The Movie Binge

Review: Superman Returns

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Oh, what it must be like to be a comic book geek growing up today?!? Back in my day a big budget adaptation of a comic book was something called Howard the Duck and you’d get beaten up for even whispering that you liked it. (I did and please don’t give me a noogie.)

Today Hollywood seems to think they’ve hit upon the magic formula for comic book movies and great Caesar’s ghost, they’re right. It actually is working—most of the time. Take your venerable institution of a comic book character, let a fan boy/preternaturally gifted director have at it and lo and behold you’ve got your summer tent pole.

It’s been working pretty well by and large.
X-Men: Bryan Singer
Batman: Chris Nolan
Spider-Man: Sam Raimi
Hellboy: Guillermo del Toro
Hell I even have grown to like what Ang Lee did with The Hulk.

And now we come to the granddaddy of them all. The man with the big S on his chest and that silly little curl of hair that you know he must work on for hours to get just right.

Superman!

And once again Hollywood’s gone to Bryan Singer. And once again it’s worked—mostly. Superman has indeed returned as the title promises (from a DVD extra jaunt to the remains of Krypton) and by God for nearly three hours it’s pretty fun to be at the movies again. How much of the credit for that goes to Singer and company and how much is due to our collective nostalgia for the Richard Donner ’78 version is up for debate. Frankly I need to see it again. I need to see it again because I was overwhelmed—overwhelmed in a way I haven’t been at the movies since I was at an early screening of The Phantom Menace and my brain simply couldn’t process that I was watching a new Star Wars movie. It happened again last week when I saw Superman Returns and those glorious swooshing titles began and that John Williams fanfare bellowed from the Dolby surround. So honestly it’s going to take another viewing or two to properly judge just what I saw.

BUT…let’s give it a try anyway, shall we? Superman Returns is a worthy re-start of a franchise that we’ve sorely been lacking. Let’s face it, we’ve got angst-ridden/tormented/self-destructive heroes up the wazoo. I love Batman. I really do. But sometimes it’s fun to hang out with the fun friend and not the too cool for school brooder.

And more importantly for our purposes every once in a while it’s nice to feel a little wonder and awe at the movies and that’s what Superman Returns delivers. Singer and screenwriters Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty have delivered a lovingly earnest continuation/re-imagining of the Donner Superman film—sometimes a little too lovingly for my taste. I get it. You liked the Donner film. We all did.

Ironically the new film gets bogged down in some of the same pacing problems of 78’s Superman. Frankly Kevin Spacey (a gallant Gene Hackman-ish turn that falls just short) and his cronies get too much face time plotting and scheming and just sort of hanging out in mansions and yachts. It’s especially too much when you consider that after two hours and forty five minutes I still felt like Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s relationship got short shrift. Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth give it a decent try but their exchanges really are trading on the memories of the past and not what’s in the here and now.

Unfortunately there is perhaps not one cast member here that improves upon Donner’s version. Alright, maybe Parker Posey could give Valerie Perrine a run for her money. Most egregious of all is a blah performance by Bosworth as Lois. This is the chick Superman turned back time for?

However and there is a big however…Superman Returns in the end delivers where it counts. Donner’s film promised that “you will believe a man can fly.” This one’s tag line could have been “you will believe a man can lift a space shuttle from a supersonic plane in mid-flight.” There are a dozen iconic images of Superman doing his thing in this film that took this overgrown adolescent’s breath away. This is what I want to see modern effects technology used for, not to put Shaun Wayan’s head on a baby (though don’t get me wrong, that’s cool too).

Credit also must go to Brandon Routh who truly embodies Superman as well as could be hoped for. He looks the part to a tee and carries a healthy dose of charisma—especially when you consider this is his first film. I just wish he (and indeed the film as a whole) would have lightened up a tad at times. Singer has created a gorgeously realized old fashioned melodrama of an epic. Your eyes widen with wonder and your pulse races as Clark makes a beeline for the elevator but unfortunately you never get the whimsy and sheer joy that Donner achieved.

[TEMP ED NOTE: This review is by Josh Horowitz. However, with editor Latin Snake out of town this week, I couldn't quite figure out how to post it under his name. Anyhow, all opinions are the sole property of Josh and not the Cinecultist.]