Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review
|#19: Superman Returns|
After the abysmal failure that was “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”, the whole Superman franchise was thankfully sent to movie limbo. Superman was relegated to the “Superboy” TV series, a brief Saturday Morning cartoon series on CBS, a romantic comedy series “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” on ABC, and back to the world of cartoons with “Superman: The Animated Series” and “Justice League”, and then in the anti-Superboy series “Smallville”. In the comics, he was killed by Doomsday, he came back to life, he finally married Lois Lane, and he finally brought down Lex Luthor.
The call went out to bring Superman back to the big screens, especially after Marvel proved with “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” that big-budget superhero movies still worked.
Warner Brothers considered several approaches. Directors Tim Burton, McG, Kevin Smith, and JJ Abrams each took a shot at trying to come up with something. Superman was going to be played by Ben Affleck, Nicholas Cage, Tom Welling (who already plays anti-Superman Clark in “Smallville”), Ashton Kutcher, Brendan Fraser… well pretty much anyone who was young and had a leading role someplace was approached to play Superman. The “Doomsday” story was going to be re-created. Then it was “Batman vs. Superman”. Then it was Superman versus Brainiac.
Finally it fell to “X-Men” director Bryan Singer, who said that he was a huge fan of the original Richard Donner movie, and he managed to bring Superman back to the big screen.
“Superman Returns” was released by Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures in 2006, and it starred Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Parker Posey, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Sam Huntingon, Eva Marie Saint, Tristian Lake Leabu, and - thanks to the magic of modern technology - the late Marlon Brando. The film also brings back brief appearances by Noel Neill and Jack Larson.
The film starts with a text introduction of Superman’s brief origin and mentions that scientists had discovered the possible remains of the Planet Krypton. We then see Krypton as the voice of Jor-El (Brando) gives an important speech from father-to-son. This is the same speech made in the original “Superman” film. As we pull away from Krypton, we see the massive red sun as it collapses into a nova. The shockwave of the destroyed sun then tears Krypton apart, scattering its remains outward. (This is similar to way Krypton was destroyed in the original movie, albeit not as realistic-looking.)
As the credits roll in the same manner as the original film, we travel through space seeing all sorts of cosmic wonders. We finally arrive on Earth, where Martha Kent (Saint) is cleaning up after a night of Scrabble. Suddenly a huge object crashes into the field. She drives out to find a crashed Kryptonian ship, and Clark Kent/Superman (Routh) wearing a grey-and-black Kryptonian bodysuit.
Elsewhere, an elderly woman (Neill) is on her last breath as she praises the man she loved and helped to make her last days special. As her relatives pound on the door begging to be let in, she uses the last of her strength to sign away everything she has to Lex Luthor (Spacey). Luthor pulls off his toupee and tells the family he owns everything, and then leaves with the maid (Posey) who was working for him all along.
The next morning, Clark reflects on his childhood in Kansas, remembering when he could first fly and no longer needing glasses. He tells his adopted mother that he buried the crashed ship so nobody would find it, and that, despite what the scientists originally suggested, there was nothing left of Krypton. He notes that the world had gotten worse since he left and wonders if there is a place for him as well.
Luthor and Kitty travel by yacht north as he lectures her on the story of Prometheus, the god who shared fire with the humans. Kitty says that he’s no god, to which Luthor says that gods are people in capes (Superman) who fly around and don’t “share” their power with the people. He doesn’t want to be a god, he just wants to share “the fire”… and get his cut. Wait, I thought he wanted LAND.
We discover that Luthor has found Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, and activated the crystal control panel, where the spirit of Jor-El (using footage from the first movie digitally remastered) mistakes him for Kal-El. Kitty comments that Lex acts like he’s been there before (a subtle hint to “Superman II”). Then Lex asks the spirit of Jor-El to tell him everything, starting with the crystals.
Clark returns to the Daily Planet, where his return is largely ignored by everyone except Jimmy Olson (Huntington). Perry White (Langella) comments that he only got his job back because another reporter had the audacity to die. Jimmy gets Clark caught up on what had happened, including how Lois Lane is engaged, has a son, and has finally won her much-sought Pulitzer Prize… for an article entitled “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman”. How’s that for a kick in the codpiece?
Back at Lex’s new home (which is now missing one pet dog), his henchmen shave off a sliver of one of the Fortress crystals and then drops it into the miniature lake of a railroad set. At first nothing happens. Then the ground beings to shake and all electricity is shut off.
