Friday, June 30, 2006

SUPERMAN RETURNS

“How is it that nobody thinks Clark Kent is Superman?”
“Clark Kent wears glasses. Superman doesn’t.”

If this explanation is at all bothering or troublesome, Superman Returns is not the movie for you. It’s a movie that gives completely into its classic superhero vibe and sticks to that groove. Whereas so many superhero films in recent years have tried to make their heroes as gritty and realistic as possible, Superman Returns takes the path of fantasy and reminds us what makes superheroes larger than life.

I love Superman. Always have. The idea of an all-powerful hero never seemed lame to me. It was primarily inspiring because in spite of his awesome power, Superman always did the right thing. He never used his powers for selfish means, and viewed them as a gift not just for himself, but for all of mankind, a people he was never truly one of but felt the need to give back.

Was I predisposed to love the movie? Not at all. If anything, I was scared they’d screw it all up and I’d forever have to explain that Superman really is a great character (such is my eternal task with Daredevil, the Hulk, and Cyclops). I was afraid they’d try to make him too cool, too edgy, and take away all the stuff that makes him a classic. Look, Superman isn’t a cool character. There’s no cool factor to him. Batman is cool; he’s got the gadgets and an awesome car and he runs around kicking ass. At the center of the Batman/Superman difference is their central missions. Batman’s really is to rid Gotham City of crime, which means going out and finding crime and seeing that it’s (non-lethally) disposed of. On the contrary, Superman’s mission is a protector; he helps people. If that means putting the hurt on a bad guy, then so be it. But if you notice throughout the entire course of the film, as I recall, Superman never directly FIGHTS anybody. There are fantastic action sequences, but none of them involve a fight scene, which I think is pretty remarkable in modern action filmmaking.

Not that Superman Returns is really an action movie anyway. As I said, the action sequences are unbelievable (Superman rescuing the plane will forever be at hand as soon as this hits DVD), but they are few an far between. This is the next step in superhero films, where the special effects are big but the story isn’t focused on a bad guy and a good guy. The core story of Superman Returns is actually more like Casablanca than anything else. It’s about old loves coming back into your life.

And it is beautiful. I’ve seen the movie twice now, both times in digital (my continued love/hate relationship with Bridgeport every time my brother insists we go there), and wow…it’s just about the best looking film I’ve ever seen. Every shot is a work of art. Batman Begins made an important first step in establishing an artistic style in superhero films, but Superman Returns takes it a step further. Metropolis finally feels like a real city, instead of simply a stand-in for New York.

But getting back to the fantasy elements, they are really strong in this. Like I said, if the central premise of glasses as a disguise has always been a problem for you, you’re not the audience for Superman, as there are any number of logical or scientific flaws in the story. There is almost no conceivable way for Lex Luthor’s plan to work, and the fact that the basics of it is explained purely by the fact that the crystals are alien makes me smile. It just gets more complicated from there (like Lois could really come out okay being thrown around in that plane), but this is one of the few times I’ll say it – it’s a comic book. Hang back and enjoy it.
One aspect in the Superman/Lex storyline I did enjoy (which was by and large badly edited; they lost a lot of momentum with me in the early cuts between what Superman was doing and what Lex was doing) was that it was structured very different from every modern superhero film. Every one of those, be it Batman or Spider-Man or ¬X-Men or Daredevil will have the hero and villain do two to four battles before some sort of final showdown in which it’s all put on the line, after which all must be resolved. In Superman Returns, there’s like one showdown. Sort of. And like I said, it’s not really a fight. And after it all, everything is not okay, and Singer and company do a fantastic job of really bringing out the heroic aspect of Superman during it all (and they get major props for frequent and awesome use of heat vision).
It’s the same reason the plane sequence works – Superman doesn’t succeed with his idea of how to stop it from falling right away. He makes some mistakes. In these instances, and in one big moment towards the end of the film, we’re reminded that Superman is only human. Metaphorically anyway.
The thing in the film I feared the most is the presence of Lois’ son, Jason. I’m not going to spoil anything, but for my money they really nailed it. My only fear now is I can’t see any direction for them to go with that story in a sequel without making the worst film ever, but you shouldn’t judge a film by how well it sets up the next I suppose.

