Reviewing Superman Returns
I was invited to a screening of Superman III last night and enjoyed the experience. First, it was terrific seeing friends and former co-workers, playing catch-up and all that. Second, I got to see Jeff Rovin, my new boss, since he left his personal Fortress of Solitude to come for the screening. Third, the Loews AMC on 34th Street is a nice theatre so was very comfortable.
Superman III isn’t as much a remake of the Robert Vaughn/Richard Pryor misfire as it was a reimagining of Superman the Movie. Director Bryan Singer was clearly channeling Richard Donner’s interpretation of the classic super-hero and there were many terrific touches throughout the film that brought a smile to my face.
On the other hand, for every nice subtle nod to the past, there were whole chunks of the first feature reshot for the new film. For example, it was wonderful seeing the photo of Glen Ford on the Kent mantle place. But the number of lines lifted from the first film got to be too much. We get it, it’s the same world from the first two features, it’s just five years later and really, not too much has changed.
The Kent Farm is gorgeous when the sun is on the horizon. Check.
Lois is endangered in an aircraft. Check.
Lex Luthor wants to recreate real estate so he can own it and gain power. Check.
The story had all the right themes, good doses of action and a final threat directly tied to the title character. What is lacked though was the necessary internally consistent logic to keep us from scratching our heads. How the Kryptonian crystals are used, how the kryptonite hurts and weakens Superman, and the entire threat to the Eastern seaboard comes and goes at the writers’ whim. From a pacing point of view, the half hour finally the action-packed climax, sags and people start to look at their watches. There’s really no final moment; it sort of just ends.
(And now I’ll talk about the key spoiler moment that has been given away elsewhere and is not really a spoiler to those who know anything about the movie.)
Lois has a child and it’s implied at one point that Superman is the father. Then we’re teased for the next hour as to whether or not it’s true. At no point is it stated so on camera. At no point are we given an explanation for the one super-powered moment attributed to the kid (nicely played, by the way). But let me be clear: this fundamental change to the Superman mythos, the one original addition to what came before, doesn’t work. Not because it’s a child out-of-wedlock or Kate Bosworth looks too young to be a mom, but simply because it’s off to the side. More of the film should have been about this rather significant plot point. Lois doesn’t address how she intends to raise a potentially super-powered child, Clark/Superman doesn’t offer emotional, financial or other support, nor does he even seem to consider sharing the news with his mother, who knows something about raising a child just learning to use his powers.
Towards the end, in a film filled with people repeating their own lines from previous films or repeating lines from other character, Singer and the writers missed a sure bet. As Superman stands over the sleeping child, he repeats lines from Jor-El. What should have happened was his mixing lines from Jor-El as well as Jonathan Kent, an indication of the influence both men had on the man Kal-El has grown to be. “The son becomes the father and the father the son” could have been beside “You’re here for a reason” and audiences would have been more satisfied. Or at least this audience of one.
What worked for me were the powers. I believed. I thought the flying was the best movie flying of all time, casual and effortless. Superman’s use of multiple powers such as flying and heat vision showed a man experienced and confident in his skills. Even his frequent use of speed was well handled, especially showing the heat friction as he gained speed, breaking the sound barrier (nice visual touch and amazing it hadn’t been done on screen before).
What didn’t work for me were several characters and the casting. No, I don’t mean the lovely cameos by Noel Neill and Jack Larson, a nod to the rich heritage of the character. But Parker Posey either looked grim or sad and was given absolutely nothing to do. Her character was entirely unnecessary to the film so one wonders why the indie star even bothered.
Kate Bosworth was not Lois Lane. Lois is driven, career before all else, gutsy and determined. Kate was too young to be a successful career reporter who happened to have a 5 year old son. She looked too young on her own and looked too young when paired with both James Marsden and Brandon Routh.
Routh made for a convincing Superman and Clark Kent. Like Singer channeled Donner, Routh clearly played it like Christopher Reeve. He was leaner and perhaps not as handsome, but pulled off the dual identity quite well.
Kevin Spacey surpassed Gene Hackman as Luthor because Donner had Hackman play the character comically while Spacey used some of that to shade his villain. He had the right dose of rage against the “alien” and their fight was everything you wanted to see between the two.
Frank Langella had the right gravitas, if not the right amount of bluster, as Perry White and Eva Marie Saint didn’t have enough to do (her entire sub-plot with James Karen will have to wait for the DVD). Sam Huntington’s Jimmy Olsen is fun and James Marsden reminds us he can act after being criminally neglected in X-Men 3.
I was smiling a lot through the film, cheered at times and grimaced at others. I liked it but wanted to love it and as a result, am ultimately disappointed by what could have been.