Wednesday, July 05, 2006

eyeCandy: Superman Returns (2006) 4/5

Superman Returns is an attempt to revive the Superman franchise, much in the same way as Batman Begins, and, I'm happy to say, it's a very successful attempt. Unlike Batman Begins, Superman Returns doesn't scrap all the movies that came before it and start from scratch. Although there is a certain amount of re-envisioning, Superman Returns picks up after a five-year absence from Earth by the Man of Steel. During that time Superman was in deep space investigating the remains of his home planet, Krypton, and Lex Luther was sitting in jail (a convenient convergence of events :-) ). I've heard people refer to this as "Superman 3", essentially, on the basis that the original 1983 Superman III and 1987's Superman IV are movies best forgotten. Having recently re-watched the original 1978 Superman, I'm not sure I wouldn't say that about the first two as well. In fairness, though, at least Superman I and Superman II were fairly true in spirit to the legend of Superman, whereas nothing so generous can be said about III and IV (the addition of Richard Pryor to the cast for the third installment should have been a strong hint).

Superman Returns is superbly directed by the talented Brian Singer, of Usual Suspects and X-Men fame (Singer also has a hand in the story development here as well). Singer was brought on after Brett Ratner left Superman Returns to direct X-Men 3, which Singer was supposed to direct but wanted to put off until he had a chance to try his hand at Superman Returns (the result: a big step up for Superman and a step down for X-Men 3). Brandon Routh does a fantastic job as Superman - he intensely evokes the memory of Christopher Reeve's original performance as the Man of Steel, not only bearing a physical resemblance, but carrying himself similarly and even emulating Reeve's speech (not since Ewan McGregor's takeover of the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi from Alec Guinness have I seen such a pitch perfect interpretation of character). Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor, while generally (and correctly, I think) harsher and more ruthless than Gene Hackman's original, is also inspired. In fact, all the characters (including Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane, who is now a mother and living with another man) have been fleshed out nicely and given a grittier edge than in the originals (Clark Kent even drinks a beer! :-) ).

I saw the IMAX version of the movie not only because I love the big, big screen, but because it presents some parts of the film in 3D. The 3D scenes were pretty neat and I was happy to see a major live-action picture experimenting with this kind of technology. That said, your seating position does have some effect on how realistic the 3D parts are (try to get to the middle of the theatre for this one to avoid the minor "double vision" you can get from some angles) and the fact that you have to put your glasses on and off at several different points in the film (there are only a few segments that are 3D, so you don't need to wear those goofy glasses the whole time) takes you out of the story a bit. Given that this is basically a "popcorn" movie, I don't think that's a major problem, though.

A couple of other pieces of trivia worth noting. Singer makes multiple references to the original movie in this film (e.g. the closing lines in Superman Returns, see PS below; when Superman saves Lois from a plane crash he says: "I hope this doesn't put any of you off flying. Statistically, it's still the safest way to travel", the same words Reeve spoke when he saved Lois from the helicopter crash in the first movie), but the one that really stood out for me was when it is said that Superman stands for "truth, justice, and that kind of stuff" (I'm paraphrasing) instead of "truth, justice, and the American way" - quite a telling amendment reflecting upon the perception of the United States in today's world. In other trivia, Superman's father, Jor-El (cast as Anthony Hopkins by Ratner), is actually played once again by Marlon Brando. Singer used Brando's parts from the original Superman, and discarded scenes from Superman II, to assemble an effective performance from the now-deceased actor.

All in all this is a wonderful new beginning for one of the most iconic characters in our culture. The hokiness and comedic relief (e.g. Luthor's bumbling cohorts in the originals) are pretty much gone, as is, thank god, the completely unbearable Margot Kidder poem from the first movie (I can't recall cringing so intensely at any part of any movie in recent memory). Despite his humble small-town roots, this is a 21st century Superman and one who I hope to see again before too long.

PS: There is a pretty major twist in this movie that doesn't fully reveal itself until close to the end. I won't mention it here but it shouldn't be hard to find out about if you're curious.
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7/05/2006 09:22:00 a.m.  


Blogger Steve Dinn said...

I heard about the 5 year absense thing, but how do they explain Clark Kent also being gone for 5 years? Doesn't anybody put 2 and 2 together?

July 05, 2006 12:38 p.m.  
Blogger Jeff MacArthur said...

Hey Steve,

Yeah, they sort of gloss over this. He was on a safari or something (no, really).

I think that ingrained into the mythology of Superman is the continuing need to suspend one's disbelief regarding his being able to keep such a flimsy secret identity :-) .


July 05, 2006 2:40 p.m.  
Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Agreed that Singer has brought back and remodeled the Man of Steel just right for the 21st Century .. my only beef with the otherwise great movie was that Luthor's plot made very little sense, at least to me

July 05, 2006 5:56 p.m.  
Blogger RC said...

as for the major plot twist...don't you think they're waiting for a sequel to develop that?

i was interested in your description of the 3D Imax experiment.

I think Singer enjoys the concept of creating new mythos to accompany the Superman story (hence the plot twist)...

i imagine the 2nd one could be better now that he's set stuff up...but you're right...a total popcorn flick.

--RC of

July 05, 2006 5:59 p.m.  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi. I cited your review in my own. Check it out!

July 06, 2006 1:16 a.m.  
Blogger DaProkah said...

