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"Superman Returns" (Minor SPOILERS)

'Nuff said
With twenty years of expectations and the looming shadow of the late Christopher Reeve above it, not to mention the many paths and permutations the comic series and "Smallville" have taken the Man of Steel in, I had to ask myself if there was ANY way "Superman Returns" could really live up to the hype. Would I be disappointed? Overjoyed? Unimpressed? Rhapsodic?

In the end, I lean much more towards the "Impressed" side, with a touch of disappointment. I was completely expecting to be like avahgdu or the undoubted millions who will be crying buckets and proclaiming that their sense of wonder had been restored after seeing the film. But I didn't.


First of all, Brandon Routh could not have done a better job in the film of disappearing completely into the role of Clark Kent/Superman. From the first moment you see him, you have no doubt this could be the Man of Tomorrow. The kid is HUGE, first of all--even as bumbling Clark, Routh towers over everyone else in the cast. Anyone who thought Routh couldn't fill out the Super-suit needs to get smacked up. Yet he carries himself, even as Superman, with more pensiveness and thoughtfulness than you'd expect. This is not the speechifying inspirational example of the comic books, but more like a quiet guy who just wants to help out and do his thing. Yes, it's bizarre that Superman goes away for five years and comes back looking younger, but you get past that. ;) Not only does Routh become Clark Kent/Superman, but he also becomes Christopher Reeve playing Clark Kent/Superman, which is no small feat for any actor, let alone such a new find.

The new costume actually looks great on screen. I wasn't sure about the burgundy color, but it suits the more somber, reflective mood Supes finds himself in. I also figured out why they put the little "S" on the belt buckle--because like the Bruce Timm animated Superman, there's no "S" on his cape this time. I never understood that, but at least they're consistent. I still prefer the '90's dark blue costume the best, but this version works.

Kevin Spacey nails Lex Luthor. This is not the ruthless Machiavellian mastermind of the comics and the animated series, or the tortured prodigal of "Smallville," but a continuation of Gene Hackman's selfish, opportunistic criminal. Spacey plays down the more cartoonish aspects of Hackman's portrayal of Luthor, but not completely--there're a number of humorous moments watching him react to the goings-on around him--and he has a truly dapper wardrobe this time, complete with a selection of wacky wigs for every occasion. His plot is truly breathtaking in its ambition, and there's a scene where he gets the best of Superman that had both the audience and I nearly in shock. You almost believe Luthor is gonna win this time, and that's terrifying.

The visual effects are absolutely ASTOUNDING. There was not a single minute where I cringed and went "Oh, that was bad." Every shot of Superman flying, using his heat vision, or his super-strength is flawlessly executed. Metropolis is fully realized as a timeless Art Deco urban center that fuses the best aspects of New York and Chicago, and there's a sequence of rampant chaos and destruction that will take your breath away. My two favorite scenes were the airplane rescue and the, shall I say, "continental drift." They really gave me chills.

I have to give a shout out to James Marsden, who admirably essays Richard White, Lois' new love. I can totally see why he ditched "X3" for this, as not only does he have tons more to do, but he plays White as the kind of guy who could really be a worthy romantic rival for Superman.

Oh, and Tristan LeBeau gets a duke as little Jason Lane, who manages to figure out a secret that has fooled the entire free world in one shot. :) Awesome.

Kate Bosworth is very pretty, but she just doesn't cut it as Lois Lane for me. She lacks the flinty toughness of Margot Kidder, or the screwball go-for-it courage of Erica Durance and Teri Hatcher. I just couldn't buy her as a crack roving reporter--she looked like a kid playing dress-up. Because of that, the beautiful arc of Superman and Lois' lost romance lost a lot of steam for me. It's elegant and sad, but both Routh and Bosworth are so young that it felt weird watching them recreate a history together.

Bryan Singer really lays on the Superman-as-Christ metaphors thick in this film. From reusing dialogue such as "the son becomes the father," or the extended poses of beneficience and pseudo-crucifixion while Supes hovers in space, to being stabbed in his side, the Messianic savior trip is slapped down with a trowel. There's a crucial sequence at the end that I am willing to bet took three days. :)

In fact, this was my prime gripe. Singer, by his own admission, doesn't read the comics, but was a huge fan of the first two Richard Donner "Superman" films. So "Superman Returns" is a direct sequel/homage to those two, to the point where Singer goes out of his way to recreate them, right down to the classic John Williams score and funky 70's title sequence. Now, this stuff is great, but there's a difference between respecting the source material and just rehashing it. Sometimes I felt like he went a little too overboard in that direction. To his credit, he takes one HUGE leap with the franchise creatively, that I don't think any other filmmaker would've had the balls to do. It'll be interesting to see where he goes with that from here.

Lois' key conceit in the film is that she won a Pulitzer for an editorial entitled "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman," an obvious paean to how much the world DOES, in fact, need him, and the movie shows it. But to me, Superman has never really been gone. The comics, the animated series, and "Smallville" have presented us with many rich additions and twists to the legend of the Last Son of Krypton, and I guess I felt like "Superman Returns" delved too deeply into one aspect of the legend while ignoring others.

Make no mistake, though, this is an excellent film. Beautifully shot, wonderfully scripted, and a welcome reminder of why Supes is still the first, best, and beloved of heroes. Superman at four cylinders is better than most comic movies at eight with fuel injection, and at nearly three hours, you won't feel like you missed anything. :)

"Superman Returns" isn't the complete knockout home run I was hoping for, but it's still a welcome addition to the mythology of the Man of Steel, and you could find fewer good ways to spend $10 and three hours of your life. Highly recommended.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jun. 28th, 2006 07:40 pm (UTC)
Today's PvP sums it up perfectly
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


'Nuff said
The Master Cylinder

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