SUPERMAN RETURNS
(***)-LARRY EVANS

"...a film that you should go out of your way to see..."

Routh Soars in Worthy Continuation

(070706) Last year the Batman franchise was revitalized by David Goyer and Christopher Nolan and this year the team that brought us X2 has done the same with the Superman franchise. This film has been a long time coming since the first plan to do the film with Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage so many years ago that I canít even remember when the idea was first mentioned. The grand tally of writers numbered more than 10 (with Kevin Smith starting and this team taking over from MI-3ís JJ Abrams) and there were at least five directors (McG and Michael Bay to name a few) attached before Singer and Brett Ratner changed places on superhero franchises.

The film begins with the return of Superman to Earth after leaving to discover if there was anything left of Krypton and we see the return flight during the Richard Donner inspired credits. Newcomer Brandon Routh has been given the life changing and pigeon holing role of Superman. We see the crash of his ship and as he recovers at home we get our first chance to use the oversized 3-D glasses in a nicely done sequence that shows him remembering his first experience flying. (For those of you that are wondering the 3-D glasses are larger than you would think they would be and the cues that tell you when to put them on are what you would expect what they would be) The 3-D sequences in the film are very well done (but you do get a slight headache when you first experience it) and the decision as to when to use it is well thought out.

We get our first look at Lex (Kevin Spacey) Luthor at the bedside of Noel Neill (Lois Lane from the Adventures of Superman TV series) prior to the setting in motion of his plan to once again corner the real estate market. He and his assistants (which include Indy queen Parker Posey and Kal Penn from Harold & Kumar) take a trip to the abandoned Fortress of Solitude where we play along with pretending that Lex has never been there before. Here is where the Marlon Brando footage is used and we donít see him walking around as was rumored but repeating dialogue from the first film.

Our first day back in Metropolis follows with the return of Clark Kent to the art deco Daily Planet where he gets reacquainted with photographer Jimmy (Sam Huntington) Olsen and editor Perry (Frank Langella) White. Huntington is used here to catch not only Clark up to what has happened since his Ďvacationí but the audience as well since a few things have changed with Lois (Kate Bosworth) Lane since he departed. This sets up the spectacular action sequence with Superman saving the plane Lois is on and landing in a place that makes his return known to the rest of the world.

From there we are introduced to Perryís nephew Richard White (X-Menís James Marsden) and Loisí son (Tristan Lake Leabu). Some will find the soap opera element of the triangle dull but remember there has always been a triangle relationship between Clark, Lois and Superman so its not as if the concept hasnít been used before.

As the film continues we see what Lexís master plan is as the world reacts to the return of Superman to their lives while also learning how Superman keeps an ear on things. Things zip along nicely and little by little everything falls into place before all hell breaks loose and the special effects folks get a nice work out. There is a rather brutal sequence prior to Superman saving the day involving green kryptonite that may make some viewers wince but actually is something that some fans have been asking for to make the character more accessible to readers. All that leads us up to revelations and a repeat of the ending sequence fans of the Superman films have come to expect.

There was much debate amongst Comicbookman, JR and myself after the film on it's high and low points. For myself I had no problem with any of the cast members. Routh did an especially good job that didnít have him channeling Chris Reeve but making it his own. Reeve did something in his portrayal that had his voice change as well as his posture that made it unlikely that you would connect him with Superman but Routh does it just by behavior (and there is a great sequence where the obvious is noticed by one of the cast). Kevin Spacey isnít doing the funny Lex here as Gene Hackman did; his Luthor is closer in nature to the character he played on Wiseguy. Langella plays Perry as if he just crossed the street from the CBS studios after he was done with Good Night and Good Luck. Posey makes good with a variation of the same type character Valerie Perrine played in the first Superman as does Huntington as Jimmy. Marsden is just okay but there are flashes of interest in his character while Bosworth isnít trying to play Margot Kidder which would have been a mistake.

You could say the film is a bit long but Singer cut the film as close to the bone as he could to get the film ready. A good test to whether a film is too long is if you look at your watch, if you don't then you have gotten emotionally invested in the film. I didnít look at my watch so itís as long as it needs to be. Singerís films always look good and this is a well designed film with a crisp visual style. John Otman edited the film as well as wrote the score (and adapted the classic John Williams theme).

As for the low points the Lex real estate plan was done in the first film and it didnít work then so repeating it is a mistake. One of the main problems with Lex is that unless he is wearing his purple costume (and that would look horrible on film) he is best planning things that others are carrying out. Spacey does have a great line concerning Superman that explains his hatred of him which leads up to that brutal attack later but he may have worked better using the approach of the animated version.

The film is heavily inspired by the original Donner film and fans of that should love this since both share tone and style. This is a film that you should go out of your way to see.
 

Directed by:    Brian Singer
Written by:    Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris
Starring:    Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth
Released:    06/28/06 (United States)
Length:    140 minutes
Rating:    Rated PG-13 for some intense action violence.

SUPERMAN RETURNS © 2006 Warner Bros.
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