Wednesday, July 05, 2006
  Theatrical Review: Superman Returns

"Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don't share their power with mankind."

That, according to Lex Luthor, is the problem with Superman. I suppose that from Luthor's point of view, that statement might be true. I'd phrase it another way: "The problem with Superman is that he basically IS a god and, therefore, doesn't share humanity with mankind."

In Superman Returns, as in all other Superman stories, the Kryptonian god known as Superman once again proves that he is indestructible. He flies. He's faster than a speeding bullet. He's more powerful than a locomotive. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

He's boring.

If you're going to tell a story about a god who comes to Earth to save mankind, I suppose there really is only one way to do it and make it interesting. You can do it allegorically, possibly as a reference to Christianity… or you can do it as a straight-story, allegorical to nothing, irrelevant to the human experience, and ultimately without any real point. I suppose that Bryan Singer was afraid of offending the masses by straying too far away from the traditional Superman mythos, and I'm sure that the idea of religious allegory never crossed his mind. In Superman Returns, Bryan Singer tells us another Superman straight-story about the Man of Steel's efforts to save mankind from itself. Superman loves humans, he empathizes with them and wants to protect them… so if he is a god, he is a good god, and I suppose that his motivation for protecting humanity must be a product of his own innate goodness. I have to make that supposition, however, because Superman Returns is true to every other Superman story in that it offers us no real explanation for what drives the title character. This isn't a superhero who is driven by guilt, revenge, personal fear, deeply held convictions or a lack of self control. Superman is a superhero because, along with being all-powerful, he's just a really nice guy.

Ho. Humm.

There have been a number of good superhero movies over the past ten years, and in all of them we've seen superheroes who share our humanity. The best of the recent superhero movies have been about characters that the average human can relate to because we share their experiences, emotions and motivations. Batman's pathos moves us with regard to our sense of loss and our basic human desire to overcome our fears. Spider-Man moves us because we share his self-doubt, his guilt, and his sense of personal accountability. Even the Hulk is germane to most people who've ever felt thelselves lose control. Today's movie superheroes are better than Superman because they're weaker than Superman. They're imperfect. They can be tempted, they can be scared, and they can make mistakes. They aren't gods. That's what makes them interesting.

Superman returns, to the extent that it's a standard Superman story, ought to appeal to the average Superman fan. If you're entertained and moved by the idea of an all-powerful superhero who can basically do anything, you might enjoy the movie. It does, in it's own way, have a lot to offer. The special effects shots look beautiful. As Superman, Brandon Routh channels the late Christopher Reeve strongly enough to satisfy Generation X'ers who remember the 70's films with nostalgia. He ought to have a nice long career built on milking this role if he has the good sense to stay off of horses.

A lot has been made, in fact, of how much Routh resembles the late Christopher Reeve. Personally, I can think of at least one person with closer physical similarities:

For me, a movie-fan who's never been into Superman, Superman Returns was a failure of a film. I honestly can't understand some of the mistakes that Bryan Singer made with this movie. For instance, he cast Parker Posey as Kitty Kowalski, Lex Luthor's moll… and he had her dress like a drag-queen Joan Crawford imitator in her every scene. Why? Other elements of the movie seemed geared to have fun with the presence of Superman in today's modern world. People take his picture with their camera cell-phones. Fax machines and computers are featured prominently in the story. And yet every time I saw Parker Posey I had the distinct feeling that she's accidentally stumbled onto the set from a nearby remake of Mildred Pierce.

And with regard to Parker Posey, the most offensive thing about her role in this film is that she's such a better actress than Kate Bosworth, who plays Lois Lane in the new film. Kate Bosworth is so indistinct and so featureless that every time she'd show up in a scene, I'd need few seconds to remember that she was the actress who played Lois Lane in the film. I'm totally serious. She's just one more totally featureless young actress and I can't for the life of me figure out what it is about her that some people find noteworthy. If you put Kate Bosworth in a line-up with Kate Beckinsale, Kate Hudson and Katie Holmes and Jessica Biel and Keira Knightley, it would be a struggle for me to figure out which one was which.

Singer could have cast Parker Posey as Lois Lane and maybe, just maybe, he'd have made a film featuring at least one performance I cared about. As it was, the most notable thing about the best actor in this movie was her bizarre wardrobe.

Not too long ago, Kevin Spacey was one of the most promising and commendable actors in modern American movies. Remember his remarkable work in the outstanding film Glengarry Glen Ross? Remember The Usual Suspects and American Beauty? In Superman Returns, Spacey didn't even seem to want to be there. I've never seen an actor of his quality deliver such a half-hearted, inanely campy performance as the one Spacey puts across in Superman Returns. Unfortunately, given his most recent pictures, I've come to believe that Spacey is simply finished doing good work in good movies. I suppose he still hasn't been able to scrape Pay It Forward off the bottom of his shoes.

