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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Superman Returns

MOVIE REVIEWS

SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006)

Starring Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Sam Huntington, Eva Marie Saint, Kal Penn, David Fabrizio, Noel Neill and Marlon Brando.

Screenplay by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris.

Directed by Bryan Singer.

Distributed by Warner Bros.  154 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

 Everyday Beautiful

Superman Returns

Superman is a legendary character who has survived almost a century of variations and performance.  He has been a TV star several times, been in many movies, on stage, animated, in commercials, on Seinfeld's refrigerator, the subject of several pop songs -- Superman may be the ultimate American iconic figure.

However, Bryan Singer's new movie Superman Returns obsesses only about one incarnation of the caped crusader -- the Christopher Reeve Superman movies.  (Well, I and II at least -- like everyone else in the world Singer prefers to pretend Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace never happened.) 

Well, there are occasional very brief nods to earlier versions.  Former TV Lois Lane Noel Neill has a cameo as a dying society matron being swindled by Lex Luthor.  (Neill also did an uncredited scene as a young Lois' mother on a train in the 1978 version).  There is a brief "it's a bird...,"  "it's a plane..." gag. 

But mostly we are slavishly worshipping at the altar of the Reeve movies.  Literally. 

The score is the exact same as the earlier films.  The credit graphics are also a Xerox of the very 70s looking spacey opening titles.  The new film also uses fetishistically accurate takes on the crystals of knowledge, the fortress of solitude and Kryptonian star-shaped space ships.  They make nods to little plot points -- for example, the movie says that Kryptonite was originally found on earth in Addis Ababa in 1978, which happened right in the middle of the action of the earlier film.

Superman's father is played by the late Marlon Brando -- we are actually watching scenes taken from his performance in the first film.  There are nods to earlier character quirks like Lois Lane's being vitamin-obsessed and asking people how to spell relatively simple words.  New Superman Brandon Routh looks disturbingly like Christopher Reeve. 

There is another nighttime flight where Superman picks up Lois on the roof and flies her all around Metropolis -- again to the the tune of "Can You Read My Mind?"

They even steal a few of the earlier movies' punch lines word-by-word, for example when Superman saves a plane and tells the people "I hope this doesn't turn you off to flying.  Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel."

Unfortunately, all these comparisons to Superman: The Movie and Superman II do this film no favors -- they just point out that the earlier films were more effortlessly memorable and simply better.  If we really wanted to see these things over, why shouldn't we just rent the originals again?

However, as much as Superman Returns worships at the altar of the earlier incarnations, it completely misses (I'm assuming purposely) the comic vibe and quirky joy of the Reeve Superman movies. 

Not terribly surprising since it is helmed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men I & II), a fascinating stylist who is not known for his light touch.  In recent years, the comic in comic books have been downplayed for a more brooding brand of hero. 

Singer seems to be toying with the dark areas of the man of steel.  I don't think that it is a coincidence that the lighting here is so muddy that Superman's famously bright red cape often appears to be black.  The problem is, Superman has never been known as a deep or brooding sort.  His disguise in real life is a goofy pair of glasses.  He is a simple hero -- he champions truth and justice (and the American way, though that part of the description is conspicuously absent in this new version.)  Superman is the superhero as a do-good square.  He isn't supposed to have dark nights of the soul.  His alter-ego Clark Kent even uses the term "swell" here without irony or condescension (which also comes from Superman: The Movie, but I won't go there yet again.). 

Perhaps the problem is the actors here are not quite right for the roles.  Routh has the look and occasionally has fun with the character like Reeve did, but for the most part he is just there; quiet, brooding, inscrutable.  In fact, a series of long, sad shots of Superman spying on Lois and her son verge on stalkerish.

Bosworth, on the other hand, seems all wrong for Lois Lane.  It is certainly her right to play the role differently than Margot Kidder -- the problem is even almost thirty years later, Kidder's read of the role seems much more modern, interesting and realistic for a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.  Bosworth plays her as a quiet, tortured and somewhat stupid character.  After all, this is a woman who is so reckless or foolhardy that she brings her five year old son with her when she breaks onto a strange yacht that may have to do with a mysterious, dangerous power outage.

Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor is much more grounded, vicious and small-time than Gene Hackman's read on the role -- and again it feels like a less entertaining take for just this subtlety.  Lex Luthor is supposed to be Grand Guignol.

Superman Returns is supposed to be a loose continuation of the story of Superman II.  However the movie, despite the desperate attempts to revive our collective memory of the series -- really seems to have little idea why the older movies worked.  (7/06)

Ken Sharp

Copyright ©2006   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: August 4, 2006.

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Copyright ©2006   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: August 4, 2006.