Monday, July 03, 2006

Superman Returns

I thought this movie was roughly as good as X-Men 3 - not bad, not great. It's very beholden to Superman I and II, and while that helps give the movie a nice light tone, it also invites a comparison to two beloved and better movies.

The Good
  • Brandon Routh is a solid and charming Superman and Clark Kent and not unlike Christopher Reeve.
  • Sam Huntington's Jimmy Olsen is funny.
  • Frank Langella's solid as Perry White.I've read some IMDB reviews which bag on him for being a non-presence, but I thought he was a nice change from the usual editor barking orders.
  • Kevin Spacey is funny and mean as Lex Luthor. His evil scheme sucks, but the character's fun.
  • Parker Posey's update of the Valerie Perrine character was fun. She had personality. She should've been Lois Lane.
  • The comic tone of the movie is nice and light and breezy, and just campy enough. The Batman sequels are proof that it's hard to do a light and slightly campy comic book movie that isn't totally ridiculous. Returns is light and silly, but you still mostly care for the characters, which makes the thing generally fun.
The Bad
  • Kate Bosworth has no personality. Margot Kidder had personality to spare, as well as some attendant mental illness.
  • The kid. Superman does not have a child. Period. I can think of two comic stories in which Superman has a kid - one's a dream sequence and one follows Supes' retirement. He has a kid when he gets out of the superhero game, not before. This is a fundamental change to the comic book story, and it's too much.
  • The pace. It's not good - the movie drags.
  • Superman Returns is essentially a lesser remake of the first Superman movie. In Superman I, Clark comes to Earth, discovers his powers, makes a debut in Metropolis saving Lois Lane from a flying disaster, takes her for a spin around town, and finally foils Lex Luthor's real estate oriented plot to destroy half of America. In Superman Returns, ditto. Starting with Clark's arrival in Kansas and subsequent childhood powers montage to the moll character (Perrine in I, Posey in Returns) finding sympathy for Supes and turning on Lex, Returns follows Superman I very closely. Even Lex's lair, on a boat, is a replica of Superman I's underground subway library. I love one and two, too, but I've already seen them. I wanted a reboot.
  • Lex's scheme - it sucks. Remember Luthor's plot from Superman I - induce earthquakes which sever the west coast and drown it in the Pacific. Lex then profits from ownership of the land which comprises the new coastline. And as punctuation Lex stabs his cane into the glass on the floor, shattering the coastline in miniature. In Superman Returns, Lex will toss a Fortress of Solitude crystal into the Atlantic, and this will destroy America and create valuable new land for him to sell. Well, ok, except that the new land seems to consist of firework snake ash* - you couldn't build on it, you couldn't farm it, you couldn't drive on it. Plus, there are severe liability issues where buildings are rife with unmarked, vast chasms into which one can plummet to one's death. Of course, that's assuming that nobody's going to have a problem with Lex's destruction of America and will happily buy the fruits of the greatest single act of terrorism in world history.

    The elegant single scene in Superman I which explained the scheme as well as provided a visual precursor to the destruction to the coastline has, in Superman Returns, been split into two scenes. In one scene, Lex explains his plot using a wall map (the afore-dissed powerpoint presentation), and in the other scene, the model railroad foreshadows the destruction of Metropolis. Apart from some shaking and ground splitting, we don't see what happens to the model. Instead of thrusting his cane into the land, a henchman drops a crystal into the water while Lex stands back. Where Superman I is elegant and evocative, Superman Returns is bloated and unclear.
The Ambivalent
  • I like James Marsden. I think he's a good actor, and I appreciated seeing his eyes for a change. Also, I like the fact that he's not played as a spoiled asshole, despite being the Other Guy and the Editor's Nephew. Instead, he's a stand up dude, and smart enough to suspect that Clark is Superman. The only real problem that I have with this guy is that there's already a love triangle in Superman. It's Lois, Clark, and Superman. It's a great device because two of those people are the same person. Here, it's a bit clunky - it makes Lois do a lot of moping around, contributing to Kate Bosworth's general lack of presence. But James Marsden seems cool - he and Clark seem like they could hang out.
  • Kumar! Kumar's in the movie. Kumar has no lines, though. Still, kinda nice to see him. Until Superman lets him die, that is.
Ultimately, Bryan Singer is perfectly capable of making his own movie, and he probably should've done that instead of remaking Superman I.

*Or post-defeat Time Bandits evil material. Don't touch it!

No comments: