Superman Remade

by Alan Rapp on June 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Superman Returns
  • IMDB: link

superman-returns-posterWhat’s with Hollywood and rubberized super hero suits?  Is there some kind of run on cloth?  Did they buy it all in bulk a few years ago and have to use it all up before buying something new?  Anyway…

Superman Returns isn’t a great super hero flick, but it does have charm and heart which left me happy, though not ecstatic, with the outcome.  Given its similarities, it’s impossible to not compare it to Donner’s original, and find it wanting.  Still, in a summer that’s given us X-Men: The Last Stand and Nacho Libre this Superman looks damn good.

Five years ago (sometime not long after the events of Superman II) Earth’s scientists found the remains of Krypton and, without saying his goodbyes, Superman left his adopted home.  As the movie opens Superman (Brandon Routh) crashes back to Earth on the Kent farm.  After a brief talk with Ma Kent (Eva Marie Saint – very nice casting choice!) Clark returns to Metropolis and his life as a reporter for the Daily Planet.

As anyone, except apparently Superman, would expect life has gone on in his absence and there are many changes he stuggles to adapt to.  The most troubling of these is Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is married to Richard (James Marsden) the nephew of Daily Planet editor Perry White (Frank Langella) and has an almost five year old son named Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu).

At the same time these events unfold Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has travelled back to the Arctic and stolen Kryptonian technology from the Fortress of Solitude which he uses to create havoc by recreating Kryptonian land forms on Earth causing power outtages, earthquakes, and general unrest along the east coast of the United States.

The first of these outages puts Lois in danger as she is covering a shuttle launch (the shuttle has been welded to a 747 and I guess no one thought anything could go wrong with that design).  So on the very same day Clark returns to the Daily Planet, Superman returns to Earth.  And yet no one makes the connection (or even wonders where Clark has been).

Director Bryan Singer‘s choice to stay true to Richard Donner‘s original has both benefits and problems.  The idea is to continue the saga (and least the first half while ignoring the last two films) instead of starting from scratch as Christopher Nolan did with Batman Begins.

The actors are doing more of a series of impersonations of the original actors rather than their own version.  Routh is surprisingly good as Clark Kent and makes a not too shabby Superman, but his version is such a homage to Christopher Reeve its hard not notice.  The same is true of Spacey’s Luthor who is so entirely like Hackman is his speeches (sometimes EXACTLY WORD FOR WORD from the first film) and actions I wonder why Singer didn’t just cast Gene Hackman in the role.

This leads to my first major complaint with the film- there is very little originality to be found.  The plots and characters, though charming and entertaining, seemed a little too rehashed.  Superman and Lois Lane go flying over Metroplis at night, Lex Luthor exposes his philosophy to a slutty female assistant (Valerie Perrine in the original, replaced here by Parker Posey – bringing her dog from Blade: Trinity with her for the role) who only at the end realizes how evil he is and turns on him, Superman is hit with Kryptonite and drowned.  Well you get the picture.

From the big events to the small moments it just seems we’ve seen this before, including Luthor’s (very slightly changed) plan to use nuclear missiles Kryptonian technology to sink the west coast east coast to kill billions and make a fortune on a land swindle.  Really?  Is this the best you could do?  It’s supposed to be Lex freakin’ Luthor not an evil realtor!

My second complaint involves the coincidence of Lex Luthor’s rise to power, Lois’ mortal danger, and the return of Superman all happening at the same time.  Better writing would have called for Superman to return because of Luthor’s misuse of the Kryptonian technology rather than just having it coincidently happen at the same time.  And really folks, how did this Lois Lane manage to stay alive without Superman for five years?  I’m not saying she purposely puts himself in mortal danger for thrills…wait, that is what I’m saying.

Also, if you are going to do Donner’s Superman (including using Marlon Brando‘s performance – at least four times over the course of the film) then you have to be careful not to make continuity errors.  There are a few small ones and one big one that involves a twist that I won’t mention, but the one that really bugged me was the flashback scene of a Clark as a boy running through the fields wearing glasses.  Why did a ten year-old Clark Kent need to wear glasses?  It’s pretty early to be thinking of secret identity at that age, and in Donner’s Superman the high school Clark doesn’t wear them.  If you’re going to do a sequel/remake a little consistency isn’t too much to ask.

My last complaint, I’ll admit, is a small one, but I just hate the new suit.  It’s too pretty, the “S” is too small and has too many crevices in it (it looks like it was made of mesh and metal).  The suit works okay if Superman is in motion or if it’s a long shot, but when standing still and in close-ups it’s awkward as the guy’s basically wearing a big rubber outfit (oh Clark, I didn’t know you were so kinky!).  I wonder how much of the look was predicated on Routh’s slender build.

Through all of this it may sound like I hated the movie; far from it.  Despite these issues I still enjoyed myself.  The action scenes work well.  The use of Superman’s powers and special effects work very well and in this area are an improvement over the original films (even if Singer does steal the heat vision effect from Smallville).

Fans of Superman will also notice some nice nods.  My favorite of these involves a kid with a camera phone catching Superman putting a car down.  The picture he captures is the classic cover of Superman’s first appearance (Action Comics #1) from way back in 1938.  Singer provides many moments throughout the film (like the terrific opening title sequence), most very subtle, showing his genuine affection and respect for the character and the world of Superman and getting it right on film.

Oddly enough though it’s not the action scenes or the clever nods to fans which carry the film but the surprisingly good performances.  Bosworth, despite being completely miscast, does a fine job as Lois Lane and Spacey works well as the Hackman-esk Luthor.  Even the supporting performances are well done here with Sam Huntington as classic Jimmy Olsen and Frank Langella adding just the right touch of class as Perry White.  And James Marsden puts on another good performance in a comic book flick as a noble and honest man we could see Lois falling for in a world without a Superman.  And as for Roth, well I’ll pay him a huge compliment in saying he puts on a performance that I believe Christopher Reeve (who the movie is dedicated to) would be proud of.

It’s not what I expcted.  Truth be told I expected a complete and utter trainwreck the size of X3.  It’s not a perfect film, it’s too reminiscent of Donner’s original, and I still hate that suit.  However despite all my complaints I still had a good time.  So what if it’s not the best Superman flick, as long as it’s greatly better than the last two, leaves me with a smile on my face, and takes the character and events seriously, I’m happy.

For a last note I’ll mention I viewed the film in both a regular print and the IMAX 3D version.  Of the two I don’t think the 3D really adds much to the experience and in some ways distracts you from the film.  I’m not a big fan of 3D to begin with, but if you are you might enjoy the experience more than I did.  The entire movie is not in 3D, in fact only arbitrarily selected scenes were chosen as many of the moments you’d expect were not, and at least one that was chosen (Clark standing around the farm in Smallville) left me with some serious headscratching.  I’d recommend saving a couple bucks and seeing it in a regular theater.

Previous post:

Next post: