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Superman Returns
2006 - PG-13 - 154 Mins.
Director: Bryan Singer
Producer: Jon Peters
Written By: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Parker Posey, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Official Site: www.supermanreturns.com
   

Strike the pose
Lois Lane got it right with her Pulitzer Prize-winning essay – “Why the World Doesn’t need Superman.” ‘Superman Returns’ is a delicious wreck of a movie; entertaining but a collision of good and bad ideas and enough inconsistencies to test the patience of hardcore fans. Did we need a new Superman movie?

Directed by fan boy fave, Bryan Singer (‘X-Men’), the return of the Man of Steel comes after an absence of almost two decades from the time when Christopher Reeve last donned the red cape. Since then, we’ve had a gazillion movies based on comic book heroes, and two Superman TV series – ‘Lois and Clark’ and ‘Smallville’ – to fill the void.

The problem with ‘Superman Returns’ is that Singer doesn’t nail a balance between drama, action and comedy. He also seems fixated on re-creating the mood of the first Superman movie rather than moving forward with a new tone or approach. He clearly reveres the Superman character – there are so many Christ-like images, you’d think you’re watching a Mel Gibson movie. The Man of Steel is probably the best-known comic book superhero of the last 70 years. He is DC Comics' and Warner Bros’ best known franchise. But like some of the worst Reeve Superman movies, ‘Superman Returns’ also tries to camp up its villains for yucks.

Newcomer Brandon Routh is the new Superman. It’s clear that he was cast because of his looks – his acting skills are yet unknown; his Superman poses are almost voguing. It’s as if Singer reined in Routh too tightly for any sort of emotional range. The one or two times Routh actually smiles in the movie become a welcome relief that the *human* side of Superman/Clark Kent actually gets to show itself. Otherwise, Singer’s Superman is all statue and postures. Routh is disappointingly wooden compared to ‘Smallville’s wide-eyed Tom Welling.

Brilliantly miscast is Kevin Spacey. Spacey's of Lex Luthor is another example of a reined in performance. There’s no menace from this villain, just quips and quirks. Again, ‘Smallville’s Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) is a real thug you’d believe would do harm.

‘Superman Returns’ is happily not a remake of the first Reeve’s Superman movie. This isn’t the Kansas-origin story – though we get a few glimpses in flashbacks. Superman returns to Earth after a 5 year absence to visit the remains of his home world, Krypton – perhaps the timing saves Superman the embarrassment of not having to deal with 9/11 – to find a changed world where Lois Lane is engaged and has a son, and where Lex Luthor is on the loose with some nefarious scheme. (What Superman was doing on Krypton is never explained.) Lois is about to accept her Pulitzer Prize for her essay. But the movie insists that old Superman ideals – truth, justice and the American Way – still apply to a troubled world.

Unfortunately, this movie has no idea of scale. Superman, practically god-like with his powers, is determined to help every part of the world. Other superheroes have stayed in their own cities. When you have a superhero who can lift giant objects, why does he look like he’s straining when he’s lifting a car? Special effects are adequate but not outstanding. You might believe a man can fly.

A blatant trend now is to have 2 versions of a movie – the theatrical release and the DVD release. In ‘Superman Returns,’ there were a number of scenes from the trailer that are missing from the movie – guess we’ll have to wait for the special, deluxe director’s cut DVD. It no doubt spurs DVD sales, but these extra/deleted scenes and director’s cuts are becoming annoying studio ploys.

There is also way too much reference to the Reeve’s movies – a blatant way to honor and exploit – including heavy use of the original John Williams’ Superman theme and recycling of Marlon Brando footage as Superman's biological father, Jor-El. Why Singer and his writers didn’t venture out to do some re-inventing is a disappointing missed opportunity. Clearly, ‘Smallville’ and ‘Lois and Clark’ demonstrated that the Superman story has plenty of room for interpretation. Instead, we have a movie that doesn’t really explain why the Man of Steel is relevant in today’s world.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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