Settle in for this one because there is a lot to talk about here. The new Superman movie, Superman Returns, is certainly getting a lot of hype and is the first whole-hearted attempt at a Superman film since 1980. As a life long fan of the original Superman films (at least the first two), this new movie does a lot of things right and lot of things wrong – and some inbetween. Proceed with caution, however, as there are movie spoilers. Sorry…spoilers are required to discuss the concerns within the Superman film universe.
I did have some reservations about Superman Returns. Messing with a film that is engrained in all of us is like holding a candle in a fireworks factory; one bad move and it all goes up in smoke, and fast.
The movie starts off the best way possible, with classic Superman credits. I was smiling ear-to-ear as the open credit style matches the original film style really well. It instantly puts the first two films in your head – which is good, because you’ll be having to do a lot of film remembering throughout the two hours.
Thanks to an opening preface, we learn Superman left Earth to find remains of Krypton, this being shortly after he stopped General Zod and his goons (the end of Superman II). This little trip took Supe five years before he comes back to Earth. Conveniently, Lex Luthor is out of jail and just “inherited” millions of dollars, putting him back in a position to wreak havoc on humanity once again.
Out of all the characters, Kevin Spacey seems to do best as Lex Luthor. He does very well at keeping up with the character laid down by Gene Hackman 20 years prior. There are differences, obviously, but the twisted humor of Luthor comes through as good as ever, even with a new sidekick – apparently Otis didn’t manage to get out of jail.
Much to my delight, many of the scenes in the Superman Returns commercials and trailers, that show a flashback to young Clark, all happens within the first 20 minutes of the film. I was extremely worried the movie was going to be flashbacks to stuff we’ve already seen and really don’t care about. I wanted Superman to go further, not just rehash the same old stuff. They rehash characters, which is good, but they come up with some good new plotlines mixed in with some old safties, like rescuing cats from a tree.
I feel sorry for Brandon Routh, the new Superman, because he can’t win regardless how good he does. Christopher Reeve is so much Superman that we have a hard time separating the two. Frankly, this isn’t fair, so I ask you to give this newbie a chance – he does a good a job as any. I do give the studio credit for picking an unknown, because any established celebrity would just be dressing up for Halloween in a Superman costume. You can’t turn an actor into Superman, you have to find an actor that looks like Superman.
However, I feel cheated when it comese to Lois Lane. Kate Bosworths portrayal is not very good at all. As important as Lois Lane is to Superman (and Clark Kent), she doesn’t doesn’t pull it off well. She comes off very one-dimensional and not very pleasing to listen to or watch.
All the acting accounted for (for the most part), lets talk story.
The first big confusion you will have when watching the film is time period. Since the last Superman movie was in 1980 and its now 2006, how can Superman only be gone for five years? Wasn’t he gone for 25? Apparently, the movie assumes that Superman II took place five years ago, so Zod and Company was in 2001. This then also accounts for why Lois Lane hasn’t aged – actually, she’s gotten younger. This also accounts for why Lois Lane’s son is only six years old.
Lois has hooked up with Perry White’s nephew, Richard. The son, Jason, is their child…or is it? We find out that it is, in fact, Superman’s child. This starts bringing up questions of timeline and questions of events.
First…when did Supe and Lane get it on? Well, that happened in Superman II when Supe took Lois back the Fortress and “relaxed” in his shiny silver pillow bed. Shortly after this, Supe beat the bad guys and then returned to work as Clark the next day. If you recall, Lois had found out that Clark and Superman were the same person after Niagra Falls. But at the end, Clark gives Lois the Magical Kiss that instantly erases her memory of the Clark-Superman connection. But what else does it erase?
Superman II doesn’t answer that question directly, but with connections to this movie, we have to assume the Magical Kiss only erased her knowledge of the Clark-Supe connection, not of her night of passion with Superman.
And since Lois thinks the child is Richard’s (to start), this also means that she met Richard and slept with him very shortly after Superman left Earth. This way the timing was close enough that Lois would assume it is Richard’s and not Superman’s.
Frankly, it is all very convenient, but even then, the storyline is great. I mean, c’mon, Superboy!! I’m willig to excuse a questionable timeline of events to allow for a great addition to Superman lore – cinematically speaking only, however.
This new development still up for some debate, everything else that makes Superman Returns great is just the fact that it’s Superman. We’ve missed Superman. We missed the ridiculous disasters and impossible scenarios of which only The Man of Steel can overcome. We love it. We want it. We need it. And this new film fills that void nicely.
The always-popular montage of Superman good-deeds gets mixed in nicely with a great evil idea from Lex Luthor. Lex, recalling from his last visit to the Fortress of Solitude, that the crystals are key to Superman’s house and his knowledge. So Lex goes back and robs Superman’s home of the crystals.
…however, I remind you that at the end of Superman II the police actually show up at Superman’s front door to take away Lex Luthor. So the cops know Superman’s address too…
Luthor finds that if he throws the crystal into water it grows to form a Fortress of Solitude-like structure. So his idea…take all the crystals and toss them into the Atlantic to grow a new, Luthor-controlled continent. Good idea! But, always thinking ahead, he finds a way to stop Superman from ever setting foot onto his new land mass.
As you might expect, everything turns out happy at the end. And the last scene of the movie goes back to the basics and shows Superman rounding planet Earth with a quick look and smile at the camera (the audience) before he flies away. Just perfect. The film makers knew exactly when to copy the old Superman and when not to. When originals are copied too often within a film, you get bored. Not enough and you feel alienated. This time it was a perfect mix. If you know your Superman films you’ll be smiling at the references throughout the film. If you don’t, that’s OK because you’re not left out in the cold.
The film looks good too, in terms of special effects and digitalization. The leap between 1980 and 2006 in Hollywood is immense. We’ve gone from strings and props to blue screens and fake actors. Superman Returns, for the most part, does well at keeping the digitalness looking and acting real. But they don’t go over the top, which keeps Superman Returns still inline with the first two films.
Superman Returns does not kill the Superman franchise, say in the way the Batman franchise was killed (until just recently). I really, really liked Superman Returns, which is saying a lot because I can play the first Superman films in my head from start to finish without missing many verses.
Superman Returns does not replace the first two films. It skillfully adds to the story in a way that respects what has been done in the past without ruining the future.
The film looks good, sounds good, acts good (mostly), and with exception to a few forgivable continuity errors and timeline hiccups, it fires on all cylinders.
I was as ready as anyone to rip up the film as blasphemy. But when I came out I really couldn’t. It’s not perfect, but there were very few things that distracted me while I was watching the film, which is great. The last thing you want is to be trying to figure things out while you’re watching and miss something important. You’ll find yourself worrying about storyline match-ups AFTER you see the film – as this article certainly shows.
TRAILER BONUS: A quick look at Spider-man 3. Spidey gets his black suit?! Gwen Stacy?! That’s all good, but that’s a ton of storyline to put in one movie.