The Man of Steel is back in a big way
By Devin D. O’Leary
Directed by Bryan Singer
Cast: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey
Longtime Superman fans gritting their teeth, crossing their fingers and praying to the Movie Gods that Superman Returns--the first new Superman film in nearly 20 years--treats the character with the time-honored respect it deserves, won’t waste much of their time in the theater worrying. From the second the film starts, with John Williams’ familiar score blaring from the speakers and the exact same lightspeed-looking font as the 1978 original delivering the opening credits, viewers will know they’re in good hands.
Those hands belong to Bryan Singer, who worked his directing magic on the surprisingly smart and serious X-Men movies before turning his attentions to comicdom’s squarest hero: The Big Blue Boy Scout.
Admittedly, Superman is an old-fashioned conceit: A whitebread, middle-American farm boy who wears a red cape and fights for truth and justice. Over the course of the long and (very) expensive development of Superman Returns (10 years, three directors and countless scripts), one particular phase saw Supes reimagined as a Matrix-style hero, complete with patent leather outfit and slo-mo kung fu moves. Hopefully, the studio executive who came up with that brilliant idea was taken out to Hollywood Boulevard and quartered. Perhaps what’s so immediately reassuring about Singer’s take on the world’s most recognized comic book character is how familiar he looks.
From the moment new boy Brandon Routh shows up as Clark Kent/Superman, there’s no mistaking him. He looks and acts like Christopher Reeve’s clone. Aside from a textural tweak on the fabric, the costume is the one we all know and love: blue tights, red cape, calf-high boots. Kevin Spacey, our villain du jour Lex Luthor, steals a mannerism or two from Gene Hackman’s iconic portrait of the evil industrialist. Costar Parker Posey joins the flashback brigade as well, deftly channeling Valerie Perrine’s perf as Luthor’s ditsy sidekick/squeeze. By god, even the late Marlon Brando shows up in archival footage as Superman’s dad!
The script (ultimately credited to X2 scripters Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris) picks up right where 1980’s Superman II left off (conveniently ignoring the risible Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace). Seems Superman has spent the last five years traveling the universe searching for the remains of his homeworld, Krypton. Though it looks like a slightly less cheerful place, the Earth has gotten used to life without Superman. Wars rage unabated, Ma Kent (Eva Marie Saint) is a widower and Lex Luthor is out of jail on a technicality. Most shocking of all, plucky reporter Lois Lane (Blue Crush’s Kate Bosworth) has moved on, won a Pulitzer Prize, gotten engaged and squeezed out a kid!
Back into this chaotic world without a hero comes Superman. He returns in spectacular fashion, rescuing an experimental jetliner (with Lois on board, natch) from certain doom. Until now, the makers of Superman Returns have gone to great lengths to keep the bulk of the film’s plot under wraps. I see no reason to spoil the surprise here. Suffice it to say Lex Luthor is hatching an evil scheme, and Superman is there to stop it. Perhaps, as the characters in the film come to believe, a corny, righteous, square-jawed superhero is exactly what we need in these dark days.
At a whopping 157 minutes, Superman Returns is not a film for impatient viewers. It is the polar opposite of Hollywood’s most recent piece of superheroic cinema, X-Men: The Last Stand. That flick ran a tight 104 minutes. Maybe 10 minutes of that did not involve fight scenes. Superman Returns has little to no fight scenes. It probably spends more time on the romantic angle than it does on the action.
That is not to say, however, that Superman Returns lacks thrills. The action scenes that are present are spectacular, cinematic in the extreme, utilizing the size and scope of the movie screen to its absolute fullest. Singer more than proves his skills as a filmmaker here, delivering the kind of big screen epic that sweeps viewers back to the days of Lawrence of Arabia. There’s a difference between “movement” and “action” and this film understands it better than just about any film released this summer. (Mission: Impossible III, I’m looking at you, you little spaz.)
Rest assured, hero worshippers, Superman Returns is classic, old-fashioned, summer blockbuster moviemaking. It’s exciting, dramatic, romantic, great for the whole family and best viewed on the biggest damn screen you can find.
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