Any regular visitor to this site knows one glowing thing about me, that being that I'm a skeptic, a cynic and a sarcastic commentator. Okay, that's three things. But the point is, having grown up on "Big Blue" and seen him fly through more varied incarnations than Lon Chaney, I was worried sick that this hero... my hero... would have been put through the Kryptonite Ringer once again. Warner Brothers couldn't keep a director, script reports verged on blasphemous iconoclastic canon and the casting choices sounded like Saturday Night Live Spoof material. But then, as if Warners had read my X2 Review, Bryan Singer was given the reigns, a man who wanted to make the movie good, make it a hit, but most of all... make it PURE, and as close to the Real Deal as possible. All the way to the theatre on June 27, 2006 (and, really, for months leading up to this) I kept repeating "I hope this is good, I hope this is a hit!" After all, as I told my wife when we sat down, "I haven't been here for 19 years!"
It should be noted that I have avoided spoilers (though some have broken through) and the reviews of others like I've avoided drinking pond water. I have no idea what other critics, or indeed, the masses, will think of this movie. I'm telling you what I honestly think, as a Cynic, as a Sarcastic Critic and as a Skeptic. I LOVE THIS MOVIE!!! There are no ifs, ands or buts about it, Superman Returns is accurate, and it is almost perfect. It's worth every second of its 2 hour 37 minute run time... and (except for the fact that I had to Pee like a Wild Kryptonian toward the end), I could have stood for more movie.
Superman has been gone for some time, but is so much a part of our collective consciousness that he really needs to introduction. Setting this film up as a "semi-sequel" to the Reeve-era Superman and Superman II, Singer doesn't bother with some reboot of the franchise (after all, your Grandmother knows who Clark Kent is). Instead he picks up where we are now... with Superman having been gone for some time and a (hopefully) eager world waiting to welcome him back. Big Blue heard of the discovery of the remains of Krypton and journeyed far away to see what he could find. Like Geraldo with an Al Capone Scoop, he came up with a Goose Egg. So... Superman Returns back to his real home... Smallville, Kansas after a five year absence, echoing his first arrival and falling right into the arms of his dear mother Martha Kent (Eva Marie Saint). While Superman himself is filled with doubt and questions, any doubt or question in my mind about Casting soon evaporated. Brandon Routh was given his first acting jobs for a resemblance to Christopher Reeve (and, it's easy to believe, he got this part for the same reason). However, Routh is NOT simply a face and someone who can fill out the suit. Routh is PERFECT as the confident, but still somehow Ego-Free Superhero, and is equally perfect as the humble, somewhat goofy Clark Kent. The change between them might not be as Marked as Reeves', but hey, it's been Five Years of Interstellar Isolation... ah?
Clark surveys his new old home and has flashes back to his childhood and discovery of his powers (a good introduction for someone who has been in a Coma since 1938, but nothing too expository, ensuring that True Fans won't feel insulted). This leads him right back to his base of operations... as Clark. He's returned to The Daily Planet and quickly gets reacquainted with Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) and Perry White (Frank Langella), but finds that his true love Lois Lane (perfectly portrayed by Kate Bosworth) has moved on... from both Clark and from Superman. She now has a five year old son (hey, WAITAMINUTE) and a FiancÚ, and she's about to win a Pulitzer Prize for writing an article called Why The World Doesn't Need Superman! Is she right? Read on.
Superman isn't the only one returning to Metropolis. In a plausible series of events, Lex Luthor (the wit and menace of Kevin Spacey) has not only legally been released from prison, but has also amassed significant amounts of wealth. That's not even mentioning a whole hoary host of henchmen like Kal Penn's Stanford, David Fabrizio's Brutus and, most rewarding, Parker Posey's wicked, yet gold-hearted answer to Miss Teschmacher, Kitty Kowalski. Luthor and company have located Kal-El's own Fortress of Solitude and, learning all he can from (archival) Marlon Brando's Jor-El, Luthor again embarks on a real estate deal that will set the world a-spinning.
A great thing about this movie is the way all the puzzle pieces fit together. Singer, with his story compadres (who also wrote the screenplay) Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris have done a phenomenal job of planning and pacing this brilliant story out. There are no real coincidences here, and Luthor's plan leads directly into Superman's return. As in their first (canonical, but new to film) meeting, Lois is involved in an experimental shuttle launch that goes awry, and Clark doesn't even hesitate to slap on the "S" and save the day (in a special effects sequence worth the nineteen year wait!). Soon the world knows that Superman is back, and again the press becomes obsessed with him, almost completely glossing over the ominous reason the shuttle was put in danger in the first place.
As always, Luthor's plans are big, big, big, and are set to cause the death of millions (no, wait, Billions) of innocent people. Luckily, Big Blue is back, and can handle anything. Anything, that is, except Kryptonite. Good thing Luthor doesn't have any of that. Until he does.
This movie does probably the best job ever of showing Superman's need (and often, ability) to be everywhere at once, helping any and everyone he can. It also shows why such a being would do such a thing, when he could all the easier take over. We're also reminded just what he can do, and just how invincible he is, given shot after shot (no pun intended) of proof that he is indeed Faster than a Speeding Bullet, More Powerful than a Locomotive, and able to Leap Tall Buildings in a Single Bound. This makes it all the more powerful when we're given logical belief that he is, this time, truly in danger. But the people still come first, and his desperate, but still seemingly effortless knack for saving people from sudden death is given beautiful demonstration here with some (almost uniformly) amazing special effects.
