Of course the world needs a Superman. The last son of Krypton inspires us in ways that no political speech or flag waving can. More than an alien in blue tights, Superman is our inner aspirations brought to life. He is our dreams. He is our hopes. And yes, he is, in a way, our frailties. From frame one, literally, Bryan Singer and the cast and crew of Superman Returns performed the impossible. They captured each and every feeling. In spades…
Yes, we even clapped during the opening credits.
After a short blurb explaining where Superman has gone, the film jumps right into the iconic space-based credits we have come to know and love. John Ottman, takes and expands upon John Williams’s classic score. The clapping within the theater reached a crescendo as the music peaked as the words “Superman Returns” flew into the crowd. The camera whips and pans through the universe, covering spans that only the Man of Steel can hope to traverse. Each whip of the camera and name flying through the sky was met with musical fanfare and audience cheers. Within minutes, Singer set the emotional stage for the audience. We were in for a trip that would remind us that a man could fly. And we, the willing audience, were ready!
A lot was sitting on Brandon Routh’s rather large shoulders. Not only did he need to step into the role that is known and beloved the world over, but, he needed work under Christopher Reeve’s extremely large shadow. How does one shine on their own, while still paying respect to what came before? No clue, I’m just glad it wasn’t my problem. Thankfully, under Singer’s careful and loving direction, Routh truly made Superman and Clark Kent his own. Routh reminded the audience why we love Superman. Some critics have complained that this Superman is too introspective. That he flies around and mopes too much. I disagree. This is a Superman that has returned to a world that is just as alien to him as the ruins of Krypton he so recently visited. Nothing is the same anymore. Even after saving lives in his spectacular return entrance, Superman no longer has the love and respect of the one he cares for the most, Lois Lane. As to Routh’s performance. He is simply uncanny as Clark Kent. I found myself whispering in awe to those near me: “He is Clark Kent, my mind can’t wrap around how much is Clark Kent”. Not bad for an unknown from Iowa. Brandon Routh brought humor and pain to Clark Kent and he brought power and compassion to Superman. Not an easy task.
Frank Langella seems to be born to play Perry White, the fast talking Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet. His Perry is both a realist and a dreamer. His performance reveals the true Perry White. A man who knows he needs to sell papers, but, gosh darn it, is happy to see the big blue Boy Scout back in action as well. Sam Huntington as Jimmy Olsen is, perhaps, the most standout performance. No longer the bumbling photographer who only exists to get in trouble and act as comic relief. This Jimmy Olsen, while still happy-go-lucky, isn’t completely na?ve. Sam brings the perfect balance of real world smarts while maintaining the dream that Superman would some day return to Earth. Kate Bosworth, to me, is the only weak performance in her role as Lois Lane. She isn’t bad, she simply didn’t impress me as the sassy and strong willed Lois Lane. To be fair, I’m still not sure how an actress should perform as Lois Lane, as I was never a big fan of Margo Kidder in the role either. Perhaps upon another viewing (of which there will be many), I will take into account the statement Jayesunn made after watching. This Lois Lane was not a continuation of the Margo Kidder character. This Lois Lane is, instead, another take on her character and has more in common with the Lois Lane of the Max Fleischer shorts. Perhaps. However, an audience member shouldn’t need to study past incarnations of a character to enjoy a performance. Finally, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. Okay, I promised I would eat crow should I be proved wrong in his casting. Crow I shall eat. I was wrong. Spacey is wonderful as the megalomaniacal foil to Superman. He is Lex Luthor. Again, some people complain about Spacey’s darker performance as Lex. To that I say, make him even darker. So many people cling to the Gene Hackman performance as the end all, be all of Lex Luthor. Let me remind the naysayers of how much Luthor hates Superman. In every way, Superman is the antitheses of Lex Luthor. Luthor is offended to his very core that an alien would dare lead humanity into its next stage of evolvement. Man must control his destiny, with Lex Luthor, the smartest and most driven man at the helm. The Lex Luthor of Superman Returns simply oozes his hatred at the very mention of the Man of Steel. His hatred only made stronger we he finally confronts this potential alien despot.
There are really two or three plots revolving around this newest version of Superman. The major and most obvious one is where and why did Superman leave the people of Earth. Will he be able to, at the very least, rekindle his friendship with Lois Lane who has moved on with a fianc? and child. The story revolving around the child. I won’t go into details as this is a spoiler free review. However, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in future installments. Finally, there was Lex’s desire to create a new Kryptonian generated continent that he controls. While fantastic and fun, it does strike me as a little too similar to the plot within the Donner Superman film. Again, I want to avoid too many spoiler elements, but, I felt like we were trodden upon familiar territory. This does bring me to my only other true story issue with Superman Returns. Lex Luthor. Look, I love Lex Luthor. He is one of the greatest and three-dimensional villains to ever grace the pop culture world. However, this is now three Superman films (I am not counting Superman III and IV, since Singer picks this up 5 years after Superman II) that we have seen him play a major role. To that I say, enough. Superman has a rich and deep rouges gallery. Time to have him face a foe that doesn’t wish to own more land and/or kill Kal-El. And, while I don’t want to be one of “those people”, the one who wants more explosions and fighting; it would be nice to see Superman go toe-to-toe with some of his more physical opponents. Trust me, it could be done and still have plenty of heart and soul. Indeed, the seeds have been planted for just such an encounter. I don’t want to give it away here, but, feel free to email your friendly neighborhood Geek if you want to know.
Superman Returns takes the audience on a visual and emotional rollercoaster. It is all there; from his fantastically wonderful comic book entrance to the gut wrenching showdown between he and Lex Luthor. From the humor of Clark Kent to the humanity of Superman, Bryan Singer delivers. While Superman Returns isn’t perfect, the film is everything it promised to be. A re-kindling of an icon that the world has forgotten. A reason to again look up at the sky and see that there is a hopeful future. Is Superman Returns never-ending action? No, and I am glad it isn’t. The joy of Superman doesn’t come from his ability to punch a hole through anything or flying at the near light speed or burning apart an asteroid with his heat vision. The joy of Superman is about inspiring us all to be heroes… by looking within and understanding that it is the human side that makes us better… Not the powers.
I give Superman Returns 4 out of 5 Critical Hits.