Movie Reviews: Superman Returns (2006)

Well, I do think the poster is cool.

Superman Returns (2006)

Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Sam Huntington

Directed by: Bryan Singer

A lot of critics have been saying that this new Superman movie, a pseudo-sequel of 1980’s Superman II, is a worthy successor to the Richard Donner classics, fitting right in with the world Donner and company created over 25 years ago. They say it has the same spirit and feel of the original two, right down to the posthumous cameo by Marlon Brando.

I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the first two movies. So, yes, Superman Returns felt very similar to the movies I’ve recently re-watched and reviewed. It was surprisingly boring for long stretches of time, with some plot points that leave me scratching my head.

Luckily, this new movie isn’t quite as boring as its predecessors. Sadly, this new movie lacks the charm that Christopher Reeves brought to the originals. Brandon Routh is a remarkable look-a-like to Reeves, almost like a Christopher Reeves mannequin come to life. Well… almost come to life, I suppose. His Superman/Clark Kent lacks spark, coming off cold and uninteresting. Kate Bosworth takes her cue from Routh, giving us a Lois Lane that is not only less spunky than Margot Kidder‘s Lois, but even less lively than Katie Holmes‘ Rachel Dawes. Kevin Spacey‘s Lex Luthor probably improves upon Gene Hackman‘s version, but neither is a Lex Luthor interpretation I prefer. Once again, he provides comic relief to the flick, never quite managing to come off as a serious threat to the most powerful being in the world.

Ultimately, the blame goes to Bryan Singer, whose overwhelming reverence to the original films results less in creativity and more in mimicry. The reverence does help create a proper sense of awe and wonder in those around Superman, but is overdone when every shot of the Man of Steel is iconic and posed, as though straight from a comic book pin-up. Singer is so interested in evoking a sense of awe with Supes that he is almost always given a soft glow focus (except in times of duress), which often serves to make Routh look even MORE like a mannequin.

Singer isn’t interested in merely presenting Superman as mythic, but instead, rather forcefully pushes a messianic subtext throughout that felt like a bit much to me. I get that there are obvious Christ overtones to the Superman myth, and I think there are interesting stories to be told involving Kal-El’s messiah complex. But this movie doesn’t deal with Clark’s complex, but instead seems so intent in planting the idea in our heads that I’m surprised they didn’t cast Jim Caviezel in the role.

As much as I didn’t like the portrayal of Clark Christ (mostly because I felt it lacked subtlety, but also because I was often bored enough while watching to keep making the connection), the portrayal of Superman: Home-wrecker made me feel even more uncomfortable. Since it’s in all the previews, I’m not spoiling anything by talking about one of the few twists added to this new version: Lois Lane now has a five year old son (Tristan Lake Leabu), and is with another man (James Marsden, who shall forever play the generically-handsome second banana). I guess we’re still supposed to cheer for Superman to get the girl even though A) this new guy seems perfectly decent and seems to be the father of her child, and B) Lois Lane is pretty dull and shallow.

I will say that the action scenes are often spectacular, and the face-off between Superman and Luthor was as physical and brutal as anything a Superman movie has ever given us. Unfortunately, the action sequences were too few and far between, giving us a movie about the most powerful hero in the history of print and screen that feels cold and bloodless. It’s little more than a bigger budgeted remake of a movie that I don’t think was good enough to be remade in the first place.


Related Reviews:
Superman: The Movie (1978)
Superman II (1980)
Superman: The Animated Series Volume One

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