Superman Returns

Superman Returns teaser posterI am having a hard time deciding how I want to write this up, so I’m just going to start writing and see what happens. I have stated before that I don’t care if I spoil things without warning or not in my reviews, but I actually gave it a thought while watching Superman Returns. On one hand, I want to throw out what I thought about everything, but that means spoilers. On the other, I want to preserve the experience for anyone who has not yet seen the film.

Okay, after writing that first, it seems obvious what I have to do… spoil everything, but I’ll at least warn you. Yeah, I think you are down with that and I’ll try to keep the spoilage towards the end so that you aren’t just reading this fluff at the top.

Whoa, wait… speaking of fluff — allow me a quick tangent — I found a number of interesting Superman posters while googling for the lead in teaser poster image. I ended up going with the teaser, like I also did with X3, because I like it better than the release poster. Not that it is all that bad, but then I had to decide if I wanted to use the international release poster or even the outdoor/bus poster. Then I found a bunch of clearly, or not so clearly, fan created posters which were also pretty cool. Therefore, I just went ahead with the teaser because I definitely like it and it is pretty clear in its message. Just for kicks though, I created a little gallery with all the posters I found.

Okay, so less poster review, more film review. Ed and I took in a Saturday matinee and both walked away impressed. We discussed some different points in the parking lot before leaving, but the common thought was Bryan Singer did a phenomenal job with reviving the Superman franchise while simultaneously dooming the X-Men franchise.

Maybe that’s a little heavy handed and I don’t want to put those words in Ed’s mouth since he may do a write-up of his own on The Ed Zone. Singer left the X-Men stable to do Superman Returns and took Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris along with him. The duo are responsible for the X2: X-Men United screenplay (along with David Hayter) and X2 was by far the best X-Men flick of the three. While saying the X-Men franchise is doomed is over-the-top, it certainly showed that without Singer, Dougherty and Harris’ involvement, there was a drop-off in quality. Ed related to me that 20th Century Fox is scrambling to get the Wolverine film moving without having a script, so what’s that tell you about how things are going over there? The long-winded point I am trying to make is that Singer has the magic touch when it comes to comic book character movies. He’s nailed another one and here’s why…

The opening titles and music. Yes, I am not even kidding. The original John Williams score was used and the titles were a slightly updated throwback to the original movie’s vector graphic looking titles that zoomed at you. It was just well done and it set the tone for what would come.

For those that don’t know, this film is intended to be the follow-on to Superman II, so just pretend that III and IV didn’t exist. Richard Pryor may have been a comedic genius, but no one will miss his turn in Superman III. I never saw the fourth one, so I can’t even comment. Chances are, you didn’t see it either.

The start of the film sees Superman crash to Earth — again! — after a five year journey into space in search of remnants of his home planet Krypton. Lucky for him, he crashes in Smallville Kansas again, where there isn’t a soul to find him, but his adopted Earth Mom, Martha Kent, just after a rousing game of Scrabble with a gentleman caller.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor pulls an Anna Nicole Smith on some old rich broad with a bitchin yacht. She signs everything over to him after letting us in on the fact he showed her pleasures she never even dreamed of and passes on. Lex then goes tomb raiding the Fortress of Solitude, dupes Jor-El to “tell him everything” and makes off with all the joint’s Waterford crystal.

We get a quick flashback to Clark as a young boy, which was a nice throw-in, and it is off to Metropolis in search of his love, Lois Lane. Instead, Clark finds eager Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen welcoming him back with a smack in the face revelation that he’s totally gay for him.

No, no… just kidding. Clark gets the smack in the face revelation that Lois Lane is a mommy and engaged to Richard White, the nephew of Daily Planet chief, Perry White. What’s a Superman to do after finding this all out? Why not go down to the local watering hole and knock back a couple Buds with Jimmy.

I’ll skip the next part, because you wouldn’t know it from the trailers, so flash forward to the rescue of the out of control airliner, because that is in the trailer. Let me say that the little bit you got in the trailer was enough to get me totally psyched for the real deal and it did not disappoint. I was on the edge of my seat even though you knew Supes would save the day. The effects were great; so great that you didn’t even think about them as effects. Just like that, Superman has returned and his first order of business was to save Lois (again!).

After this scene, the rest of the film is barely revealed in the trailers, so I won’t get into it yet since it will involve spoilers. Instead, let me get into some thoughts about the character portrayals and minutae of the film.

Might as well start off with the man himself, Kal-El slash Clark Kent slash Superman. Just like the last big screen Man of Steel, Christopher Reeve, we have a relative unknown — really unknown unless if you are a fan of MTV’s Undressed — cast in the title role. Brandon Routh does an excellent job portraying both characters with enough differences in each that it isn’t so hard to suspend your disbelief that one man can be both Clark Kent and Superman and no one knows. Singer even has a little fun with it in one scene at the Daily Planet.

If you’ll allow another little tangent, let me quickly speak about the two things everyone takes much umbrage about with respect to the Superman concept. The first is how does no one see that Clark and Supes are one in the same? Well, I’d say that Routh pulls it off well. You look at how Clark looks and acts — it is not as simple as putting on some specs kids — and you have to believe there’s no way he could be a superhero, any resemblance be damned. The second is Superman is too powerful.

Well, without giving anything away, you see that he’s not always so powerful, but there’s more to it than that. If you are a fan of the comics, you see him going toe-to-toe with villains, and sure, he usually wins. In that genre, it can be bad guy of the month, but Jason would point out that there’s always super powerful villains to keep him in check too. But, with the film, you see him as an everyday hero who happens to wear a silly outfit (which Ed might point at as number three). I think the way we see Superman in the film almost downplays how powerful he is except when Singer wants to show you how powerful he is, if that makes any sense. I think this one is hard to explain, so maybe you’ll get it after you take in the flick, because I think it comes through.

