There’s a sequence in Superman Retuns where the Man of Steel is sort of hovering over Earth, looking a bit like Christ on the cross, as Marlon Brando’s voice repeats the words from the first movie about how Jor-El sent his only son to watch over humanity. That’s some religious symbol, huh? It’s just one of several interesting ingredients in the latest chapter of a franchise long thought dead. Bryan Singer turned out to be the right filmmaker to bring Superman back to the heights of the first two movies.
Why? Because he shows some respect and love for what Superman is all about. He wants this film to be the franchise’s official third part, ignoring Superman III (1983) and Superman IV (1987). That’s a good idea. This film takes place five years after Superman II (1981), and while our superhero (Brandon Routh) has been off looking for pieces of Krypton in space, humans everywhere have learned to live their lives without a guardian angel. Then, suddenly, he returns and finds out that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has a son and a man (James Marsden) in her life. Not that she has stopped loving Superman, but he disappeared without so much as a goodbye and she’s not willing to leave her new family. It’s a painful realization for the man in tights, but supervillain Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) makes sure to keep him busy. With his newly stolen fortune, he intends to use crystals from Krypton to destroy a huge part of the world and create new land (after all, he didn’t get to ruin California in the previous film). Superman is ready to fight him, but Luthor has a kryptonite-laced surprise for him.
Just as much fun as Hackman
Sounds like business as usual, and it’s true that there are few real surprises in this film. The focus on Superman being rather lonely is depressing, but there’s also plenty of humor and exciting action sequences, particularly the one involving a Boeing. Watching Superman fly has never been more awe-inspiring; it’s actually very beautiful. The cast has its benefits. Spacey is just as much fun as Gene Hackman in the original, and newcomer Routh is watchable, although not as good as Christopher Reeve; it’s amazing how much Spacey and Routh remind us of their predecessors physically. Bosworth, on the other hand, leaves me somewhat indifferent as Lois; at the tender age of 23 she’s too young to play this older character convincingly.
Singer seems intent on directing another chapter, since Lois’ young son turns out to be surprisingly strong (let’s just say he knows how to handle a piano). That part of the movie feels like a teaser for a future sequel. The writers grapple with the human side of this superhero, and it’s not bad, but it’s already been done in the previous films. Another drawback is when Luthor once again has been defeated, director Singer chooses to go on for a while longer when he really should wrap things up. This was not a problem in his first X-Men movie. Still, I love the opening credits with Brando’s voice, that retro design and John Williams’s grand theme, put to great use by composer John Ottman. For all the flaws in this flick, I still wish all superhero movies had the Bryan Singer touch.
Superman Returns 2006-U.S. 154 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Bryan Singer, Jon Peters, Gilbert Adler. Directed by Bryan Singer. Music: John Ottman. Cast: Brandon Routh (Clark Kent/Superman), Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane), Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor), James Marsden, Frank Langella, Eva Marie Saint… Parker Posey.
Trivia: Noel Neill and Jack Larson, who played Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen in the TV series The Adventures of Superman (1951-1957), appear in this movie. At various points, Brett Ratner, Tim Burton and McG were allegedly considered to direct, and J.J. Abrams and Kevin Smith to write.
Quote: “Gods… are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don’t share their power with mankind.” (Spacey analyzing Superman)
Last word: “Quentin Tarantino and I had a big conversation about it — he has a fascination with this film and he wrote this whole essay about it, but the Lois Lane part of it has always been a stickler with him. This is me extrapolating, but the relationship in the Donner film was so black and white and here it was complex. Adding to that, of course, was the child that was involved. Again, I really do think I was making the film for that ‘Devil Wears Prada’ audience of women who wouldn’t normally come to a superhero film.” (Singer, ComicBookMovie.com)