Superman returns

superman returnsAfter nearly twenty years, Superman has returned to the big screen! Regular visitors to this site will inevitably know that I have been following the progress of this production since long before the inception of it’s current incarnation, and have been none too quiet on the matter. So, after over a year of anticipation, excitement, and wild ranting, I have finally seen the film, and am in a position to make an informed opinion.

 

First overall impressions: very well done. My major concern with this film had been that they would make fundamental changes to the nature of the character, and I am happy to say that this is something that they have very respectfully maintained. There is one point, and quite a major one at that, that I am not happy about, but I will come back to that in due course.

 

As with any film, the most important elements are the plot and the storyline. These were not too bad, but there were holes in them, and specifically holes in the plot that related to casting issues, but again I’ll move on to those. The film begins with Superman returning to Earth after a mysterious absence of five years, and Lex Luthor swindling the heirs of a dying old lady out of her estate on her death bed. After Superman saves the day and makes his big comeback, Luthor hatches a plot to grow his own island using Kryptonian technology, which will eventually consume America, and make him sole proprietor of the most important real estate on the planet, as well as the most advanced technology. Little does Superman know, but this island has been infused with Kryptonite. Cue a dramatic confrontation between Supes and Baldie, Supes on his death bed, some more dramatic rescues, and an anticlimactic ending, and there you have it in a nutshell.

 

The plot’s not too bad, but it’s also not particularly inspired. The film carries it off well, and all in all its a fairly passable action movie. But is it any good? Well, this depends on your point of view. From a technical point of view, it is flawless. And by this I mean there is no fault I can find with the film; all the boxes are ticked, so to speak. I did however find it somewhat lacking in a number of respects. The first is that the director does not have an understanding of how the theme music works. This may sound like nitpicking, but the Superman theme music is actually an ingenious composition. Every movement in the piece tells a part of the story of the Mythic Hero’s journey, and each bit of the music has a particular significance, but this was not used to good effect. All that has been done is that the title theme from the original score has been a little re-hashed and used in the opening sequence just so they can claim to have respect for the original films, without any true understanding of its application.

 

My second gripe with this film is the casting. There have been many incarnations of Lex Luthor, and my favourite has always been the corporate billionaire version, as I find it is the most versatile in terms of story possibilities. I have been saying for years that Kevin Spacey would be an ideal choice for the role of Luthor, because I envisioned him playing this kind of role, of someone who outwardly and publicly appears philanthropic, yet is in fact a murderous and genocidal master criminal. Kevin Spacey is perfect for this, as he is easily able to portray a character as good-natured as he is to portray him as sinister and brooding. Rather than following this route, and using Spacey to what would inevitably been fantastic effect, director Bryan Singer chose to have Luthor portrayed as an underground villain, and as downright angry rather than sinister. There was nothing wrong with Spacey’s performance, but considering that it was him cast for the role and not someone else, I felt that his talent was wasted on such a dry interpretation of the character.

 

My second casting problem was Kate Bosworth. As I have never seen her in any other film, I do not feel well placed to criticise her talent as an actress, but I will however say that her performance in this film was diabolical. She portrayed a ‘teen-angsty’ kind of Lois, who came across as being constantly bitter at being unfairly treated because she is a woman (despite this not being the case) for no better reason than feeling like it. There was no chemistry between her and Routh, either as Superman or Clark, and not even any chemistry between her and James Marsden’s character Richard, Superman’s supposed love rival for her attentions. Overall, her performance was flat, dry, unemotional and uninspiring.

 

Routh was also, in my opinion, poorly cast. I can see what Singer saw in him as the potential to play Superman, and personally I feel that given a few years seasoning, he could give a memorable performance as the Man of Steel, but as it stands, he is too young and too inexperienced. Spatially, he is a very good actor, and the way he moves is very convincing. But he falls staggeringly short facially and with his dialogue. His voice is horrible to listen to, and lacks intensity, and his facial expressions just seem like a strained and artificial attempt to imitate Reeve’s cocky and confident style. As I said, I can definitely see him playing a very convincing Superman in a few years, but I think he needs those few years first. Also, his age doesn’t quite work. This ties in with the plot flaw I mentioned earlier. At the beginning of the film, Superman returns having been in space for five years looking for Krypton. The problem with this is that Routh looks young, certainly no older than about mid-twenties, and add to this the fact that he has brown eyes and had to wear blue contacts (contact lenses make your eyes appear much larger), and you have a Superman who would have been well established when he left Earth at the age of about twenty. It just seems wrong to me.

