. (Budget: $232-million. U.S. gross: $200,120,000).

Uninspired casting

Brandon Routh was a relative unknown when he was cast to wear the red briefs. It was going to be next to impossible to fill Christopher Reeve's red boots, and Routh, whose biggest prior role was on the soap opera One Life to Live, hardly excited fans.

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Finding emo

Routh's mopey performance earned him the title of the first emo Superman. You know what's the lamest thing you could call a superhero? That's right, emo.

Bad guy redux

After featuring Lex Luthor in three of the four previous Superman movies, the filmmakers decided the villain in the reboot would be … Lex Luthor. And Kevin Spacey was no Gene Hackman, my friends. In fact, almost everything about the movie felt like a second-rate retread.

Reverence for imagery

Supes catching the car was a nifty homage to the cover of Action Comics #1, but while director Bryan Singer had a great grasp of the canon's imagery, he didn't understand what makes Superman so exciting and inspiring.

A not-so-dastardly plot

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Luthor is going to use Kryptonian crystals to build a giant new land mass? Because what kids and adults who love action really thrill to see is a ripping good real-estate yarn.

Superboy

It still makes me shudder, so let's not talk about the choice to introduce Superboy, okay?

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