Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Franchises: The First Superman Film Series. Superman Returns (2006)

File:Superman Returns.jpgIn 2005, Batman was finally redeemed from nearly a decade's worth of mockery due to Batman & Robin and made awesome again with the release of Batman Begins. This, along with the enormous successes of Spider-Man 1 and 2 before it, signaled that superhero movies were back in a big way and that they were also now being viewed with a lot more respect rather than being written off as simply kids' stuff. And, therefore, since the Caped Crusader had returned to movie screens, it wasn't all that surprising when the Man of Steel did the same the following year. I know that Warner Bros. had been trying to do another Superman movie for a long time and that they were already well into production when Batman Begins was released but I'm pretty sure that the big critical and commercial success of that film really inspired them to hype up this flick. Speaking from a personal standpoint, I hadn't yet seen the original Superman at this time and I also wasn't very interested in the character either, so the announcement of Superman Returns didn't have much of an impact on me (I was impressed by how they were able to find someone who looked a lot like Christopher Reeve, though). I only started to become really interested in Superman the very summer that Superman Returns was released when I saw the documentary  Look Up In The Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman on A&E as well as when I finally got my first  substantial look of the original Christopher Reeve movie. That said, though, I still didn't see Superman Returns in the theater...

...and from everything that I heard and read at the time, I hadn't missed much. The impression that I got from both critics and general audiences was that the film was a huge letdown and did not live up to the hype that came with it. The biggest criticisms I heard was that the film wasn't very exciting, that it was overlong and plodding, which, looking back on them, remind me a lot of the reception that Ang Lee's Hulk got back in 2003 (for the record, I really like that film) and even at the time, I was thinking to myself, "Wow, it looks like this was just another over-hyped, bloated comic book movie." I got my first look at the movie after Christmas that year when I was at Wal-Mart and they had it playing on those TVs they sometimes have set up. I actually got there early enough to see the opening titles and even though I didn't pay much attention to it, they looked promising enough from what I saw and the movie was also using the John Williams theme, which was cool. But, I still didn't think much about it afterward until the following summer when I had really become interested in the Superman character and was now a big fan of the original movie. That was when I finally saw Superman Returns when I bought it on DVD along with both versions of Superman II and Superman III and when I finally did see it, I understood why it wasn't that popular of a movie. While my opinion on it has softened since then, I wasn't all that impressed with the movie after that first viewing. I thought to myself, "Well, everybody's right: it's way too long and there's not enough excitement." Honestly, while I won't say that I ever hated it, I didn't go all that easy on it after that first viewing either. Part of that could be due to some personal issues I was going through at the time but another part of it is simply due to the fact that, despite the good intentions that went into it, Superman Returns is a very flawed and, in some aspects, not very well thought out film. I don't think it's horrible and there is some good stuff here in my opinion but, on the whole, I can totally understand why it wasn't that big of a hit with the general public in 2006.

Five years ago, astronomers discovered what they believed were the remains of Krypton and, upon hearing this, Superman disappeared to embark upon a journey through the universe to see for himself. However, he has now returned to Earth after not having found anything and resumes his job at the Daily Planet as Clark Kent, discovering that not only has Lois Lane won her long desired Pulitzer Prize for an article entitled, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman," but that she also now has both a fiancé and a child. Circumstances soon arise that force Clark to become Superman and reveal to the entire world and Lois, who is involved in the incident at hand, that he's back. At the same time, the evil Lex Luthor, who was released from prison due to Superman's failure to appear at his trial, has used the fortune he received from a deceased widow that he married to begin his criminal activities again. He steals a handful of crystals from the Fortress of Solitude and intends to use their unique properties to grow a new continent off the East Coast, destroying North America in the process, killing billions of people, and giving him full control of the only land available for any survivors. It's not too long before Luthor puts his plan into action and Superman must risk his own life, due to the continent's Kryptonite-laden crust, to save not only Lois and her small family but countless other lives as well. 