The cast is spectacular almost all around, Brandon Routh especially. I’m a HUGE fan of Christopher Reeve’s performance as Superman and Clark Kent. It’s one of my favorites of any film. But Routh finds a way to hit the key notes of what makes Superman, but there were only a couple moments that reminded me of Reeve. He also plays the difference between Clark and Superman a little more subtly than Reeve did. Until seeing the movie, I was unconvinced he could pull off the role, as he didn’t particularly look like Superman. But seeing him onscreen, and especially hearing him, I was blown away. I never thought anyone could ever really BE Superman again, but here he is.

Kevin Spacey’s great, what else is new? He also has one of the best entrances of a villain in cinema history. Frank Lengella is fantastic as Perry White. And Sam Huntington cracked me up every time as Jimmy Olsen; I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen the character portrayed as well as he is here. Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane is a different story altogether. They’ve yet to really craft a great Lois onscreen (watch the animated series for that), but we’re getting there. Bosworth plays Lois’ vulnerabilities just fine, but her strengths poorly. And more than anything else, Lois has to come off as a strong character, and she just doesn’t.

However, the real revelation to me in this movie was James Marsden as Richard White, Lois’ fiancée. His performance in the film makes it all the more upsetting that Bryan Singer didn’t know what to do with him in the first two X-Men films, because he is fantastic here, especially considering his role could have easily been reduced to Mary Jane’s astronaut-boyfriend in Spider-Man 2. If ever there was a man who could compete with Superman, Marsden’s Richard would be him.

Anyway, I loved the movie, even more the second time now that I was done comparing it to my expectations, and just to stuff I wanted to see. I might even end up liking it more than Spider-Man 2 (which is still the most excited I’ve ever been coming out of a movie). The first time though (at Cinetopia) had the best damn audience anywhere. When people cheer in recognition of the opening credits, patterned after Superman: The Movie, I know I’m with my people. And especially when the in the back yelled “Go Brandon!” when Routh’s name came onscreen, it really reminded me of how much we (the geeks) had riding on this, and how much we wanted it, and especially him, to succeed. And to my everlasting joy, they did.

10 comments:

X said...

I went and saw Supermand on the night of the 27th for my birthday with melaina and shawn, expecting it to be pretty awesome, I was saddly disapointed. While Laina and Shawn loved the movie (mostly must because of the fact that superman was wearing the skin-tight costume) I was watching saying, "Is it over yet?" To me the pace of the movie was so slow and the dialog did hardly nothing for me. I will admit Kevin Spacy was probably the best part of the movie, his lex luthor was absolutly amazing, as well has his entire crew, basicly he felt like the Han Solo of the movie.

The Character of superman was extreemly weak, it just didnt work, and (sorry scott) but he was SOOOOO fake. I could never acctually believe the story. Yes I know that this is a fiction and that it is a comic book, but x-men, spider-man, and batman were all able to create a believable (to an extent) setting and believable characters. Lois Lane, again, was extreemly weak as well. Nothing except for the Plane/space-shuttle scene worked--and that was so frickin predictable, you could tell it was coming from the moment the opening credits started.

My recomendation is that if you go to see the movie, leave after the plane scene, because the rest of the movie is not worth wasting your time on...that is unless you really want to see superman save the day in all his goody-goody-ness.

I wish I had enjoyed it, hopefully you all will.

Doug said...

My opinion: meh
It was good, but not great.
I disagree with Scott on some points of his review, but I'm too lazy/tired to try to form cohesive arguments at the moment.

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Scott said...

I'll refer back to the review when I said I don't think the film was attempting realism in the slightest...never mind he's from another planet and has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, there's a thousand things in there that just aren't realistic. That's Superman, that's the entire point.

And every superhero movie is predictable. Yeah, they're really gonna lose the fight against evil. It'd be the worst movie ever.

I don't really know why you were expecting another other than "Superman save the day in all his goody-goody-ness." Once again...that's Superman. He always does the right thing. It's just his character. If you can't believe in that, again, not the movie for you. Stick to...go see THE PROPOSITION, almost nobody does the right thing. But as good a movie as that is, I'll take idealism and standing up for what's right any day of the week. There's not enough of it in the world.

Doug, as always, be very interested to hear the points you disagree on.

Ben said...

