the fresh films reviews

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Superman Returns (2006)

Bryan Singer
Superman Returns
154 minutes
Gilbert Adler
Jon Peters
Bryan Singer
Michael Dougherty
Dan Harris

Cast includes:

Clark Kent/Superman Brandon Routh
Lois Lane Kate Bosworth
Lex Luthor Kevin Spacey
Richard White James Marsden
Kitty Kowalski Parker Posey
Perry White Frank Langella
Jimmy Olsen Sam Huntington
Martha Kent Eva Marie Saint
Jor-El Marlon Brando



After years of planning, rescheduling, changing directors, screenwriters and alleged new Supermen, the superhero above them all finally is back on the screen. After his successes with X-Men, there could hardly be a more suited choice than Bryan Singer to continue/refresh the myth. Last year, Christopher Nolan both saved and revitalized the legend of Batman with the best film in the series. The question was if Singer could do the same to Superman.

The biggest difference between the two films, however, is that what made Batman Begins so good was to a large degree much the same that made the movies made about Superman by the two Richards (Donner and Lester) nearly 30 years ago: A deep look into the character, based around solid build-ups and the courage to make independent foundations. With Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980), Donner and Lester made two different styles within the same universe (and, remarkably, by using mostly the same film stock). Their films were original and visually striking, but more importantly, they were independent and re-defining for the genre and the Superman character. This is where, unfortunately, Bryan Singer's film comes short. It has nearly every element required except the ability to be relevant and needful. It gives fans of the genre and of Superman that feel of superhero ecstasy, but I suspect it is a short-lived one. This film won't be considered a milestone in another twenty years.

Singer's perhaps biggest mistake is also very much the viewer's blessing early on: The film is packed with homages and tribute to both Donner, Lester, the Salkind family, Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman and most of the other elements appearing in the original two films. Delightful as this is, it also helps distract focus from the film itself, from creating its own identity. The casting of Brandon Routh has seemingly two motives: to find an unknown actor to play the role (clever), and to wake Christopher Reeve from the dead (clever?). That Routh looks practically identical to Reeve isn't negative, but that he tries to copy Reeve's movement, manners and speech is a bit disturbing. Still though, Routh's performance is a good one. Mainly because he has an impressively commanding screen-presence. There are scenes in which he appears almost god-like, and his compelling persona almost matches that of Reeve. What he quite can't is make Superman and Clark Kent as opposing characters as Reeve did, but Routh still is perhaps the film's best asset.

Unfortunately, the script and plot aren't. Superman returns to earth after a five-year hiatus. Fair enough. Soon everything is back to normal in Metropolis, even though Lois Lane has married and has had a kid. Fair enough. Then Lex Luthor returns with another plan to conquer the world. Only thing is, it's almost exactly the same plan as Gene Hackman presented in the original, leaving the Luthor vs. Superman match a pretty unconvincing one. It is actually downplayed to a degree that we're left wondering if Kevin Spacey really was needed for this film at all.

On the bright side: Superman Returns is a whole lot of fun. Despite the downsides, it's still Superman. And he's still the most interesting superhero around. The CGI effects are at times magnificent as in the impressive airplane/baseball ground scene. At this stage, Singer seemed to be really onto something. The romantic subplot (which threatens to become the main plot) has some interesting aspects to it (despite Kate Bosworth's disappointing version of Lois Lane), and Richard White is certainly a more believable love rival than Brad in Superman III.

Copyright 7.8.2006 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang