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SUPERMAN RETURNS

Movie Reviews by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski & Larry "Bocepheus" Evans

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

Movie Review by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski.
(***
Ĺ stars out of 4)

At the end of Superman II, the producers promised "Coming Soon: Superman III." It has taken 26 years for that promise to be fulfilled. To be sure, there were movies in the 1980s called Superman III and Superman IV, but those were bad jokes masquerading as motion pictures, unimaginative stories cashing in on a pay-day. These many years later, Bryan Singer has pretty much gotten it right. Superman Returns is a credit to the first two Superman movies. Its combination of romance and fantasy adventure is very strong in comparison to other superhero comic book-to-movie sagas.

What differentiates Superman Returns from the average superhero movie is its focus on the love story between Superman (Brandon Routh) and Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth). If you think Mary Jane and Peter Parker are star crossed, they've got nothing on this couple. Of course, the Lois/Superman pairing has never been simple. Clark Kent has always been lurking around. Now, there are further complications. With Superman having been away from Earth for the better part of a half-decade, Lois has moved on in a big way. She has a son, Jason (Tristan Leabu), and a boyfriend, Richard (James Marsden), although she resolutely refuses to marry him. Maybe it has something to do with the man of her dreams. Some may not appreciate the amount of screen time devoted to these characters and their romantic interaction but, for me, it provides balance. Suddenly, Superman Returns has more to offer than a megalomaniac seeking world dominion -although it has that as well.

When last we saw Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), he was played by Gene Hackman and was off to prison. So, like Superman, he has been out of the spotlight for a while. He's "yesterday's news." Once free, however, he is more determined than ever to make his mark on the face of the globe. He visits Superman's Fortress of Solitude and pilfers all the crystals. With these, he intends to create a new continent and destroy a few of the old ones in the process. Superman, newly returned from a futile outer space search for other survivors from Krypton, will (of course) oppose his old nemesis, but this time Luthor is ready for him. Revenge is a dish served cold, with Kryptonite icing. Superman's return to once again aid mankind may be short-lived.

Gone are Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, and Gene Hackman. It's a credit to their replacements that they're not missed, at least within the context of the film. Brandon Routh channels his predecessor, although his version of Clark is a little less gawky. Kate Bosworth provides an altogether different take on Lois - a sexier, more modern view. She's prettier than Kidder, yet I didnít quite buy her as a reporter or a mom. Kevin Spacey's Luthor is cut from the same mold as Hackman's, except he's more cruel and less flippant. He has his share of one-liners but, when it comes down to it, he doesn't waste time with drawn-out monologues. That's when he's at his most brutal. At times maybe a bit too brutal. Be warned if you plan on taking the little ones to see Superman Returns. In a scene where Superman loses his powers, Luthor and his henchmen pummel the man of steel in a scene that is uncomfortably and unnecessarily nasty. It is one of the few directorial missteps that Singer takes.

There are no miscasts to be found in the supporting cast, either. Parker Posey's Kitty fills the function of Miss Teschmacher - Luthor's female stooge who has a soft spot for the Man of Steel. James Marsden, following director Bryan Singer to Metropolis from Professor X's school, has the tricky role of playing the foil in Lois and Superman's romance without coming across as a jerk. Richard is a nice guy. Eva Marie Saint plays Clark's Earth mother, who gets to find her son and almost lose him again. The only returning cast member from the original Superman is Marlon Brando, with archival footage recreating his limited part as Jor-El, Superman's biological father.

For those who go to superhero movies for the action, rest assured there's plenty of that. While the extended climactic sequence is the movie's longest and most involved, I was partial to the rescue of a space shuttle and airplane, which heralds the Man of Steel's return to his adopted planet. It's a great moment, filled with tension, and topped off with top-notch special effects. Visually, Superman Returns offers the kind of upgrade one would expect after a quarter century layoff. This time, you really believe a man can fly.

Composer John Ottman puts his ego aside and gives John Williams' original music plenty of play. Singer provides us with a blast from the past with opening credits. Not only is the music 100% Williams, but the lettering nearly replicates that which was used in Superman and Superman II. There are other unobtrusive homages to the first two films, from Lois' spelling faux pas to Luthor's love of maps. Singer may not be a fan of the Superman comic books, but his affection for and knowledge of what Richard Donner brought to the screen is evident.

Superman Returns clocks in at a fat 157 minutes, making it a bit lengthy. It has some pacing issues but overall uses its running time effectively. One could easily argue that Singer used his time in the X-Men universe as an opportunity to hone his superhero movie skills. Superman Returns may not be quite the cream of the crop of superhero epics. Itís not as smart or engaging as Spiderman 2 or as intelligently written as Batman Begins but its rewards far outweigh its pitfalls. It offers nearly everything: romance, action, humor, and plenty of goose bumps. For SupermanÖmany happy returns.

** As a side note Superman Returns is playing in select Imax theatres with 20 minutes of the film in 3D. Seeing the Imax version has its plussesÖthe 3D sequences are spectacular. On the downside, the 20 minutes are random throughout the film. You are required to put on the 3D glasses and remove them at several key points. This has a distracting effect and took me out of the film the first time or two. After that though, you get a bit used to it. Plus the Imax screen is positively gargantuan. Overall itís worth the extra effort to see the Imax version

Movie Review by: Larry "Bocepheus" Evans

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 on the 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. I donít do the star thing or the thumb thing but since I got into the film for free I can say that I would pay to see the film again so just go with that and then go see this film.
 

SUPERMAN RETURNS © 2006 Warner Bros.
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2006 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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