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plot in a nutshell
Set after Superman I and II, our new Big Blue returns to Earth after zipping
off to see if Krypton might still exist. He learns upon his return that few
things are the way he left them, including a Lex Luthor who's out of jail
and back into world domination, and two new men in Lois' life.
Spoiler Free Thoughts
I've read a fair share of reviews for this film, both good and bad. Many
have commented on this film's relationship to parts 1 and 2. As I always
understood it, this film is a 'pseudo' sequel. It allows for the existence
of films 1 and 2, while pretending that 3 and 4 never happened. There's
probably a lesson in there for all of us, including Sidney Furie and Richard
To me, that means that SOME of the stuff that happened in 1 and 2 happened.
Some didn't. Nothing in Superman Returns directly conflicts with those two
films, but if you're expecting the entire plotline to dovetail perfectly,
well, it's going to let you down.
One other point before I delve further into my thoughts on this film - if
you don't 'get' Superman, you aren't going to like this movie. If you have
an issue with the fact that a pair of glasses is all the disguise that Clark
wears and nobody ever notices, well guess what. Get over it. It's been that
way for almost 70 years, and this movie isn't going to alter that. There are
basic tenets to the Superman mythos that either you accept or you don't, and
if you've never liked the character before because you can't accept them,
you aren't going to like this movie. You'd think that wouldn't be a big
surprise, but for some movie reviewers (and these are people that get paid
good money to do the job) it seems to be a beyond their grasp.
Now, lest you think I'm about to go into a slathering fanboy orgasmic rant
over the wonders of this movie, let me quickly point out that this is not a
great film. It is not Spider-man, and it's not even Batman Begins. It's
certainly on par with Singer's X-men work, and it is good summer fun. There
are some real highs here, but there's also some basic problems.
The film starts out with our favorite bald villain, Lex Luthor, who hasn't
just managed to get himself out of prison, but he's managed to weasel his
way back into a fortune. He has a master plan to dominate the world again,
but this is easily the weakest aspect of the movie. Spacey does little with
the Luthor character, and even seems bored with it most of the time. There
is one decent sequence in which he explains his plans (as insane
megalomaniac villains always do) to Lois Lane, but it's the only life we
ever really see in Luthor.
However, the film does shine when the spotlight is on Supes. Brandon Routh
practically channels Reeves in many of the scenes, especially when playing
Clark. It was clearly Singer's intention that Routh act and speak like
Reeves as much as humanly possible, and I even feel a little sad for Routh.
It's obvious he never had a chance to give Superman his own flavor, but I
have to admit that I'm not too worried about his loss. Instead, he gave us
the Superman we loved from the first two films, or at least as close as he
could without actually pulling a Shirley MacLaine.
I thought not only was the casting (and directing) of Routh great, but that
the good folk on his side were all well cast. Bosworth gives us a reasonable
Lois, and perhaps the most normal - and least goofy - of the screen
versions. Marsden is the real treat though in the supporting cast, playing
Richard White, Perry White's nephew and the love of Lois' life. He manages
to pull off a very likable guy, who never gets to smarmy, and makes us like
him even when he's the competition for our hero.
Superman left Earth because some scientists thought they might have found
evidence of Krypton. Anyone who has ever lost loved ones - sibilings,
parents, missing friends from long ago - and learn that maybe they aren't as
lost as they thought, know that Supes isn't just going to ignore that. He
has to know. So he takes off, leaving all he loves here behind. And while
he's gone, things change. Lex gets out, Lois acquires a nifty new man and a
cute new kid, and the world moves on. Because that's what the world does
when you live - it moves on. Even when you're Superman.
This is the part of the movie that works. We feel for Lois, Clark, and even
Richard. We understand their pain, and their confusion. The core theme of
this movie is Superman's loneliness, his isolation, because he is not one of
us, and never will be. His people are all dead and gone, and now he will
forever be alone. His attempts to fix this, his attempts to find love and
connection, have failed, and he's now more alone than he's ever been before.