To date, Superman Returns is the only film by Bryan Singer that I've ever seen, which is sad, I know, since this is hardly his best film from what I hear. While I'm pretty sure that I will see The Usual Suspects some time down the road since I've heard it's a really good flick, I have no interest whatsoever in his X-Men movies, or any other X-Men movie, for that matter, since I've never been a fan of those characters in any capacity. In any case, I can understand why they eventually went with Singer to bring Superman back to the big screen. After going through so many screenplays and a varied lot of writers and directors like Kevin Smith, Tim Burton (personally, I'm glad that he didn't direct it; in my opinion, his dark, quirky style may have worked for Batman but I don't think it would have meshed well with Superman), McG, and J.J. Abrams, Singer's success with the first two X-Men movies made him a no-brainer for the gig. And in addition, Singer has stated many times how much he loves the first Superman and, as a show of respect, actually asked for Richard Donner's opinion on his story pitch for Superman Returns. So, it seemed like Warner Bros. was on the right track by hiring him. Unfortunately, though, I think Singer's love for the original film ended up being this movie's biggest hindrance. Now, if you've read my review of the first Superman, you'd know how much I truly love that film and, therefore, I completely respect and encourage Singer's admiration of it. But, I think he got so caught up in continuing that movie's storyline and making a movie as similar to it as possible that he ended up making one that has a major feeling of, "Been there, done that." As we'll get into, I think that's the biggest problem with Superman Returns: it may have been a new Superman movie but it was so stuck in the past that it didn't offer anything that fresh or exciting.

For a concrete example of my above criticism, let's briefly look over how the story of the movie flows as well as some of the details. When Superman returns to Earth after failing to find the remains of Krypton, he not only crashes near his widowed mother's farm but the ship he does so in looks like a much larger version of the pod he landed on Earth in as a baby in the first movie (are Kryptonian spaceships just incapable of landing without crashing?). When he first becomes Superman, we see him running through the streets of Metropolis and open his shirt to reveal the 'S', just as we did in the original movie. In addition, his first act as Superman is to prevent a disaster that would have killed Lois Lane (the only difference here is that it's an airplane instead of a helicopter and there many more people in jeopardy as well) and after doing so, he informs everyone that, despite this little incident, flying is still the safest way to travel. Lois also faints at the end of both sequences. After he makes his return known, Perry White calls everyone together to tell them that he wants it all in print, just like he did after Superman first revealed himself to the world in the first movie. When he and Lois meet each other for the first time after the rescue, they have a small interview that leads to him flying her around the city. Lex Luthor's plan here is simply a more amped up, catastrophic version of his real estate scheme from the first movie (this time, instead of simply destroying the West Coast, he plans on destroying the whole of North America) and, also like before, he steals some Kryptonite from a museum in order to ensure that Superman won't interfere (again, the use of the Kryptonite here is a beefed up version of how Luthor used it before). Speaking of Luthor here, he even has a new female cohort who is visibly disgusted by his psychotic nature and ultimately betrays him at the end, ensuring that he won't be able to attempt this scheme again. Do you get my point yet? Homage is okay but when you borrow so many elements from a past film and actually build your movie around them, you're going to give your audience a feeling of deja vu and trust me, that novelty quickly wears off and can negatively affect the viewing experience.

Let's be frank about Brandon Routh: the reason that he was cast is because he looks a lot like Christopher Reeve. I'm not saying that he's a bad actor, and I also don't think that he was particularly bad in this movie, but his similarity to Reeve had to have been their incentive for putting him in the suit. While I can't fault them for that since this movie is supposed to be in continuity with the first two (I'll get into the many problems with that later, though), that's about as far as it goes. Again, Routh isn't terrible but at the same time, he's not memorable either since he's only meant to be a stand-in for Reeve. Plus, he just doesn't have the charisma and charm that Reeve did and I feel bad for saying that because he does seem to be trying and you also have to think about what a burden it must have been for him to step into that costume and play Superman in the same continuity  as arguably the most beloved actor to ever take on the role (compare it to when George Lazenby temporarily replaced Sean Connery as James Bond and I think you'll get the idea). But, that said, I have to be honest: try as he might, Routh is no Christopher Reeve. He looks good in the suit, I'll give him that, but the way he plays Superman as well as Clark Kent in private is very one-note. His voice never changes when he plays those two sides of the character and his emotions don't seem to either. The only time I saw any real change in him as Superman was during the last third of the movie when he was struggling to thwart Luthor's plan due to the Kryptonite and when he visits his son at the end. Other than that, I think he looks good as Superman but that's pretty much it. And as for when he plays Clark Kent at the Daily Planet... (sigh) again, all I can see is him trying to duplicate what Reeve did when playing that side of the character. He had all the mannerisms: the clumsiness, the slouching, the constant adjusting of the glasses, the slight stutter etc., but he came across as a copycat and not actually as the character. And for that matter, he doesn't change his voice that much from when he's being Clark and when he's being Superman. That was one of the reasons why you could buy people not recognizing Reeve's Clark as being Superman: the nervous, slightly high-pitched voice as well as the clumsiness. All Routh does is tone his Superman voice down just a couple of notches and add a slight stutter and feeling of nervousness. That actually makes me wonder why nobody realizes that he's Superman since it's so obviously a put-on and also makes me not buy the moment when Lois and her fiancé Richard briefly wonder if that is the case but then dismiss it. In conclusion, Routh is not horrible at all and feels sincere but at the same time, he's trying to be a stand-in for Christopher Reeve and that's an impossible task. No one will ever be able to replace Reeve or match what he did as the character and they shouldn't have even tried.

As for the costume that Routh wears as Superman... eh, it's okay. It's a decent updating of the classic costume that Reeve wore and I understand that probably wouldn't work in this day and age but I still prefer it. This costume's colors are a little too dark, especially the cape and boots with their rather dull, brown-like color (I've seen other pictures and while they were  apparently red, they still look brown in the actual movie to me) and leathery texture instead of the bright red, robe-like cape and royal guard-like boots that Reeve wore. This is just me but I think that Superman's suit should have really bright colors and Batman is the one whose suit should be very dark. In fact, doesn't this suit kind of look like the one that Evil Superman wore in Superman III? I just hit upon that when I watched that movie again in order to do these reviews but if you look at them side by side, they do look very similar. And finally, the 'S' has always looked funky to me. The texture of it when you see it in close-up like up above  makes me think of what the 'S' on a Superman Halloween costume would look like; it has that assembly line look and feel to it. In actuality, the reason the 'S' looks that way is because it's made up of a bunch of little 'S's' (until I saw that close picture up above, I was never able to make that out) but still, it doesn't look all that genuine to me. By this point, you probably think I hate the Superman suit in this movie and while I really don't, I still do have a lot of personal issues with it (but then again, I'm a weird guy so there's that too).

Yeah, just keep pretending like there's something meaningful between
you two.
What ever personal issues you may have with Brandon Routh, at least he was trying to bring to life a performance, which is more than I can say for Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. My God, I don't think they could have picked a worse actor for that role if they tried. Bosworth gives one of the most flat, emotionless performances possible. There's none of the spunk or fire that Margot Kidder had or even the cynicism and sarcastic sense of humor that Dana Delany brought to Lois in the 90's animated series. I know Lois is supposed to be more than a little bitter because Superman left her life without so much as a goodbye and that she's not too happy about his sudden return, particularly since she's moved on with her life, but that doesn't mean she has to be an empty, soulless  shell of the woman she once was. And that's another thing: I don't buy at all that this is supposed to be the same Lois that Margot Kidder played. Not only does her lack of personality hinder that for me but it's also just the way she looks. She doesn't look at all like Kidder for one thing and for another, Bosworth was twenty-two when she was cast whereas Kidder was almost thirty when she first played the role. If this is supposed to be in continuity with the first two movies, then shouldn't they have hired a woman in her mid-30's to play Lois? I guess they figured that someone like that wouldn't work when paired up with the twenty-six-year old Brandon Routh (they probably should have tried to find someone around that same age to play Superman as well; although, to be fair, Routh was about the same age that Christopher Reeve was when he did the first movie) but hey, it couldn't have been any worse than the chemistry that Bosworth has with Routh, which is none. I don't buy that these two are in love at all. No interaction between the two of them makes me believe that: Lois scolds Superman for leaving her when they meet up again for the first time after he saves her, the two of them take another flight above Metropolis, they almost kiss when they get back but decide not to, and then, Lois suddenly has feelings for him again that really come out when he's seriously injured and possibly dying. I get that you would be concerned for an old love if something like that happened but still, I don't buy at all that that little flight would make Lois have feelings for him again. While I can't say at this point whether I think she's better or worse than Amy Adams in Man of Steel, Kate Bosworth is a contender for the worst Lois Lane imaginable in my opinion.

The character that I was much more interested in than Lois Lane was James Marsden as her fiancé, Richard White. Even though they didn't give Marsden much to do, I do like the way the character was written. They could have easily have turned him into a jealous asshole who tries every way possible to keep Superman from coming back into Lois' life but they didn't. While there is one scene where he presses Lois about just how far things ever went between her and Superman and about how she truly felt about him, he never flies off the handle and yells stuff like, "You're lying!" or, "I better not catch you trying to see him behind my back!" Instead, they make him a likable and respectful guy who truly cares about both Lois and his "son" and puts himself in serious danger when he realizes that they're in trouble. Moreover, when Superman arrives, saves them all from drowning, and tells Richard that he'll help them take off in their seaplane, Richard gives him a sincere, "Thank you." Plus, when Lois tells Richard that they have to go back and help Superman since he's in danger, Richard quickly agrees to do so when he could have easily and selfishly refused, and when Superman is in critical condition in the hospital after getting rid of Lex Luthor's Kryptonite-filled mini continent, Richard drives Lois there so she can see him, telling her that they'll let her do so despite the crowd because of who she is. I always like it when filmmakers decide not to take the route that would have been the most obvious for them to go down. We already have one villain; we didn't need another.

Speaking of which, does Lex Luthor have to be the villain in every single Superman movie? I know he's Superman's most well-known adversary and all but, for God's sake, this is the fourth damn movie in a series of five that's featured him (and for that matter, the character of Ross Webster in Superman III was basically nothing more than a stand-in for Luthor and a lame one at that). It'd be like if after the first Batman, they kept bringing back Jack Nicholson's Joker: you'd get tired of it after a while.  Supes does have other enemies that are about as popular as Luthor, like Brainiac and Bizarro. Give them a chance to shine in a big budget movie! Okay, with that little rant out of the way, let's talk about Kevin Spacey's take on the role that was previously played by Gene Hackman. Now, the first time I saw Superman Returns, I absolutely hated him. I thought he was horribly miscast and brought nothing to the character, making his scenes a chore to get through. Looking back on that first viewing, I think the troubled times I was going through made me unable to really enjoy anything worthwhile about the movie because of how unhappy I was with my life at that time. Upon subsequent viewings, I gradually warmed up to Spacey to the point where I now feel that he's the best part of the cast. Instead of just copying what Hackman did, Spacey decided to make Luthor much more noticeably psychotic. He's still witty, funny, and energetic but there's also an underlying feeling of psychosis within him this time around when he so nonchalantly talks about how he's going to kill billions of innocent people and flies off the handle in a rage a few times. It's like he's amped up those moments of true evil that we saw Hackman display amongst all of his wit and humor in the first movie. In addition, we can also now see just how much Luthor truly despises Superman. In the first film, the reason he gave for wanting to destroy the Man of Steel was because he saw it as the ultimate challenge for someone as brilliant as him. In Superman II, he at first seemed to want revenge on Superman for foiling his ultimate plan, which was his incentive for escaping prison and going to the Fortress of Solitude, but once General Zod came into the picture, he decided to let someone with the same powers as Superman take care of him while he reaped the rewards he would possibly get for helping Zod. Here, Luthor is nothing but bitter about the five years he spent in prison because of Superman and when he learns of his return, he ensures that he won't foil his plan again by making it so that Kryptonite grows within his continent's crust. And when Superman does become weakened when he sets foot on the landmass, Luthor takes great sadistic pleasure out of beating the ever-living crap out of him and ultimately stabbing him with a shard of Kryptonite, causing him to fall over the edge into the ocean, where he will undoubtedly drown. Therefore, you can just imagine the rage that must have filled every fiber of his being when Superman actually did manage to ruin this plan. If they had done another movie, Luthor would have probably nixed any other plans and gone straight to killing Superman in the most painful way imaginable. So, even though I may not have cared for him the first time, I now feel that Spacey, being the great actor that he is, was a really good choice for Luthor and he did it very well.

