Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Movie Review: Superman Returns

First, the disclaimers:

Disclaimer #1: Superman has held a special place in my heart since the summer I turned six.

Disclaimer #2: I have a picture of Christopher Reeve in his Superman costume in the garage. (A girl has to have something fun to look at whilst doing laundry!)

Hubs, DD#2, and I saw Superman Returns together. Hubs and I have seen Superman, with Christopher Reeve, many times as well as the three sequels. DD#2 had not. She enjoyed the movie, but she didn't understand why Hubs and I laughed at certain parts or why I gasped when I first saw Brandon Routh dressed as Clark Kent. (This omission in her film education was soon rectified.)

Superman Returns starts in the middle and assumes that the audience has some familiarity with the Superman mythos. The time frame, I read later, is that this takes place after Superman II. But it doesn't, exactly--especially since Lois Lane remembers spending the night with Superman in this movie. (Her memory was conveniently erased in Superman II.)

Superman has returned to Earth after a five-year absence, spent looking for any remnants of his home planet, Krypton. This means that Clark Kent has returned to The Daily Planet after an equally unexplained 5-year absence. Jimmy Olsen is still boyish and enthusiastic, only now he carries a digital camera instead of using film. Lois still ignores Clark, still is aggressively pursuing stories, and still can't spell, even though she is using a computer instead of a typewriter and, presumably, has Spell-Check.

Oh, yeah, Lois also has a 5-y.o. son, lives with her fiance, Richard White, editor and nephew of the Editor-in-Chief, Perry White, who no longer smokes cigars. Lois is also receiving the Pulitzer Prize for a column she wrote: "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman."

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor has managed to get out of prison on a legal technicality: Superman didn't read him his Miranda Rights and failed to show up at the retrial. In a reverse Anna Nicole Smith, Lex has persuaded Gertrude Vanderworth to leave all her money and assets to him on her deathbed. (Gertrude is played by Noel Neill, the original Lois Lane in the 1948 move and the 1953 series. Ms. Neill also had a cameo in Superman I, as the mother on a train whose young daughter watches a young Clark Kent streak by.) Rich again, Lex finds the Fortress of Solitude (wasn't that destroyed in Superman II?) and discovers the secret of the crystals (again). Of course, Lex is going to have his revenge on Superman, and, once again, revenge = kryptonite.

I thought Bryan Singer did an excellent job with Superman Returns. The effects are awesome and somehow believable. He manages to pay homage to the Christopher Reeve original (in fact, the movie is dedicated to Christopher and Dana Reeve) without copying it line for line. Brandon Routh is incredible, managing to convey either Clark or Superman simply with his body language. There is one scene where he manages to transform from Clark to Superman back to Clark in about 30 seconds--again, very similar to a scene Christopher Reeve did.

Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor isn't quite as histronic as Gene Hackman's, but that only makes him more chilling. One quibble: what's with the wigs? In the comic books and in the current animated series, Justice League, Lex is bald, all the time. And didn't Patrick Stewart and Avery Green prove that bald men are studly?

Parker Posy is Luthor's moll, Kitty Kowalski. She's not quite as dim as Valerie Harper was as Miss Tessmacher and, ultimately, she has an important decision to make. James Marsden plays the aforementioned Richard White, making him suspicious of Lois's affections when Superman returns, and a bit of a blowhard in front of Clark, but ultimately, he's a good guy. Which makes me wonder what's going to happen in the coming sequels (two more are planned). I mean, the only way he's not going to get burned is if he dies, and I'd hate for that to happen to such an all-around great guy.

The American values Superman has always stood for are still there, but their applicability is recognized to be universal and Superman is shown performing heroic acts in locales other than Metropolis. (Okay, a question for Superman fanatics: if Gotham City stands for New York, then why doesn't Chicago stand in for Metropolis? I mean, Clark is a farm boy from Smallville. Wouldn't that make more sense?) I noticed a lot of Christian symbolism, including the discussion of whether the world needs a savior or not.

This film is darker than the Christopher Reeve Superman. Even Superman's costume is darker; the reds more of a burgundy and the familiar "S" logo missing from his cape (DD#2 caught that), though it is still on his chest. But, as is true of all genre flicks, if you didn't like Spiderman or the X-Men, if you don't like superheroes in general (or in particular), you probably aren't going to like this movie.

And it is long. So go to the bathroom before the movie starts and don't drink a jumbo-sized Coke!

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Tickets