Superman Returns (Theatrical Film Review)
Stars: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Parker Posey,
Director: Bryan Singer
Critic's rating: 4 out of 10
Review by Chuck O'Leary
Superman returns to the big screen for the first time in 19
years, but he should have stayed lost. With the abundance of superhero
movies in subsequent years, and the over-reliance of such films on CGI,
the magic is long gone.
Superman Returns, director Bryan Singer's highly-anticipated
revival of the franchise, is drab looking, underwhelming in almost every
respect and inferior to all four of the Superman films
that starred the late Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. Yes, that's
right. Singer's film is even a step below the poorly-conceived Superman
III (1983) and the cheesy Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
(1987). But hey, at least it's better than Supergirl
The problems here are many, but I think Singer's biggest mistake
was the decision not to shoot on regular 35mm
film negative with Panavision anamorphic lenses. Instead,
Singer and his cinematographer, Newton Thomas Sigel, decided to shoot it
digitally with the new Panavision Genesis digital-HD camera with
widescreen lenses. The result is a darker, uglier film that sorely
lacks the vivid color of Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography on the first two Superman's,
which were shot simultaneously in 1977-78, but released a couple years
apart. You know something’s wrong in the new one when Superman's
outfit constantly looks like it's in need of a good washing.
Even though Singer had the advantage of filmmaking technology
that's light years ahead of where it was when the Reeve films
were made, and a budget that some report as being $250 million, his Superman
Returns fails to take flight due to a subpar screenplay,
inconsistent pacing and too-dark photography that would be more
appropriate for a Batman film than a Superman
adventure. Singer and Sigel can rationalize the decision to shoot
this digitally all they want, but for a production this big, the finished
product just doesn't look very good. Whether the actual production budget
was $150 million or $250 million, all the money they spent simply doesn't look
like it's up on the screen.
While Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman
II (1981) captured just the right mixture of camp and high adventure, Superman
Returns takes itself too seriously and drags throughout for
much of its 154 minutes. While Reeve look-alike Brandon Routh is
about as good of a replacement for Reeve as you're likely to find, he's not
given enough to do. As Clark Kent, he's not allowed to
do enough stumbling and bumbling and as Superman there's not enough
scenes of him being heroic. It also doesn't help that he's
paired with a Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) who lacks the spunky, quirky
appeal of Margot Kidder. In fact, none of this movie has the personality,
charm and vibrancy of the earlier films.
As chrome-domed megalomaniac Lex Luthor and
his ditsy girlfriend Kitty Kowalski, Kevin Spacey and Parker Posey
have their moments, and the film is liveliest when they're on screen, but
they're not nearly as much fun as Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine
were as Luthor and his sidekicks, the hilariously incompetent Otis and the
sexy Miss Teschmacher. And when the talking head of Jor-El (Marlon
Brando) appears via archive footage for a few minutes in Superman
Returns, it only stands as a reminder of how much better and how
much better cast the 1978 film was -- too high of a price tag is the only
plausible explanation for why Bruce Willis wasn't cast as Lex Luthor.
Just compare the scenes in Superman: The Movie
and Superman Returns where the Man of Steel takes Lois for a
fly. In the '78 film it was a sequence filled with wonder and awe.
In Singer's film, like everything else, this sequence is comparatively flat.
Superman Returns has our hero returning to
Metropolis after a five-year absence, just in time to again battle Luthor,
who's out of prison and once again bent on world domination, only this
time with the help of some powerful crystals he stole from the remains of
Krypton. But the big story for Superman this time is that Lois Lane got
married during his absence, to Perry White's nephew, Richard (James Marsden),
and has a 5-year-old son. Could the kid really be Superman's biological
son? You do the math, and consider what's likely to keep the franchise
going and going, and will give Warner Bros. an immediate excuse to replace
Routh in the unlikely case this bombs.
Singer showed great promise with the first two major films he
directed (The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil)
before selling out to become a hack specializing in
CGI-heavy comic-book fare. Part of the problem here is Warner Bros.
entrusted this revival of Superman to the creative
team behind a bad, albeit profitable, movie, X-2: X-Men
United. But Singer, Sigel and screenwriters Michael Dougherty
and Dan Harris don't even come close to matching the pedigree of talent
producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind assembled for Superman 1 & 2,
from the higher-powered cast to director Donner (who also helmed
at least two-thirds of II even though Richard
Lester gets sole directing credit) to cinematographer Unsworth to a legion of
writers that included Mario Puzo, Robert Benton, David Newman and Tom
Very telling is that the best thing about Superman
Returns is the recycled part of the musical score where John
Ottman simply reuses many of the memorable themes John Williams
originally composed all those years ago for Superman: The Movie.
It's also very telling when Superman comes back and
Daily Planet editor Perry White (Frank Langella) asks, "Does he still
stand for truth, justice and all that other stuff?" "All that
other stuff?" Superman always stood for "truth, justice and the
American way." Suddenly, what's so wrong with saying "the
American way?" Has modern-day Hollywood really become this
unpatriotic or are they overly concerned about the sensitivities of the
increasingly important international market? Either way, the fact that
they're either too chicken or embarrassed to say "the American way"
There are enough predisposed-to-love-it,
fantasy-loving fanboys out there to almost guarantee a good to
great box-office gross for Superman Returns.
But is there one part of this movie people will be still talking about 8 weeks
from now, let alone 28 years from now? I think not.