Unfortunately, one of the many unnecessary callbacks to the first two movies is the presence of Parker Posey as Kitty Kowalski, a female cohort of Luthor's who is nothing more than a stand-in for Mrs. Teschmacher. There are many, many similarities between the two: like Mrs. Teschmacher, Kitty continues to work for Luthor even though she's obviously sickened by his cruelty (I've read that she was supposedly a nurse at the prison where Luthor was held but I don't remember them mentioning that at all); she has an infatuation with Superman; and she ultimately betrays Luthor in the end (in Kitty's case, the latter shows more of what a good person she is than her predecessor in that she ensures that Luthor won't be able to kill any more people, whereas Mrs. Teschmacher simply helped Superman because he promised to save her mother first). While the character isn't annoying or anything (at least, to me) and Posey does play her adequately, I ultimately can't see her as anything other than Bryan Singer's attempt to make his film as much like Richard Donner's as possible.

Replacing Jackie Cooper as Perry White is Frank Langella who, like Kevin Spacey, I initially did not care for when I first watched the film. While I won't say I grew to like him as much as I did Spacey's Luthor, I will say that I do appreciate him a bit more now than I did at first. He's not as entertaining or energetic as Cooper was but I do think he captures the character's desire and constant drive for the Daily Planet to have the best stories very well. He does have some really good lines as well, like when he tells Lois, "Three things sell newspapers: tragedy, sex, and Superman. People are sick of tragedy and we all know that you can't write worth a damn about sex," and, "Lois, Pulitzer Prizes are like Academy Awards: no one remembers what you got one for, just that you got one" (I think Robin Williams would have attested to that). And that bit near the end when they're not sure whether Superman is going to pull through or not after being taken to the hospital and, just to be safe, Perry has prepared two newspaper headlines, one saying SUPERMAN IS DEAD and the other saying SUPERMAN LIVES (the title of the aborted Tim Burton Superman project for those who don't know), is just brilliant. It's another example of why you just can't help but love Perry for the irascible old guy that he is. My initial misgivings aside, I do think Langella did a good job as the character.

