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Movie Review: Superman Returns

Superman Returns

Many years ago, I went to a special screening of Kevin Smith‘s Chasing Amy, which I would have walked out of because I thought it blew, but I stayed through to the end to hear Kevin speak about the film. During the Q&A session with him, and since this was about the time it was rumored that he had written a script for a new Superman movie, somebody asked him about that. He then related a really funny story — much funnier than the film I had just seen — where he explained the stipulations producer Jon Peters put on Kevin to stick into the script: Superman couldn’t be seen flying, he couldn’t be seen in his traditional costume, he had to fight polar bears at the South Pole (where polar bears don’t live) and he had to fight a giant spider at the end.

While Kevin’s experience makes for great comedy, the one thing I don’t completely understand is why he went along with it. I do have Kevin’s version of his script and all of Peters’s stupid ideas are in there. But why participate in the desecration of such an iconic character for a paycheck? I guess maybe he thought he could salvage something out of the project even with such idiotic restrictions placed on him or he knew the project would never get off the ground.

So, the good news is that Superman Returns director Bryan Singer is at least respectful to the Superman movies and mythology. This is the guy who took the X-Men out of their comic book uniforms and placed them in black military outfits for their movie franchise. But for Superman, Singer knows we have to see the Man of Steel fly, in his iconic outfit and fighting a worthy opponent when he appears on-screen. All of which happens in the film. The bad news is that Superman Returns makes many colossal missteps and is ultimately an overlong, dull film.

For someone who wanted to stick so closely to the first two Superman films, Singer strangely leaves out the sense of fun that made the original movies so entertaining. Superman may return, but he doesn’t really get to do a whole hell of a lot. There are really only three main superhero action set pieces in the entire film, which is totally bizarre for a movie that’s over two and a half hours long. There’s Superman’s rescue of Lois Lane in a crashing airplane, the big climactic sequence and a middle sequence where Superman stops a bank robbery or something. That middle sequence is so badly set up, I couldn’t even explain what the hell was going on and the film misses out on showing Superman doing anything fun with his superpowers. Instead we get this dour scene of a bullet bouncing off of Supes’s eye, which is a nice special effect, but that’s all we get after waiting 26 years for a decent sequel?

It’s a real waste, too, since Brandon Routh is so good in the dual role of Superman and Clark Kent. Routh has the presence and charisma to convincingly play a super self-assured superhero, and is able to let loose and be the total goof that follows in Christopher Reeve’s interpretation of the Clark Kent character. (In the comics, Kent isn’t quite the doofus he is in the movies.)

In the lack of such super action in the film, one would hope that at least the romance between Superman and Lois Lane would have some meat to it since it occupies probably the majority of the film. But where Margo Kidder gave the right tone of sass and brusqueness that the character — a superstar, no-nonsense reporter — requires. In Superman Returns, Kate Bosworth is a bland, vanilla character lacking any sort of conviction. Worst of all, Bosworth and Routh have all the chemistry that Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman shared in the Star Wars films, which is zero. Bosworth’s line:

I forgot how warm you are.

is rival to Christensen’s “I don’t like sand” speech in Attack of the Clones as the worst romantic dialogue in the history of Hollywood.

Superman Returns is mostly a mess of missed opportunities. Superman leaves for 5 years, which is actually a really oddball setup, and doesn’t explain anything about what happened to him while he was gone. Meanwhile, his leaving hasn’t had any consequences on the world nor is there any real consequence to his returning. Luckily he’s back in time to stop Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) from destroying the world instead of, say, Luthor getting out of jail in 4 years instead of five and starting his criminal enterprise then and not the exact moment Supes returns. For a movie where the guy’s name is in the title, I wish he had been in the film a little bit more and actually given something interesting to do.