First up: Is Superman Returns good? Yes. Thumbs up.
The best part is it's not a brain-freezing blowout like certain
other sci-fi blockbusters. The themes don't distract you from
the amazingly cool stuff happening on screen.
This is the first movie in the reimagining era where anyone
straight-up admitted that the originals were pretty good. This
is a nostalgic reunion movie but with different people playing
the parts. The swooping white opening credits are the same as
in 1978 and 1980. And the theme music could not possibly be
improved upon anyway. Nobody mentions General Zod or Ursa, but
it's obvious down to Marlon Brando's cameo-from-beyond that
this is a sequel to Christopher Reeve's first two Super-movies.
About the cast: Brandon Routh is great as Clark Kent/Superman.
He has aw-shucks, smirk and stern resolve faces. Kate
Bosworth grew on me after awhile. Kevin Spacey is hilarious.
James Marsden deserves his own superhero movie. He's had the
thankless task of playing second fiddle, third wheel, and style-cramper
to both Wolverine and Superman — in the same summer! His
characters aren't who anyone roots for, yet he plays them with
resolve and humor. Give this man Green Lantern. Or Red Tornado,
Superman comics from the 1950s and 1960s were my gateway drug
into every other comic. I consumed piles of them when I was
age zero through 10 in the 1970s. They were silly, short stories
with goofy hijinks involving pesky Lois trying to find out his
secret identity or he changed into a super-turtle or a super-pirate
or a super-plate of spaghetti thanks to red kryptonite. With
all that goofiness, I found Marvel superheroes breaking buildings
over each other more appealing. But then I saw Superman:
The Movie in 1978 and Superman II in 1980, and I
was flabbergasted. Wow — Superman is cool!
But the comics didn't back me up on that. Even though both
of the Superman flicks were big movie blockbusters (we'll
pretend Superman III and IV were never made),
the Superman comics remained mostly goofy camp until
1985. Other comics had stories that fans hungered (or dreaded)
to see adapted, like the Green Goblin or Dark Phoenix, but not
Superman. His comics never had stirring come-from-behind victories
or slam-bang action until 1985, when Crisis on Infinite Earths
and John Byrne's Man of Steel rewired him. The 1978 and
1980 movies were the first superhero adaptation to be stronger
than the source.
And I say all that to say this: In the years since 1985, Superman
has become a different guy than the one in Superman Returns.
In the Superman cartoons, Lois & Clark and Smallville,
Superman is a cornfield-raised American boy who just happens
to be from another planet. Krypton as an influence is diminished,
and ol'-fashioned Ma and Pa's raisin' him right is his motivation.
I had grown accustomed to that version.
Superman Returns gets back to what they did in Superman
and Superman II, talking about Superman the godlike
alien hero instead of Clark Kent in spandex, and I like it.
Man of Steel, Plot of Tin
Singer is not trying to load the viewer down with talk about
Superman's feelings. He's trying to photograph a legend. The
effects are spectacular. The action sequences show Superman
the super-hero, super-fast and super-strong and taking care
of business unlike anything before in movies, and I don't mean
Thanks to computer magic, Superman does more than lay on a
train track. His flight into sunshine is exhilirating. Sure,
the Hulk can fight dogs, Wolverine can cut things and hit guys
in the junk, and Spidey can web up a runaway train like it was
going out of style, but Superman is by-God all-caps SUPERMAN,
and this movie shows it. He can bounce bullets
off his eyeballs and that's a ton of fun.
When there's no action going down, though, the movie tries
too hard to say things without actually saying them. Where movies
like X-Men: The Last Stand drop a building on your head,
Superman Returns has too light a touch. This works in
his big reunion scene with Lois Lane — she doesn't make
up a poem on the spot like in Superman: The Movie, at
least. But I wanted Superman to discover that he needs Earth
as much as they need him. I wanted Earthlings to learn that
Superman can inspire them to do great things. And they all may
have learned those things. Or not. At the end of the movie we
just don't know. Sure the people cheer Superman on, but have
they changed any? Has he? Maybe we'll find out in the sequels.
There are several floppy moments. Superman (and Clark, too)
vanishes for long stretches. Luthor's plan is a good one but
it takes a long time to get cooking. Perry White gets an odd
moment when Superman returns but the movie doesn't revisit it.
Jimmy sure is funny, but if it's been five years, what age was
he when Superman left, nine?
The biggest buzz-killer is Parker Posey. I liked her in Best
In Show and other movies. As Luthor's new girl, her character
is tedious. She's no Miss Tessmacher, Luthor's girlfriend who
turns good in Superman: The Movie. Posey has two good
lines and about 78 Tessmacherian reaction shots that could have
been cut, just stripped right out. She's a wet blanket on Kevin
Spacey's cool Luthor.
I was but a mere lad of age eight through ten when I first
loved the first two Superman movies. Now I'm a daddy, and I
see this movie differently. Superman Returns is a daddy's
movie. Daddies are in it, and it's about daddies. To me. Single
women may think it's about single women. Bald super-villains
may think it's all about them.
The first two Superman movies had three, four, five moments
where, even today, I get all tingly. ("I wish that man were
here now," "General, would you care to step outside?") I wanted
more of those here, but I only got one.
Fortunately, it's a big one. Superman's own eyes well up, and
my goodness, there I went, too. Sue me.