Unfortunately, in this excellent movie about who Superman is and what makes
him tick, we have a film about a lunatic villain looking for real estate.
Lex wants to create a new continent, some place he will control. Oh, it will
end up destroying North America, but who cares - Lex will have his chunk of
Now, you really have to be willing to put on your blinders to accept this
concept as anything but ridiculous. Lex manages to tap into the power to
destroy the world, and instead of using it in classic villain fashion to
blackmail the world into his hands, he decides to build a new continent?
Never mind that this place on which he claims the world will clamor for
beach front property looks like the most inhospitable hunk of rock to ever
grace the face of the planet. Never mind that in building it he'll destroy
the farmlands of America and Canada, laying to waste a vast amount of the
world's food, and never mind that all of this is unnecessary with the power
he's acquired. He could gain control of what's already here, and yet his
master plan is to destroy it, creating something that's far worse to live
upon? Yea, this makes complete sense.
Add to that Spacey's lackluster performance, and I found myself completely
uninterested any time Luthor or his cohorts were on screen.
This is a fairly long film at 2 1/2 hours, and there's not nearly as much
action as you might expect. There is a fantastic sequence involving Clark
and a plane, which will rank up there as one of the best Superman sequences
ever on film. But with this long of a running time, we could have seen a
little more action, and a little less of Lex boring us.
The film does have a bit of a revelation, although everyone should see it
coming before they even go to the movie. I have no issue with the
resolution, and in fact, it adds a new dimension to Superman around that
whole loneliness angle that will be quite interesting to see addressed in
the sequels. I'll talk about it more in the spoilers section.
There's also plenty of Savior symbolism,
and much of it is Christian. Even Parker Posey's character, Kitty
Kowalski, is referred to as a 'cheap hooker' at one point in the film, and
eventually pulls a Mary Magdalene, as she weeps at the treatment of the
fallen savior. But it's all mere comic book symbolism, and it's
probably best if you don't waste too much of your precious lifetime over
analyzing it. Singer isn't trying to make any great statement about
religion or God - it's just that the savior angle is so basic to a character
Some folks have had issues with technical
aspects of the movie - why does Superman require a space ship to get to
Krypton's location if he can fly in space (because a) his power comes from a
yellow sun, and it wouldn't be good for him to run out of juice in the
middle of deep space, and b) it's 50 light years to Krypton, and I don't
think Superman, fast as he is, can travel 20 times the speed of light), or perceived inconsistencies in the effects of
Kryptonite, or one of any other comic book universe issues. For me, there
was only one problem - what the hell is up with Lois and her super
C'mon, she gets slammed around the interior of a jet like a rag doll, thrown
the full length of the cabin into the walls, floor, ceiling, seats...she
gets the crap beat out of her by a thug...and she gets clobbered full force
in the head with a solid steel ship door. And yet, she never bleeds. Hell,
she never even bruises! Did mixing DNA with Superman do something to her, or
was actually injury just inconvenient to the script?
There's plenty to enjoy here, including the sneaky way the incorporate some
of the most classic Superman lines ("It's a bird! It's a plane! No,
it's..."), and the wonderful sequence in which the medicine of man does its
best to save the life of a super man. This might not be the perfect Superman
movie, but it's certainly a good one, and well worth watching.
Rating - See it in the
This is a movie that really needs to be seen in the theater, at least
once. The sound was terrific, with plenty of spiffy use of the bass and
surrounds, and it's a visual treat to see an icon on the big screen. This
won't be THE summer movie of 2006, but it is a nice start to what could be a
new generation of Superman films.
Spoiler Laden Thoughts
You've been warned...
Okay, so the kid belongs to Superman. Like this was a surprise. And yet,
Lois stays with Richard, the stable one. Good for her! Superman is the kind
of character that can never have a 'real' life, but by adding the dimension
of fatherhood, he's no longer as lonely as he once was. There is now someone
like him, someone to share life with in a way no one else will understand.
Talk about your weird extended families.