Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Brandon Routh……….Clark Kent/Superman
Kate Bosworth……….Lois Lane
Kevin Spacey……….Lex Luthor
James Marsden……….Richard White
Parker Posey……….Kitty Kowalski
Frank Langella……….Perry White
Sam Huntington……….Jimmy Olsen
Eva Marie Saint……….Martha Kent
Tristan Lake Leabu……….Jason White
Comic book movies have enjoyed remarkable success in the last 5 years, regularly being some of the highest grossing and most critically acclaimed films of the last decade. One film from the genre has grossed $200 million or more since 2002, as the summer movie season is almost incomplete without at least one movie featuring super-powered human beings in spandex. Seemingly there’s at least one superhero movie every quarter, as the printed page has brought some creativity and spectacle into Hollywood at a time when it has needed it the most. Comic books have been a creative and financial windfall to studios, much more so than anyone could have ever thought when the original Superman was released in 1978.
Richard Donner set the standard impressively high for superhero movies that few have been able to live up to, much less try to top, with the film. After Superman IV: The Quest For Peace was a colossal failure almost 20 years ago, the mythology of the most venerable of comic book heroes is fascinating enough to warrant another stab at creative and commercial successes in the same way Batman Begins helped restart that franchise. Unlike the restart of the Batman franchise, Superman Returns is a bloated and unnecessary film that is more head-shakingly bad than it is jaw-dropping good on an epic level.
Set in the aftermath of Superman II, the caped crusader (Brandon Routh) has returned to Earth to find the world has moved on without him. As he searched the remains of his home planet Krypton for survivors, his girlfriend Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has a child (Tristan Lake Leabu) and a new man (James Marsden) in her life. His nemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has a newfound plot to rule the world; Superman’s absence from testifying against him has given him an early release from prison. The world has moved on without him and the returning superhero has to try and find his way back in it.
Marred with production issues for well over a decade, Superman Returns is in the same spirit as the original film. Clocking in at over 150 minutes of running time, Bryan Singer’s goal is clear enough. This is an epic film about heroism in the metaphysical sense; Singer wants to look at the concept of the hero and what it means in conjunction with society as a whole. Superman is the one hero that is both uniquely American as well as instantly recognizable to a worldwide audience; the film’s focus and plot mechanisms revolve around this concept of heroism and its purpose. The hero himself debates the merits of his actions that have led him to this point in his life; while coming back and saving the day several times is pretty standard fare for the “Man of Steel,” is being Metropolis’s savior something that is wanted or even appreciated is something that plays a large part in the film.
The film also has yearnings to be the sort of fantasy film that the original series was intended as; it tries to be equal parts philosophical fodder and comic book tale of good versus evil. And it’s in this balance where the film falls off track and never gets back on as a phenomenal first act is outweighed by the dramatic implications that follow its opening 45 minutes. When the actors and story need to be serious the tone of the film dictates otherwise, leaving an over-matched cast to flounder in the face of overwhelming odds against them. There isn’t the sense from Routh that Christopher Reeves brought to the film’s original franchise, the serious nature and mannerisms with the tongue-in-cheek dialogue and story-lines from years past.
The film’s opening is reminiscent of the first two Superman films and is the film’s sole highlight. Wildly over the top and violating at least one law of movie physics, it’s a comic book action sequence that is immensely thrilling as Superman saves Lois Lane (and others) from an experimental airplane launch gone horribly wrong. It’s jaw-dropping good and fantastically done (as are the rest of the effects in the film), a twenty-first century ode to the type of sequences only imagined 30 years ago, but when the film tries to get serious this sort of grandiose epic film-making is lost in the struggle to make it a character-based drama. Becoming almost laughable due to the lack of serious dramatic gravitas, Singer tries to shift the film from this comic book fable to a more reality-based drama involving lost love and a hero’s place in a world long since used to his absence with mixed results. At times there are some quality moments but they are few and far between; when Lois’s son glances at Superman on television and Clark Kent in the newsroom and notices they’re the same person there’s a pause. Singer has moments like these scattered throughout the film, little cinematic odes to comic book roots while trying to transplant them into dramatic soil from which quality flowers won’t spring.
||2.5 / 10
||3 / 10
||7.5 / 10
||2.5 / 10
||2 / 10