SUPERMAN RETURNS (Alternate Review)
THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING (3.5 out of 5 Rating)!
To say that one should approach Superman Returns with trepidation is an understatement, but a healthy dose of caution never hurt anyone. Director Bryan Singer, having left the X-Men film franchise, has been expected to create a great film post-Donner era that would re-invent the Superman mythos for a new generation. With aplomb he largely succeeds with Returns, but the film can’t quite achieve the success of the other recently resurrected superhero seen in Batman Begins from director Christopher Nolan. Perhaps the subject matter is to blame or the simple fact that Superman has never been as compelling for dramatic storytelling as the Dark Knight.
Created to take place roughly after Superman II (1980), we find Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman (Brandon Routh) has left Earth, gone to peruse the remains of his doomed homeworld after astronomers located the remains in space. Upon his return five years later, Superman discovers the world has got along without him, including Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) now a mother and author of a Pulitzer winning article debasing the man of steel. Before Superman’s return, arch-nemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has secured a fortune via dearly departed wealthy widow. Stealing advanced alien technology from Superman’s own Fortress of Solitude in the Antarctic, Lex Luthor plans to create a new continent at the expense of existing North America.
True to a genuine character driven story, Superman Returns invents a very dramatic story by focusing on Superman as a person rather than the spectacle of his nature as a near-indestructable superhero. This is not to say the Returns is deficient in grandiose special effects sequences; the opening 30 minutes showcases an edge-of-your-seat passenger plane crash that will make older film audiences praise the advancement in special effects over the years. However, it is fresh-faced Brandon Routh in his strong performance as Superman and a carefully written script by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris that delivers a new man of steel to audiences that is uniquely human in spite of his nature as super being. Routh’s Superman struggles with the heart and it is this focus on the personal dilemma’s of the character that makes the film succeed in re-defining this classic superhero.
To strengthen the picture even further, Superman Returns features a fully realized world filled with modern-meets-retro set designs and a strong supporting cast with Frank Langella as dogged Perry White, Kate Bosworth as modern Lois Lane, and Kevin Spacey’s deliciously ruthless and grounded Lex Luthor. This new Superman movie also features a refreshingly restrained use of special effects. Singer clearly put in the effort to craft his new film in such a way as to avoid the pitfalls of effects-laden big budget blockbusters and keep a sharp eye on the core of his drama-driven main character. When Superman is given lease to let loose, the result is polished, spectacular effects that keep the audience cheering for more. In between these character stories and crowd-pleasing effects, the film pays homage to previous Superman movies with a digitally created cameo of late Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman’s Father. A well-deserved dose of humor is also to be found, particularly thanks to excellent scene-stealing lines delivered from Parker Posey playing Luthor’s side-kick Kitty Kowalski.
With everything going for it, one would think Superman Returns was a perfect superhero film that serves everything an audience could want. Alas this new Superman may be super, but like his flawed character in the new movie, but he can’t do everything. Perhaps Superman is just a difficult character to write given his awesome might or the fact that the man of steel embodies classic comic book super heroes that may not be in current fashion. Singer has created a different Superman film that takes an introspective look at his human side, but the adventure scenes and eventual showdown with Luthor hardly come across as fresh or reinvented. There is a sense that, while somewhat intentional, we have seen much of this before in other movies. It may be that audiences have been spoiled by more socially-relevant heroes or that the savior-like aura projected by Superman doesn’t relate to a spiritually-broader modern society. In truth, the film is about a new as one could make such an old hero and while that’s all we can expect, one does leave the theatre expecting something more; especially from such a super character.
Superman is reborn in a modern film with a more human story that will please younger fans and maintains a strong respect for the older Donner film.