So Superman Returns is… interesting. There were some bits that were pretty cool. Unfortunately, there was a lot that was terrible.
And not terrible in a “the actors were stiff” (though Routh as Smallville Clark, as brief as those scenes were, was a bit off). I blame the problems of the movie squarely on the writing team. First of all, one drawback is just how much Singer chained himself to Donner’s Superman. This isn’t a vague sequel by any means. It is clearly Superman III redux, not an “homage” to Donner’s flicks. It’s a straight up jack of STM. (The only SII conceit would be the fact that Supes and Lois bumped uglies and that Lex knows where the Fortress is).
Speaking of Smallville, the scenes on the farm have been reduced dramatically (the flashback to young Clark seems horribly out of place). If you’re looking forward to seeing Eve Marie Saint as Martha, you’ve already seen all her scenes in the trailers. Which is unfortunate because a lot could’ve been explored with the Martha/Clark relationship.
That’s problem number two. The pacing seems off. The beginning scenes fly by without much development, and suddenly, you’re in Metropolis and Supes is doing his thing. Then, everything bogs down in the middle. And the end is the very definition of anti-climactic.
I must say, the entire saving the plane sequence is fantastic. I will admit that those scenes were well done. And seeing a lot of the Superman doing his thing stuff was really cool. Singer throws in a lot of iconic Superman poses (catching a runaway car, catching the Daily Planet globe, etc.) But I always knew the special effects were going to be good. If anything, seeing all the derring-do actually made me wish Chris Reeve were 26 years old today, so that his Superman could do all things that this Superman could do.
Because there is one thing that Routh’s Superman lacks: charisma. With Reeve, he oozed charm, compassion and joy when he was doing his heroic deeds. Routh is monosyllabic and joyless a lot of the time. That being said, I didn’t hate him. I hate how he was written and directed. The guy means well, but I believe his passing resemblance to Reeve hurts him more than it helps him. (like I said, each time you see Superman makes you miss the humanity of Reeve’s performance).
I also don’t buy Bosworth’s Lois. At. All. In the beginning, she comes off as a whiny teenager and doesn’t have any gravitas or any of the sass and spunk of Margot Kidder, Teri Hatcher or Erica Durance. Also, there’s absolutely NO chemistry between Lois and Superman or Lois and Clark for that matter. (BTW, Lois and Clark aren’t even friends in this movie.) The other problem with her character is her infatuation with Superman. The only reason she’s upset with his return is because we’re told she is upset. We’re supposed to believe these two had a relationship. And that’s the problem. They never did. And that’s because Margot Kidder and Chris Reeve had the relationship these two are talking about. Part of the reason it’s hard to believe they ever had a relationship is due to the actors’ lack of chemistry. You know how Reeve & Kidder had that playful, flirtatious conversation on her balcony? Or the sexual tension that instantaneosly sparked between Hatcher and Cain? Or even the playful love/hate banter between Durance and Welling? All non-existant in the movie. We have know idea why these two are pining for each other except for the fact that it’s Superman and Lois, and they’re supposed to be together. Sorry, don’t buy it.
Lex. Despite all the reports to the contrary, Spacey’s Lex is a buffoon. Plain and simple. Oh, don’t get me wrong. He is an angrier and bitter Lex. But he’s also an angrier and bitter buffoon. People are all pumped because this Lex wants to kill “Billions!” of people. Well, I seem to recall Hackman’s Lex getting his kicks not by planning the deaths of innocent lives, but by “causing the deaths of innocent lives.” That’s pretty diabolical too.
Where Hackman was oily, Spacey is sarcastic. The way he attains his fortune in the movie is terrible. It makes Lex into a joke, not the super-villain he’s supposed to be. That being said. His brutal confrontation with Supes is great. But I still don’t like a Lex who surrounds himself with incompetent thugs. That’s not the Lex I know. Although, I actually like Parker Posey’s performance as Kitty. She gave nuance to where there wasn’t any. She was the most interesting “villain” when she could’ve been another Miss Tessmacher. Unfortunately, her character’s still a joke. From her god-awful name to her ridiculous outfits, it’s difficult to take her character seriously. That’s why I give props to Parker’s performance in the flick. She transcended the stuff she was given.
Speaking of unexpected performances, the other performance I really liked was Marsden’s Richard White. He plays Richard how Routh should have played Superman: noble, heroic, compassionate, caring and charming. His scenes with Lois and Jason make him seem like a really good person. Which makes it all the more deplorable that Superman would put the moves on Lois, knowing full well that she had a happy family. I was kind of hoping that Richard would turn out to be a jerk, that way it would make sense for Superman to break them up, but he’s such a nice guy that it makes you root against Superman. And that ain’t supposed to happen!
There are textures that Marsden puts into Richard that I just love! When he confronts Lois about her feelings for Superman, he doesn’t come off as a jealous lover (that would be Superman); instead, he’s upset, but understanding. In a later scene, Lois has injured herself and Superman is scanning her for more serious damage. Check out the way Richard is looking at Superman! Even though he knows Supes is checking her vitals, he still doesn’t trust the guy. It’s so subtle but brilliant!
My biggest issue has always been the movie tying itself to the Donner flicks. The way the movie ends, it doesn’t feel like it lends itself to sequels. If nothing else, it feels like the end of a trilogy. The loose ends that it does leave aren’t interesting. Will Lois leave Richard? Does Lex get off the island? People are saying the SuperSeed will be explored in future films. God, I hope not. Though he wasn’t as irritating as he could’ve been, he just seemed wrong for the movie. (The final scene between Supes and Jason which is intended to be touching, just comes off creepy.)
If anything, I’d equate Superman Returns with the Phantom Menace. When the lights dimmed and the Superman credits and theme zoomed by, i have to admit, i was a little giddy. Same thing happened in 1999 when the Lucasfilm logo and “a long time ago…” popped on the screen. After nearly two decades without a big screen Superman or Star Wars, nostalgia will instantly blind or deflect you from the flaws. I still got that visceral chill when the S-shield shone on the screen. I just don’t think the film that followed holds up as well. Though it’s visually more appealing (though I felt the film was very muddy and dark in spots), it lacks the heart of the original. Just like Star Wars, a newer generation might like it, but I suggest that once the hype and dust settles, even hardcore Superman fanboys are going to start realizing 21st century moviemaking technology doesn’t trump good old fashioned storytelling.
I give it 5/10 S-shields.