Even though he has nothing to do, I think Sam Huntington did fit the role of Jimmy Olsen. While I couldn't see Marc McClure's Jimmy getting so mad when Clark accidentally bumps his camera when we first see him, I feel that Huntington was appropriately energetic as the character. He may not be the "golly, gee-whiz" type that McClure was and I also don't remember Jimmy in the other movies liking Clark Kent this much (I know they were friends but my God, Huntington's Jimmy is basically drooling all over him when he shows back up at the Daily Planet) but I do think what he does in the little bit of screentime that he had works. Another returning character is Superman's adopted mother, Martha Kent (Eva Marie Saint), who, despite having only a few scenes, is just as warm, loving, and encouraging of a character as she was in the original film. In addition, while it may simply be footage of him from the first movie, we do have the "return" of Marlon Brando as Jor-El. I have to admit that, as much as I feel the use of his dialogue here gets a bit excessive and is a part of one of the film's problems, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't like hearing Brando saying those awesome, almost poetic lines from the original movie again, including some that were only present in the special edition of that film. And for fans of the George Reeves TV show, we have cameos by Jack Larson as a bartender and Noel Neill as the elderly widow whom Lex Luthor married in order to receive her fortune.

One last character that I'm going to mention is significant not because of his performance but because he's the heart of one of the many continuity issues that Superman Returns has with Superman II, the film it's meant to be a direct sequel to, and that character is Jason White (Tristan Lake Leabu), the young son of Lois Lane whose father, big shock, is revealed to be Superman. I have nothing against the kid himself. Despite his age and the fact that he had nothing that substantial to do, I don't think he did a bad job. He was cute, he wasn't annoying, and I do like some of his scenes, like near the end where he and Lois visit Superman in the hospital and Jason says that he hopes Supes gets better, saying, "I like him," and especially the part afterward where Superman visits his son at his home while he's sleeping and he says to him the same words that Jor-El said to him before sending him away in the spacepod. In fact, this kid is the one thing that would have made me curious to see a sequel to this because I would have wondered how both he and Richard would react to the news that he's Superman's son and how the relationship with his true father would have developed. But, that said, the problem comes with trying to piece together the events that led to him being born. You'd think it wouldn't be a problem since the answer is obviously when Superman and Lois slept together in Superman II. Fair enough, but there's a hiccup there: which version of Superman II does this movie follow? You'd think it'd be the theatrical version but, if you remember, Superman and Lois got together in that version only after Supes drained himself of his superpowers; ergo, Jason should just be a normal kid and not have any superpowers. I realize that since we're talking about comic book movies, you could make up some reason as to why he would have powers, bringing up how Superman was eventually able to reclaim his in that movie and so on, but for the sake of this argument, let's keep it simple, shall we? Anyway, since that can't be the case, you would think, "Well, maybe this follows the Richard Donner version." It would make more sense given how in that version, Superman and Lois did indeed get together before he became a normal man, and also because the Richard Donner version was being planned and put together at around the same time this film was being produced and we know how much Bryan Singer respects Donner's original film. So, problem solved, right? Nope. Remember how the Donner cut ends? Superman turns the world back, negating the events of the entire film, including when he revealed his true identity to Lois and their relationship developed from there. I know that was the intended ending of the sequel from the get-go and it was instead chosen to be the ending of the first film but they did use it in the actual version of the sequel that was assembled, once again adding to the idea that it's mainly an approximation of what Donner's version of Superman II would have been had he not been fired. Now, I'm not blaming Singer, since he couldn't have known this while writing the screenplay and by the time he became aware of it, it was obviously too late to do anything about it, but it makes it a real hassle to figure out where Superman Returns fits in. In hindsight, I don't think they should have gone with this idea at all. They should have scrapped it and it would have saved fans a lot of headaches. Now, I'm probably going to get schooled by someone who knows a lot more about this stuff than I do and maybe I am incorrect somewhere in here but, looking at both versions of Superman II, Jason being Superman's son in this movie doesn't make any sense to me.

