director: Bryan Singer
starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Parker Posey, James Marsden
I knew right from the moment I saw the first opening credit that Bryan Singer might just have knocked Superman Returns out of the park. The familiar font style from the original Richard Donner movie came up, larger than life on the big IMAX screen, giving me warm, fuzzy feelings of geek delight. The inherent reverence shown the first two Superman movies is embodied in that initial choice, and is carried throughout the film. It’s that same respect for source material that gave Singer such great success with the first two X-Men movies (I’ll get to the 3rd later).
I think respect is also shown for Christopher Reeve’s iconic portrayal of Man of Steel in the casting of Brandon Routh as Superman. The resemblance between the two is uncanny onscreen, particularly when he appears as his alter ego, Clark Kent. Down to the ill-fitting clothes and bad haircut, Routh brings that same nerdy discomfort. He did seem a bit too young behind the dorky haircut and glasses, but he seems to pull it off. The Kent alter ego isn’t given a lot of screen time, so it’s difficult to judge too harshly. The rest of the cast is pretty good across the board, particularly Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor. He could’ve gone over-the-top with the performance, but Spacey brings an understated menace that is much more intimidating than Gene Hackman’s more comedic turn in the original movies. Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane seems a little less the “assertive maverick” that Margot Kidder was in the originals than an “intrepid reporter and doting housewife,” but she did well enough.
If you haven’t already heard, Superman Returns essentially picks up after Superman II, thus ignoring the 3rd and 4th movies, rightly so. The latter two flicks were mired in mediocrity, choosing to focus more on second-rate villains and comedy in outrageous situations. Richard Pryor may be a comedic genius, but I’m not sure he belongs in a superhero movie. Singer’s fixed all that by simply ignoring them and focusing on the basic characters and universe Richard Donner so effectively set up in the original.
The score by John Ottman is great, owing a large debt to John Williams’ original Superman theme. It’s worked in throughout Ottman’s score, which on its own is pretty good too. When mixed onscreen with the effects work in some of the larger action setpieces, it’s almost enough to give you chills. The first two Superman movies were pretty great, and are sure to be remembered fondly for all-time, but the effects work in Superman Returns is what really elevates it above its’ forerunners. This is the first time you can actually see Superman fly in a convincing fashion, whether hurtling towards a plummeting 747 or above the clouds. No cheesy rear projection here.
This isn’t a film without its faults–there are a few, mainly having to do with the handling of the climax and certain plot points–but there is far too many positives in the flick to dwell on the negative. I can, without question, highly recommend it to anyone. And do yourself a favor: make sure you see this on an IMAX 3D screen. There are four scenes, accounting for about 20 minutes of screen time, that have been converted to 3D. No, it’s not that cheesy, outdated crap you’ll see on a ride in Universal Studios–this is the real deal. I’ve heard that George Lucas is planning on converting all of the Star Wars movies into 3D. If that happens, sign me up for an opening day ticket to all six. This 3D stuff is the future. That, and flying cars. Trust me.
I mentioned the X-Men flicks before, and if nothing else, Superman Returns serves as a big FU to 20th Century Fox, who couldn’t be bothered to work out a deal with Singer to do X-Men 3. Singer opted to go to the Superman franchise and nailed it, while X3 turned out to be a crappy shadow of the first two films, never rising above the level of a brainless action movie. Superman Returns does rise above that level; it’s what X-Men 3 should have been. In fact, it may just be the best comic book movie ever. Hell, it’s a good movie–period. Singer’s done what Christopher Nolan did for Batman with the outstanding Batman Begins and resurrected a franchise. The next Superman flick can’t get here soon enough.