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Who Dumbed Down Lois Lane?

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Superman Returns was last summer’s quintessential American blockbuster movie. It had faster-than-a-speeding-bullet action, eye popping digital effects and sets, appeal for both adult moviegoers and their children, and highly appropriate actors for the two male leads: the chiseled Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel, and my favorite actor, Kevin Spacey, portraying a very suave and badass Lex Luthor. Not surprisingly, the film was a mid-season success, pulling in over $100 million during its first week in release.

But something is mysteriously awry in Metropolis, folks, and this time it has nothing to do with Lex Luthor. In this latest chapter of the Superman legacy, someone has stolen Lois Lane’s brain! Not being a Superman fan, I hadn’t even noticed the embarrassing metamorphosis until I caught clips of the original Christopher Reeve movies on an entertainment show. The Lois from that era, as portrayed famously by Margot Kidder, was a seasoned reporter, energetic and sharp as a whip, and she’s no fool to the fact that Clark Kent is Superman, even daring to put herself into dangerous predicaments (such as casually falling off the railing above a rushing river) to prove the existence of Kent’s double identity. Several websites are devoted to the Lois Lane mystique, and while different actresses have interpreted her onscreen in varying degrees, she has always remained a famous fictional icon of intelligence, persistence, and professionalism. A blog entry on dissecting the character’s pop culture status states: “Lois Lane’s fame springs more from her notoriously hazardous investigative approach and street smarts.” The site also points out that during the 1950s, she was the only female character on TV that got into brawls with men. When you hear the name Lois Lane, you don’t automatically think, “bimbo.”

Which begs the question, who dumbed down Lois Lane for Superman Returns? For starters, the choice of Kate Bosworth for the role was an extremely incompetent decision, for one obvious reason: she’s way too young. Bosworth was appropriately cast as a barely post-pubescent Sandra Dee in the Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea (playing opposite Spacey, coincidentally), but her makeup, brown suited wardrobe, and cigarette dragging in Superman Returns doesn’t conceal the fact that she was only 22 years old when the movie was filmed. We’re also supposed to be convinced that this girl wonder is the mother of a five year-old boy and has a Pulitzer Prize under her belt. When her boyfriend suggests that Clark Kent has the same height and build as Superman, she squints at Brandon Routh in dimwitted bewilderment and says, “You think?” in not exactly a sarcastic tone. Where Margot Kidder’s Lois had a comic edge to her, this one is painfully one-dimensional, her face paralyzed in the same somber expression, even when Superman takes her for a soaring ride in his arms. She aimlessly wanders onto Lex Luthor’s yacht with her young son in tow, crying out “Hello?” in every new empty room that she ventures into (now, how many times have we seen this scene in a horror movie and wanted to pelt the idiotic offending character with our Raisenettes?) until she spots the horizon moving outside the window and encounters Luthor in his bathrobe. This is a move that Lois would never make, according to a website devoted to the Cartoon Network’s “The New Batman/Superman Adventures”, which confirms: “Though she takes big (some might even say outrageous) risks while getting a story, they’re always calculated. She does not blunder stupidly into dangerous situations; she’s well aware of the hazards before she goes in.” I found myself increasingly annoyed with her as the movie wore on and then later, with director Bryan Singer when I was reminded of the maturity and wit that Kidder brought to the role. Even Parker Posey’s character, Luthor’s girlfriend Kitty Kozlowski, demonstrated more brains during the film’s 154 minutes of running time, and she delivered some of the movie’s best lines.

It doesn’t make any sense. Why mess with Lois Lane? She’s the only character in the Superman family who’s been a fixture of the comic strip from its very inception, even before Lex Luthor, nearly seventy years ago. Why take a successful comic strip and movie franchise, and preserve everything: the soundtrack, opening graphics, and male lead characters to resurrect the same feel as the original movies, but not the lead female character? Singer told Newsweek that his version of Superman is a “chick flick”, because of its focus on Lois and her unresolved feelings for Superman. However, intelligent female audiences would much prefer seeing like-minded female characters who can demonstrate both romance and cunning, not someone who acts like she misplaced her Daisy Dukes. It seems more likely a tactic to capture the attention of young, male, adult moviegoers to avoid boring them with a strong female lead. And was placing a 30 year-old actress in the part considered cinematic suicide? It seems unconceivable that the critics didn’t appear to notice – or care about – this huge oversight, and I can’t help but wonder if it was because the comic strip Lois represents a smart, career-oriented woman. If sexpot Catwoman turned out to be – um – a pussy in Batman Returns, male filmgoers everywhere might have screamed holy gyp. But cut a female cartoon character’s intelligence – her most recognizable and prominent personality trait, no less – down to size, and no one bats an eye, not even the copyright drones at DC Comics.

I blame Singer, the scriptwriters, and even Spacey (who recommended Bosworth for the role) for failing to keep Lois’ character intact. I truly have nothing against Bosworth, but it seems to me that this was a ploy for Hollywood to push a young actress, even if it meant placing her in an unsuitable role and altering her character’s personality, all in the name of box office revenue. Lois Lane is paying the price for that decision, her celluloid reputation now in question.

Singer has an opportunity to rectify the misstep, since he announced at last year’s Comic-Con International conference that he plans to have a sequel to Superman Returns released by 2009. Let’s hope that by then, the cinematic Lois has retired her training bra and dislodged the piece of Kryptonite from between her ears.



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