Superman Returns

Superman Returns


Reviewed by: Martin Gray

Look, up on the screen - it's a remake, it's a sequel, it's Superman Returns! It's Brandon Routh debuting as the man in tights and doing a bang-up job, paying tribute to Christopher Reeve's seminal portrayal of the Man of Steel while adding something of his own. It's Kevin Spacey channeling Gene Hackman prior to surprising us with another side to Luthor. It's Kate Bosworth with split ends.

It's Superman returning to Earth after five years spent looking for Krypton in space, after astronomers see bits of it floating in the void. It makes no sense that Superman would go off on a long journey when he knows the planet has, like, exploded, killing everyone but him and cousin Kara (Supergirl's not referred to, but there's a very Argo City style chunk of Krypton seen splitting from the planet in the credit sequence). But never mind, it's a McGuffin, getting the story to where it needs to be, with Lois rightly peed off that Superman just upped and left without saying goodbye. She's got a new man, she has a little boy with bad hair, she's moved on. Yeah, right. Meanwhile, Lex gets his hands on Kryptonian crystal technology and plans to create a new continent, drowning billions in the process.

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While it's good that it follows the continuity of the previous films - everything in at least the first two movies happened - it also repeats aspects of them a little too closely. Thus we have another real-estate centred plot by Luthor, a Miss Teschmacher-alike moll in Parker Posey, Superman and Lois dancing through the air and, worst of all, the ghost of Jor-El/Marlon Brando wittering on with his Krypton-spun philosophy. Jor-El's vision for his son is positively messianic, with him seeing his role as that of God the Father. The few scenes using Brando add a layer of pretention that almost bring the film to a full stop, but they're brief, and I'm hoping there are no more bits of Brando left for Superman 6 - presumably the man was never asked to film an audition. Parker Posey is excellent as Kitty Kowalski, delivering some killer lines, but would a criminal mastermind really be stupid enough to surround himself with idiots? Didn't he learn anything in the first movie?

Never mind, this is basically a wonderful movie with a nice clear story, good good guys, bad bad guys, rather special effects . . . really, every department is on top form here. Singer and co give us some wonderful moments and iconic images. A scene of teen Clark discovering his flight power and Superman basking in the sun's rays are as good as anything from the first two movies, before the franchise apparently succumbed to Kryptonite radiation. Singer and Routh also deserve credit for actually making it look as if Superman is exerting himself when using his super-strength, and graceful when in the air. The darker costume colours work in a movie with a more sombre palette than the originals, while the smaller S-shield suits Routh's impressive physique. I hate the fact that it's raised and shiny, as if designed to match all the spin-off T-shirts, but the tweak isn't hugely offensive. Unlike that stupid belt!

Routh makes a great Clark Kent, clumsy, but not so bumbling you don't believe he's a crack reporter, while his Superman occasionally shows an otherworldy loneliness appropriate to his backstory. Bosworth is less spiky than Margot Kidder, and too young for the part, but does well with the role as written. Spacey is as hammy as Hackman for two-thirds of the movie, before his character takes a darker turn that's probably responsible for the 12A rating - younger children will need a cuddle as he gets brutal.

Frank Langella makes a great Perry White, delivering the classic 'Great Caesar's Ghost!' line with panache, and Sam Huntington's Jimmy Olsen is brighter and braver than the usual. The latter shares a few nice scenes with Bo the barman, aka Jack Larson, who played the Planet's cub reporter on TV in the Fifties, while Adventures of Superman co-star Noel Neill has a surprising turn as Gertrude Vanderworth, a Gloria Vanderbilt/Barbara Hutton-style heiress.

Also cameoing is Eva Marie Saint as Martha Kent, who has an unseen Scrabble opponent (I thought I saw 'Zod' but it turned out to be 'zoo') now husband Jonathan is dead. And new character Richard White (James Marsden, Cyclops from Singer's X-Men films) is a sterling fella, knowing he can't compete with Superman in terms of supernatural ability, but a flying hero in his own way. As Lois' son, Jason White, Tristan Lake Leabu has the look of a Culkin, and he does a decent job, which is just as well, as it's safe to assume he'll be back in any sequels.

And there's that theme. John Williams' heartlifting, unmatchable Superman March which Singer wisely uses throughout the film. And it's a film that's worthy of such a classic piece. Superman Returns is cinematic magic.

Reviewed on: 12 Jul 2006
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The Man of Steel returns to save lives - but can he salvage his own?
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Read more Superman Returns reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****
Scott Macdonald ****
Anton Bitel ***1/2

Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, from a story co-written with Bryan Singer, and based on characters by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Eva Marie Saint, Parker Posey, Kal Penn, Sam Huntington, Tristan Lake Leobu, Marlon Brando

Year: 2006

Runtime: 154 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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