The Planning and Special Attention to Detail that Singer and company display is awe-inspiring for fans and moviegoers alike. To see the Man of Steel flying through Metropolis, doing nine things at once, saving lives, catching (daily) planets like Atlas and putting out fires wherever they come, shows some great ideas... the fact that these fit together, however, is a credit to Singer, who just may have been BORN to make this movie.
That's not just in the "original" elements, either. Though "not technically" a sequel to 1978's Superman and 1980's Superman II, this most certainly plays like a sequel (as long as 1983's Superman III and 1987's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace are ignored). Many homages to these two films are written all over Superman Returns from Set Design, to those swooping 3-D Credits, to elements of the other stories (read: Kryptonian Crystals) to the very use of archival Marlon Brando footage (some not used in the old films) to even the classic John Williams "Main Titles" music, augmenting John Ottman's rousing score. Further, in-jokes and direct links to those films can be found all through this one. From the origin point of the Kryptonite Meteor, to the crumbling of a Mount Rushmore model, to the very dialogue and motifs that we find surrounding our group of familiars (especially Superman and Lois), this film is perfectly in-series with the first two. Some out there might feel that the frequent referencing of past films and comic book canon amounts to a retread in places. I'm not one of them. This especially applies because of the way mood is handled. Spacey's maniacally evil Lex is often hilarious at his most sinister and chilling at his most funny. Picture that mood wrapped around the entire film, and these little gems never come off as corny, but part of a great and well-orchestrated tapestry.
That said, (and again, I've got NO idea what anyone else thinks of this film) there are a couple of things that I do want to point out here. Young Tristan Lake Leabu is fine as Jason White here, and forsakes most customs of the "Cute Little Kid" syndrome. However, I'm not sure how I feel (as a fan) of the idea of Lois having a son, or that that son's paternity is somewhat in question. Similarly James Marsden is a very fine actor and brings a lot to the role of Richard White, the good guy who realizes with pathos that he's on the losing corner of a love triangle. Still, the presence of the character here gives me pause. I will say that shunning all I knew from before, Singer and all his crew handled these guys perfectly and never did this feel like a bad idea, even if, on paper it seemed to be. There are one or two (very minor) moments in which the otherwise seamless CGI looks, well, like CGI. A bit of the science behind how Luthor is doing what he's doing with the Kryptonian Technology is somewhat vague, but then, if I'm going to buy in to an altruistic humanoid alien in a colorful costume who can fly, see through walls, breathe hurricanes, shoot heat rays from his eyes, and knock down mountains with a Punch, I shouldn't be complaining.
Lastly, for all the good reasons (and story logic) behind Clark's leaving for Five Years, I have a hard time believing he would do that (and an equally hard time believing that both Clark and Superman having left at the same time and returned at the same time didn't raise more eyebrows than it did). That said, the character is perfect in all other aspects. Routh is, again, wonderful as Superman and I believed him every step of the way. The costume, though changed slightly, is likewise excellent. The colors are a little darker, and the Yellow "S-Shield" is missing from his cape. And that's it. The costume is extra notable, considering that it shimmers, being made of thousands of tiny "S-Shields" all over. But most of all, Clark still seems like Clark, which is why we care for Superman, after all, isn't it? Here we're shown, in no uncertain terms, that Clark is who this character is... he's not Superman putting on a "mask" to become "us". He's that good kid, raised in Kansas who just wants to do the right thing... and has the power to do it. Further, Singer, Dougherty and Harris reclaim all those questions about Clark/ Superman and, if not answering them, seem to make it clear that maybe all of this just doesn't matter. He's Clark, he's Superman, he's the first Superhero, he's the Mild Mannered Reporter. He's the best!
Virtually Spoiler-Free though I be, one thing I do know is that the Press (ironically, Clark's own profession) had a minor field day with the question of "Is Superman Still Relevant". The questions flew about whether in this darker world of Cinema, the Boy Scout Superhero could truly be taken seriously. In my mind he most certainly can, and should be, now more than ever! Superman is a Man for All Seasons. Did Siegel and Shuster know what they had created in that little Apartment Studio in Cleveland? Maybe not, and maybe a whole hoary host of critics and viewers out there will not appreciate this as I have. I say, good job, boys. Singer seems to as well, because he has created not a good, but a GREAT film that caters less to the darker aspects of Superhero films than to his own desire to keep Superman Pure. It would be all a waste without such a cast and crew, such a story, and although Clothes Don't Make the Superman, without such great Special Effects, this movie couldn't have been what it has become. I, for one, am giving Superman Returns the full Five Stars out of Five. Agree or disagree, this is definitely among the best Superhero films ever made (and possibly the best to date). With a budget that most Third World Countries would envy for a Gross National Product, I'm only praying that this movie is the hit it deserves to be. Anything less, and it might be another nineteen years or more until anyone takes a chance on Big Blue again. Is Superman still relevant? As a Cynic, Sarcastic Critic and Skeptic, let me break form for just a cape-pulling second and say this: I wouldn't want to live in a world where he wasn't.
This film (and this review) is dedicated to the Memory of Christopher Reeve and Dana Reeve, two people whose example still makes me believe that a Man Can Fly. So until the great Mr. Kent reverts me back to my childhood by spinning the Next Reel backwards... I'll see you there.
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