Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Superman Returns Review

Once in a great while a movie studio realizes that they’ve done something wrong. On these rare occasions, the end result can be something to behold or something to regret. About a decade ago a certain movie studio realized they’d ruined one of the most memorable and favorite franchises of all time, Superman. Sure, it was fun to watch the movies, but Superman was always bigger than the movies, he was part of America itself. Everyone knows Superman, everyone wants to watch Superman, and in the end, everyone wants Superman to win. Everyone, that is, except the people who wanted to bring him back to the big screen.

In the early nineties, studio execs started to talk about bringing back the franchise, bringing the man of steel back to a theatre near you. Superman mania was starting to build as the successful DC “Death of Superman” storyline was playing out and getting main stream press, so much as even being covered on the national news outlets 6:30 news broadcasts. If there was every a time to re-launch a franchise, that was the time, or was it?

Pitch after pitch, plot after plot, director after director, actor after actor, names that could make up any who’s who of Hollywood seemed, at one point or another, to be attached to this project. But yet, nothing…zip, nada, zilch.

I remember coming across (I’m pretty sure that was the site, this was in like 98, so I could be wrong) and reading an article stating that Nicolas Cage was linked to the project and stated that he “wanted to portray Superman as the true outsider that he was.” I lowered my head in shame, “they’re going to bring him back, only to kill him again.” You see, the problem with Superman is that he’s not an outsider, he’s one of us. He has assimilated perhaps more into society than any other super-hero I can think of. Is he different? Sure, he’s Superman. But deep down, he’s one of us, one of the good guys, and he knows what his role is and was always ready to take on that responsibility.

So, while the studio execs tossed away idea after idea, and person after person came and went from the project we saw successful launch of the juggernaut Spiderman, the utter failure of Hulk, the successful launch of X-Men, and the re-launch of Batman. Heck, we even saw lesser super heroes in Blade, Hellboy, and Constantine see the big screen. Yet, where was the man of steel?

Enter Bryan Singer, Kaiser Sose himself, the man who would take the helm of Superman and bring him back to the people. Why did they let Singer run with it? In my eyes, because he did with X-men and X-men 2 what needed to be done, treat a superhero flick seriously. He launched a franchise, and launched it well, well enough to have the reigns to the greatest superhero of all time handed to him. Could it have gone terribly wrong, yes. Did it, thank God almighty no.

I’m not going to say Superman Returns is without its flaws, it isn’t. However, as a re-launch of a franchise, I thought it was as good, if not better, than Batman Begins.

Superman Returns is the story of what happens after Superman 2. Singer and company simply ignore the fact that Superman 3 and 4 happened, and good thing they did because those two are almost as bad as Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Basically, Superman has been gone for 5 years, and in that time the people of Metropolis has learned to cope with that. Why did he leave? Well, scientists believe they’d found the remnants of Krypton, and Superman, as I think anyone would be allowed, wanted to see for himself if there was anything left. I think the guy was entitled to do this, he is after all the last of his kind. At any rate, he takes this “crystal” space ship and travels there and back, and, you guessed it, it takes about 5 years.

Things have changed back on Earth, some for the better, some for the worse. For one, Lois has “moved on” from Superman, so much so that she wrote an editorial titled “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman,” which earned her a Pulitzer. See, the problem isn’t so much that Superman left, but that he left without telling anyone. One day he was there, the next he was gone. Of course, this means that Clark Kent was gone as well, but as usual no one seemed to notice. Lois also seems to have found a new love interest in a guy named, Richard White (James Marsden), the son (or nephew, I can’t remember) of Perry White (Frank Langella), her boss. Richard actually seems like a really good guy, and treats Lois and her son as good as any man can. Lois isn’t married, but does have a child, who plays a big part in the story.

All the other usual suspects are there, Jimmy Olsen (Sam Hunnington), Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), and good ole Jor-El himself (Marlon Brando). Now, I was most impressed, believe it or not, with Jimmy’s character. Sam does a great job with Jimmy, making him excitable but not annoying, which isn’t an easy task. He sort of brings the “golly gee” everyman factor into the story and shows you more than anyone else what the common person is probably thinking. Kevin Spacey is great as Lex, as is Parker Posey as Lex’s gal pal Kitty. Lois is played solidly by Kate Bosworth, and I don’t think she deserves any of the heat people are giving her. Her performance was solid, and similar, although not the same, as Margot Kidder’s Lane. Frank Langella, in my opinion, basically mails in the Perry White performance. Maybe there was more of him that was left on the cutting room floor, but I felt it was pretty lackluster. Not bad mind you, but not good either.

That leaves Bando, and why not, he’s dead. So, why would he be so important in this film? The theme of the movie over and over is responsibility, how the father lives through the son, and the son lives through the father. The son teaches the father as much as the father teaches the son about life. I honestly thought this was just great, because it’s so true, and really a neat way to look at raising a kid. At any rate, there isn’t anything new from Brando you didn’t get in the original Superman, and most of it is voice over, but it was enough to get him into the credits.

So, why so much father/son stuff? Because of the kid…and I’ll leave up why for you to figure out.

The main crisis is that Lex figured out a way to create “land” so to speak. I won’t say how, but I thought it was pretty clever. In addition, he figured out how to create this land and make it a place Superman would be equal to those who inhabit it. Again, clever and not going to spoil it.

The special effects are great. I was really nervous about how they would make him fly. I was concerned he’d seem like Final Fantasy Neo (what I like to call the CGI Neo from the second two Matrix movies). However, Singer and company makes it all seem real, with none of the “I’m watching a video game” feeling I got when watching the new Star Wars movies. Superman looks natural flying, and he actually looks like he’s flying, not floating. Anyone who doesn’t understand what I’m talking about go watch the first two Superman’s, you’ll see what I mean. Superman looks exactly as you would expect him to look while flying.

Finally, Brandon Routh….I’ll give him time. I’m a “Kingdom Come” Superman type of guy. I want Superman to look like, well, a man, not a kid. Routh is only 26, and looks like he’s….only 26. I wanted someone to look a bit more mature, but I’m sure when they cast him they anticipated two or three movies out of him, so he’ll grow up and hopefully into the part. Overall, his performance was good, not great, but good, and it will do for this picture. He didn’t distract me from the character or the events, and most of the time I lost track of how young he looked, which was good.

For a re-launch of a franchise this hit it out of the park. I’d like to have seen more of a “bad guy” fight, but this was what it needed to be, a reestablishment of the character and the story. Batman didn’t need to face Joker in Batman Begins, and Superman didn’t need to face Doomsday here. He needed to do what he did, and that’s being Superman. The movie did drag on a times in typical “get to the point” Singer style. As with X-Men 1 and 2, I expect Superman “Returns 2” to be tighter, and better, significantly better. I’m excited to see what villain they come up with, and how Lex fits into things. I say don’t pull the plug on Doomsday yet, but a “Death of Superman” cliffhanger for Superman “Returns 3” would be phenomenal. I mean, the end all be all drag out fight to the death, where, well, he dies. Then in Superman “Returns 4” we deal with the aftermath and resurrection of the big guy in blue.

I’d give this a 8.75 out of 10. It’d have been a 9 but just dragged on too much, especially the last 20 minutes. The final scene is really touching and I thought it was a great way to end it.
















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