June 30, 2006

Movie Review: Superman Returns

The wait is over, Bryan Singer's incarnation of the iconic hero is now playing on screens everywhere. Let me start with something, to get it out of the way right up front, this is not an action movie. It is a drama, through and through, and that makes some of the advertising rather poor. The way film reminds me of what Singer did with the first X-Men film, go for the drama and characters, keep the action restricted to a couple of key scenes.

As the release date approached, my early reactions of mild anxiety were exchanged for a stronger desire to see the movie. The pre-release reviews started to come in. I avoided reading most of those reviews, rather I skimmed them to get the general gist of the reaction. The reaction was, by and large, positive, sometimes ecsatatic, sometimes guardedly. However it would turn out, there was no doubt in my mind that I would find myself in the theater.

I went and purchased my ticket and made my way down the long hallway to the last theater on the left. I walked past the rows of chairs, taking up residence front and center in the fourth row. I settled down and waited for the show to begin.

The lights went down at approximately 7:17. Excitement was building in the theater. 7:30 rolled around and it was finally time for the movie to start. It was also time for the biggest geek moment since Star Wars: Episode I hit theaters back in 1999. The opening credits of Superman Returns were accompanied by the classic Superman theme written by John Williams for the Richard Donner film in 1978, complete with the names zooming off the screen, also like the earlier film. This was a complete geek moment, hearing that theme playing in that theater was pure magic and really worked to put me even more in the mood to see what was yet to come.

The plot follows a couple of arcs which never completely mesh, yet do not detract from the overall effect of the movie. We pick the story up five years after the events of Superman II, oh yeah, this is a sequel, not a remake or a restart (like Batman Begins). Superman has returned from a quest for his lost homeworld, and comes to find the world has moved on, including his beloved Lois Lane, who is now a mother and engaged to Richard White. This floors the also returning Clark Kent. Surprisingly, nobody notices the coincidental disappearance and reappearance of the duo.

While Superman makes his public return, and Clark struggles with his feelings for Lois, arch-enemy Lex Luthor is enacting his latest scheme. A scheme involving the crystals from Superman's Fortress of Solitude, and a whole lot of new land. This is a completely ridiculous plan, and belittles the performance of Kevin Spacey, yet somehow it still works within the confines of the "comic" based film. Of course, those plans change when he learns of Superman's return.

Those stories converge down the stretch, but don't come to a completely satisfying conclusion. Still, the look, feel, and heart of the film brings everything together to make this a wonderful experience. There are so many things to like about this movie, small moments, big moments, and moments in between!

Newcomer Brandon Routh does a wonderful job of evoking memories of the late Christopher Reeve by not mimicking him, but incorporating the quirks and mannerisms of his portrayal into the new vision. An homage, if you will, that brings the character to the present. He has an easy charisma when he is onscreen, he may not have all that many lines, but he is able to convery many emotions with his expressions. Playing opposite him is Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, who I believe still looks a bit too young, but is still able to pull of the role in fine fashion. Kevin Spacey does a riff on the Gene Hackman Lex Luthor, occasionally teetering on the brink of camp, but keeping the character interesting and surprisingly believeable amidst his wacky scheme.

The supporting cast also does a good job, in particular Parker Posey's bimbo brained Kitty hits all the right notes. She has a bubble headedness too her that provides some good comic relief, but also has glimpses of something behind the air pocket. Frank Langella as Perry White and James Marsden (Cyclops from the X-Men films) as his nephew and Lois' new love, Richard White, both do a good job while not necessarily having a big part. I did enjoy Langella's uttering of "Great Ceasar's ghost!" On a side note, Noel Neill and Jack Larson both have cameos, they were both part of the George Reeves Adventures of Superman series in the 1950s.

I can't help but think that the story was a little shallow, but I am also enamored by how well everything came off. I think it would be a mistake to judge this film based on how realistic the characters are, this is not the real world, it is a highly stylized world where men can fly, and super villains exist. Within that context anything and everything can work, so long as the internal logic plays by its own rules, and that certainly seemed to be the case here.

Bottomline. This is a beautifully shot film that captures the essence of Superman. It may not be up to the level of Batman Begins, but it is a fine reintroduction to the big screen. I cannot wait to see what comes next.

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Reel Fanatic said...

Great review ... I agree with your complaints, but also had a mostly satisfying time watching Singer's creation

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