Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Superman Returns soars


From Aintitcoolnews, "Assuming that the film takes place in the present day, Superman being gone from the earth for five years also implies (although it's never specifically said) that he wasn't here to stop the events of 9-11 from happening or the war that followed. (A similar device was used in the last James Bond movie.) Upon his return to earth, he spends some time with his mother Martha (Eva Marie Saint) on the farm, remembering more innocent peaceful times as a young boy when he was just discovering his powers. These are moments we never saw in the first Superman (the Clark Kent we see here in flashbacks is younger than the high schooler in Donner's film), and they are simply beautiful.

But the stuff most people care about begins with Clark's return to Metropolis and to his old job at the Daily Planet. It doesn't take long for him to see how much things have changed. Lois has a young son and a fiancé (X-Men's James Marsden), Richard White, nephew of Planet editor Perry White (Frank Langella). And on his first day back in town, Superman already has a catastrophic event to deal with: the crash landing of a plane full of reporters, including Lois. Holy living crap, I can't wait to see this sequence in 3D. With the full power of CGI and infinitely better blue screen technology, Singer cuts loose on showing us just how agile and powerful Superman truly is. His strength, speed, and heat vision are all on full display in this sequence, and it will melt your mind how cool it is.

The flip side of this equation is the story of Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) and his gang of henchmen. Spacey's Luthor is still playful like Gene Hackman, but he's far more menacing and dangerous, less of a jester. In other words, he's as evil as they come, and his King-of-the-World plan to essentially grow a continent in the Atlantic Ocean using crystals stolen from Superman's Fortress of Solitude is as ingenious as it is impractical. (If you drown billions of people by growing a new land mass, who would be left to actually purchase your real estate? And Al Gore thinks global warming is a problem!) And I found it fascinating that Luthor once again (as he did in the first two films) devices an evil scheme that involves creating valuable real estate where once there was none. Blessedly, Luthor's supporting cast is not all about broad humor and dumb jokes, although the casting of Parker Posey as his assistant Kitty Kowalski comes close sometimes. I did find it strange that Luthor's technical wizard is played by Kal Penn (Kumar of Harold and Kumar fame); not only is he not called upon to be funny, he also isn't given a single line in the film.

In one of the film's most talked about and fascinating scenes, Luthor and his crew must travel to the Fortress of Solitude to gather the crystals. Lex stands before the control panel where the younger Clark stood years earlier to learn all about who is really is. The face of Superman's real father Jor-El (a resurrected, god-like Marlon Brando) appears to provide whoever is watching with information on any subject. Luthor utters the spine-chilling line “Tell me everything, starting with the crystals.”

If you thought it was tedious that we don't even see Superman in costume until about an hour into the first Superman, don't be too freaked out that Superman and Luthor don't actually come face to face until the top of hour two in Superman Returns. But when they meet, their battle is sensational and brutal. And I enjoyed the way Singer incorporates most of his major characters into the final scenes. Richard's skills as a pilot come in handy; Lois never forgets that she's a journalist and uses her investigative skills to track down Luthor (albeit inadvertently); and her son...well, he helps out to. No one is left just standing around waiting to be a hapless victim waiting to get saved or taken down.

Today's world is a place in which nearly every news event is captured on amateur video tape or on someone's camera phone, and this fact isn't lost in this film. This is also a world desperate for someone to fly in and save it, and while that will never happen in the real world, it's nice to know there are places where a savior to all humankind exists. On more than one occasion, Singer shows us Superman hovering over the earth, listening to every single sound coming from it just so he can single out those voices in need of help. Superman floats in space, arms slightly extended, brow furrowed, cape billowing around him like a red aura. Never on film has he seemed more Christ-like (the tortured only son of a white-haired disembodied figure who apparently has infinite knowledge? Come on), and it suits him. On the flip side, Superman has never seemed more human. He relentlessly comes on to Lois, stalks her a little, and practically begs her to leave Richard and be with him. But a part of us (and him and her) knows this can probably never be, and you actually feel kind of sorry for the man who can do everything but not have what he truly wants.

As good as all of the actors are here, let's face it: the film lives or dies on Routh's performance. Some will say that he's the embodiment of Christopher Reeve's portrayal of Superman, but this isn't entirely true. He does resemble him, I'll give you that, and there are times while he's playing Clark Kent that it scared me how much he acting and sounded like the late actor. But when he reveals the blue costume and red accessories, he's his own man. This is not the same Superman of your youth, and I'm not completely sure I can explain why. He's more mature. The trip to find the remains of Krypton has changed him, hardened him significantly. He's still a genuinely good and kind person, but he gets lost in his own mind and shadowed thoughts more often, and Routh adds a subtle and necessary weight to the proceedings.

Superman Returns is the finest and most well-rounded film about superheroes ever made. This is a film that doesn't skimp on the action, but also bothers to take the time to develop and grow its characters. To those who say the film is flawed or that they were disappointed, I say that you need to remind yourself what made the original Superman so important. It wasn't just the behavior and actions of the super-powered beings, it was the way the rest of the world incorporated them into the culture. When Singer directed the first two X-Men movies, he put a great deal of emphasis on how the world's mutants are feared and hated by most. Here, Superman is revered and loved, something the lonely Clark Kent desperately needs, but he's still very much alone in the world. Superman Returns isn't simply good, it's damn near perfect, and it gets better with repeated viewings."

4 comments:

JPX said...

As superheroes go, 'Superman' is A-OK

By Claudia Puig, USA TODAY
It's good to have him back, even if he is a bit more fragile.
Superman Returns (* * * out of four) is a rousing spectacle with a Superman who, while daring in most exploits, suffers more emotional angst than his predecessors.

Though not in the same superb league as last year's Batman Begins or 2004's Spiderman 2, Superman Returns is an action-packed saga with exhilarating special effects and dazzling production design.

After honing his talents in the superhero genre with the first two X-Men films, director Bryan Singer shines with the Man of Steel. As he did with X-Men, he brings a depth and an edgy dark quality to the genre that gives it substance and narrative heft.

But at 2 hours and 40 minutes, it could use some editing. It launches too slowly and deliberately. Once it takes off, the story is engaging, and the overall look blends classic art deco elements with a cutting-edge futuristic design that works potently.

The special effects are splashy, the story has an intriguing bittersweet quality at its core and Brandon Routh acquits himself nicely as a more emotionally vulnerable Clark Kent/Superman. Stepping into such an iconic role is not easy, considering that the late Christopher Reeve remains for most of us the seminal Superman.

Kate Bosworth is a rather lackluster Lois Lane, and the romance is less than combustible. Kevin Spacey's comically villainous Lex Luthor is appropriately sneering and sardonic.

The film opens with Superman/Clark Kent's return to the Kent farm after five years away. What a difference half a decade makes. Luthor is on parole, Metropolis is crime-ridden, and Lois Lane, a star reporter at the Daily Planet, is engaged to the editor's nephew (James Marsden) and has a young son (Tristan Lake Leabu). But Superman remains smitten with her. And she has won a Pulitzer for an article titled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman."

The plot is a bit pedestrian, but the struggle between good and evil is not a complex thing. As Superman tells Lois: "You wrote that the world doesn't need a savior. But every day I hear people crying for one."

Superman retains his virtuous messianic impulses. But his heart is not quite as steely as the rest of him in this mostly welcome return.

JPX says, "Meh, she's a chick, what the hell does she know?"

Octopunk said...

I'm seeing this tonight!

JPX said...

"I'm seeing this tonight!"

Which means a big, non-spoilerific review tomorrow, right? Right?

Octopunk said...

Jeez, that USA Today review is flat and off-point. That was published?