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Superman Returns

Superman Returns is... boring.

The film is so caught up in keeping the status quo, in making sure that nothing changes, in making sure that at the end of the film the characters are, with the one small step of awareness made in one relationship, in the same place that they were at the start of the film, that it has ripped all the blood out of the film. At the start of the film, you will find Lex Luthor alive, Lois Lane living with and loving Richard, Superman maintaining his ridiculous Clark Kent disguise and saving people in his spare time while being a pretty dodgy reporter... and at the end of the film, there's no difference. Plot wise, the story of Lex Luthor finding Superman's Fortress of Solitude and stealing some crystals, is resolved, though his plan for the crystals is really, really stupid, and there is one small twist. But I have to admit that, as twists go, I might have enjoyed it if it had not happened, because then it would have showed that Lois Lane had really moved on, rather than created an elaborate sham and shadow of a life that she had lived without Superman, and undermined the strong, determined female lead that she is meant to be.

Anyhow, as you can see, I'm avoiding discussing the twist. It's the only thing the film has going for it. This is important, because otherwise, what the film has going for it is Kevin Spacey in his wigs and a few cool scenes of Brandon Routh as Superman doing heroic things. There's not much more.

The set up of the film suggests there will be. Superman returns home after five years in space, crashing down on his mother's home in Kansas, before returning to his job as a journalist in clothes a few sizes too big, and glasses that are just a bit too geeky. I never much thought Christopher Reeves' portrayal of Clark Kent was anything spectacular, but he made it a little more nuanced than Routh's, though they both played an easy, laid back Superman. In many ways, Routh is just ripping on Reeves' Superman, which I tend to think is a mistake because he never actually gives the impression that he has made the character his own. However, this is a complaint of the film as a whole, simply because it is ripping on the previous films too much, and it never feels like a Bryan Singer film, but rather feels like a new bit of franchise product, written to order.

This leaves the film with the whole feeling that you've seen it all before and really, you have. The campy Lex Luthor plans. The confused fawning of Clark Kent. Jimmy in a bowtie. Perry White saying, "Great Ceasor's Ghost." The film can be accused of being designed to hit the buttons that are required within the Superman franchise, and it does these, mechanically. All the characters and motivations and events are, in many ways, designed to bring you to these moments, and thus they're flat, dull, actors speaking bland lines knowing that they're coming up to the moment when they will say their catchline and Superman will save them.

The only moments in which the film actually rises out of its blandness are when Superman rescues someone. The best is the first one, where he stops a plane from plummeting into a baseball field, and everyone sees that, hey, Superman has returned. I have to admit that was pretty cool, though not worth the fifteen fifty I paid to see it. Then there's the stopping of a bank robbery. And the rescues during Lex Luthor's really stupid plan. (Seriously, who let this plan get to the script? It's the dumbest thing.) But considering that Superman Returns is just over two hours fifteen minutes, it becomes a kind of slog about half way through, and you're hanging out for someone, anyone, to do something interesting.

Personally, I could have gone for a bit more of Eva Marie Saint, who played Martha Kent. Or a bit more Marlon Brando. Or maybe I should just watch On the Waterfront.

Comments

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crookfactory
Jul. 6th, 2006 03:32 am (UTC)
My problem was that it relied on the viewer to draw reference to the first 2 Superman movies. If you failed to do that, then all you got was just hollowed shells of some characters who were half developed.

My highlight though was watching the preview for "Footy Legends" and trying to catch a glimpse of you in it, ha! ;P
benpeek
Jul. 6th, 2006 04:11 am (UTC)
My highlight though was watching the preview for "Footy Legends" and trying to catch a glimpse of you in it, ha! ;P

yeah, that was a bit of a shock to my system, i tell you. though i never got paid for my work, so, fuck it, i need to find someone to complain to about that and get paid.
bodhichitta0
Jul. 6th, 2006 03:35 am (UTC)
It didn't even sound good to me. I may watch it if it shows up on HBO and I'm *really* *really* bored.

