Friday, October 12, 2012

Superman Returns

I really disliked the original Superman movie when I was young; I was more fond of Superman II due to the amount of supervillain battles to be found within. The original was too slowly paced and drawn out, and to a 10 year old kid that's not a good thing. Once the trailers for this new sequel (which was to erase the travesties that were Superman III & IV) were released I decided it was high time I gave the original film another chance since director Bryan Singer was relying so heavily on it as the basis for his version. I really, really liked it this time around and I was pumped to see what the maker of IMO the best superhero movie ever made, X2, could come up with for the Last Son of Krypton.

After kissing Lois Lane and making her forget their brief affair in Superman II, Supes (Brandon Routh) flies off into space in order to find what's left of his home planet of Krypton. Finding nothing but rubble, he returns to Earth only to discover that 5 years have passed and the world has moved on without him... even Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth). She's engaged to Richard White (James Marsden), nephew of the Daily Planet's chief editor Perry White (Frank Langella) and has a child. At the same time Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has been released from prison due to Superman not showing up to his court date to testify against him, and after swindling some dying heiress out of her money he embarks on a crusade to rid the world of Superman by using his own technology against him. He has discovered that the crystals from the Fortress of Solitude, when immersed in water, can create massive landmasses which will not only submerge most of the US, but he will sell off as a new continent to the highest bidder. Looks like Superman has returned just in time to stop him.
Not the most original plot in the world, but it's played out very well, paced evenly and never really gets boring or hokey. Bryan Singer spent $250 million trying to bring this classic character back to the big screen and he does it in a massive way. It's truly epic in scale and doesn't skimp out on the emotional content as well as the action scenes. I don't see how he could have spent that much money since it doesn't really show up on screen (it turns out that Singer cut a very expensive 10 minute opening scene that was nothing but state-of-the-art FX involving Superman searching for Krypton).

The new actors that were brought in to fill the major roles are all decent. Brandon Routh had the toughest job of them all having to play not only Superman, but also his alter egos Clark Kent and Kal-El. He pulled it off without a hitch and it was a little creepy seeing this guy who actually resembles a young Christopher Reeve talking in a voice eerily similar to the late originator of this character. Still, he was great and does the role proud.
On the other hand, Kate Bosworth sucked ass as Lois Lane. She was too bitchy, seemed bored when she was in peril and just gave off this vibe like she didn't give a shit about anything going on around her. I'm surprised that after all that time Singer spent looking for the right Supes that he slummed it for Lois, who is just as equal a part of the equation as the title character. She brings down most of the scenes she's in and I really despised her.

Kevin Spacey, while hamming it up to the extreme at times, is a blast to watch as Lex Luthor. When he's on screen he's both menacing and charming, which was something Gene Hackman never was (he was played more for laughs). Brilliant portrayal.
The other minor characters were good as well. Sam Huntington was sweet and funny as photographer Jimmy Olson, James Marsden was really good in his role as the cock blocking Richard, and even young Tristan Lake Leabu as Jason White was pretty good as Lois' kid. He wasn't the annoying, constantly getting in trouble little shit we would think his character would be, which is why I'm glad that Bryan Singer and his writing staff defied cliche as much as possible. Normally the child would be the obnoxious one who needs to be saved on more than one occasion because he's curious or dying for attention. Here there's none of that. Also, Richard White's character would normally be the dickhead part of the love triangle, but here he's actually a decent guy who just wants Lois to be happy and loves the shit out of her kid (Supes actually is portrayed as kind of a stalker in the way he spies on Lois, using his X-Ray vision to see through the walls of her house, listening to her conversations with Richard). I thought that was a nice touch.

Even though there isn't a whole lot of action to be found here, what we do get is pretty sweet. The airplane rescue was impressive and the finale off the coast of Metropolis was a sight to behold. The movie focused more on the dramatics of the character and the love story between Supes and Lois, which was fine with me since it was never boring.
I'm not going to ruin the twist at the end (the tearjerker scene), but the early plot twist of Jason being Superman's son we all saw coming. I figured that out from the trailers. It makes a lot of sense since Clark and Lois had that little poofka session midway through Superman II after he gave up his powers to be with her. I just don't know why the kid has powers when his father was powerless at the time of his conception. Minor plot hole.

My biggest problem with the film is that it feels like a lot of it was cut for time. Sure the movie was 2 1/2 hours long, but if the movie is good I'll sit through it even if it's 4 hours (The Return of the King anyone?). We're never told how Clark went back to Krypton and came back in a Kryptonian shuttle not unlike the one he crash landed in from the first flick. I have a feeling it was the same shuttle since I've seen production stills showing (in flashback) Clark discovering his pod under the floorboards of his parents’ barn as a teenager. Or why bullets bounce off his costume like it's made of titanium, but when stabbed with some Kryptonite it cuts through it like butter. I hope there's a director's cut on DVD, the original film got that treatment and I enjoyed that version more than the theatrical cut.
The score by John Ottman, who had the daunting task of adapting John Williams' classic themes, pulls off his best score ever. I've never been a fan of his superhero scores (X2 and The Fantastic Four), but his versions of the themes sound just as good now as they did back in the day. The addition of the choir to the main theme during certain moments gave me goosebumps. I'm totally buying this soundtrack.

What really took me by surprise was all the religious imagery in the film. Sure the story of Superman is basically a metaphor for the life of Christ, but Richard Donner didn't want to include that detail in his film. Singer goes all out with it. There are multiple parts where he is in the crucifixion pose, there's a scourging scene, there's talk of "The Father and the Son" and when Lex stabs Supes with the Kryptonite shard it's like when Christ was stabbed with the Spear of Destiny. It doesn't bother me at all since it gave the film another extremely interesting detail that I ate up.
It also has a nasty sense of humor. The joke about the dogs that Lex's mistress Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey stealing every scene she's in) adores was pretty hysterical in a sick, twisted way. Also her little barbs about what Lex's father used to say to him when he was a child were pretty inspired too. But I'm just glad it didn't go the slapstick routine with the henchman this time around like with the original. The Otis character got on my nerves big time and I was so relieved that he didn't have him around this time. But I have to say that having Kal Penn (Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle) play one of Lex's lackies was a bad move since he didn't get a chance to do anything in the part except look concerned or worried. I don't even remember him getting any lines. What a waste of great comic talent.

Although it mirrors the original film a bit too much, this one is pretty decent. I just hope that if there's a next one (from the grosses so far it looks like that might not be an option) it moves into new territory with a new villain and more comic book action. And please recast Lois Lane. Bosworth is a skid mark on this flick and Singer would do right if he got someone a little older and more experienced with comic book melodrama to take on that part.

3.5 out of 5

*written 6/28/06

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