‘Superman Returns’: You’ll wish it was just a bird or a plane

Superman Returns (2006)

Directed by Bryan Singer

6/10  PG-13

Innovation is highly admired, often revered…so here’s to being inventive. I’ll be writing this review moment-for-moment as I watch director Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns. Writing notes helps, but what can be more credible than writing your thoughts just as you think them?

Kevin Spacey is such a genius. One of the greatest of our time, failure is barely an option for the prolific actor. He plays the sickeningly uncouth Lex Luthor. “Whoever rules technology rules the world,” he says. He listens to operettas as his ship glides through the air, he compares himself to Prometheus. “I just want to bring fire to the people…and, I want my cut.” He seemed to have put on weight for the role, which is always an admirable feat. Christian Bale has done the round, losing big for The Machinist, bulking back up for Batman Begins, and then going back to bones to play a crack head in The Fighter, a role that won him an Oscar.

The Man of Steel, Superman himself, is played by relative newbie Brandon Routh, who looks strikingly similar to Dean Cain, star of the 1990s television series. He flies through the corn fields and runs at super speed as he revels in the nostalgia of his childhood home. The campy leaps remind me of Twilight, though the movie did receive one Oscar nomination, for visual effects. After returning from the planet Krypton, Clark Kent returns to his job at a scathing newspaper, The Daily Planet, where he works under Perry, wonderfully played by Frank Langella. He soon discovers his Earthly love, Louis Lane (Kate Bosworth, newly brunette), is married with children, news to which he seems shocked. His alias? Kent gives the impression that for two years, he’s been somewhere in South America. A lot of kryptonite there, I’ve heard.

Now I can see where that Oscar nomination came from. In an incredibly heroic act, Superman saves Lois and a plane full of other reporters after an in-sky power outage leaves the plane spiraling to its demise. He lands it in the middle of a large baseball stadium, leaving the fans cheering for the return of Superman. The effects are wonderful.

Echoing Spiderman, I see (or vice-versa)? I’ll admit I don’t know much about Clark Kent, so I was surprised to see he also works for a newspaper that understandably scrambles to cover his alter-ego.

James Marsden (Hairspray, the reincarnation of Straw Dogs) plays Lois’s new lover, and nephew of Perry (Langella). He is a solid actor, but I haven’t had much experience which anything in his filmography.

Kate Bosworth acts with more maturity than her age would suggest (she played Lane at only 23 years of age, while Routh was 27). Coincidentally, she played Marsden’s wife again, in the aforementioned Straw Dogs remake earlier this year.

Tobey McGuire’s Spiderman looks so cool spinning webs and swinging gracefully from one skyscraper to the next. Superman can’t have that grace. With his arms outstretched before him as he flies through the air, Superman looks bored and awkward.

At times, the movie’s simple set looks like that of a 1940s superhero serial. The foreground is accentuated, drawing the eye to the helicopter, gun, villain, or hero that deserves attention. A simple cityscape background is visible, but doesn’t draw the eye. It’s a nice nod to Superman’s roots, similar to what The Green Hornet did earlier this year. But in the next scene, the set will be incredibly detailed and special effects will be flaunted.

Hollywood has had a weak history with the lady in distress recently. Just in the aforementioned films, Spiderman in The Green Hornet, Kirsten Dunst and Cameron Diaz star as the dependent follies? Ouch! And what about Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man?  Kate Bosworth isn’t much better. I am a fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal, but almost everyone in The Dark Knight was beyond impressive. Maybe it’s just the nature of the film, relying on the girl to rely on the hero. I do salute Bosworth for convincing chemistry with Routh (which, if you were curious, is pronounced like “South”).

Then, Lois embarks (accidentally) on a trip with Lex Luthor, a pleasant reunion that quickly turns bitter. The movie is going along…it’s solid, with an engaging plot, a capable villain, and a handsome hero. I won’t hype it up—it’s your average superhero movie. I can’t claim acute knowledge of Superman, so comparing it to others simply cannot happen. I do put in behind both The Dark Knight and Spiderman. It may be even behind Spiderman 2, which is saying something.

There’s quite an adorable moment when Luthor’s henchman plays “Heart and Soul” on the piano with Lois’s young son. Then even that moment turns sour, when the evildoer catches Lois trying to fax for help. But will the small child allow such a thing? Luthor, in the meantime, is off creating his island to end all islands, one that will upend North America and kill billions. Not to mention it’s made of kryptonite.

Another clichéd problem arises which leaves Superman trying to decide between saving the city from an approaching split in the Earth’s core or saving Lois from Luthor’s grasp. Which will he choose? I try to give an inviting rhetorical to entice readers, but will it ever work?

Anyone fooled by a pair of glasses and a slight rearrangement of hair doesn’t deserve to be saved by the man known as Clark. Yet, they always do. Didn’t I mention how innovation is often revered? Yet, superhero conventions are rarely broken. The plots are all similar, the villains are evil geniuses, the heroines are never independent enough to survive on their own, and the good guy always wins. Superman Returns is really no different.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes must have taken a page from Superman Returns. They both focus too much on plot, even though their action is above average. They could have made impressive action flicks, but instead they made subpar films.

Kevin Spacey is still a genius. Read my reviews of Horrible Bosses or Father of Invention and you’ll see that he can do no wrong.

How can Superman get the island into orbit but fall back to Earth himself? That seems rather unlikely, but I’m no physicist.

I realize, re-reading, that this is not necessarily the best way to write a fantastic review. But I’m not shooting for fantastic—I just want any true feelings to be known up front. Even if it takes 1,100 words.

Who thought primary colors would be a terrific choice for a superhero costume? It turned out to be beyond iconic, but initially, it had to be an off choice. Spiderman, cool. Iron Man, cooler. Captain America, coolest. But Superman?

“I’m always around,” Superman explains to Lois. He’s just your friendly neighborhood Superman.

Superman Returns is on Blu-ray and DVD.

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5 thoughts on “‘Superman Returns’: You’ll wish it was just a bird or a plane

  1. I haven’t seen this since it first appeared onscreen but I seem to remember feeling that Routh was too thin for the role and Spacey over acted- which is the norm for anyone playing Lex Luthor. I might just watch it again sometime to see if I still feel the same. Nice review. Thanks.

    1. Why would WordPress ever allow anonymous comments? Oh well. I never said Superman was a great hero, I actually think for being called “super” he’s extemely overrated. This blog isn’t for hero reviews.

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