Directed by Bryan Singer
With Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth
On June 28, Superman returned to Earth after a five-year journey to Krypton, and the Superman series returned to the big screen 19 years after the late Christopher Reeve’s final turn as the Man of Steel. But was it necessary for this cinematic champion to return to the big screen?
The opening of “Superman Returns” certainly sounds and looks like its predecessors, from John Williams’s iconic theme music to the three-dimensional movie titles exploding out of the screen. The opening credits are meant to evoke nostalgic memories of the successful original franchise, but as the plot of this new Superman adventure progresses, it frustratingly diverges. The director and writers seem unclear as to whether they want to make something that is part of the Superman canon or create an entirely new take on a familiar story.
The casting reflects a fresh and young approach to the series even as the plot does not. Brandon Routh as Clark Kent, aka Superman, and Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane are ages 27 and 23, respectively, and they look their age in the movie. With a plot that opens five years after Superman was established as a superhero and Lane as a top journalist, the expectation should be for these characters to be more believably mature.
What makes this more troubling is that there is a complete lack of friendly interaction between Kent and Lane. What has always made the relationship between Lois and Superman so compelling is that Lois acted as best friend and protectorate to Clark, even as she lusted after and needed protection from Superman. In this movie, Kent is relegated to a bit part in the duality of the character and is virtually non-existent in the second half of the film.
In previous Superman films and television programs, Superman had to work hard to keep both of his sides intact. Here, no one probes too much into the fact that Clark was missing for the same five years as Superman or that Clark is always missing when the action hits and never has to explain where he has gone.
Further complicating this movie is its anticlimactic pacing. The oft-previewed airplane crash was exhilarating, but this occurred in the first half-hour of the film and turned out to be the best special effect of the movie. There was no epic battle between Superman and Lex Luthor (or one of his minions), but there was a formulaic resurrection after the hero had supposedly been destroyed, and there was a triumphant scene where Superman saved the world even though Luthor had stopped him earlier. This has all been done before (and better) by previous Superman films. In fact, the film’s only novelty is, for better or worse, that it finally answers a question that has been vexing comic geeks since “Mallrats.”
Kevin Spacey, always masterful in his roles, is a step up in gravitas from both Routh and Bosworth, but even his playfully maniacal Luthor seems to pale in comparison to his predecessor, Gene Hackman. The latter’s ever-conniving interpretation of the character seemed a more believable foil to the Man Of Steel.
In reality, only versatile Parker Posey as Luthor’s assistant, Kitty, comes across as an arresting character. Kitty playfully banters with Luthor and these are the few instances of genuinely entertaining dialogue in the movie. Her character is also the only one who has morality painted in shades of gray, while everyone else seems like a caricature.
Unlike the Batman series, which degenerated into hokey silliness by its fourth installment and needed to be brought back into the spirit of the franchise by the acclaimed “Batman Begins,” Superman was in no need of a makeover. For a much ballyhooed return with a $200 million budget, this movie seemed surprisingly generic and offered few impressive visual images. Maybe this movie will teach Hollywood producers that although it’s sometimes OK to begin anew, it’s not always a good idea to return.