REVIEW: Superman Returns [2006]

“With the planet on his shoulders … Daily”

Superman Returns. The name says it all. Our Man of Steel returns to our collective consciousness after almost 20 years. Has he arrived with the big bang all the hype has culled together? Unfortunately, not even close. Bryan Singer leaves his flourishing X-Men saga to helm an obligatory bridge episode in an already watered down series. While Chris Nolan had a ton of success with his reinvention of the Batman chronicles, Singer is hindered by the fact that this is a continuation two decades later. The heart and emotion is there, the acting is there, the story could have been rewritten with slight changes—all for a rebirth of the legendary hero. Instead, we as an audience go into the movie knowing its place in history, occurring after the first two installments as movies three and four have been all but erased from the echelon of cinema. Too many callbacks to the original, too much unwarranted camp in an otherwise serious drama, too muddled of a story where we as an audience are reminded by characters about a plot point before we are whisked off to continue that story thread. There is some intelligence in the movie going public, we know the story of Superman and didn’t need a handholding session in a sequel, which they decided for this to be.

Maybe it’s the fact that we have been given the brilliantly handled television drama “Smallville”, which delves into Clark Kent’s psyche and opens our eyes to the real trouble his dual life creates. It seems the filmmakers also have this in the back of their heads—besides the fact that even though we have moved Metropolis back to the east coast, a train set still contains the obscure town sign of Smallville, Kansas—as they seem to want to take a serious tone, although they won’t quite take it the distance. Sprinkled in we have Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor, with great shades of sinisterness, trying too hard to do his best Gene Hackman impression. The camp just didn’t fit the character we are introduced to, a man much eviler than Hackman’s incarnation who would con an old millionaire woman on her deathbed to signing over her estate while the family waited outside. The indecision to pick a consistent tone with Lex made it hard to really see him as someone capable of mass-genocide; we desperately needed Ned Beatty’s bumbling Otis to play him off of, instead of the stoic, hardened criminals he accompanies. Also, Parker Posey is an annoying, thrice-removed Xerox copy of the old Mrs. Teschmacher; and did Kal Penn get paid for this movie or did he remove himself from the film and they decided not to redub his lines with another actor as they did for Gene Hackman in Superman II—I don’t think he spoke one word in the entire movie.

The film was not without its merits, however. Brandon Routh does an amazing job filling the large shoes left by the late Christopher Reeves. He isn’t given much of an opportunity to run with the Clark persona, hopefully subsequent films will bring out more of this, but his portrayal of the conflicted Kal-El is well played. Props also go to Kate Bosworth with a nice turn as Lois Lane. Having really only seen her in the likes of Blue Crush, with exception to a good performance in Wonderland, I was pleasantly surprised to see her pull off playing a character beyond her years, (a 23 year old actress playing a Pulitzer Prize winning star reporter for the biggest paper in the country’s biggest city), a stretch for most as seen with Katie Holmes’ dismal portrayal of an Assistant DA in Batman Begins. The twenty-first century also helped usher in some gorgeous special effects, with detailed set pieces and action scenes, (the airplane/shuttle rescue was well executed visually). Instances of see-through vision also sparked my attention, most evident in Clark following Lois through the Daily Planet doors, up the elevator to the roof.

Singer seemed to have had all the elements there for a successful restart in a dead series. He should have created a new world as he did with X-Men’s tie to reality instead of trying to build upon a 20-year old movie. Callbacks in movies of this kind are good fodder for laughs to the fans of a series. Short quips like Jimmy Olsen’s initial “Mr. Clark! Kent…I mean Clark Kent” and Clark’s “swell” remind you of scenes from the original and bring a small to your face. However, having a moment like this every 10 minutes gets old and very unoriginal, from Lex’s speech about his father’s advice to gather land, Superman’s “flying is still the safest way to travel”, and his “Lois you really shouldn’t smoke”, we are beaten over the head with these allusions to past greatness. (And on the smoking front, is our society so without faith in our parenting skills on teaching kids not to smoke that we have to put smoking as a rating point. It’s as if our favorite chain-smoker Lois Lane would have died instantly, or at the very least caused an R-rating had she actually lit that cigarette; it’s a part of her character. Being weak and taking that out was a public service announcement that took me out of the film a bit, especially when it is then ok to show Lex puffing on his cigar.) I won’t even mention the unnecessary plot-device of Lois’s child or the few discrepancies to the previous two films we are to believe this follows, or the multiple Jesus allusions—well I guess I just did. The makings of a great installment were there, but expectations were not fulfilled. Hopefully the Return has happened and now Singer and company can sink their teeth into a real Superhero masterpiece. The dream is still alive.

Superman Returns 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

[1] BRANDON ROUTH portrays Superman, who returns after years away to find the world needs him now more than ever, in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure Superman Returns. Photo: Sony Pictures Imageworks. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
[2] Lex Luthor (KEVIN SPACEY) menaces Lois Lane (KATE BOSWORTH) and her son Jason (TRISTAN LAKE LEABU) in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure Superman Returns. Photo by David James


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