 

As with the rest of the film itself, the supporting cast were proficient and passable, but again uninspired, with the exception of Marsden who, in my opinion, managed to steal the show from even Spacey. Which brings me to my biggest problem with this film.

 

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!!!!

Superman and Lois Lane have had a child together. Superman doesn’t know this at first, as he thinks the kid she is dragging around must be hers and Richard’s, but it becomes undeniably apparent that Superman is the father when the child throws a piano across the room. I don’t have a problem with the notion of Superman and Lois Lane having a child together, but I feel that out of sheer respect for the medium if nothing else, it is not the place of a film director to explore what is quite a significant life changing event in a movie if it has not been done in the comics first. Again, this may seem like nitpicking, but it is justified in my opinion, especially seeing as Lois and Clark are married in the comics, and in the film it appears to be the result of a one night stand (presumably from Superman II, just after he gives up his powers). Superman’s relationship with the child and Lois is left extremely wanting at the end of the film. I would expect Superman, on discovering that the child was his, to want to discuss the situation with Lois. What in fact happened was that he went to see the child briefly and then essentially told Lois that he’d see her around. This left me feeling very uncomfortable.

 

The action scenes in the film were all fairly good, although they didn’t have me on the edge of my seat. It is far easier to criticise than it is to praise, but I will say that there were a couple of scenes in the
film that were fantastic, particularly the rescue scenes, which very nearly had me wanting to clap and cheer! I did however feel that the CGI looked incredibly plastic in places, especially considering that this movie had a final budget of over a quarter of a billion pounds. Two last points, there were a number of references to the comics, Lois & Clark, Smallville, and the original films, which would appear to anyone who recognises them to be homages, but with the exception of a scene near the beginning with a model train set reproducing key moments from the first two films, these references, like the music, did not appear to be understood, and were seemingly placed in the film at random without any meaning. Finally, it is shown in the film that Lois has won a Pulitzer prize for an article entitled "Why The World Doesn’t Need Superman". There is not a chance that a writer unable to produce a more inspired headline than that would a) win a Pulitzer or b) hold down a job at a ‘major metropolitan newspaper’.

 

As a whole, the film isn’t bad, and I will admit that I’ll be seeing it again. But I am quite disappointed that I can’t say that its an outstanding movie. The film is technically flawless, but it lacks passion and a certain spark. The whole film seems a bit shallow and mechanical, as if produced by a skilled craftsman rather than a talented artist. This I hold Bryan Singer entirely responsible for. His previous work on the first two X-Men demonstrates this. Fantastically made movies, but flat, lacking depth, and while there is no reasonable fault to be found with them, lacking inspiration and passion. While Superman Returns is by no stretch of the imagination a bad film, it lacks the intensity and energy that made the original Donner movie a classic, and I would class it as more on a par with Superman III and Superman IV than with Superman The Movie and Superman II.

 by Matt Goldman



8 comments


    Andrew

    July 20, 2006

    More or less agree with that, one thing i would add it that i am becoming increasingly annoyed with the way that film makers make 1/2 a story, as they know there is going to be a sequel. It happens here, and in POTC2.

    Nick Thornton

    July 20, 2006

    Firstly an apology [to the author] I have lost you email address and have recently had my mobile phone stolen, my plan was to come and watch the film with you, as I imagine you would have been full of childlike wonderment (a la Augustus Gloop at an all you can eat buffet).

    Hollywood has for too long dangled the carrot of passionate, sensitive movies that could appease the geek in all of us, sadly they consistently fail to deliver. Opting instead for half-baked crap, given budgets that could topple third world governments and helmed by directors who think that Wolverine is some kind of furniture polish.
    (i.e. The Phantom menace and all subsequent piffle associated with that particular franchise as well as the steaming pile of offal that was Paul W.S Andersons Aliens Vs Predator ??????? its gone, its all gone)
    I really am rambling now, so SUPERMAN..

    ******SPOILER ALERT******

    Your review is remarkably calm and balanced considering the level of expectation, and for the most part it echoes my sentiments. I unfortunately missed the first 5 minutes as I spilled hot nacho cheese all over my groin, beyond that it was a mostly pleasurable experience (the film that is, not the boiling condiments).
    The only thing I really disagree about is Mr Spaceys?????? Lex Luthor. I thought
    Spaceys?????? portrayal was spot on. It borrows subtly from Hackman as Luthor (my favourite incarnation) adding his own despicable twist. Luthor is a broken man forcing his way back to the top and in the film(s) that will undoubtedly follow (Son of Superman anyone?) Luthor will again become the self-assured megalomaniac we all know and love.
    There were a few other problems but I can get over those. I thought the end was disappointing, lifting a continental landmass comprised predominantly of Kryptonite, come on.. I mean he is Super but for me that was too much. It flew in the face of what had gone before. It looks suspiciously like the last outpost of Krypton will be orbiting a planet near us very soon.

    I am sick of comic book films, never thought I would say that, but they have become the latest cash cow. If the film industry is not prepared to treat them with the respect they deserve then they should not bother at all. I am not saying that there has never been a good comic flick they can and have been made (BATMAN BEGINS or BLADE for example, maybe even the much underrated PUNISHER, no? maybe not..). It??????s a shame that Superman was not treated in the same way as BATS. Batman was faithful to the comics had excellent casting, and kept you right there at the edge of your seat for 141 minutes. Once Routh is a more rounded actor I have no doubt that he will bring the same conviction to the character that Christian Bale brought to Batman. Until then though we have an antidote in the form of Clerks 2, thank you so much Mr Smith.

    Matt Goldman

    July 20, 2006

    Firstly, the author accepts your apology. Secondly, I agree with your point that Spacey was indeed very good, but I do however feel that he is far more capable an actor than he was allowed to be in this film.

    I tried to call you but your number must have gone along with your stolen phone. Don’t know if I’m allowed to post my email address on here, so ask the authorities (ie Mark) for it and I’m sure they’ll be happy to pass it on.

    Noelia

    July 20, 2006

    I think the movie was very good, overall, but its big failure, for me, is the fact that they kept trying to make it look like the previous ones, instead of just make a brand new version. I find Luthor’s plans to take over the world childish and outdated. It’s not a convincing Luthor.

    John Shea’s version of Lex in “Lois and Clark the new adventures of superman” was much more convincing, not to mention Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex, which is the most credible and terrifying Luthor. And he’s taking over the world with his business rather than sinking continents, which makes the story look much more like nowadays globalized world.

    As for Brandon Routh, I’ve read somewhere else he needed more acting classes. Could be. For being Superman, he have not had many lines, and he was kind of bitter to talk to. If they were trying to imitate Christopher Reeve’s character, this is not it. However, it could work as a psychological effect, for superman is physically superior but he could be psychologically as weak as the rest of the humans, and it’s not easy to process in your mind all the things that happened to him, including that he’s the only one of his kind, he has no friends to talk about this superhero problems (except his mom) and the woman he loves has married another guy. If I was Singer, I would pay attention to all these facts and find a way to correct them in the next version.

    I didn’t like Lois in this version. And Jimmy Olsen’s comment about “the ferocious reporter being a mommy” sounded chauvinist to me.

    I liked the interaction between Lois’ family and superman rescuing each other. Superman must have a hard time helping Richard, knowing he’s going to marry Lois, and Richard probably worried a lot when Lois asked him to go back and save superman, since he suspecs she’s still in love with him. Yet, both of them gave up their feelings and helped each other. I would like to see more interaction between these two in the next movie.

    The plot in general was not too good. I insist that “taking over the world” sounds too much like Pinky and the brain nowadays, doesnt fit the size of this movie. Other than that, the fact that the world thought they dont need a superhero but they all stand up and applause when superman saves lois’s airplane showing them they do need superman, is remarkable, I liked that.

    Being Superman, he have not had many lines, and he was kind of bitter to talk to. If they were trying to imitate Christopher Reeve??????s character, this is not it. However, it could work as a psychological effect, for superman is physically superior but he could be psychologically as weak as the rest of the humans, and it??????s not easy to process in your mind all the things that happened to him, including that he??????s the only one of his kind, he has no friends to talk about this superhero problems (except his mom) and the woman he loves has married another guy.

    I thought the end was disappointing, lifting a continental landmass comprised predominantly of Kryptonite, come on.. I mean he is Super but for me that was too much. It flew in the face of what had gone before. It looks suspiciously like the last outpost of Krypton will be orbiting a planet near us very soon.

    Ken Dryden =>

    July 20, 2006

    f they were trying to imitate Christopher Reeve??????s character, this is not it. However, it could work as a psychological effect, for superman is physically superior but he could be psychologically as weak as the rest of the humans, and it??????s not easy to process in your mind all the things that happened to him, including that he??????s the only one of his kind, he has no friends to talk about this superhero problems and the woman he loves has married another guy.

    This is a great article. I am new to your blog and i like what I see. I look forward to your future work.
    I??????ve taken a quick look at your postings, which are very interesting. Lots of material and ideas! Congrats on being so focused!

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