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Superman Returns (fanboy review) July 2, 2006

Posted by Tim in Reviews.

Superman ReturnsSpiderman, X-Men, Dardevil, Catwoman, Batman, Punisher, Fantastic Four, Hulk – superhero movies are a dime a dozen nowadays. Which is certainly not a bad thing, since with advances in filming techniques, CG effects, and passable plots (for some of them at least), filmmakers and directors can now do justice to the comics.

But there was a time when superhero movies were invariably campy, with cheap effects and corny scripts featuring actors running around in tights they didn’t fit in. In 1978 Superman: The Movie changed all that. Christopher Reeve gave an amazing performance , not only looking good as Superman, but playing his “mild-mannered” alter ego Clark Kent perfectly. Add in a majestic soundtrack by John Williams, a faithful adaptation of Metropolis, – and of course, the flying! – and you had a movie that redefined the genre.

Nearly three decades later we now have Superman Returns, directed by Bryan Singer of X-Men . Meant to be a sequel to Superman: The Movie and Superman II (III and IV were so bad they were effectively disowned by Reeve himself), the movie was preceded by the requisite mountain of hype: leaked plot details, pictures, interviews, and rumours of Brandon Routh’s lunchbox .

AP compares Superman with Jesus. The Star saw a personification of American culture and ambition. Well, I just saw another Superman movie.

I knew it from the first scene. The familiar “Superman March” plays as Krypton explodes and a tiny capsule escapes, the opening credits fly across the screen, and we “travel” across the planets before finally arriving on Earth in an impeccable tribute to the first film, where the credits took place in reverse, finishing at Krypton for Marlon Brando’s introduction.

Who Needs A Plot?

Superman arrives on Earth after a five-year disappearance, discovering that Lois has moved on and is engaged, has a child, and won a Pulitzer for an article titled “Why The World Doesn’t Need Superman”. And Lex Luthor, who escaped a double life sentence after Superman didn’t show for his trial, has a new diabolical plan.

How does it all play out? To cut to the chase, Brandon Routh is no Mr. Reeve, although they sure look alike and he does a decent job. His Superman portrayal is decent, but he looked too pretty to be a convincing Clark Kent and relied a lot on stutters to depict “mild-mannered”.

Kevin Spacey plays Luthor well, charming but still has no qualms killing billions of people. Kate Bosworth is the only major cast member who doesn’t look like her counterpart in the original movies. Which is actually a good thing – Bosworth pulls off the “pushy-and-outgoing, but hot” Lois act well, much better than Margot Kidder’s whiny, irritating version.

The plot is uncannily similar to the first two movies (read: bad). Without giving it away, I’ll just say Lex Luthor is pretty consistent about what he wants throughout the films, still has problems picking evil accomplices who don’t suffer reverse-Stockholm syndrome, and Superman never fails to come up with an out-of-this-world solution to the problem at hand.

Still Super

Returns shines however at the exact same thing as its predecessors: its setting. Seeing Superman swoop down to stop everyday crimes is still a guilty pleasure, as is watching people react to him, as well as the workings of the “Daily Planet”. Bryan Singer lost no opportunities to insert funny moments as well. There are also philosophical references about responsibility, godhood, heroism, etc but hey, when was the last time you got your philosophies from a superhero film?

Where Returns starts to deviate is also where it gets shaky. Come on, children complicate things! The last scenes, which draw a little from the Death of Superman comic storyline, are also really cheesy.

Effects-wise, Superman Returns has the falling objects, heat-vision, and freeze-breath down pat, and you’ll still “believe a man can fly”. What it lacks in however is action. In a time when we have flicks like Spiderman, X-Men, or The Matrix, Superman fights look really boring – the fights are either one-sided in favour of Supes, or he’s whimpering after being hit with Kryptonite. I don’t think I’d want to know what Kryptonian Kung-Fu would look like though…

If you’re new to the whole Superman thing you probably won’t be more impressed with Superman Returns than with any other comic book adaptation. But if you’re a fan of the old series, you won’t want to miss this tribute. Watch out for the sequel in 2009!



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