Monday, July 10, 2006


To watch Superman Returns is, for me, to watch something that should have been an awe-inspiring piece of work, but instead ended up being terribly disappointing. Given the entusiastic bubblings of delighted fans who poured out of the cinema after the show (not to mention the gleeful buzz it's recieving here in cyberspace), it leads me to believe that it isn't just the film which is inherantly flawed, it's also me, the viewer. The viewer is asked by the screenwriters, the director, and everyone involved in the production to meet them halfway. To a degree, one must go to a film, as well as having it come to you. Superman Returns seemed at first to jog, then stumble in my general direction, before it muttered "ah, fuck it" and proceeded to wander someplace else. Thus, so did my mind, as I was watching it.

As has been widely publicized by Singer, the film is a direct sequel to Superman I & II (and not III and IV) starring Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. Unlike the X-Men films, which reinvented the universe of its characters to make them fit into our own time in the present day, Superman Returns muleheadedly tries to pick up exactly where Donner's second film left off. For fans of the original series, this choice was most likely a delight. Unfortunately, I only vaguely recall seeing bits and pieces of the Reeve movies on TV a very long time ago, so I felt a little lost. Not only is the film littered with references to the first two, it also invests all of its emotional stock in them as well. Singer and his team of screenwriters seem to have assumed that everyone knows Superman from either seeing the movies or reading the comics, so there's no reason to "build him up" as a character. Because the film piggybacks on the emotional buildup of the previous movies, a lot is lost on those who don't know the Donner films inside out. Frankly, a lot of the time, I was a little bored.

When Superman returns to earth after five years of exploring the remenants of his homeworld (and, coincidentally, Clark Kent comes back to work at the Daily Planet on the same day), he finds that criminal mastermind Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) was let out of prison and has hatched a diabolical scheme involving the deaths of millions. Worse than that, however, he finds Lois Lane, now the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of an article entitled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman", has moved on, settled down with some other bloke and now has a five-year-old kid. When he's not saving people from muggers and trying to stop Lex and his dimwitted girlfriend (Parker Posey) from executing their plan, he flies over to Lois's place and uses his x-ray vision to watch her eat dinner with her husband and kid. Eventually, more stuff happened but I'm not completely sure how or why it did.

The movie has more than its fair share of weak links. Kate Bosworth looks at least ten years too young to be Lois Lane, and didn't really seem to have spunk, determination, or stubbornness of any woman who'd be so angry at her ex-lover that she'd immediately go out and get somebody else. Spacey and Posey have a lot of funny moments together, but Luthor's plan is so completely illogical and ridiculous, even for bad guy in a superhero movie, that you have to wonder how the hell he'd ever think it could work. For the most part, however, the movie just wasn't that much fun. The romance subplot is so cripplingly serious that it squeezes just about all the joy and wonder out of all the other aspects of the film.

To be fair, Superman Returns has a lot going for it, too. The digital cinematography is top-notch, and the IMAX projection was probably the clearest and most beautiful I've ever seen a motion picture. With its deep, saturated colors it looks more like an Alex Ross painting come life than any other film I've seen before. The CGI work (and this is coming from someone who is ruthlessly hard to please when it comes to computer graphics) is flawless all over. The best performance in the movie, surprisingly enough, is from James "Cyclops" Mardsen, who, after his dreary glorified cameo in X-Men 3, does a marvelous job as Richard White, Lois's husband. Far from just a cardboard-cutout "other man" type, he breathes life effortlessly into the character, making him more three-dimensional than either Superman/Clark or Lois Lane. I really wanted to love this movie. I wanted it to pick me up and draw me in, to make me feel like a seven-year-old kid the way King Kong did last year. Sadly, however, I remained in my seat as a grumpy, jaded adult, while the film, in all its visual beauty and three-dimensional glory, stayed fimly rooted to the screen.


Blogger Bemis said...

I figured.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Dr. Criddle said...

Sorry man. I really wanted to like it! I just....didn't.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Bemis said...

Okay, but just to clarify: thumbs down for Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and Superman Returns, thumbs up for X-Men: The Last Stand?

6:57 PM  
Blogger Dr. Criddle said...

Not quite...after the adrenaline buzz of "yay, I saw this movie as it was being worked on, and I'm seeing it on opening night" wore off, X-Men 3 got a thumbs down too. Spider-man is a definate thumbs up. Spider-man 2 is a thumbs pointing sorta sideways, but bears repeat viewing.

11:38 AM  
Anonymous Gaith said...

Trust me, S-M2 is way better than 1, which gets a thumbs down in my book. But how was the 3D? Is it worth the extra dough?

10:23 PM  
Blogger Dr. Criddle said...

Yes, the 3D and the IMAX-size screen in general are both definatley worth it.

3:20 PM  
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