directed by Bryan Singer
starring Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Frank Langella, Parker Posey, Eva Marie Saint
Although there are hundreds of icons in the Pantheon of American Popular Culture, none measure up to Superman. For nearly eighty years he has become as American as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. How could he not be? After all, he flies through the air faster than a speeding bullet, is more powerful than a speeding locomotive and he bends steel in his bare hands.
Superman is also the king of all media. Since June of 1938 the Man of Steel has appeared in thousands of comics, TV series, books, cartoons, radio dramas and even a previously successful franchise of movies. For nearly eight decades Superman, a character taken in large context from bits and pieces of Judeo-Christian mythology, has remained a mythic symbol for justice and truth unequaled in fame by even the most famous of movie stars.
With that kind of notoriety and mainstream popularity, one may expect someone to act a bit nervous when asked to reimagine the latest big screen re-launch of the franchise, Superman Returns, but not director Bryan Singer. Singer, who has directed mutants, super villains and powerful heroes in the past via the first two X-Men films, is the perfect director to handle the legacy of Superman. His vision of Superman is a fresher, more modern and emotional one, full of complex emotions, undaunted heroism and lost hopes and dreams. Singer has taken the world’s most popular superhero and given him much needed depth by adding more personal drama and tragedy. The end result is an almost mythic film experience.
Bryan Singer spared no expense to make Superman return in a big way. He lined up an all-star cast, rounded it out with fresh faces and then mixed the whole thing up by having incredible special effects. Knowing the full wrath that would befall him if the comic fanboys and studio executives were not pleased Singer appraoched Superman Returns with an electric zeal to “get it right.”
Things almost didn’t turn out that way though. Singer took some serious lumps along the way. First the film went through a number of script rewrites, (Kevin Smith was in the mix for awhile), budget issues, and several high profile leads (including Nicholas Cage) rumored as the man of Steel. Eventually things calmed down and Singer was in place to do his thing.
Singer took some big risks in the process. He recycled Marlon Brando’s footage from the first Superman, shot the movie with an entirely new series of film camera that enabled him to achieve the desired special effects needed for the film and perhaps most importantly, built his cast around a soap opera actor named Brandon Routh.
Routh was a fairly unknown actor before donning the blue tights and red cape of the Last Son of Krypton. Comparisons and physical similarities to Christopher Reeve aside, Routh looks, talks and moves like the Man of Steel. He is one of those actors who just looks and acts like a star. As Superman, Routh wasn’t expected to hold the movie together with his acting range, all he had to do was be strong, tough, and reasonably believable onscreen. To that end, Routh did his job well. He was perfectly cast as the introspective and somewhat lost people’s champion looking to find his place once again in his adopted homeworld. Routh’s relatively strong performance is aided with plenty of screen charm, wit and charisma that give him the cinematic dynamic of a superhero.
Every good hero needs a villain and none is more unscrupulous than Lex Luthor. Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey stars as Superman’s dastardly archenemy. For this role Spacey tempered Luthor’s arrogance with the perfect amount of smugness and conceit. It is obvious that Spacey is having a ball with the role as he chews up every inch of film. Simply put, Spacey’s over-the-top antics steal the movie.
One casting drawback is Kate Bosworth. She’s talented and brash and good looking but as a leading heroine she just falls short. Despite the lack of chemistry between her and Routh, she manages to pull off the confident, free-spirited, take-no-prisoners journalistic attributes of Lois Lane with credibility. Like her predecessors in the TV serials of the 1950s, her Lois Lane is a firebrand, who refuses to give in as she searches for the truth. Unfortunately the script is so cluttered with short sentences and brief explanations that it prevents Bosworth from expanding on the role. As a result she gives a somewhat subdued and restrained performance.
Nothing is restrained about Parker Posey’s Kitty Kowalski. Posey camps it up to the max as Luthor’s lackey. She does the role justice by pouring it on with loads of pouty, obnoxious dialogue served up with large helpings of gum chewing and whining.
Largely overlooked in the X-Men films, James Marsden finally comes into his own onscreen as Richard White, Lois’ current love interest. However, one of the script’s failures is that Marsden’s role takes up too much screen time and bogs down a lot of the plot pacing. Nonetheless Marsden makes the best use of what he is given. It’s a shame too because this could have been a breakout role for him.
Frank Langella is terrific as Daily Planet Editor Perry White. After decades onscreen as a heavy it is hard to see Langella as a good guy. But he manages to give Perry White some fresh air by adding more competitive gumption to his gruff exterior.
Superman Returns opens with revisonist history for the DC Comics character’s origins. As the reels progress the audience gets to see the Man of Steel deal with some seriously non-traditonal heavy stuff. The story picks up, more or less, after the events of Superman II with an AWOL Superman returning to Earth five years after searching the rubble of his home planet Krypton for survivors. After an emotional trip home to see his adopted Earth Mother, Superman returns to Metropolis only to find that his nemesis Lex Luthor is out of lockup and the love of his life, Lois Lane has a new man in her life as well as a young son.
Meanwhile Luthor has managed to locate Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and discovered all he ever wanted to know about Superman’s world from a recorded message left by his father Jor-El. The dastardly Luthor uses this knowledge to his advantage, setting his own diabolical machinations into motion.
If that wasn’t bad enough Lois Lane has completely lost faith in Superman, even going so far as to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial, “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” It is this animosity that hurts Superman the most. The world’s greatest superhero is dismayed to learn that Lois and many in Metropolis aren’t holding out for a hero. All of this changes however when Lois and several astronauts are rescued by Superman.
Once back in the big city, Superman resumes his secret identity of Clark Kent and gets closer to winning back Lois. Unfortunately, times have changed and Clark/Superman must work through a time of self-reflection before dealing with Luthor’s latest plot for global supremacy and his feelings for Lois.
The end result of Singer’s labor is positive. Everything that is right and iconic about Superman is featured with dazzling effects in his prolific return to the silver screen. As a feature film, Superman Returns is the stuff of legend. Poor scripting aside, this is a well produced and excellently executed big Hollywood movie with stunning new visuals and a solid cast. You don’t have to look up in the sky to see that this is the first massive successful film of 2006.