by Simon Owens
I had a romantic notion before going to see the ten o’clock showing of Superman Returns. We would go to the video store, rent the original Superman movie, and watch it, reveling in old Superman nostalgia from my childhood. Upon hearing this idea, my friend said, “Dude, the first Superman movie was terrible,” and then began to rattle off a number of points, most importantly the fact that in the original Superman, Lex Luthor had been cast as a silly, comedic character, unworthy as Superman’s nemesis.
He’d confirmed a number of my own suspicions that had begun to arise when I flipped to HBO one day and watched the second Superman movie, one that I had watched over and over again as a child while humming along to the now-famous orchestral theme song. The movie, I could see now, was complete and utter dogshit, but I had held out to the possibility that it had suffered from bad-sequel-syndrome, and that maybe the original was just as good as I remembered it to be.
Obviously, it wasn’t, so we skipped out on that idea and went to the theater without any Superman prep time, ready to discard the previous Superman movies from our minds and view this new, 21st-century, post 9/11 (for some reason, movie critics like to use the words “post 9/11″ when talking about epic movies, so I’ll follow in line) interpretation of it.
Only, from the very beginning the audience immediately begins to see references from the original movie. Indeed, the opening credits are almost exact replicates of the 80s-style blue retro laser credits used before. And throughout the movie, the plot is littered with smirking winks to not only the original movies, but the old television show and comic books as well (ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a bird, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a plane, etc…), in what adds up to a movie that is perhaps too much a homage to the Superman franchise as a whole rather than the Man of Steel himself.
The movie picks up somewhat from the series, when Superman (Brandon Routh) returns to Earth after being gone for five years in search of left-over remnants of Krypton (as a result of scientists claiming they’d found the planet). He tries to pick up his life where he left off, but predictably, he comes to find that the world has moved on without Superman. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has a kid and is now engaged with the editor’s nephew. She’s also now a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for an editorial titled “Why The World Doesn’t Need Superman.” The Daily Planet seems to have gotten along fine without his investigative reporting, and Clark Kent is met with lukewarm sentiment from everyone at the paper except Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) who couldn’t be happier to see him.
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has managed to get out of prison because of a silly, implausible legal loophole that had to do with Superman not being there as a witness for his appeal (is it just me, or does the central theme to this story add up to: “Superman shouldn’t leave the planet for long periods of time”?), and is back to his scheming ways. He treks up to the Fortress of Sollitude to trick Jor-El’s (Marlon Brando) pre-recorded ghost into telling him all the secrets of Krypton, allowing him to have technology much more advanced than that of the rest of the human race. His grand scheme is to drown out most of the continents with crystal continents of his own (using Kryptonian technology that apparently just involves dipping crystal in water), and then sell the land for vast sums of money. Because Superman is such a God-like character and almost impossible to stop, of course he has to find some Kryptonite along the way so he can have his typical scene where he is able to best Superman.
Like the Batman Begins movie, this one suffers from an overly-convoluted scheme that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not really able to wrap our minds around, despite the fact that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve turned our brains off at the very beginning (as anyone should during a comic book movie). After we find out that Lex Luthor has gathered technology thousands of years ahead of our time and we begin to consider all the cool things he could do with it, he decides to…grow masses of ugly, barren land so he can sell beach-front property?
Kevin Spacey, though much better as Lex Luthor than Gene HackmanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s comedic portrayal, still isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t quite able to capture the pure genius that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve come to expect of the character. He adds some interesting crazy psychosis to the mix, and comes off as slightly darker, but director Bryan Singer canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t quite give up the old Lex Luthor Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the one who thinks it prudent to lighten the atmosphere with a corny joke every few minutes. Kate Bosworth makes for a terrible Lois Lane because weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re never able to really like her throughout the entire thing Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in fact she plays a self-absorbed bitch. Though there seems to be a few sparks between her and Superman, she treats Clark Kent like an irrelevant piece of shit (or a child, even), and ignores everything said by anyone that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t add up to her getting her way. Jimmy Olsen is his usual gee-golly self, and Perry WhiteÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s (Frank Langella) character is too much a rip-off of SpidermanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s arrogant J. Jonah Jameson. And like most super hero movies of late, the movie rushes through scenes that should be longer, and gives us prolonged stare-into-each-others-eyes scenes when we wish it would speed up.
This is not to say that there arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t successes in this movie. Most of the action scenes are terrific Ã¢â‚¬â€œ when Superman zooms through the clouds in his red and blue, there is something uniquely American about the entire thing, and there are certainly things that Bryan Singer borrowed from the original movies which were welcome, especially the old orchestral theme song. As the movie nears its end, we grow slightly more convinced at the connection between Lois Lane and Superman, especially in the scene where he flies her off the rooftop for a night-time air-stroll through the city. Lex LuthorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hatred for Superman is more fully-realized, and though the dialog is corny at times, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s several steps above the drudge that was Xmen 3.
Superman isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessarily a bad movie, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just a mediocre one. When a fan-base is forced to wait years in between one sequel and the next, expectations begin to rise. Add to the fact that this particular sequel has had a very long and bumpy ride (read that, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll make you laugh and cry and cringe), then one can understand the disappointment that arises when movies like Batman Begins and Superman Returns have the plots of half-hour television shows, rather than epic movies. If you want us to love a super hero movie, give the villain some real ammo, something more than just the desire to sell shitty beach-front property, and perhaps you wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hear us say Ã¢â‚¬Å“We waited almost twenty years for that?Ã¢â‚¬Â when the credits begin to roll.
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