Superman Returns often feels like an homage rewarding viewers of the previous four Superman films with many references, inside jokes and related scenes.
Superman returns to Earth after investigating his former home planet Krypton for about five years picking up where 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace left off. “That place was a graveyard… I’m all that is left,” says Superman, a.k.a Clark Kent.
Newcomer Brandon Routh slowly makes an impression as the Man of Steel while Tristan Lake Leabu makes a memorable debut as Jason.
Academy Award-winning actress Eva Marie Saint (North By Northwest) plays Martha Kent, who stills resides on the farm where Clark grew up. Her limited role provides an important bridge during the initial set-up. Additional visuals/dialogue of the late Marlon Brando, Superman’s father Jor-El, fulfills the same function.
Eventually Superman reconnects with the people of Metropolis who have survived without him, most notably Lois Lane, played by Kate Bosworth (Beyond the Sea, Blue Crush).
Clark again assumes his reporter duties at the information hub of Metropolis and perfect cover for his alter ego, The Daily Planet – home of Editor Perry White, played by Frank Langella (Good Night & Good Luck) and photographer Jimmy Olsen.
Eventually Superman’s heroics cover a wide range (from convenience store robberies to blowing out massive fires) as he fulfills his duties as Earth’s savior. He doesn’t huff and puff or grunt and groan when fighting, because…well, he’s Superman.
Lois, a recent Pulitzer Prize recipient, eventually rediscovers herself upon Superman’s return. Her hard, overprotective shell eventually sheds when she’s predictably assigned to write features on Superman.
Superman still doesn’t move on, even after he’s marginalized by Lois (as two different people) and has no original family/home left. He doesn’t gloat when saving the day, but doesn’t ignore the cheers either because he needs that emotional support right now.
Lois, understandably hurt by Superman’s sudden departure, doubts their love connection, yet finds it’s stronger than ever upon his return. Routh plays the strong silent type well as Superman says few words to Lois on the subject, but says them at the right time (thanks to Clark).
Ironically, Lois’ actions speak louder than her words as filmmakers forge Lois and Superman’s relationship into a new plateau.
Lois’ new relationships, especially with fiancé/colleague Richard White, played by James Marsden (X-Men), also add an important new element amid familiar action and plot points.
The always familiar Lex Luthor, played by Oscar®-winner Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects), uses ‘mind over muscle’ tactics to defeat Superman after gaining his own freedom due to legal loopholes. Unlike, Superman and Lois, Luthor’s role is more functional than emotional and filmmakers miss the chance to capitalize on his background.
Audiences must make the leap here and use the source material (comics, previous films, etc.) to really understand Luthor’s hatred towards Superman – a special being that constantly steals the spotlight. Consequently their predictable showdown lacks the emotional punch on a personal level and is instead punctuated by violence.
Parker Posey (You’ve Got Mail, A Mighty Wind) plays Kitty Kowalski, assistant to Luthor who is flanked by three knowledgeable, one-dimensional henchmen.
Collaborating screenwriters Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris (X2) create strong emotions through Lois and Clark’s relationship. These screenwriters rely on a strong plot instead of action-driven scripts, which doomed other comic-to-film franchises like Daredevil.
Filmmakers have ample screen time (154 minutes) for a deliberately paced plot, which audiences see a lot of familiar techniques that slightly dampen the entertainment value of the film.
The only thing original about the predictable good vs. evil conflict is the accidental meeting that initiates the showdown. Filmmakers create another genuine surprise from a seemingly predictable, last second rescue.
Director Brian Singer mixes style and effects well. The iconic imagery and awe-inspiring action sequences (especially the space shuttle/plane sequence) benefit from great special effects. Singer also collaborated with Dougherty and Harris on the film’s story.
John Ottman (X2, The Usual Suspects) provides a great musical score anchored by the original theme music from John Williams.
A good film that honors its predecessors while creating a solid launching pad for more sequels – the first due in 2009. Dedicated to Christopher and Dana Reeve.
Recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated PG-13 for action violence. Also played in IMAX where approximately 20 minutes of the motion picture was be converted into 3D.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler