Who Dumbed Down Lois Lane?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The recent success of the latest annual Comic-Con conference got me thinking about an article that I wrote a few years ago, after Superman Returns was released. If you've ever admired the Lois Lane character (as I do) in the original Christopher Reeve movies, TV series, and comic strips it may interest you. I tried unsuccessfully to get it published in Bitch magazine and a few online pop culture sources, so I'm posting it here (it also resides on Helium.com where it earns pennies in an incorrect category as a movie review. It's really a pop culture observation piece.)

It's long, but if you can get through it, let me know what you think - what the hell did Lois Lane ever do to deserve being turned into a brainless twat?

Superman Returns was this summer's quintessential American blockbuster movie. It had faster-then-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 Redboots.net 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."
Could she have smiled? Even once during the movie???
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 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?" and not exactly in 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.
You put you and your child into this position, dumbass!
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 soundtrack, opening graphics, 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 inconceivable 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 the normally fierce Catwoman turned out to be...well, a pussy...in Batman Returns, 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)6 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 recently announced at Comic-Con International 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.

Update: There never was a sequel, which is probably a good thing.


  1. Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane? No way!!! Totally WRONG.

  2. She shoulda switched roles with Parker Posey.

    Maybe Christopher Nolan can do better:

  3. Brandon Routh started his career on One Life to Live, which I consider "my story." I am completely faithful to my soap stars and had every intention of seeing this (and as a tidbit, Brandon was fired from OLTL, so it was pretty amazing to see this come to him), but for whatever reason, it didn't resonate with me at all and I ended up missing the film completely. I heard it was severely lacking and strangely enough, just this weekend, my fiance and his uber nerdy superhero friends were bashing on the choice of Bosworth just this past weekend. They too complained mostly about her age and how she was supposed to be this hard-boiled journalist with a five year old kid. Wow.

    I think there are many reasons this happened. I haven't seen many (or any maybe) of Bryan Singer's films but he seems to not really make movies that have many female characters. I don't think he cares about them (and of course there is the persistent rumor he's gay, which may or may not play into that) and also I think this just adds another note to Hollywood's intense fear of people over the age of 25. There was a remake of Logan's Run in the works and I remember they dropped the age from 30 to 21! Seriously.

    I don't mean to go off on a tangent, but I read a review of the Expendables (written by a friend no less) who complained about the ages of the cast members and you know, for one, it's fantasy and two, Stallone is pretty much saying that you can still be active and a badass in your twilight years. To me, age didn't even factor in, but you can see it resonates with people and we're now stuck in a tinsel town full of underage actors playing parts never intended for them.

    Sorry! I get all crazy with this stuff! And I love this review. Very insightful!

  4. Amanda - love your insight. Spacey is rumored to be gay (don't care, I still love him) and he's actually made three films with Bosworth, which I find interesting.

    The way the character was written and portrayed was just so, so wrong. She lacked any emotion and played Lois as just one big dummy. I don't think she's a good actress to begin with, and was looking mighty anorexic at one point. Lois should be played by a real woman.

    Whatever happened to Brandon Routh? Has he been in anything since?

    Rich - thanks for that link. It sounds promising, since Nolan did wonders with the Batman franchise.

  5. Good article and great catch; and you are spot on about Lois - she was out of character, weakened. But we should never be surprised what Hollywood does to our idols*. I think Kidder was too city stereotype; hard, edgy, smokey in the polyester 70s kind of way, abrasive and not sexy, intelligent but not smart, but a good reporter and one of the guys. I liked the Lois of the earlier cartoons and tv better where she was smart, tough but emotional and distinctly feminine. Once she summoned Superman just to fix her broken heel; just fine by me. "a brainless twat..." classy! sputtering on my coffee... hahahaha.
    Thanks for the article Pam@GoRetro.

    s-a-h-d aka stay-at-home-dad

    PS *Please don't let them destroy Logan's Run! They destroyed so many of my scifi classics I am afraid to watch the new stuff until someone else vets it first.

  6. Singer is definitely gay.

    Brandon Routh is currently in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."


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