Superman” is for Lovers
Despite a shockingly low body count, an audaciously long running time, and a tepid ending, Superman fans can finally rest assured in the knowledge their caped crusader has returned to glory after 26 years. (We choose not to count installments III and IV.)
Superman in glory. And… Still in love.
There will be those who find the artistry and romantic nature of director Bryan Singer’s film to be off-putting. Two decades and over 30 action hero films have conditioned us to expect mayhem every minute, and effects that are as loud as they are expensive.
But Singer, along with co-writers and fellow “X-Men” defectors Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, obviously scrutinized Richard Donner’s two iconic Superman films. More importantly, these men understand what motivates our flyboy and his alter ego, the awkward and bespectacled Clark Kent, and what sets him apart from other superheroes.
Evicted as a baby from his home planet Krypton, Superman’s past inspires him– unlike Batman whose past continuously haunts him. He feels conflict in his human affection for reporter Lois Lane, and it’s deeper and richer than anything Spider-Man has felt for Mary Jane. His sense of duty is more encompassing than any of the X-Men, or The Hulk, or any of his “peers,” because Superman alone is caretaker of the entire world– a point underscored repeatedly in “Superman Returns.”
In the title role, Brandon Routh doesn’t exactly make you forget Christopher Reeve. In fact, there are times when he eerily channels him, but he borrows liberally and still makes a convincing case in both personas. Kate Bosworth’s take is a prettier version of Lois Lane, but with a melancholy look. It’s a look that betrays Lois’ true feelings– the fire still burns even after Superman’s mysterious five-year disappearance and her winning a Pulitzer for writing an article entitled “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” Kevin Spacey can do menacing manic in his sleep, and though he has some good one-liners, it’s the film’s darker components that achieve greater credibility because of his presence.
It’s hard to complain about the quantity of action when you have a film that is often simply majestic to watch and provokes more lump-in-your-throat moments than all the other superhero films combined. The seamless flying effects, the magnificent retro-yet-modern set design, and an updated John Williams score supplant any previous film of this genre. (And there is at least one startling revelation.) Yes, it looks every bit like the $200 million picture that it is. But that’s not what sets it apart.
“Superman Returns” brings us a righteous superhero of yesteryear, a guileless wonder for whom life-threatening Kryptonite is overmatched only by the impossibility of love. By taking a step backward and remembering what we loved about Superman in the first place, Singer goes two steps forward and produces a triumph of not only good over evil but faith over cynicism.
Rated PG-13 for some intense action violence.