While we're on the subject, let's talk about some other reasons why this movie doesn't match up with being a sequel to Superman II. One comes from the very core of the story, that Superman has been gone for five years and nobody knows where he went or why he left. This actually makes me hope that this is a sequel to the Richard Donner version because if it does indeed follow the theatrical one, then there's a glaring bit of a continuity problem as far as Superman himself is concerned. Remember what he said to the president at the very end of that version? "Sorry I've been away so long. I won't let you down again." Those were his exact words and therefore, if we're led to believe that the Superman we're seeing here is the same one, then I think we can use the old adage of there being a first time for everything and that Superman told an outright lie. That sucks because it does some damage to the characterization that Christopher Reeve strove to bring to life in those films. His Superman was one whose words you believed without question because he came across as such a great, honest man. This craps all over it and what's more, it comes across like Supes didn't learn a damn thing from when he gave up his powers in Superman II and quickly realized that his responsibility to the people of Earth is more important than his personal happiness. That's why I would hope that this movie follows the Richard Donner version. True, it would still come across like he didn't learn anything, particularly since we're now talking about those awesome scenes he had with the spirit of his father, but at the very least, it wouldn't have felt like he lied. And besides, if he was going to be gone for some time, wouldn't he have at least held a press conference or something? Granted, I still don't like the idea of him just abandoning the Earth for five years but I might have been able to accept it more if he had actually told everyone that there was something he had to do and he wasn't sure how long he would be away. At least then, Lois wouldn't have been so angry with him.

Here's another thing: did Bryan Singer forget when the first two movies were made? The time period that those movies actually take place in isn't specified, granted, but given some of the clothes, hairstyles, and other such stuff , it's obvious that they are taking place around the time they were produced (that pimp in the first movie who compliments Supes on his outfit when he makes his first appearance should say it all). Now, with that in mind, if this is meant to take place after Superman II, ignoring the events of III and IV completely, and Superman has been gone for five years since that movie, then why is it now suddenly 2006? I know that modern day audiences aren't so eager to accept a movie that takes place at any time other than present day but it'd be really weird and jarring to watch the first two movies that take place in the late 70's, early 80's and then go to straight to this movie that's clearly set in 2006. Is Metropolis just that advanced of a city and so far ahead of everybody else that they got cellphones, modern computers, and so on by 1985? If their engineers had been working for the country at large, God knows where we'd be at by this point when it comes to technology!

I know it seems like I'm being overly harsh on Bryan Singer and I don't mean to be but these issues really stick out to me every time I watch the film and it all leads to my ultimate opinion on this film's very conception: this shouldn't have been as a sequel to Superman II. When they finally got the opportunity to make another Superman movie, they should have just rebooted the series completely and not tried to fix the downward spiral that it followed after the second movie. Not only did this story cause major continuity problems but it also led to the rather sacrilegious notion of them hiring an actor who looked like and was meant to be nothing more than a physical replacement for Christopher Reeve. To me, once Reeve had his tragic accident and was paralyzed for the rest of his life, they shouldn't have tried to make any more movies within this continuity. This should have just been the start of a brand new series, with Brandon Routh or whoever else they could have chosen giving his own interpretation of the character because nobody else will ever be able to play Superman the way Reeve did. They could have even kept this exact same story, minus  all the ties to the first two movies, or just come up with another that begins with Superman's character  already established, much like what Tim Burton did with Batman. We all know the origin of Superman. We don't need to see it again (something that Zack Snyder should have understood but that's neither here nor there). I'm not saying that it would have done better at the box-office or gone over better with audiences and critics if this was the case but I do think it wouldn't be as unpopular of a movie as it is. But, unfortunately, this movie now stands as the final entry in the series that begin with that first magnificent film in 1978 and while it's certainly a better way to go out than Superman IV, I still think a respectable reboot could have been done instead.