I think that the movie was made by people who really loved Superman, and they couldn't help but just make it with people who already love Superman in mind, or at least so that they themselves would be proud of their work. Not dilute him I guess. I can see how the casual moviegoer could find certain parts boring, or the storyline unintriguing; I myself just ate it up. I don't know, I think in this world we kind of need Superman. I know I do. And the film showed Superman the way he was created and has always been represented, and I can't ask for any more than that.

Doug said...

Well, I reread Scott’s post, and really can’t find anything that I disagreed with. So I’ll just put forward what I thought about it.
First of all, the plot seems badly formed. I guess part of this is because half of the movie; the Superman and Lois part, had no conclusion. The part that does end, the Lex-Luther-taking-over-the-world bit, is not climatic. This makes it feel kinda half-hearted; something that is just happening while the real story goes on. I really never believed that the world was endangered at all during it, either. Perhaps I’m just jaded. Or maybe it was just bad editing. Scott would know better than me.
This may be because of impending sequels, but the movie on its own does not seem complete. Part of this is that the Superman-Lois conflict does not seem real, or strong enough to drive the movie. It kinda had to do this too, since Lex Luther couldn’t drive it himself. I have to admit, though, Superman ripping the roof off a house, and attack the guy for stealing his woman, is not in his character at all. As Scott said, the movie is ”about old loves coming back into your life,” but the “old loves” part is unconvincing, which left too much of the movie following something I really didn’t care about, because the characters themselves really didn’t seem to care about it. If Routh was able to convince me that his character that he needed Lois, then maybe I would have cared about what happened between them, but he didn’t. Not that I’m blaming Routh, he may have done a great job. In fact, I think he did. Maybe I’m blaming the screenwriter, I don’t know. I just didn’t see any realism or urgency in Superman’s desire. Thinking about it just now, I can see the scenes with Superman and Lois being really convincing in a comic, but short, intense sequences don’t work as well in a movie. Probably because they aren’t as intense as they would be in a comic.
My other major problems with the film… I really hated Kitty. She just bugged me. Kal Penn also annoyed me. I kept waiting for him to get high and look for White Castle at some point in the movie, but it never happened, he wasn’t even funny. Also really didn’t like Lois, not really having anything to compare to, and especially not the comics, my objections to these characters are personal; they could have been played perfectly, I really don’t know.
So I guess my main problem with the movie involves it not seeming to have a point, since the Lex Luther thing was secondary and the Lois part unresolved.
I have to admit, Routh did a good job, especially with Clark Kent. He really plays the “mild-mannered” part right. Also liked the Action Comic #1 cover scene. Scott is right, serious logical and scientific run rampant, throughout pretty much all of the movie, but it’s a comic book.

Scott said...

Doug, I do see your point on the problem with Superman/Lois, and it just not getting resolved, but I think at the very least the ending showed that there's hope for the two of them. I'd hate to see her totally ditch Richard, 'cause he is a great character, but at the same time I got the idea that the rift that was created between Supes and Lois is fixed.

And yeah, I didn't totally buy that the world was in danger either...I think it is a jaded moviegoer thing, where the cliche villain scheme is to take over/destroy the world (Lex was going for a little of both I guess), and the plot for doing so is completely ridiculous, but for my money, it was damn entertaining.

Totally agree with Ben.

imac said...

I thought that the movie was great, best movie I've seen all summer even. The movie didn't have any serious flaws(though others may choose to disagree), Spacey was great, and the graphics were awesome(best part of the movie). But, I would agree with Ben. The thing that I felt was missing from this movie was that I've never been that big on comics. I like them and I read them(mostly in spanish) when I get a chance but I'm not much of a geek when it comes to comics. And that's what I felt was missing from this movie. That was the difference between a solid movie with replay potential to a amazing movie that would definitely be watched multiple times. A pretty good movie(definitely worth the 10 and drive for the 'couv just for the visual alone), but I definitely feel that this movie would be a much better movie for the die-hard fan.

Ken said...

I wanted to kill Lex Luthor when he tossed out that "it's simple physics" line. That's all I'm gonna say on that point.

In other news, I can't believe the UNO lady was married. Always, always check for the ring first. Damn!

Miguel said...

Hahaha, I could feel Ken bristling at that line from several seats away.