Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Sam Huntington, Eva Marie Saint, Tristan Lake Leabu
MPAA Rating: (for some intense action violence)
Running Time: 2:34
Release Date: 6/28/06
Review by Mark Dujsik
The Man of Steel returns in body but not quite in spirit. After nineteen years, Superman is back on the big screen, but Superman Returns has actually been almost twenty-six years in the making. Not so a much a sequel to the universally maligned Superman IV: The Quest for Peace but a loose continuation of the saga after Superman II, the movie has a less meandering plot and technically superior special effects than its artistic predecessors, but all of its technical prowess cannot make up for the fact that a sense of joy and wonderment is decidedly missing. The tone of the movie is almost all seriousness, and that tone is a heavy burden for the material to carry. Superman is not about internal turmoil and past regret; Batman has that field covered in the DC Comics universe. This is supposed to be fun, but the movie's last act and overextended coda is far from. All of its reported $260 million budget is up there on the screen in the form of some extraordinary special effects, but the overall effect of the imagery is simply interesting. This is Superman, right? Shouldn't that bring on more exciting descriptors than "interesting?"
After five years investigating the possible remains of his home planet, Superman (Brandon Routh) returns to his Earth home farm in Kansas. After some reminiscence of the past and encouraging words from his adoptive mother, his alter ego Clark Kent comes back to Metropolis to take back his job at the Daily Planet. The love of his life Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) now has a five-year-old son (Tristan Lake Leabu) and is in a long-term engagement to Richard White (James Marsden).. After a potentially tragic incident involving a space shuttle attached to a giant airplane (who'd think something could possibly go wrong with that idea?), Superman makes a dramatic reentrance on the world stage. Through all of this, Superman's arch nemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), recently released from jail after wooing a rich old woman and inheriting her money, makes his way back in the game, and this time, his evil plot this time around involves the crystals from the Man of Steel's Fortress of Solitude, capable of creating land out of nothing but causing mass devastation around the formation, and Superman's only known weakness, kryptonite.
The director is Bryan Singer, the man responsible for bringing the first two mixed entries in the X-Men series to the screen (he wisely bowed out for the underwhelming third entry to direct this, or perhaps the material would have been served better), and his interpretation of the Superman myth is a mixed bag as well. Singer handles implementation of the visual effects with the flair of a showman but without the skill of a storyteller. Certainly the action sequences make sense (well, as much sense as ones involving a man who can fly can), but there's no investment to be had in them. The first, involving the space shuttle and plane, is a complex feat, and the concluding gag at a baseball stadium is amusing. The actual content and progression of the scene, though, is a bit too pat. Similarly, another sequence in which Metropolis is massively shaken by an earthquake so much resembles the sequence of Superman saving lives in California under similar circumstances in the original film, this time around there's nothing extraordinary to it. That scene does contain the movie's most effective destructive visual as the globe atop the Daily Planet building comes crashing down. Why there's no punchline to where Superman finally rests the monument is a bit odd.
The joke of the series, of course, is that Superman is so clearly Clark Kent to us but to no one in his world. A couple of references are made, best of all when Lois' son has the revelation but cannot tell anyone because of an asthma attack. The heart of the series—beyond the childlike wonder of a god among men—is the Kent-Lois-Superman love triangle. The problem in this installment is simple: Kate Bosworth does not make a suitable Lois Lane. Lois' character is about a thirty-eighth of what she should be, turning from independent, intrepid, plucky reporter of our memory to a somewhat bitter but mostly dazed and confused damsel in distress. Fortunately, newcomer Brandon Routh is a more than serviceable Superman/Kent. Christopher Reeve did not originate the role but certainly perfected it, and while those are big shoes to fill, Routh could make a reasonable attempt if he sticks with the role. In the movie's most obvious but effective casting, Kevin Spacey makes a slyly malevolent Luthor. It's a shame the finale of his character's plan comes to such a blatant anticlimax and that the movie continues afterwards to drag out a relationship it failed in the first place.
There are two images that remain fairly solid in my mind from Superman Returns, and they are two that may enter the hero's lexicon. One has Superman hovering in orbit around the planet, listening to the Earth's inhabitants go about their lives, searching for a cry for help. The other has a criminal pointing a gun directly at Superman's head, firing, and then following the path of the bullet as it crushes against his eyeball. As it falls, both momentarily turn their heads downward to watch it. There are certainly some moments of fun like this in the movie, and they help make it not a waste but definitely not a pure delight.
Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.