Friday, February 02, 2007

A Second Look: Superman Returns

I just want to bring fire to the people. And I want my cut.”
- Lex Luthor

Now that we have Melody, Lori and I don’t get out to the movies much. We did check out The Holiday this year and we both liked it. More on that later. We also caught “Superman Returns” when it bowed last summer. I liked it. I recommended it, actually. But there was always something somber about it. Over the holiday break I got a chance to watch it again and, as I’ll do in these recurring “Second Look” articles, I’d like to share my thoughts and opinions regarding “Supermans Returns” the second time around.

Most of the pieces are in place to make a compelling sequel to the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films (wisely ignoring Superman III and Superman IV). The special effects are phenomenal. If you love Superman the way I do, you’ll enjoy just seeing him zip through the air. Finally the effects can pull off what it should look like. The big rescue of the airliner itself is worth the price of admission and there area few other really cool action scenes. Surprisingly, though, this is not as much of an action/superhero movie as you might think.

Most of the cast does a great job of extending the characters established back in the seventies. Brandon Routh isn’t Christopher Reeve, but he does a decent job and I actually like him as Superman. Kevin Spacey makes a compelling Luthor. He’s a more sinister, hardened man than the Hackman version from before but he’s still obsessively interested in real estate. Probably the only character that I felt didn’t translate well from the previous films is Lois Lane. Kate Bosworth isn’t a bad Lois. She smart. She’s feisty. She’s pretty. But it’s a stretch to go from the broadly painted Lois portrayed by Margot Kidder to this younger, prettier Lois when it’s supposed to be five years later. It works okay within the context of this film, but if you’re going to treat SR as a sequel, which it was clearly designed to be, it jars you from the story, which destroys the suspension of disbelief required for any story to transport you from your world into the world of the story.

Is this what makes “Superman Returns” somber? No. It’s just a minor nitpick. What makes it somber to me has to do with the basic premise of the movie, which is actually intriguing. Superman has been gone from Earth for five years and comes back to a world that has decided it doesn’t need him. Perhaps the biggest betrayal is that Lois has actually won a Pulitzer Prize for an article detailing why the world doesn’t need him. So Supes is understandably depressed. Add to this the fact that Lois has moved on (she’s about to marry Perry White’s nephew with whom she’s apparently had a child) and you can see why there’s a somber taint to this picture. It’s Superman’s movie. We see things through his eyes and we even sorta feel sorry for him.

Some of the films revelations go to great lengths to lift this mood. There’s this whole God/savior parallel that is clearly prevalent in several scenes and, for the most part, I’m pretty cool with all that stuff. I like multiple thematic levels in my storytelling, thanks very much. There are a couple pretty good plot twists that point the franchise in an entirely new direction. But even after this, there’s still a melancholy feeling. Even when Superman is accepted again and he’s discovered his place in the Father/Son scheme (did I mention they did a great job of bringing Marlon Brando’s Jor El back from the dead?) you still sorta feel like it woulda been cool if there was more to the whole thing.

Which I guess is the point. Perhaps this somber tone isn't out of place at all. It's merely the story that Director, Bryan Singer wanted to tell. Besides, it’s recently been reported that Singer will be making the next sequel, “The Man of Steel.” So I guess we’ll see where he’s going with some of these loose ends and hopefully we'll lighten up a little too.

And let’s forget about Lex Luthor for at least one movie, please. With these kinds of special effects, we need to finally see Big Blue open up a can on a gang of intergalactic baddies.

Now wouldn’t that be cool?