Superman Returns

Superman Returns


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

The resurrection of C K's alter ego is a genuinely invigorating, spectacular, yet serious entertainment. Dealing out a modern, yet timeless, tale of comic book delight.

Upon the recent rediscovery of Krypton by astronomers, Superman leaves Earth to visit and try to find others like himself. Five years pass and eventually he, or the ultimate alien Kal-el, returns to find the world has changed. Even Lois Lane.

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Respectful, almost to a fault, of Richard Donner's 1978 movie, Superman Returns re-invites the viewer to share in a beautifully crafted rebirth of the legend. Repeated riffs of previous script lines ("Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel") and Perry White still correcting Lois' spelling, like a machine-gun, are just a few examples.

Filling Christopher Reeve's bright red boots, Brandon Routh is athletic (and invisible as Clark Kent). This is a romance between the filmmakers and filmgoers and Routh's performance is infectious, wholesome, heroic, lovable and god-like - an inspired choice for the new Man of Steel. His Clark Kent is even better than Reeve's bumbling, comic effort. It's a pity that he's relegated to the sideline, while Superman re-integrates himself with society.

The real emotional meat comes through Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth is a splendid foil to Margot Kidder's world-weary, but equally brilliant at getting into trouble, journo). During Superman's exodus, she has found happiness with Richard White - Perry's nephew - and has also had a son and won a Pulitzer for Why The World Doesn't Need Superman. She's happy with Richard, but when Superman returns, it sends both of them into internal turbulence. Director Bryan Singer doesn't overplay this, but it becomes a driving force behind the drama, never cloying.

It is a pleasure to see Kevin Spacey as a cold-blooded villain again, not without a macabre sense of humour - witness the hilarious moment of getting an old lady's estate signature and subsequent hairpiece gag - reused in a wonderful and slightly scary reveal later on. Spacey mixes sadism, wit, depth and charm. Parker Posey, as Luthor's squeeze, provides a cheerfully dim counterpoint to his intellectual posturing.

And, of course, for those uninterested in the mythus, there are the action sequences. First up is a marvellous Luthorian experiment with the tiniest fragment of Krypton crystals in a meticulously recreated model of a city. I laughed in good cheer as I witnessed much of the devastation, a wry and skilful homage to the model effects of the prior films. Then there is the doomed piggyback space shuttle sequence, as the occupants are thrown around like twigs in a typhoon and ending so well, straddling the perfect line between corniness and joyous celebration. I can't help but think that those who are here for the action and showdowns are going to be disappointed. The film has about 30 minutes of action and the rest of the two-and-a-half-hour runtime is spent with the characters.

Visually, the film is a treat. Rebooting the franchise with a dizzying reinvention of the whizzing title-bars, darting back and forth through the remains of the dead Krypton to the strains of John Williams' triumphant melody, this is the best movie opening in years. It starts with a bang and continues as we revisit those locations made so iconic by comic books and Donner's original movie. The Daily Planet is a triumph of production design, both architecturally olden and structurally of the present.

There's a painterly delight in the framing and use of light - witness the shaken Superman bathing in rich golden sunrays, returning life and power to his body. Quite literally carrying a poisoned chunk of the world on his back in the finale, the Man of Steel is used as a symbol of passionate expression, casting aside the last continent of his dead home world to embrace Earth and it's Sun in a mythic, even religious effort.

Now that we're in a time where visual effects can do pretty much everything a filmmaker can imagine, it's such a treat to find them used in servitude to the story. We are less interested in just how a particular effect is achieved, rather in the application, or sheer wonderment that it has escaped from the creator's imagination at all, and so well.

The movie's finest pay-off involves the first flight with Lois and Superman, an achingly nostalgic rerun of Donner's film, tinged with bitterness ("You wrote that the world doesn't need a saviour, but every day I hear people crying for one"), like this is the chronicle of the burdens of a living god, Kal-el, forever doomed and blessed to walk on the path of the saviour, the inspirational figure that Jor-el had in mind to raise humanity.

Perhaps too sombre and violent at times - trim the vicious beatings that Lois and the poisoned Superman receive and you'd have a straight-laced PG movie. Even so, Superman Returns grips the viewer in a way that binds him personally to Earth. He could save people all the time, but the way in which Lois and her family's character arcs are set-up and judiciously watered give Superman reason to continue serving and inspiring. I only wish that Singer had cut a little more from the final act; it becomes sluggish, where every second counts - perhaps about 20 minutes too long.

Superman Returns is a mixture of storytelling constructs that threaten to pay off over many movies, thanks to the clever writing by Singer, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris. It makes him no less super, rather more of a man. A gloriously modern superhero story, a romance, a personal story of alienation and, yes, a slightly strange and likeable family drama. It's also the finest popular entertainment since King Kong.

Reviewed on: 13 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 ****
Martin Gray ****
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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