If anyone out there ever had any doubts as to whether Superman was a metaphor for Jesus Christ, those doubts will be quickly quashed after viewing Superman Returns. Superman’s only weakness appears to be that he’s a human with the power to lift up a boat and stop a crashing plane, among other things. Oh, and that darn kryptonite. The horror! Even in the Christopher Reeve incarnations I found the character difficult to identify with. He’s a shy dork in reality but with the removal of one layer of clothing he can save lives and be a national hero. What’s the problem here?
The film, which takes place after Superman II and acts as if III and IV never existed, is more or less the same old tricks – but with a whole lot of new and expensive technology. That would be $260 million worth of new technology. But I must say, by the time Superman strikes his fifth Christ-like pose in outer space, the awe has simply disappeared. For all of its grandiose effects and geographic creativity, the film sure becomes a disappointing bore by its third act.
As the film opens we learn that Superman (Routh) has actually been missing in action for about six years. Lois Lane (Bosworth) has since earned a Pulitzer Prize for her newspaper article entitled “Why the world doesn’t need Superman.” She’s involved with another man and has a child. The Man of Steel had in fact returned to his home planet, Krypton, to search for survivors after a massive explosion turned the sphere into rubble. Now back on Earth, Superman learns of a new plan for world domination headed by his old nemesis, Lex Luthor (Spacey). Can Superman restore his relationship with Lois Lane and defeat the cynical, but brilliant Luthor?
Director Bryan Singer has already proven himself as a top notch choice for comic book adaptations; just look at what he did with the first two X-Men films. With Superman Returns he seems far more concerned with effects than story and pacing. Singer zooms out and lets us see the magical effects play out onscreen, unlike the current trend, which calls for hand-held shakiness and as much disorientation as possible. That would be the good. He lets the budget do the talking and those simply in search of jaw-dropping special effects will delight at the sights to behold.
However, when you get right down to it, Superman Returns really has no constructive story at all and surprisingly little action. Screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris are obviously trying to add a distinct emotional element to the character, but the results are often prolonged, poorly paced sequences that will have audience members begging for the film to get on with it. It vastly overstays its welcome at 154 minutes.
Newcomer Brandon Routh sure looks a heck of a lot like Christopher Reeve, but the comparisons end there. Routh has two modes: sly smile and steely-eyed determination. More than that is called for with a screenplay that relies so much on emotional impact, and entire scenes fall flat because of it. Kate Bosworth is a suitable choice for Lois Lane, but she’s never really given much to do other than to be worried either about Superman or her significant other, Richard (Marsden). Kevin Spacey steals the show with his genius comic timing and scenery-chewing as Luthor.
The film certainly has problems, but that doesn’t stop the first half from being a blast. The airplane sequence is undeniably impressive and the scenes of Superman in his early years are wonderfully nostalgic. There is something to be said for having the Man of Steel back on the silver screen for a tune-up, but that’s really all it is – same old story, all new presentation.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 154 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some intense action violence.
Theatrical Release: June 28, 2006
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris. Story by Bryan Singer & Dougherty & Harris. Characters by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster.
Cast: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella