Archive for July, 2006
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris
Story by: Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, and Frank Langella
My son was almost killed on the way to the movie theater.
We were walking across the street, and a delivery truck made a turn and almost struck him. It came within inches of his nose. My wife screamed and, in that split second, I saw him die. I saw the truck hit him. I saw him lying broken on the pavement. He was beyond my reach, and there are no super heroes in this world to swoop down and save little children from the jaws of danger. Thankfully, he was fine. Shaken, but fine. We continued on to the cinema and watched Superman Returns.
Why do I start my review with this little tale? Well, let’s just say that this movie, more than just about any other, is about the relationship between fathers and sons. It is about wanting to protect those we love from all harm. And, needless to say, coming off my experience in that intersection crosswalk, my view of it might be totally different from other reviewers.
Our story picks up where Superman II (1980) left off. Astronomers discovered the shattered remains of Krypton, and Superman (Brandon Routh) had to travel there to see it for himself, to discover if he was truly the dead planet’s only survivor. The journey there and back took five years, and he soon finds that much has changed here on earth in his absence.
The love of his life, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), has moved on. Like so many women, when she couldn’t find her fantasy Mr. Right, she settled for a good man (Perry White’s nephew [X-Men‘s James Marsden])and had a child. She’s also just won the Pulitzer Prize. The subject of her article? A rant entitled “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.”
And what of the Man of Steel’s nemesis, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey)? Well, he’s still obsessed with real estate. After being released from prison early on a technicality, he steals the fortune of a dying old woman and pays a return visit to Superman’s vacant Fortress of Solitude. There, he steals the Kryptonian crystals and makes plans to use them for…evil.
Many comic book films forget about character development and relationships and are all about the action sequences and special effects wizardry (see this summer’s Singer-free X-Men: The Last Stand). This film could have easily done the same. I mean, we all know Superman/Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthor right? No need to do anything with them except throw set pieces at them. And that Lois/Superman relationship? The writers of Superman III told interviewers back in 1983 that there was nowhere to take it afterSuperman II. Thankfully, Singer and his team of writers (fellow X-Men vets Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris) were not so lazy.
By pretending that Superman III and IV never existed (and we should all follow their example), Singer, Dougherty, and Harris have been able to deal with some weighty issues of the human heart. Can you really move on if you still have feelings for someone else? And can you be around someone you love every day and watch them live a life with another person? The team has made the whole issue even more delightfully complex by making James Marsden’s character a great guy. You like him. You like the way he treats Lois and her son. Less talented writers would have made this guy a heel, a villain who beat her or had an affair that Superman would have discovered with his amazing hearing and X-ray eyes. Not so here. You want Lois and Superman to be together, but not at the expense of others.
While it is hard (at least for those of us who grew up with those earlier films) to shake the memory of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, Routh and Bosworth do grow on you. While his take on Clark Kent is not as amusing as Reeve’s, Routh does manage to make his Superman brooding, using his eyes and facial expressions to convey feelings of love, loss, and anger. Bosworth is also expert at plucking just the right heart string with a quivering lip and a convincing tear. While her Daily Planet reporter is not as hardened or rough-around-the-edges as Kidder, as a mother and upset lover, she does a wonderful job of creating sympathy and empathy for her Lois.
And then there’s Kevin Spacey. Director Singer has made a wonderful casting choice here, giving comic fans the Lex Luthor they have always loved to hate. Spacey is sly, ruthless, and maniacal. There is a humorous tip of the hat to Gene Hackman at the very beginning of the film, but from that frame on, Spacey makes the roll his own. You can see the gears turning in his clean-shaven head as he works out his evil plans…and questions Lois about the father of her child.
“The son becomes the father, and the father…the son.”
Jor-El’s words from the original Superman are re-played again here, both by Marlon Brando himself and by Routh, and it is a key theme in the two films: the role of fathers in the life of their sons. The longing to be there for your children, to answer their questions and to see that they never feel alone, even when the rest of the world makes them feel different and isolated. In Superman II, when Reeve calls out to his father in desperation and sorrow, his father answers. And in Superman Returns most poignant scene, father makes it clear to son that he will always be there when needed.
“They have a great capacity for good…which is why I have sent them you, my only son.”
Singer and team also tackle the religious element of the mythos, exploring it more deeply and more blatantly than ever before. Perhaps it is just my Catholic upbringing, but I have always found Superman to be a Christ allegory. In the 70’s film, you have a white-haired father in a glowing robe sending his only son down to Earth to be our savior. In this film, you get to see the Man of Steel hovering high above, listening to everyone on the globe as if hearing the cries of prayer–deciding which need to be answered and which Man should tackle on their own. At one point, after saving the world, Superman falls through the clouds, arms spread, legs together, in the pose of crucifixion.
“You say the world doesn’t need a savior,” Superman tells Lois, “but every day, I hear it crying out for one.”
Yes my friends, this is not just some mindless piece of Summer action. This film makes you think long after the final chord of John William’s now famous march echoes through the cinema speakers. Sure, it has its lapses of logic (Clark and Superman were gone for exactly 5 years? Hello!) and a very slow start (and where did that Kryptonian space ship come from anyway?), but this one of the year’s best films, and Singer’s greatest work to date. I only hope Warner Brothers gives him and his crew a chance to fly again.
4.5 out of 5 stars.