Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Superman Finally Returns!
Like everyone else, I waited a bit impatiently for a new Superman movie for literally decades. I suffered through Nicolas Cage’s seemingly endless attachment to the project, rumors of director Tim Burton’s bizarre concepts, talk of a Batman cameo, Kevin Smith’s aborted script (which was quite good!) and producer Jon Peters’ insistence on using the "Superman is dead" saga as source material. Then, perhaps against all odds, Bryan Singer emerged as Superman’s guiding light and Brandon Routh was announced as a visually astonishing hero. The late Marlon Brando was back as Jor-el in footage left over from the controversy that cut him out of SUPERMAN II and Kevin Spacey, one of our greatest screen actors today, was announced as the villain of the piece. It looked like it was all coming together at last and I was going to be there to see it! Only…I wasn’t.
For weeks that stretched into months, it became an ironic (read: unfunny) running gag that I had NOT been able to see SUPERMAN RETURNS in spite of multiple efforts! Something came up to scotch my plans to see it with my wife that first weekend, she arranged for friend Kim to go with me later but when that, too, had to be postponed, she ended up seeing it without me! I was literally heading out the door to see it on my own when a phone call demanded my attention and I had to postpone again. Then came my summer firing! In spite of the fact that income was suddenly non-existent, I rationalized that I NEEDED to see SUPERMAN RETURNS to lift my spirits. Unfortunately, my spirits tumbled so fast that I still didn’t get to do so.
Fast forward to Christmas time. My wife and I are buying a couple used video games for our son. The store’s "buy 2, get 1 free" sale included DVD’s and I saw a SUPERMAN RETURNS DVD shining like a hidden gem in the store’s bin so my wife says to get that as the freebie so I could FINALLY see it! That evening, I load it in the player and am about to turn it on when Kim calls with a crisis. I chuckle at yet another interruption as I head off to her house to help out. Post-crisis, she asks what we had bought while shopping and I tell her that I was finally going to get to see SUPERMAN RETURNS! In a bit of a shock, she tells me that I have to return it. Being rather dense, I nonetheless eventually figure out that she has, in fact, purchased a copy for me herself for Christmas! Aaargh! I decide to wait just a few more days.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, Kim and I exchange gifts. I feel humbled as my friend presents me not with the expected DC double disk but, amazingly, that ultimate geek set, the fourteen disk SUPERMAN box set!!!!!! Every Christopher Reeve Superman film! Multiple versions of the Christopher Reeve films! The Donner cut! The Fleischer cartoons fully restored! The first George Reeves appearance! Superpup! Super parody cartoons! A dozen documentaries and TV specials! And, yes! SUPERMAN RETURNS!!!!!! At long last!
I guess it was inevitable that it couldn’t live up to the hype by that point, though, don’t you think? It was okay but…
Brandon Routh looks stunning, echoing Reeve but offering a more brooding hero. His delivery was good but the script keeps the Man of Steel so stoic much of the time that I longed for more lines for the poor guy. His Clark, if anything, was a bit less silly than Reeve’s. Do NOT, however, get me started on the changes in Superman’s uniform. Spacey, channeling Gene Hackman for the most part, offered a bit more realistic insanity to Luthor along with the silliness. His evil scheme though, was never really that clear to me. Seemed like a less than brilliant variation on the one he had back in the first Reeve movie.
The casting was good elsewhere. I liked Lois and Jimmy. Frank Langella seemed strangely subdued as Perry. Original TV Jimmy Jack Larson got a good cameo. Original Lois was unrecognizable in hers. James Marsden (Cyclops from the director’s X-MEN films) was quite good but his role should not have even existed! He plays Lois’ long-term boyfriend and the acknowledged father of her son. Uh…what’s it been now? About fifteen years since Lois and Clark got married in the comic books? Oh, and big surprise that Clark turns out (spoiler!) to be the child’s real father! My problem with that is that Clark Kent really is a Kansas boy scout. I truly doubt that he would have "been" with Lois in the first place without marriage BUT, if he was, he certainly would’ve worried about the possibilities of safely being able to procreate with a human woman and taken the proper precautions! When the child (spoiler again) first displays super powers, his first act is to kill the bad guy! He doesn’t seem too shook up about it and neither does Lois or, later, anyone else! That’s the part my wife truly hated.
I kept waiting for the various plot points to gel but it seemed too little too late. I never did figure out exactly what was going on. Where was Superman all those years really? What the heck was Lex up to exactly and why the coincidental timing? The movie seemed to go on at least ten minutes after what passed for a plot ended. The Brando footage was not well utilized, being played up more in the nicely edited trailer than in the film itself. Too much of the movie referenced scenes from the 1978 original for it to be considered the sequel it seems to be.
That said, I did enjoy the movie on some levels. Some of the individual scenes were truly spectacular, most especially Superman’s rescue of the plane and the Space Shuttle, the visual scenes of the hero in Metropolis, the baseball stadium, the Daily Planet globe rescue. Still, at the end of the day, we’re left with a sullen, brooding hero with no love interest who doesn’t even end up catching the villain. Marsdens’ character comes across as just as much of a hero and yet you just know that somewhere down the line, there’s going to be a triangle there, perhaps even with him becoming a villain so that Supes can be reunited with his one true love and the mother of his child. I remind myself that each of the Reeve films has it’s problems also and look forward to the inevitable Super-sequel with hope. The ingredients are all there and Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage aren’t. Maybe next time.