Why, oh why? Every since The Usual Suspects, I’ve been a huge fan of Bryan Singer, the man is responsible for 3 of my top 25 movies of all time, so when the studios kicked Brett Ratner off the Superman Returns project and replaced him with Singer, I thought this couldn’t fail. But boy was I wrong, where do I start with how many things go wrong with this film? Let’s start with the basic premise, or hook, if you will.
The conceit, or big idea, of Superman Returns is everything that happened in Richard Donner’s late 70’s Superman films, notably I and II, happened. We’ll ignore the badness that were Superman III and IV, and pick up the story 5 years after the events in Superman II. This would have been a brilliant and fine idea, if this movie came out, oh, TWENTY years ago! Singer made the mistake of remaining too faithful to the classic two films. I mean it was as if I was in a time warp, and not in a good way.
Everything in Superman Returns feels like a retread, a has been, done there, did that. Never once in this film did I feel like I was watching a Superman for the new millennium. With a reported $200 million dollar budget, I wanted to be awed, to see new filmmaking techniques, or at the very least have some decent cinematography.
But then Singer films never had brilliant and vibrant colors, or super duper effects, even my favorite X-Men franchise were kind of dull to look at, where Singer soars is with character, plotting, pacing.
Superman Returns has his trademark pacing, at almost 2 hrs and 38 minutes the film almost never drags, and grabs your attention – because, hey, it’s Superman. But the characters and plotting are horrid. Beyond the hook of the film, in Superman Returns we find the big guy adrift, not knowing where he belongs, he left Earth when he saw a newspaper announcing that Krypton still lives.
Now, the man in blue has never been known as a genius, but it’s silly that he would leave on the basis of one or two articles (planted by Luthor). Now the film never explains this is the reason he left, I picked this tidbit up from reading the horrid book adaptation. When he returns he finds out that the world has gone on without him – in the novel he discovers his mother is seeing someone else and plans on moving to Montana, in the film he just mopes around the farm for the first 10 or 15 minutes.
If you thought newcomer Brandon Routh was stiff and silent in the 2 minute trailer, then be prepared for two hrs of essentially the same thing. He rarely says anything throughout the film, he just broods and stares. Never once do you really feel like he’s attached to what’s going on around him – but based on his internal thoughts in the book adaptation, that’s the point – he is lost and feels alienated.
The feeling just doesn’t translate well to the screen. Watching two hours of a listless, lost, Superman isn’t exactly fun. He doesn’t hold your attention or have a presence like previous Supermen. He’s no Reeves, Reeve, Newton, Cain, or Welling, compared to these guys Routh is a total lightweight.
While Supes is brooding, Kevin Spacey is hamming it up and chewing up scenery as the always plotting Lex Luthor. In a return to his plot from the first film, Luthor is orchestrating another land grab. This time by stealing the crystals from the Fortress of Solitude and using those to grow his own continent that people would pay a fortune to live at, because he claims that people will always need “land.”
He plans on killing billions of people to grow his new empire, as two mass objects cannot occupy the same space. Now at what point would it not dawn on him that, if he kills everyone and destroys everything, who the heck left to purchase his land?
Not only that, but he spends most of the film talking about his genius and how he has the knowledge of an advanced race of people, but at no time in the film do we get to see him use this knowledge. For a $200 million film some of the major action set pieces looked comically bad, when his “continent” is finally grown, it looks like he’s sitting on a slab of rock.
There was nothing “technically” advanced about it, if anything he went back to the stone ages – almost literally. If Singer wasn’t so insistent on keeping everything as a replica of the first two films, he really could have done something spectacular with the idea of a growing, gleaming new crystal based Kryptonian City rising from the ocean depths, and instead, all we get are lame rocks.
Other than Spacey, the rest of this film was just horribly miscast. Everyone from the childlike Jimmy Olson (Sam Huntington – who gets way too much screen time) to Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, almost no one fit the part. I will say that I did like James Marsden as Lois’ “perfect” boyfriend, Richard White. You would think this could have made for some good chemistry and a fun love triangle between Supes, White, and Lane, instead the film totally glosses over it. On the one hand the movie is too serious, and on the other hand it’s not serious enough.
For instance we’re introduced to Lois’ son, and his presence drags the film to a screeching halt, he’s the “comic” relief, and there are serious questions about him that are never asked about or discussed – until the very end, and that moment is wasted because we never get a confrontation between Supes and Lois over it.
Then we have the bumbling, stumbling, non-entity of Clark Kent. I didn’t like the portrayal in the 70s, and I certainly don’t like it now, especially after watching the dynamic between Dean Cain’s Clark Kent and Terri Hatcher’s Lois Lane. How can you take any romance between Superman and Lois seriously when there’s no relationship between Clark and Lois?
Based on this version of Clark, the asinine speech that Bill, from Kill Bill, gave was correct, Clark Kent is nothing more than a shell. But in reality, to paraphrase Batman, Clark Kent is who Superman “is,” and Superman is what he “does.” But the movie Kent is almost “literally” a non-entity.
While, Superman Returns is enjoyable for what it is, and worth a watch, I can’t help but be disappointed and upset by all the missed opportunities and the adherence to a 25 year old film franchise – the first two of which are also in my top 25 movies of all time list.
There are a ton of instances where the film liberally borrowed from the first two movies, from the opening credit sequence, to the use of John Williams amazing original Superman Score, to the set designs, this really is essentially a sequel to 1 and 2, only problem is – it’s 25 years too late.
Final Grade C-
EM Review by
Originally Posted 6/28/06