As Clark and Jimmy have a lunchtime drink and tell their sorrows to the bartender (Larson), they watch Lois Lane (Bosworth) on board the launch jet of an experimental shuttle as it ascends. Suddenly the power goes out in the bar. This is followed by the power going out at NASA. This is followed by the power going out on the shuttle and the jet. Power is quickly restored, but both the jet and the space plane are locked in launch mode, hurling into the upper reaches of space.
News of the runaway space plane and airline cuts across all networks. Clark runs into a nearby alley and rips open his shirt to show the legendary “S” shield. Superman is then seen racing into space to catch up with the jet and the shuttle. He uses his heat vision to separate the shuttle from the jet and guides it into a safe orbit, then races down to catch the jet, which is now in a free-fall. He catches the jet and brings it safely down in the middle of a ballfield. Lois is shocked to discover he has returned and, in a scene reminiscent of the first movie, tells everyone flying is still the safest way to travel. As he leaves the plane, his face is shown on cameras all around the world and everyone cheers at his return as he flies off into the skies… and as Lois faints down the emergency slide.
Later Clark catches up with Lois, who is also introduced to her fiancé Richard White (Marsten) and their son Jason (Leabu), who suffers from asthma. Richard is Perry’s nephew, which probably explains how he somehow managed to get an editor’s position. Clark is also shocked to learn that Luthor was acquitted of all charges after Superman wasn’t on Earth to testify in the appeal of his conviction. Feeling rejected after peeping into the White Family life, Superman spends his time saving the world from all sorts of problems, and Lex is busy getting his new master plan in motion.
I don’t want to ruin the whole story for those who haven’t seen it, so I’m going to leave it there. Sufficient to say, Lex’s old ambitions from the first movie will come back to the forefront, and we discover another reason for us to hear Jor-El’s speech from father-to-son.
First, this hero reviewer has to thank Director Singer for doing what twenty years could not… and that is to get us to FORGET about “Superman III”, “Supergirl”, and especially “Superman IV”. And it did it from the first few minutes on in by bringing us back to the original movie, with Jor-El and the score from John Williams.
Brandon Routh looks like he was born to inherit the cape from the late Christopher Reeve. He plays both Superman and Clark Kent in the same way as Reeve once did, and I would dare say that at times he does Clark one step better than Reeve did. This Clark Kent isn’t a total bumbling buffoon. The only disturbing part about his Superman character is when he uses his powers to peep into the White household. Understandable, given his abilities, but still somewhat disturbing.
Kate Bosworth did an okay job as Lois Lane, although somewhat detached. She looks great as a brunette… far better than her natural blonde color… but she doesn’t really fit into the role as did Margot Kidder, or even as Erica Durance does in “Smallville”.
On the other hand, Kevin Spacey does an EXCELLENT Lex Luthor, and he outdoes Gene Hackman’s comedic approach to the character from the original movie. He does make wisecracks, but he is also very, VERY dangerous, and he lets the audience know just how dangerous he really is after getting out of prison.
Parker Posey as Kitty, Luthor’s girl-of-the-moment, is also one step above Valerie Perrine’s Eve Tessmacher. She’s not there to be eye candy. She’s there to be Luthor’s assistant, and she’s not an idiot, even though she is often treated as one.
And then there’s Eva Marie Saint as Martha Kent. Though she only has a limited role in this movie, she still lives up the part of Clark’s adopted mother in both the beginning and near the end of the film.
As for the movie itself, the special effects are mind-blowing! From Krypton’s destruction, to Superman catching the falling plane, to the various ways he stops bullets and saves Metropolis, to just watching him hover over Metropolis listening in for problems, they all make you feel like he’s really doing these things.
Sadly, though, the story is just a bit off in a few places. Superman blowing out a natural gas fire like it was a candle is one of them. A sonic wave by clapping his hands would have resolved that. The effect of the Kryptonian crystals shutting down power EVERYWHERE, even in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, didn’t make sense either. On land, okay. But in the air too? And how is it that the SLIVER of the crystal could cause far more of an effect EVERYWHERE opposed to the whole crystal itself?
Although this movie doesn’t really fit in with the whole Superman series (and I’ll have more on that in a future special comment), it certainly should have been. Singer, Routh, and company brought the Superman series back from cinema limbo. Now it is up to Warner Brothers to make sure they don’t squander the second chance they were given.
|Capes:||Clearly earned all five capes.|
|Cheese:||Although there is some cheese, it’s only Swiss (1), and a far improvement from the full-blown limburger of the previous films.|
Sadly, I could only give it four books out of five. There’s a good story in there, but not a GREAT story.