Reeve, Routh and Rousing "Returns"
PopcornReel.com Film Review: "Superman
By Omar P.L. Moore/June 27, 2006
Returns" is two hours and 37 minutes long, although it goes by quickly. It
is rated PG-13 and has some intense action violence, as well as mild sensuality
and several startling instances of violence.
It's not Bryan Singer's fault: as a director he has done a couple of bold things
within the last three years; first, he left the "X-Men" film franchise after
directing its first two successful films. Second, Mr. Singer directed a
sequel of sorts, or at least an addendum, to Richard Donner's "Superman: The
Movie" (1978), all the while featuring a debut feature film actor playing the
Man of Steel who had to (unfairly) live under the long, grand shadow cast by the
late, great Christopher Reeve. The good news is that Mr. Singer succeeds
mightily with "Superman Returns," a good, solid film if not a great one.
Mr. Singer ("The Usual Suspects") tells stories well and has an eye for visuals
and operatic moments and all of these elements, with the help of the superb,
stirring John Williams original orchestral score theme music over the opening
and closing credits and during parts of the movie, make "Returns" a worthwhile
vehicle. John Ottman, who also edits this film with Elliot Graham, does
the soundtrack score, and does it very well.
One of several impressive things about "Superman Returns" is its
amazing production design, courtesy of Guy Hendrix Dyas. The astounding
sets, particularly of The Daily Planet and its exteriors; Lex Luthor's lair, and
many other areas -- all of which were built in Australia, add a grand feeling of
foundation to the locations. Brandon Routh fills the bill reasonably well
as a very charismatic Superman, but appears a little stilted and short of the
same charisma as Clark Kent. Mr. Routh also lacks the heft and physicality
of Mr. Reeve, but his looks (which are almost right out of the DC Comics comic
book strips for the popular superhero) are distinctly memorable for the role.
In this story by Mr. Singer, Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris
(screenplay by Mr. Dougherty & Mr. Harris), Superman has been away from his
Earth-saving duties for five years. During that time Lex Luthor (Kevin
Spacey) has been sprung from prison in the midst of a life sentence after among
other things, Superman failure to show up in court as a character witness.
And in the real world time between this film and the last "Superman" movie
(1987), many things have happened in the United States: the horror of September
11, 2001; the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003; the power outage that
affected several East coast cities and Toronto in the summer of 2003; the
ever-growing environmental climate problems and gradual submerging of the planet
Earth by water, etc. -- and each of these events are represented or recalled in
one way or another in Mr. Singer's film, sometimes in an unnerving way.
The nefarious Lex Luthor has come to Superman's crystalline
sanctuary with his band of villains to find out all about Superman's powers and
weaknesses. "Tell me everything," Mr. Spacey's Luthor intones to the
reflective image of Jor-El (the late Marlon Brando in a frame superimposed from
Mr. Donner's 1978 original film.) Luthor wants to manufacture new
continents (global warming and erosion of land masses, perhaps?) but most
importantly announces early on, that above all else he wants his cut.
Meanwhile, Kal-El (Mr. Routh) has crash-landed to Earth in the mid-western
United States from his planet Krypton, and is being nursed to health by Martha
"Ma" Kent (played by the legendary Oscar-winner Eva Marie Saint of Alfred
Hitchcock's film "North By Northwest"), who adopts him as Clark Kent.
Several amusing sketches feature Mr. Routh, including giving the family dog a
workout with a game of fetch the baseball. Ms. Saint has a few minutes
here and she does what she has to as "Ma" Kent, in what are brief cameo scenes.
Luthor's villains are mute as they do the evil that must be done to make the
world a worse place than it already is; it is probably good that they stay
silent; the looks on their faces say it all. The evil that men do must be
done. There is one rather humorous moment with one villain who wears a
tattoo on the back of his head. The only woman who is part of the train
wreck of malevolence is Parker Posey as Kitty Kowalski, who has more than a
little ambivalence to Mr. Luthor's plans. Like Valerie Perrine's character
in Mr. Donner's film, Kitty has a thing for Superman but any amorous admirations
are muted to a greater effect in Mr. Singer's film.
While Luthor's henchmen are concocting a brew in a model railway train menagerie
of sorts, a mysterious power outage just *happens* to occur, affecting all
transportation and flight traffic worldwide, including a flight carrying the
space shuttle, a flight which happens to have the intrepid Pulitzer
prize-winning reporter Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) on it. Fresh from writing
a Pulitzer-winning story called "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman," Ms.Lane
has now moved on from the love and starry-eyed crush for the Man of Steel and
married Planet editor-in-chief Perry White's son Richard (James Marsden) and has
given birth to a special child (played by Tristan Lake Leabu). After a
hair-raising, hell-ride of a flight which recalls the all-too-real frantic and
frenzied final minutes of the disturbing "United 93" film of earlier this year,
Lois Lane writes an article entitled, "Why the World Needs Superman." In
sheer amazement at the sight of the man she thought abandoned her and the world,
she wears a face of disbelief.
"Are you alright?" Superman queries with a knowing tone in his voice.
One of the things that Mr. Singer uses exceedingly well is Superman's powers to
try and show his humanlike feelings. As Marlon Brando says, "even though
you've been raised like a human being you're not one of them." Though Mr.
Brando's fatherly words don't stop his son from trying to be one of them ("what
if God was one of us...?") The use of the fine visual effects has Superman
using his powers not just for the good of the world, but also for the feelings
toward the woman he cares about. In one beautiful and adoring sequence,
Superman uses x-ray vision to see through an elevator and watch Lois Lane inside
it as she ascends. It is a passionate moment, a scene that is wonderfully
affectionate and romantic and without the benefit of any touching between the
two characters. Mr. Singer, with Mr. Ottman's orchestral and operatic
music in the romantic times between Superman and Lois Lane, is at his strongest
when directing these scenes. Superman and Lois Lane's romantic scenes are
directed with an elegance and a sensuality that is sincere and beautiful.
