It's been a while since I did a review and though I've watched quite a few great films in the recent past, this is the first that has prompted me to sit down at the keyboard. Superman Returns is a film I had a great amount of concern for simply due to my love of the original and the thought of how anyone could possibly replace Christopher Reeve was paramount on my mind. My childhood had a great many films that will always be remembered and one of those is the original Superman. So going into this movie, I was at once excited and extremely unsure of how it would be carried out. I can say that Bryan Singer hit a triple, but not quite a home run.
First, I should say that the Singer track record is a pretty darn good one, especially as you consider his work bringing the X-Men franchise to the screen. I had a good idea that the film was in solid hands. And I am pleased to say that this carried through in the finished product. Though a reboot of a franchise, this film does everything it can to stay true to the screen mythos of Superman that we all know and love, up to and including the original John Williams score (and opening screen credits.) The score is modified, and rightly so, and because of this feels fresh and at the same time nostalgic. It strikes the perfect literal chord for the entire piece.
And to speak of such one must also mention the work of Brandon Routh playing the classic role of Clark Kent/Superman. It has been mentioned that he is doing his best to portray a Reeve impersonation. That is not entirely incorrect, but it also works completely. Truthfully, I cannot imagine it being done any other way. How can someone step into the very large and impressive shoes of Christopher Reeve, a very gifted actor who had many more films under his belt but will always be remembered for the Man of Steel? Routh does so by trying his best to carry forward with Reeve-esque mannerisms and look while also doing a perfectly credible job of his own. He has, to my mind, taken the role for himself and could not have done so had he not learned from the master. Reeve was Superman and God rest his soul, he will never again be able to play the role. If they want to bring the character back, they needed to find someone who was as much of a clone as possible and they have done so. Routh is superb.
Unfortunately, Kate Bosworth does not fare as well. She's a lovely young woman and certainly has some talent. But Margot Kidder she is not. Of course, Kidder was not great actress either, but she put quite a lot into creating the Lois Lane character on screen and Bosworth does not do any justice to either the past performance nor her current one. There is no character there, really. And given much of the script action, she hurts the film by not giving anything to care about or for. Her son, played by Tristan Lake Leabu, does give something of a performance but it too struggles with depth. Child actors always have this problem, but this was a role and a plot point that required a bit more than was given.
To speak of the plot/script I don't want to give anything away, but I must touch on an important point as best I can. We see Superman return from a trip to find out if any remains of Krypton exist. When he returns, he finds Lois engaged (to James Marsden who gives a fine performance for someone consistently on the fringe) and she has a son. There is some question as to who's son this is? Is it or could it be Superman's? The film attempts to have a say but leaves too much out to specifically speak on it. It remains a question as the credits role even though they attempt in mid-film to give over some truth. It was truly maddening. And the father/son angle is a big one, especially as they use old Brando footage (and he is credited even after his death for the role of Jor-El.) The line "the son becomes the father and the father becomes the son" is used a few times and of course leads to the very same questioning of who's son little Jimmy White is. I would have liked to see some further word about this before it was over.
Action wise, the film does a fine job, though perhaps not as much as one might assume from a summer blockbuster. But I was glued to my seat at all times whether we were watching a tear-jerking scene or some great action set piece. The action is there, but perhaps as part of one film when in truth, Singer was making a few different films. There is the summer blockbuster, but also a romance (which the first two films had as well) and further, some type of anology of Superman as Christ-like figure. Singer does well to suggest such a thing, but does not give enough commentary to truthfully say.
The villain is of course, Lex Luthor and good that it is. Though Superman has many others, this is the one we all want to see. And I will admit, my biggest concern was really how to take anyone but Gene Hackman as Lex. I can say that Kevin Spacey does a fine job and is even more menacing than Hackman ever was. But he lacks the humor I recall from the earlier films. But given the seriousness in which this film places itself, it makes perfect sense. Parker Posey plays the female interest of Lex, a sort of Valerie Perrine type, but other than some humorous lines, does not do much with the role. In fact, there is some question as to her belief in Luthor's plans but she never truly shows why it bothers her - only that it does.
And this, of course, is really the problem with the film if it has one. There was quite a bit that Singer wished to include and he seems to have run out of time or film to fit them all in. I wonder if he might have been served better by bringing us two films with a cliffhanger ending to bridge them. This would have allowed him to include the metaphorical information along with the action. As it stands now, he stuffs so much into it that we are left without definitive word on any of the sub-strands. With that said, the modified Williams score along with the perfect Reeve touches by Routh do much to carry the film through, if at least for long time Superman fans like myself. That was enough to pull me through the film, warts and all. And there are some truly tender moments and some wonderful iconic views of the Man of Steel throughout that bring something to the character that Richard Donner or Richard Lester never did accomplish. When it is all said and done, this was much better than I expected and in truth, perhaps the only way in which such a classic film and character could return to us. I can only hope that Singer plans another in the series and perhaps decides to play more with the ideas he had for this, but in more complete form.
It is certainly worth a rental if you have not seen it. But be warned - the DVD I rented leaves much to be desired with no special features whatsoever. I would have very much liked to have seen a commentary or making-of. I was quite disappointed to find none forthcoming. But I am sure a "double-dip" is planned for the future and I can say I will most likely purchas it when it arrives. Though flawed, Superman Returns is a fun ride and brought smiles to this writer's face, if for anything, making me recall why I loved the original so much. That is all.