Anyway, part of me was sad when Tom Welling didn’t get the job since he does a great job on Smallville. After seeing him throw out the first pitch at last week’s Sox and Mets game, I’m not so sure he’s so super. He missed the plate by a good margin, but I’m kidding of course. He does a good job with Clark on Smallville and it probably would be hard to see Welling in both roles if he were cast in the film. I’m sure he could have done a good job, but maybe it would ruin the television experience for us. So, Singer proved he knew what he was doing when he picked Routh.

Kate Bosworth gives a decent portrayal of Lois Lane. I hate Margot Kidder, so I’m not even going to compare them, but I could compare Bosworth with Erica Durance’s Lois on Smallville. The thing with Lois is she is balls-to-the-wall, you’re-with-me-or-get-out-of-the-way. It was there in flashes, but the spunk you’d expect from someone playing Lois wasn’t always there. I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I am anti-Kate Bosworth that I didn’t appreciate her. I saw her in person at a Holiday Boston Pops concert last December. She was there with Orlando Bloom and man, was she ever skinny. The camera definitely puts on 15 L-B’s, so consider that. Just look at how they had to dress her in such baggy clothes or how flat her bum was in the kitchen scene. She needs to take a look at Blue Crush and remember what she should look like. Eat something dammit! I really feel bad for any girl or woman who thinks they need to look like she does. Yuck!

Kevin Spacey gave a mostly phoned-in performance as Lex Luthor with one exception; he totally nailed the scene with Lois on the yacht, which you see a bit of in the trailer. Other than that, I just wasn’t feeling it. Again, maybe it is because I have become so accustomed to Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex on Smallville. Heck, even Gene Hackman gave a better performance with all the camp of the first film. Spacey did look the part, but me thinks he was only brought on-board to bring some name cache and because he did right by Singer as Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects.

As for the rest of the characters, I thought Sam Huntington did a good job bringing Jimmy Olsen to life from the pages of the comic. Parker Posey gave yet another blah performance in a big budget studio flick as Lex’s girlfriend. Oh where have you gone Miss Indie Queen? James Marsden gave another forgettable turn as another forgettable character in Richard White. Finally, newcomer Tristan Lake Leabu was good as Lois and Richard’s son, Jason White, but I could swear he was yet another Culkin spawn.

Man, this is a long sucker. Hang in there.

Next up is the little things that made this the best Superman movie made. Superman II is a great film — kneel before Zod! — but it still has its share of campiness that ran throughout the other films in the series. Singer got rid of all that and thought about what a world would be like with a Superman and also what it would be like without one. I think the effects were all well done and pretty invisible in the sense that you didn’t notice it was an effect. This type of thing seems to happen more often now, but we’ll still have Snakes on a Plane to remind us that crap is still out there. Little things like the entry and exit of the atmosphere were nice touches. All the flying was well done, although you never got the sense of how fast he really could go. I know it’s sort of stupid, but even the curly-Q bang of Superman’s hair was good. The uniform was as understated as they could make it while being true to it. I think the muted red of the cape and the texture of the fabric, similar to the film Spider-man costume, made the difference. I mean, the guy is still flying around with his tighty-reddies on the outside.

You know, there’s probably others I can mention, but one of the things that I thought was a very nice touch was the homage to Joe Shuster’s cover of Action Comics #1. Shuster, along with Jerry Siegel, created Superman and he debuted in Action Comics #1 in June 1938. That comic book is universally acknowledged as the most valuable when found in mint condition. More about that can also be found in Wikipedia.

Right about now, I should warn you I am going to spoil stuff after this paragraph, but I don’t think I need to go there. I mean, this post has gone on long enough, assuming you got this far, so I’m going to can going thru any more of the story. I’m leaving out a little twist that you may or may not see coming, and it was a pretty good one. It will be interesting to see where Singer takes it for the next film. At one point, I thought he might end the film in a sort of anti-Hollywood way, but it continued on. I thought that was fine because in addition to the twist, you are left with a couple other little open threads.

BTW – I did leave the theater with the notion I should drink a couple Budweiser products with Ed, then go buy myself a Samsung TV (or monitor) and then head over to my local Audi dealership to purchase a hot little A3. All kidding aside, the product placement could have been worse like it is in other movies these days. Oh, hang on, my Avaya Voice Over IP phone is ringing… wait a minute, that only happens at work.

Overall, I think the film is excellent. In the comments of my V for Vendetta review, Ed left a little list of his favorite comic book movies and I echoed them with a small change and the hope that Superman Returns would crack the list. Well, it did and here’s my new list:

  1. Batman Begins
  2. V for Vendetta
  3. Superman Returns
  4. Spiderman
  5. X2: X-Men United

I didn’t notice he had Spiderman 2, but I have the first Spiderman in that spot, which was my original intention. Also, I reversed the Blade and X2 swap. They could probably share that fifth spot, but I am pretty high on Singer right now, so he gets it on his own for now. It will be interesting to see how Spiderman 3 shakes up the list as the trailer for that looks damn, damn good!

If you are interested in more Superman, I recommend you watch Smallville on the television (or DVD) or pick up a Superman comic at your local bookstore or comic book shop. In fact, I recommend you check out the Superman title of DC Comics’ new All-Star line. There are currently only four issues out and you can probably find them all and own your own Superman #1. The book is a new take on the character and written by the excellent Grant Morrison and illustrated by Frank Quitely. There’s also a Batman book that does the same and it is written by Frank Miller and illustrated by Jim Lee. You may know Miller from Robocop and Sin City fame.

How else can I end this thing besides to say, “Worst Longest review ever.”

Okay, maybe worst too…