Superman Returns

Superman-Returns-nw04Consider the poor übermensch — always alone, cut off forever from his roots, forced to disguise himself as a dweeb who has no personal life. In keeping with the recent string of morose films about the trials and tribulations of being a superhero, Superman Returns gives us a Superman (Brandon Routh) who comes back to Earth after five years and finds the old global problems are far worse, his old girlfriend Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has had a son with her new fiancé (James Marsden), and his old nemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is out of jail and plotting to create his own continent at the expense of billions of lives.

Whew! Not too much pressure. One wouldn’t blame Superman too much if he decided to turn around and fly back into space. But the words of his long-dead father Jor-El (Marlon Brando, resurrected via computer) echo in his mind: “They can be a great people, Kal-El; they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all — their capacity for good — I have sent them you, my only son.” The true heart of this Superman movie is not that humankind should be inspired by Superman; it’s that Superman is inspired by the non-superheroic but brave and selfless humans he lives among. Lois tells Superman “We don’t need a savior,” and the movie backs that up by reminding us of our capacity for good.

Beyond that, Superman Returns is a cracking good adventure, though sometimes too leisurely and not without stress cracks: There’s only so much radical stuff you can do with a movie rumored to cost north of $200 million. Kevin Spacey plays Luthor with his usual hooded suavity, and it’s a relief to see him being a snake again after a long run of Oscar-chasing. But Luthor’s plan barely makes sense, and he scarcely gets any screen time opposite Superman. Director Bryan Singer, whose two X-Men films raised the bar for superhero movies, avoids some obvious narrative beats but lingers over others, such as a sequence of a grievously wounded Superman in the hospital. The script seems patched together, and I can’t be alone in thinking they should’ve saved Lois’ kid for the sequel.

When it comes down to pop apocalypse, the movie delivers. The plane rescue is probably going to go down in some kind of set-piece history — the tremors of danger, the spike upward into chaos, the tension and release, all suggest Spielberg in his freewheeling prime. Superman Returns is not structured as a clothesline of disconnected computer-assisted thrills, and that’s a surprise; the movie is uncommonly becalmed, reflective. The action is staged beautifully; it’s kinetically dazzling. But there’s very little threat underneath it all — you know Superman won’t fail or die. At least in the original 1978 Superman, Lois Lane actually died (even if only temporarily), giving the hero an ugly reality slap — even he couldn’t be everywhere at once and save everyone.

I liked and enjoyed Superman Returns, though I wish I were as sold on it as some critics who seem to be clinging to it as this summer’s savior after a long string of bummers. It doesn’t redeem the cinematic sins of Mission Impossible III or X-Men 3; it’s merely good, not great, and the only risk it takes is financial (at this writing I haven’t seen the opening-week box-office numbers). Brandon Routh is solid and genuine if a little plastic — he seems to have been cast solely for his resemblance to Christopher Reeve, and he doesn’t have Reeve’s mixture of authority and wry self-amusement. Kate Bosworth doesn’t ring any bells as Lois; if Singer wanted to cast closer to the original, he should’ve gone with Parker Posey, who is mostly thrown away as Luthor’s ditzy, Pomeranian-toting moll Kitty. A $200 million summer blockbuster with Parker Posey in a small supporting role is good; a $200 million summer blockbuster with Parker Posey grabbing significant screen time and getting to canoodle with Superman would’ve been magic.

Explore posts in the same categories: action/adventure, comic-book

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