Friday, June 30, 2006

Superman Returns

Arriving in theatres this week is one of......if not the biggest movies of the summer.

Warner Bros. is attempting to re-launch the Superman franchise, much in the same way that they successfully revived the Batman franchise with last year's excellent Batman Returns. Like Batman, the Superman franchise was effectively destroyed by two horrible movies. In re-launching the two franchises they tried to appeal to movie fans by using young, fresh, attractive actors in the lead, new and interesting special appeal to the younger crowd, and placed the franchise in the hands of successful, talented independent-film-minded directors who appeal to film geeks, and comic book fans.

But unlike Batman Begins which was a complete reboot of the Batman story, Superman Returns attempts to be a direct sequel to the first two Superman movies, while disregarding the unwatchable Superman 3 and Superman 4.

Tricky stuff, and Bryan Singer almost pulls it off.


Superman Returns takes place 5 years after the events of the Superman 2 storyline. Superman a.k.a Clark Kent a.k.a. Kal-el has been away from Earth for 5 years after exploring the remains of the planet Krypton. Upon his return he finds that many things have changed. The world has become a more cynical, dangerous and darker place. Especially now, since his arch enemy Lex Luthor is a free man, and on a personal level, his one true love Lois Lane is now engaged to be married to a good hearted, attractive man. But perhaps most shocking of all to Superman is that Lois Lane is now a mother.

Obviously a lot has changed.

The movie plays out as an attempt to reboot the franchise, yet still pays homage to the first two films directed by Richard Donner and Richard Lester.

The results are mixed.

What's cool about the movie is that Bryan Singer REALLY tries to tie in the first two movies.

The famous John Williams score is in place. The production design harkens back to the first two films. Even the opening credits feature the eighties movie style logo and effects.

I was surprised how sentimental I felt seeing images, and references hearken back to the original films. It's obvious that Bryan Singer really loved those movies.

Which is also a big problem with the movie.

The movie just doesn't feel confident enough to stand on it's own merits. It constantly references back to the original a fault. At some point the audience starts to want something different and unique. It starts to feel like Deja Vu.....the whole movie.

Especially concerning the character of Lex Luthor. For me I would have liked Bryan Singer to reinvent the character completely. What we get here is the same character that Gene Hackman played to enjoyment in the first two movies. A Lex Luthor who is comedic, and hardly a serious criminal mastermind. Not that Kevin Spacey is that bad mind you. But for me, if the character is going to be the same, why not bring back Gene Hackman? What's the point of bringing in Spacey if he's not going to re-invent the character. I assume there was some issues with Hackman's age. But there's even a line in the film where Superman refers to Lex as old man.

Also in terms of story and script, Lex Luthor's motives, and master plan is just ridiculous, stupid and illogical. Especially considering he's apparently come into plenty of money when the movie begins. I know that some of his appeal as a bad guy in the three movies is that he's insane, and a megalomaniac. But when this movie plays out as sensitive and heart felt, it's really jarring, and disappointing that they couldn't have come up with a better motive and incentive for Lex Luthor to cause havoc.

I really think we haven't seen Lex Luthor's menacing side in these movies.

To me, as written, he just comes off as an annoying punk who didn't get enough attention when he was growing up. I think Gene Hackman really nailed the role to comic effect, but honestly Spacey struggles to find the compromise between being enjoyably slimy and insane, and being a serious threat to Superman and humanity.

I almost think.....actually I KNOW that the movie doesn't even really need Lex Luthor. There are plenty of obstacles, and drama for Superman in this film which are a lot more interesting than any kind of global megalomaniac plan that Lex Luthor has.

I think when people say that the movie feels long, it's because of the scenes with Lex Luthor. He really doesn't contribute anything to the main story. He's just a device to create havoc.

I believe the movie would have been fine as it is without Superman having Lex Luthor to deal with. The world in the movie has plenty of catastrophes and drama for Superman to try and resolve.

Especially when it comes to his personal life, which is really what appeals to the audience. It's always been the staple of the Superman story to show how he tries to balance his Clark Kent persona with his true identity as Superman. If one throws in the love story, the triangle, general crime in the city and natural we really need to see Superman deal with a silly Lex Luthor and his idiotic plan?