I love On the Waterfront but ever since my niece mentioned Marlon Brando's bad hair in it--I can't watch it without thinking that. I hate it when people do that to me! :)
benpeek
Jul. 6th, 2006 04:17 am (UTC)
you ought to punish your neice, i think. i haven't seen on the waterfront for years, though.
ataxi
Jul. 6th, 2006 03:45 am (UTC)
Don't want to see it - Superman is a fundamentally dull concept in my view, and there has been nothing in the reviews to indicate this movie has gotten around that problem.
benpeek
Jul. 6th, 2006 04:25 am (UTC)
i wasn't going to see it for much the same reason, but i kind of liked the trailers, and it hought that if someone might pull it off, it'd be singer. i really liked what he did in X2, and i liked the first x-men film and the usual suspects well enough, so it was worth the try, i thought.
ataxi
Jul. 6th, 2006 04:47 am (UTC)
The trailers are cute-looking I'll give it that. Bryan Singer, perhaps, has been a bit overrated as a director.
angriest
Jul. 6th, 2006 04:37 am (UTC)
I think Superman's certainly the hardest superhero to write for, and thus is brilliant when brilliantly written, and boring as batshit in every other case.
ataxi
Jul. 6th, 2006 04:51 am (UTC)
I haven't ever seen a brilliant Superman thing (except maybe the Samaritan bit at the start of Astro City), but I haven't gone looking. But I expect you're right. What I derived from the trailers, visually cool as they made this film look, was that it probably hadn't delivered brilliance.
angriest
Jul. 6th, 2006 05:10 am (UTC)
The problem is that Superman is essentially unbeatable. I think it was Roger Ebert's review of the new film that asked "Why should I be concerned at Superman straining to lift things?", and he's (if it *was* Ebert who wrote it) got a point. Superman can seemingly do anything. In the 1979 movie he reserved the flow of time, for heaven's sake.

So any good Superman story has to have its heart and soul invested in the moral dilemmas. Lex Luthor works so well as an arch-villain to Superman not because he's smart (and in the movies he actually really isn't) but because he's ruthlessly amoral.
benpeek
Jul. 6th, 2006 05:15 am (UTC)
i think the only way to make superman interesting now is to actually have him take on real life issues. he's unbeatable when some dude picks up a chain gun and fires it at him, and that's all fine and dandy, but how about wars, how about domestic violence, how about things where he has to actually have a moral stand on them...
ataxi
Jul. 6th, 2006 05:22 am (UTC)
What I dislike about the Superman character as usually portrayed is that he's never pro-active. Just waits around for a near disaster to prevent in general.

I don't find it very plausible - he should at least be considering activism. He could be distributing contraceptives in Africa, or donating his time to physicists to help drive experiments into workable nuclear fusion. Sounds naf but that to me is the logic of the character.
angriest
Jul. 6th, 2006 08:52 am (UTC)
To engage with a superhero story is to actively participate in the conspiracy that whatever happens is completely reasonable and does make sense no matter how ridiculous and unbelievable it might become.

So sure, Superman should be out ridding the world of famine and stuff. But he doesn't, because that's not what the superhero story allows him to do.
benpeek
Jul. 6th, 2006 10:36 am (UTC)
So sure, Superman should be out ridding the world of famine and stuff. But he doesn't, because that's not what the superhero story allows him to do.

that's why superman is so often boring. his character has moved outside the simplistic comic book good and bad guy world--he's become an icon for justice and truth, more than any other superhero. batman has his revenge. the x-men have their outsider. superman should have had what it was to be human, and how difficult it was, for even a man who was, basically, jesus. but we're not interested in clark kent--we're interested in superman, and superman exceeds the usual events. he's about making the world a better place and, i think, the failure of superman as a concept is that he doesn't do this.

that's the theory i got, anyhow.
ataxi
Jul. 7th, 2006 12:03 am (UTC)
I agree. If offered the choice between a superhero movie that cleaves to all the silly conventions of the superhero genre, or one that moves beyond them and actually speculates, and thereby manages to draw some interest out of its premise, which are you going to take?

angriest
Jul. 7th, 2006 12:49 am (UTC)
Superman isn't Jesus! He's Moses!
kazzibee
Jul. 6th, 2006 12:40 pm (UTC)
raaaarrrr! i'm bored! entertain me superman! raaaarrrr!

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