Wednesday, June 28, 2006

SUPERMAN RETURNS... But Why?


Richard Donner's first two SUPERMAN movies gave birth to the modern superhero film and set a standard that would remain until Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi stepped up to the plate and knocked the concept out of the park with their X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN films, respectively.

After countless starts, stops and restarts – including versions helmed by directors Tim Burton, Wolfgang Peterson and McG, written by Kevin Smith, and starring Nicolas Cage – the Superman franchise has finally returned to the big screen courtesy of the aforementioned Singer. Singer, who ditched X-MEN 3 to bring The Man of Steel back from the cinematic graveyard created by the wretched SUPERMAN 3 and the unwatchable SUPERMAN 4: THE QUEST FOR PEACE wisely ignores those films and picks up the action five years after the events of the great SUPERMAN 2.

When Superman (and bumbling reporter alter ego Clark Kent) returns to Earth after an extended trip to seek his home planet of Krypton he finds that the world -- and lady love Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) -- has moved on without him. In fact, she's had a kid who just happens to be five years old, has hooked up with Richard White (X-MEN star James Marsden), and even won a Pulitzer Prize for an editorial entitled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman" which Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) later calls his favorite article ever.

It isn't long after Superman's return that he discovers the world does need him after all. In a spectacular sequence that shows just how far effects have come in the last two decades, Superman rescues a shuttle launch gone haywire that's being covered by Lane (naturally). The audience I saw it with cheered and applauded as The Man of Steel made his first appearance on the big screen in decades, and deservedly so... it's a breathaking bit of filmmaking and starts the action off on a high note.

Unfortunately, for all the effortless storytelling skills he showed in X-MEN and X-MEN 2, Singer seems to get bogged down in paying homage to Donner's films while at the same time attempting to cut his own path through the rich Superman lore. On one hand we get leftover dialogue from Marlon Brando as Superdad Jor-El and the iconic score that can still cause goosebumps for even the most hardened comic fan. On the other hand the set design and look of the film evoke the great Max Flesicher cartoons and characters like Lois's son Jason and fiancee Richard are unneccesary but not a complete intrusion.

What follows, though, is mostly a retread of Superman moments that we've seen before... the last-second rescues, the foiled bank robbery, the romantic flying sequence, yet another Lex Luthor real estate scheme, the inevitable appearance of Kryptonite, etc. For a character whose history stretches farther back than any other caped savior filmmakers seem to have a hard time reaching beyond the core cast of characters and plot touchstones.

Which is a shame, especially in light of a show like SMALLVILLE. Is it just me or is that show's Michael Rosenbaum the only one capable of playing the character of Luthor with both complexity and menace? Gene Hackman's take on the villain was a brilliant schemer yet he was still ham-strung by having a bumbling sidekick and (except for SUPERMAN 2) lame villainous schemes. Here, Spacey is stuck in much the same rut, saddled with a wasted Parker Posey as his moll Kitty Kowalski, bumbling thugs, and a plan to create a new land mass using Kryptonian crystals. Where's the Luthor bent on world domination? The Luthor who uses his corporate power to ascend to the role of President of the United States? Nope, he'd rather wear zany wigs and hide in the back of the room when things get dicey.

Don't get me wrong. SUPERMAN RETURNS isn't a waste of your time or money. There are rousing moments and soaring action aplenty and Brandon Routh channels Christopher Reeve so effortlessly at times it's hard to tell if he's a good actor or just a nimble mimic. But when big screen outings like BATMAN BEGINS, SPIDER-MAN 2 and X-MEN are fresh in your memory, it's hard to settle for this one-dimensional effort.

3 comments:

Lou Goncey said...

I got to be a little harsher on the flick than you. Don't waste your time -- it's a snoozefest that just doesn't know when to end.

Dan said...

LOL... had I posted last night when we got home I probably would have much harsher than I was. I decided to wait till today but I can completely understand where you're coming from.

Little Lamb said...

I saw Superman. I liked the action, but the actual storyline was weak... It had Loop-Holes.

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