Well-intentend Superman Returns fails to excite
After two abysmal franchise-killers, two filmmakers tried in the mid-2000s to restore the luster to America’s two greatest superheroes.
One re-launch raised the status of comic book films for a new generation. His film kicked off a box office record setting trilogy. His work was hailed as cinematic experiences transcending the label of merely being a ‘comic book movie.’ The other decided on a safer approach that looked back at the former series’ high point while adding little to the mythos he so clearly admired.
It makes you wonder the results had Bryan Singer taken a similar approach as Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Superman Returns likely wouldn’t be so completely beholden to Richard Donner’s Superman and Superman II. More importantly, Superman Returns would have been the building block for the DC Cinematic Universe.
Singer’s direction comes across like a child playing with an adult gadget too afraid to hold it long for fear of breaking it. He lovingly coddles Donner’s material so much that he suffocates any life from Superman Returns.
In a lot of ways this is the most disappointing of the five Superman films. Superman III has a shaky first half, but gets better. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is so laughably bad it’s almost entertaining. Superman Returns? It’s just dull.
Singer re-teams with his X2 screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris to pick up from Superman II. Superman (Brandon Routh) left Earth five years ago after learning that Krypton may have somehow survived the planet-destroying cataclysm. He returns to find Earth a different place than he remembers.
Lois Lane (a terribly miscast Kate Bosworth) won a Pulitzer for an anti-Superman article and has a five-year-old son, Jason (Tristan Leabu), and adoring fiancé, Richard (James Marsden).
Some things are still consistent though. Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) is still overly helpful and Perry White (Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon) still wants The Daily Planet to be the definitive voice for Metropolis news. Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has a new real-estate scheme hatching courtesy of some stolen crystals from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.
Routh deserved a better Superman movie. He channels Christopher Reeve’s perfect take on the Superman/Clark Kent dynamic without being an imitation. He just need a lot more to work with here.
Langella and Huntington are solid replacements. Spacey tries, but his Luthor lacks the charm of Gene Hackman’s take. Spacey’s decision to play Luthor as more of a one-note ruthless villain doesn’t help.
The usually tremendous Parker Posey is underwritten as Luthor’s moody eye candy Kitty. Bosworth’s stiff performance fails to actually make Lois likeable. In the film, she’s portrayed as much of a bad guy as Luthor for simply moving on with her life.
Superman practically stalks Lois and Jason with his X-ray vision, eavesdrops on her conversations and occasionally stops some low-level criminals.
Technically, Superman Returns is decent. Singer has a nice take on Superman’s super-hearing and there’s a better sense of flight. That doesn’t really mean much when the most exciting action scenes feature Superman catching a crashing space shuttle and taking a bullet in the eye.
Instead of finding some bold new direction to take Superman, Superman Returns feels like a re-run. At 154 minutes, too long and uneventful. Singer simply need to trust his talent to make a Superman movie that attempted to soar beyond the heights previously achieved decades ago.
Rating: 4 out of 10