Even the set pieces in the movie were predictable elements. You see the globe atop the Daily Planet building and you just know that you're going to see Superman hold it up in an Atlas position at some point. You see a large, impressive ship and you just start counting the moments until Superman saves people from it's wrecking. At the beginning of the movie, Lois Lane has a son who was born during the sabbatical that Superman has… well, returned from. I suppose we were supposed to spend some time wondering who the boy's father was. I spent most of my time wandering why nobody had taken him for the haircut he so desperately needed.

All said, Superman Returns was a boring movie with a boring premise about a boring hero, featuring boring performances by a few actors who are above this kind of stuff and a few actors who are probably right at home in this kind of fluff. I didn't see the point… but, as I admitted earlier, I have never seen the point in Superman in the first place, so I'm probably not a good source. If you're a Superman fan, go see the movie. If you're a Superman fan, you and I might as well be from different planets, anyway.

They call Superman the Man of Steel. That's fitting, and I think it would also be fitting to call Superman Returns the Movie of Steel. It's bright and shiny… it's clearly expensive and built to last… but it's flat, emotionless, and it's a poor reflector of the human image.

Darrell, you said it better than I did. I didn't even have the patience to think that much about it. I was just like, "OK, that was alright, I guess. Now let's hit Starbuck's before they close."
I suppose that Bryan Singer was afraid of offending the masses by straying too far away from the traditional Superman mythos, and I'm sure that the idea of religious allegory never crossed his mind.

What movie did you see? I'm not going to defend the film too much because while I enjoyed it, I saw the flaws and realized it would be better appreciated by nostalgic fanboys with a lot of prior knowledge. The film fails to explain a lot of things and while it's faithful to how Superman's powers work, it becomes less accessable to the average movie goer.

But if anything, Singer might have hit people over the head with the Christian references. Read Rey's review again for a lot of these points. Jor-El sends his only son to walk among man, his side is pierced, he dies for humanity, rises again, the nurse finds an empty bed the way Jesus' tomb was empty, etc.

Parker Posey as Lois would have been interesting...I agree that the villains were wasted as rehashing the Luthor and Miss Tessmacher from the old films. I actually liked Bosworth, thought she was cute, and can tell her apart from those other lovely young ladies you listed. That might just be seeing things through the eyes of a young single guy in his early thirties though.

I can explain the kid's mop...invulnerable hair follicles. ;-)

I liked Pay it Forward. I do think Spacey hammed up this role and channeled Hackman and maybe a bit of Jack Nicholson's Joker, which is all wrong for the modern Lex Luthor.

And that bit about having the good sense to stay off horses...that was just wrong. :P
MCF's point about the rehashing of Luthor and Miss Tessmacher is dead on. I felt like I was watching the original superman movie.
When I left the theatre I thought I would give the movie a very slight thumbs up, but the more I thought about it, the more it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Part of my problem is I've always viewed Superman for what he is, an alien. He's not a human being people!
The whole Superboy story is so campy , so Hollywood, and so damn stupid that it basically ruins the series for me. How can I give this franchise another chance with Superman 2 when I know I've got to watch Joey Frickin Lawrence Jr. and his golden locks run around throwing pianos on people?
The best thing that ever happened in Hollywood this year was Bryan Singer leaving the X-Men so we didn't have to watch another so-so X-men movie.
MCF: Jor-El sends his only son to walk among man, his side is pierced, he dies for humanity, rises again

Dude, I really don't mean to be a crank about it, but seeing those elements as allegory is the biggest stretch I've ever heard in my LIFE! For it to be remotely allegorical to Christ, there'd have to be elements of redemption, forgiveness, a sacrifice of innocence, etc. Go watch this movie again and then try to tell me that there's even the SLIGHTEST Christian allegory in this silly Superman tale. There is a huge difference between real allegory and vague, meaningless references to symbolism... and an even BIGGER difference between honest allegory and blatant Hollywood chicanery.

Otis: The best thing that ever happened in Hollywood this year was Bryan Singer leaving the X-Men so we didn't have to watch another so-so X-men movie.

Exactly. When I finally get around to writing my X-Men 3 review, the subtitle will be "How Superman Saved the X-Men from the Evil Genius Bryan Singer."
Fair enough. It had blatant parallels, but the story itself wasn't an allegory, and certainly not on par with C.S. Lewis. I'll concede that. Ironically though, most of secular liberal America might be upset seeing Superman spread his arms wide and fall from the heavens, while remaining oblivious to the fact that Aslan was a Christ figure.

I still think X3 would have been better with Singer at the helm. At the very least, Marsden wouldn't have had the second commitment as Richard White and we might have had a decent conclusion to the Cyclops and Jean story worthy of the comics. I liked X3, but I know what that story could have been.
D, I notified Chris via email about your pic usage - he has yet to respond. Perhaps he's off saving tourists from mundanity? Anyhoo, I thought he'd like to see your review. For all of his big tips, he can't afford his own computer (go fig) so he uses one down at the local internet cafe.
Darrell, I am amazed and in awe of your being able to fold in a Mildred Pierce reference in this review.
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