In terms of performances, Brandon Routh does a capable job of stepping into Christopher Reeve's shoes. He doesn't have a complete grasp of the Clark Kent character yet.... but hey I'm going to cut him some slack. These are big shoes he's stepping into. Christopher Reeve really nailed the role. And it's admirable that a newcomer like Routh is boldly stepping into those shoes. I'm thinking since this is the first of several Superman movies Routh will learn to make the character his own, and really contribute something interesting to the Superman myth.

Also stepping into difficult shoes is Kate Bosworth. Whom I've always found affable, and capable in the films I've seen her in. I think Margot Kidder really created a fun kind of free spirited dame, that really complimented Superman, not to mention Clark Kent.

Kate Bosworth takes a different approach to the role. She plays her more vulnerable, and down to earth, one can say that Lois is more sensible and mature now that she's a mother, which is ironic considering Kate Bosworth is only 23 in real life and probably significantly younger than Margot Kidder when she first played the role.

Her Lois is also heartbroken since Superman left her 5 years ago without a word. Which really adds an interesting dimension to the film. The stakes are higher now in the relationship, it's not just a giddy crush.

It's hard to say which is a better approach to the character. Certainly Margot Kidder's portrayal is more enjoyable, but it's hard not to appreciate the grounded work of Bosworth.


I think I'll just appreciate both performances, and not really compare and contrast the characterizations. Because they are so different. I'll just say that they are both interesting performances to a complex character.

James Marsden also does fine work here. As the fiance of Lois Lane his portrayal, and the script really make his character affable, and in his own way even heroic. I really appreaciated the care given to his character. I mean it really could have been easy to make him a jerk or prototype deadbeat boyfriend that the audience can root against. But this movie doesn't sink to those depths. As in life, matters of the heart are complicated in this world. Just because one is Superman, doesn't mean he's the perfect man to have as a partner.

In terms of special effects, and action the movie is pretty great. For me it's the best movie of the far. Pirates of the Caribbean comes out next week, I'm sure that will challenge Superman for that title.

But overall I really enjoyed myself with this film. I admit I was surprised about how sentimental I felt about the Superman films. Which makes me wonder how it plays for the younger crowd, who didn't see the first movies in the theatre. I'd say that overall, it's the second best movie of the franchise with Superman 2 being my favorite of the bunch.

Now....... there is an issue that I'd like to go into that delves into spoiler territory. So if one is reading this and do not want to read a spoiler please stop reading now...... I mean it.

Major Spoiler Alert!!!!!!!!!!!!!****************

In terms of the heritage of Lois Lane's Child, I don't think the twist connects well with the other movies. For one thing, Lois supposedly forgot everything that happened after Superman kisses her in the second movie. All the events of the second film, including the love match between Superman and Lois. I guess one can make the argument that the kiss only erased the memory that Clark Kent is Superman. But how does that make sense in terms of logic? How would she know who the father is, as well as how the baby was conceived? I would think that Superman's fake identity, and those events kind of go hand in hand, don't they?

I guess..... I could be...... overanalyzing a comic book movie....just a little bit. But I wonder why the writer's didn't do something....anything really to explain that hole in the story's logic. To me it's a pretty big hole, that could easily be explained with a short speech.

In any case, it's something for me that needed to be addressed, and I was disappointed that no effort was made to explain it.....hey....maybe on the DVD Singer will say something about it on the commentary track.

End of spoilers!!!!!!!!!!!!!************

So as a summer movie I really enjoyed myself here, I'm even planning to go watch the film on Imax- 3D sometime next week. I look forward to the future of Superman on the big screen. Although it's a far cry from the amazing work of Batman Begins, and despite the fact the movie has huge holes and problems, it's still significantly better than X-men 3, and Mission Impossible 3, and a movie I recommend for everyone to check out for some summer movie popcorn fun.


Ray said...

I enjoyed myself too. But I guess I didn't read too much into everything (which is so not like me). Let's see what Singer does with the sequel

Reel Fanatic said...

great stuff .. I agree with your complaints, especially about Lex's preposterous plot, but still have to say I thoroughly enjoyed Singer's take on the Man of Steel

Craig Schwarze said...

I actually enjoyed Spacey's performance - I thought it was easily the best in the movie...

Melody said...

My heart soared with Superman! I loved it!