The film has its share of political references: Superman as the world's
policeman (read: America as the policeman of the world, perhaps? And
revealingly, as if a signal of criticism of the war in Iraq, Frank Langella's
Perry White character, editor-in-chief of The Daily Planet, during a staff
meeting says, "truth, justice, and all that," instead of "truth, justice and the
American way," -- a line of past Superman films and television series -- midway
through the film.) Lois Lane asks Superman, "how could you leave
us?" This may bring to mind some of the questions in the minds of those
who may have thought that America's president did not take charge in the initial
minutes and hours following the horrific events of September 11, 2001.
Even if this comparative analysis is way off base, Mr. Singer's film and his own
sensibilities seem to be pointing in that direction. When the country (in
this film however, the world) is in chaos, a leader is needed to step forward,
and in "Superman Returns", the leader does his best to be present -- in more
than one place at a time in every opportunity.
Other political references come in a line which might be
interpreted by some as being spoken by a Superman that is gay. Much ink
has been spilled in the U.S. press in the run-up to this film's release as to
whether the Man of Steel is a gay character. While the "debate" about
Superman's gay-ness or straight-ness seems ridiculous and trivial (does it
really matter one way or another? Would it matter to you if the person
saving you and the world was one orientation or another, one race or another?),
a line Superman speaks to his own son near the film's end may provide a hint as
to what Mr. Singer, who is gay, intends: "you will feel like an outcast, but
you'll never be alone." Mr. Routh follows that by saying to his son that
"you will see my life through your eyes."
Friendly skies: Brandon Routh as
Superman soaring above the Earth's hemisphere; Jor-El reprised: the late Marlon
Brando superimposed from Richard Donner's 1978 "Superman" film, as Lex Luthor listens, during Bryan Singer's "Superman
Returns". Director Bryan Singer, arm and hand outstretched, on the set of
There is excellent chemistry and interplay among several actors: Mr. Langella,
Mr. Routh, Ms. Bosworth and Mr. Huntington in The Daily Planet news room in the
city of Metropolis -- their banter is quick-witted, sharp and authentic.
At times the dialogue feels like that from the 1930's film "The Front Page."
Similarly, Kevin Spacey and Parker Posey bounce things off each other well -- as
Lex Luthor and Kitty Kowalski respectively, they feel like an old married
couple, with the wife growing ever tired of her husband's evil machinations.
As Luthor, Mr. Spacey starts off as if he is reading from a script rather than
acting his character, but this disappears within a few minutes, as he slowly
sinks his teeth into the role, and then hams it up as the film progresses.
Mr. Spacey gives Luthor a touch of flamboyance, a calm assurance and confidence.
His costumes (designer Louise Mingenbach) reveal a keen fashion sense, and his
wigs connote a humor that is deadpan and self-deprecating. He however,
like "M:i:III"'s villain played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, has a ruthlessness
and vicious streak that the audience will take seriously before all is said and
done. Mr. Spacey has several plum lines and he makes the utmost of them.
"Wait for it!" he sternly advises Kitty after she impatiently asks a question
early on. And later: "come on, tell me that thing I want to hear, you can
say it," he jauntily taunts to Lois Lane, while sticking his hand by his ear as
if to hear more clearly.
As for Lois Lane, she is a take-charge individual and becomes a heroine in her
own right in this film as she is integral to the survival of Superman once he
has been felled by the one thing he cannot handle: Kryptonite -- a word that Mr.
Spacey gleefully and loudly exclaims near the film's conclusion. Mr.
Singer leaves open the possibility for a second film, as this film is not
resolved with a neat and tidy little bow -- remember, the film is entitled
"Superman Returns" -- it is far from the be-all and end-all. It will be a
delight to see the next film in the series that Mr. Singer directs.
The action scenes are balanced by the romance, the drama and the comedic
moments. While there is less action in "Superman Returns" than some will
like, the "Superman" films were never action films above all else. The
previous films were character dramas, larger stories than just the action
sequences of a man flying around in a red cape and blue tights. Those
films were about love, romance, belief in a guardian of freedom, and freedom
from fear and evil, as well as an idolization of a representative of the ideals
that make humanity great and keep it from spiraling out of control. When
seen in this light and context, Mr. Singer's film becomes infinitely more
appreciated and enjoyable than if one looks at the perspective of all action,
all the time. Lest it go unnoticed, "Superman Returns" contains some
Judeo-Christian iconography -- a brief shot of Superman falling to earth, or in
suspended descent, positioned crucifix-like as Jesus high above the Earth.
The only thing missing is a beard and thorns on the crown of his head.
When all is said and done, the bottom line is that Mr. Singer
combines good direction, a good script that has crackling dialogue at times,
with some decent acting, while crafting a film that has a yesteryear feeling
though maintaining a contemporary feel. In that spirit, Mr. Singer in the
closing credits dedicates this picture "with love and respect to Christopher
Reeve and Dana Reeve." One cannot help but feel a chill down the spine
when those words appear on the screen during John Williams's theme music score.
Either you shed a tear, well up with rousing emotion, or you cheer the tasteful,
dignified gesture Mr. Singer makes to the super man and the super woman married
couple who passed away within two years of each other.
"You will see my life
through your eyes...for the son becomes the father and the father becomes a
son.": The late Christopher Reeve (center) and the late Dana Reeve, with their
son, at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, April 2004. Mr. Reeve
would pass away within six months of this photo; Ms. Reeve passed away earlier
this year. (Photo by: Omar P.L. Moore.)
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