Sunday, July 09, 2006

Superman Returns
Review by Sombrero Grande

Superman Returns is rather a mess of a movie. Oh, there are certainly some very good elements in it--the action sequences are exciting, the comic relief works, and the acting is all top-notch--but it’s holes in the story and unresolved plot points that leave the film feeling ultimately as frustrating as a Lost season finale cliffhanger.

Like Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Superman Returns is a film that doesn’t deserve its long run time seeing as how it leaves so many questions unanswered at its conclusion. (If you want to avoid reading any spoilers, I’d recommend skipping the next two paragraphs of this review entirely.) So how is it that Lois Lane had Superman’s baby? If we are to interpret this development as Superman and Lois engaging in a little casual sex fling at some point in the past, doesn’t that beg the question Kevin Smith raised rather vulgarly in Mallrats about Superman’s powerful climax probably killing Lois instead of merely impregnating her? Also, what happened to the giant crystal island Superman tossed into space at the end? And what of all those giant fragments that broke off and fell back into the ocean? We saw what a tiny crystal shard would do in water, so why didn’t those huge chunks cause an even greater disaster? Was the whole point of having Parker Posey lug that dog around through the entire movie just so they could eat it at the end?

I’ve never really been a big fan of Superman, and the movie illustrates why quite nicely. You see, Superman’s powers are always just flexible enough to fit perfectly any situation that comes up. When pieces of debris fall from a crumbling skyscraper, Superman’s heat vision is just powerful enough to disintegrate each individual piece before landing on pedestrians below yet it doesn’t burn or affect anything else. He can fly faster than a falling jetliner and manage to stop its drop from the stratosphere just a few feet from the ground. And, even though he previously had lost all his super strength just a few minutes earlier on a kryptonite-infused island, suddenly he conveniently finds the strength to lift the whole damn thing not only out of the ocean floor but into space (while still having a shard of kryptonite broken off inside of him to boot). This suspense-less climax of the film feels like so many other moments in the story where the screenwriters obviously wrote themselves into a corner and then needed to find some kind of deus ex machina-like superpower to get them out. Any time you see someone stuck in an impossible situation, rest assured that Superman will show up at the last possible second and demonstrate the exact ability needed to perform the rescue. You see? It’s worse than the old Batman TV show where Batman always had the exact item in his utility belt to get he and Robin out of whatever bizarre situation they found themselves in. Zero suspense.

Superman traditionalists will find much to annoy them in Superman Returns. To my knowledge there’s nothing that goes directly against canon, but everything just seems far less patriotic than one might expect. After all, Superman IS an American icon, and yet the phrase “...truth, justice and the American way,” is not in the film at all; instead we hear “...truth, justice [and] all that stuff.” I can’t even recall seeing an American flag anywhere in the film. Granted, I wasn’t looking for one the way I’d, say, look for the Pizza Planet truck in a Pixar movie, but if you watch Spider-Man or The Rocketeer you can’t help but see the superhero distinctly aligned with the flag.

Like I said before, I found the acting in the film to be quite good. Newcomer Brandon Routh plays an apt Superman and Clark Kent. Kate Bosworth brings just the right amount of moxie and vulnerability to her portrayal of Lois Lane. Kevin Spacey is an incredible Lex Luthor (is it just me or is that a Keyser Soze wig he’s wearing at the Metropolis Natural History Museum?), alternately amusing and frightening while always remaining a beguiling presence on screen. Even Sam Huntington’s take on Jimmy Olsen was fun to watch. Despite praising each actor individually, I still have a bit of a beef with the casting. The first time I saw Superman, Lois and Jimmy on screen, I have to admit they looked quite a bit younger than I expected. Heck, the filmmakers might as well have just gone with the cast of Smallville for how young the characters appear in the movie. If this is supposed to be a sequel to the original Superman movie, taking place 5 years later, then how come nearly all the major players seem to have reverted back to an earlier age while technology shot ahead about 30 years?

The script is full of cutesy little “wink, wink” moments--such as when Jimmy Olsen hands Perry White a blurry photo of Superman flying and White and Lois argue, “It’s a bird,” “It’s a plane,” “It’s...” and Clark Kent walks into the office saying, “you wanted to see me?”--but sadly it lacks any kind of underlying purpose. I suppose you could compare the entire movie to the scene where Superman foils the bank heist. First off, there’s the overall preposterousness of the hopelessly overpowering villain (who the heck sets up a frickin’ machine gun cannon for a bank heist?). Then there’s the fact that Superman oh-so conveniently arrives at the very last second (flying just as fast as is convenient for the story) to save the day. After the rather dazzling action and special effects sequence with the bullets bouncing off of him, the scene just ends with no resolution to any of the events the audience just spent their time watching.

Recently we’ve been fortunate enough to have a significant number of good superhero movies where the filmmakers “get it” (X-Men, Spider-Man, The Incredibles, Batman Begins), so it’s disappointing to have to group Superman Returns along with the “sorry, try again” pile (Hulk, Fantastic Four, etc.).


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