Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Superman Returns

Director: Bryan Singer
Written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, from a story by Dougherty, Harris, and Singer, based on the Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster comic book
Warner Bros.

Superman Returns comes 19 years after the disastrous Superman IV, a movie that nearly killed Superman long before the comic books tried, a movie so bad that even as a 10-year-old I hated it. The franchise is as cursed as it gets--First two men who played Superman died of tragic circumstances--George Reeves a suicide, Christopher Reeve complications from his paralyzation after a horse-riding accident. Every attempt to get the series back failed miserably, with numerous actors and directors attached but always ending up in not only development hell, but probably Hell itself.

So it's a freaking miracle that Bryan Singer finally got it back, even if he had shown his abilities through the first two X-Men movies that he could do comics but good. Singer left the extremely successful X-Men franchise to take over the most popular character ever created, and would this be a wise move? Read on.

Superman Returns is set a few years ahead of Superman II, the classic tale where Superman decides to lose his powers for love just as some incredibly powerful assholes are about to invade Earth. Of course, through guile, trickery, and convenient comic book loopholes, he was able to save the day. So now we're supposed to forget that III and IV ever happened, and that shouldn't be too hard--so on to the story as it is now, Superman (Brandon Routh) has left for a number of years to find his home planet Krypton, leaving love Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) and his newspaper job at the Daily Planet behind. Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has been in jail, but now he's been released and he's up to no good, partnering with the dim-witted Kitty (Parker Posey). This time his scheme involves crystals from the Fortress of Solitude, kryptonite, and water, a combination that seems to have some formidable power and causes blackouts.

When Superman returns, and he returns in spectacular fashion, he discovers that Lois has a kid who just happens to be around the age where Superman has to take a long pause and wonder if he was responsible for the knocking up, or if it's the new guy Richard (James Marsden, once again playing the not-good-enough third wheel), her Mr. Maybe. Another bad sign for Superman is that Lois has won a Pulitzer for her "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman" story. Supes has to juggle winning Lois back, battle evil, and figure out what Luthor is doing.

The movie is, at 2 1/2 hours, too long. I don't want to give the impression that I didn't like this movie, but it's not a complete success, either. What is a success are all of the big action pieces--the hallowed airplane/space shuttle scene, the part from the previews where bullets are just crashing into him with no effect, so on. There's also a great scene between Superman and Lois that echoes back to the old films--and Brandon Routh, much like Christopher Reeve, pulls off his best acting as Clark Kent. He'll have you laughing a few times.

What isn't a success is sort of the patchwork plot--the whole "going back to Krypton" angle seems pretty phony after you watch this, a mere device in order to get Superman "back" and have all sorts of complications like the is-he-or-isn't-he-Superman's-child subplot. Lex Luthor's schemes were always pretty half-assed, so no surprise that no matter what kind of trouble Superman gets in, there will be an easy way to foil it, but this is the reimagined Superman, and I thought Luthor would be a bigger threat than this. Spacey plays him well, damn well in fact--but I thought Luthor's scheme, which looked, originally, well-planned and executed, became a ho-hum obstacle for Superman--which, even for him, seemed far-fetched.

Another thing is Kate Bosworth. She's a dazzling beauty, but it's hard to remember her performances. And this will be another one. The script calls for woman-scorned dialogue that she can't quite carry off and becomes annoying.

There's nothing wrong with Singer's direction, but his story, cooked up with Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, lacks some cohesion. Even though the movie has many, many moments that are cool, and worth watching the movie for, it has just about as many where it sort of meanders, or loses track of where it wants to go. Also, without complete memorization of those first two movies, there are going to be some questions. Like, I forgot that Superman erased Lois's memory at the end of Superman II. So sue me. So I was sitting there wondering why Lois didn't remember Clark Kent being Superman and so forth.

I can't be too hard on this movie, because like most re-imaginings, the first movie always has some kinks to work out--even movies like Spider-Man and Batman Begins, which are great comic book movies, had some flaws. And this is no exception--but for some reason, being Superman, it's more noticeable and not as forgivable. It's solid, it has great moments, but not a resounding return. If anything, my hesitation to call it good or bad should tell you something. It's just not all there, but I feel bad saying that because there's enough good to recommend it.


At 6/28/2006 02:53:00 PM, Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Great review ... I'm getting worried that this one won't live up to my very high expectations when I finally get to see it tomorrow night, but I'm still way geeked up about it

At 6/29/2006 10:04:00 PM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

Saw this just, minutes ago. Will attempt to post a full review tomorrow if Blogger and I can figure out a way to get along...but in the meantime: I agree with Chris. I think I might have even liked it less than he did a bit.


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