Here's my two cents:

Warning! There are spoliers below!!

After the dismal piece of cinematic shit they had the nerve to call X3, all my faith lay in Bryan Singer (who directed the first two impeccabley crafted X-Men movies) to deliver us with Superman Returns.

Superman Returns ignores 3 & 4 and takes place after Superman 2-itself kinda sketchy, but still fun.

Superman had been gone for 5 years because scientists have found remains of Krypton floating in space. Superman takes a trip to see if anyone survived. In the meantime the world's gotten along without Superman (except that Bush happened) and Lois Lane got engaged and had a kid.

I've been following the progress of this film since I first heard Singer would direct. Ironically, Bret Rattner, the schmuck responsible for destroying any integrity X-Men had, was supposed to direct Superman. Let it also be known that Rattner didn't think the Phoenix story (the biggest story in X-Men history) had enough meat to make a movie-which is why he threw the mutant cure idea in-whereas Singer said he would have made it a two-parter.
But I suppose the chance to direct the world's greatest superhero was too irresistible to pass up.

And he does a bang up job.

However, Superman Returns is not without its flaws, and it took the keen eye of Blog Monkey to point out a few of these glaring problems.

Let me start off by saying that Singer took great care to create this movie. It's quite clear that there was a lot of love for the material and respect for the first two Superman movies with Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder-who by the way are still the king and queen of the Superman interpretations. I liked Lois & Clark’s
new approach and thought Dean Cain & Teri Hatcher were a respectable second. Haven't seen Smallville much, but what I have seen is bloody impressive.

The Good

Frank Langella was perfect as Perry White, wise, confident and even funny. He wasn't a charicature. He re-interpreted Perry White and it worked perfectly.

Sam Huntington as Jimmy Olsen was perfect. The way Olsen should be. He was the funniest thing in the movie and had great presence. He really balanced out the newsroom and was the only one sympathetic to poor Clark-who still gets treated like shit and was never missed-which is probably what Kal-El wanted.

Kevin Spacy was a great pick for Lex Luthor, but I think he could been more of a prick. His intro was probably the best intro to an antagonist I've ever seen. Ah Gertrude...Strangely enough-and I think Singer did this on purpose-when Lex was holding his 'wife' Gertrude's hand on her death bed, it seemed as though that was an old Lois Lane in bed holding a still-young & vibrant Kal-El's hand. I interpreted it as a flash into the future.

I loved how Superman's flight looked like it took a bit of concentration-notice his flight pattern when he lands...

The little touches like 'Look chief, it's a bird, it's a plane, no look it's...', the orginal Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson) playing a bartender, Luthor bumping into Lois Lane while brushing his teeth. Great stuff.

The Bad

Not all that bad really; I loved the suit. I just thought the ‘S’ was a bit small and that the neck wasn't open enough. Other than that I thought it looked great

Yeah yeah yeah Kryptonite, enough already, something else please? one noticed that Clark and Superman were gone for the exact same time? Kal-El should have used his superbrains and made it so that Clark shows up even a couple weeks later.

The Ugly

Kal Penn! Remember ‘Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle’? Penn as Kumar was hilarious and Singer didn't even give Penn a speaking role as one of Lex's henchmen! What a waste!! The comedic element-so sorely missing, and I'm not talking campy here-could have used a little more Penn .

Singer fucked up on casting Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. Just from the commercials I could tell she was wrong for the part. Margot Kidder was bang on and although I'm not looking for clones, my preference after she dealt with Lois Lane is that she's plucky and has attitude. No disrespect to Kate Bosworth, but she was wrong for the part, much like Kirsten Dunst was wrong to play Mary Jane in Spider-man (what about Kate Winslet? Don't believe me, rent Eternal Sunshine of A Spotless Mind)

Bosworth had no depth, didn't interest me and was way too young. It's been five years since Superman was gone people! Even Brandon Routh as Superman was too young.

Singer should have went with a comedic actress, someone with great timing and presence. Why not Janine Garofalo or better yet, a relative unknown, but someone who could excude independence and wit.

There were a bunch of silly little things that went on too.

Superman's in the hospital for weeks-Uhm...where's Clark? If I were his boss I'd have fired his ass (thanx for the observation Blog Monkey)

Superman floats up to the strato to hear all sorts of shit going down on the planet then bolts down to stop a serious situation...That would be a bank robbery where the cops are out-gunned.



Forget about the genocides happening around the planet or gang wars, two men in blue-oh, I get it- are about to be shot down. They knew the risks when they joined the force!

I would have bought the scene if Supes where floating over just his home town, but to prioritize a bank robbery over everything else going on in the world is just bad writing.

Brandon Routh. Solid, but not enough presence. And no jokes-except for the flight thing, but Reeve delivered it better. Reeve had this magic about him, Superman was even a bit cocky, aloof. Remember that interview with Lois in the first one? Holy shit!

Again, I'm not asking for a clone, in fact I'd like something a little different, instead I got plain bread, no butter (and a glass of water for dippin'!)

All in all I enjoyed the movie and will see it several more times but Singer could have taken a few more chances. Lois's kid was a bold move indeed, but in all other areas I think Singer played it a bit too safe. Let's hope a few things can be tightned up on the sequel.

July 06, 2006 3:02 a.m.  

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