I do mean it when I say that they could have used this same story for a reboot but they would have had to re-work it and iron some things out because, even if you take out the continuity errors with Superman II, the story of Superman Returns is still very flawed and the biggest flaw I can think of is how Bryan Singer carries out the concept that he intended to explore with it. Since Superman had been out of the mainstream public consciousness for almost two decades, Singer decided that it would be interesting to write a story where Superman has to find his place in a world that's moved on and has basically forgotten him. That is a good idea for a superhero movie but the thing is, Singer doesn't run with it as much as he could have because it seems as though the world hasn't moved on from Superman or forgotten him at all. He's welcomed back with open arms by the world at large the minute he saves the plane at the beginning of the movie. He doesn't have to find his place in the modern world; he just immediately settles back into his position as Earth's defender and everybody, with the exception of Lois, just says, "Yay, he's back!" Kind of makes Lois' Pulitzer Prize-winning article Why the World Doesn't Need Superman a little redundant, don't you think? If they wanted to show Superman trying to find his place again in a world that he hasn't been part of for a long time, they should have had everybody at first be surprised of his return and then get angry about him having left them for five years with no explanation. That way, he would have to earn back the trust of the people of Earth and as a result, the ending where he nearly kills himself to save the world from Luthor's man-made continents would have had much more of an impact. They could have then followed that up with the people realizing, "My God, he put his life on the line to save us, he's probably going to die now as a result, and we've been nothing but assholes to him ever since he came back." Not only would that have explored the core idea of this movie in a more satisfying way but it would be more logical for people in the modern day to react that way. Everybody just welcoming Superman back after he had basically abandoned them for half a decade feels very old fashioned and trite, not at all how a modern, post-9/11 populace would react. As I've said before, I totally understand Singer's admiration for the original movie but the thing is, the mid-2000's was a completely different time from the late 70's and a movie made in that style simply didn't work then and it doesn't work now either.

Clark: I need to surreptitiously tell her why I left without saying goodbye
Lois: Where the hell is a damn taxi when you need one?!
The most challenging personal dilemma that Superman has in this movie is getting himself back into Lois' life because she's the one who's moved on, not the entire world. Truth be told, this concept doesn't really work for me either because the  emotion they're trying to make you feel is sympathy for Superman because Lois, the love of his life, has a whole new life and wants nothing to do with him. But really, why should you feel sorry for someone who left a woman that truly loved him without any explanation, was gone for five years while she didn't know where he was or whether he was alive or dead, and then comes back and has a hard time accepting that she hasn't been sitting around, waiting for him? Superman or not, that's a really thoughtless thing to do to the person you supposedly love more than anyone else and even after they meet up again, he still doesn't give her that concrete of a reason as to why he didn't tell her he was leaving. I know he stammered one out as Clark but that wouldn't mean anything to her since she doesn't know that he's Superman (not to mention that she wasn't even really listening to him) and when they take that little flight over Metropolis, all he does is tell her that he can hear people all over the world crying for a savior (that is a good dramatic idea, though) and he says, "I'm sorry I left you, Lois." I was half-expecting her to say, "Sorry's not going to cut it," because it doesn't. As much as I don't like Kate Bosworth's performance, I can't blame Lois for being so upset with Superman and his following her to her home like a stalker and eavesdropping on a conversation between her and Richard with his super-hearing doesn't help me sympathize with him either. It's this kind of stuff that makes Superman Returns a rather frustrating movie instead of an out and out horrible one because I can see a lot of good ideas in here but they're not executed well.

The story issues aside, another reason why this isn't a film that I go back to that often is because it's simply not a very enjoyable viewing experience. For one thing, it's 154 minutes long and while there are some good action scenes, they're very few and far between, with most of the movie being made up of dialogue scenes where the characters talk about the dilemmas that are going on in the film. True, the original Superman was a very long movie that didn't have wall-to-wall action either but I can get into that film much more easily because it's an engrossing story and the actors brought their roles to life in very likable, entertaining ways. Here, the main characters are so bland and do so much talking about how much their present situations suck, especially with Superman's constant moping about how Lois wants nothing to do with him, that it's hard for me to get invested. And the third act where Luthor begins creating his man-made continent goes on for what feels like an eternity. In the first movie, the movie began a brisk pace towards the finale when Luthor fired those two missiles he hijacked; here, the movie drags on for another hour when he puts his plan into action. I'm no filmmaker but I'm sure that extending the last part of your movie for that long when you should be getting your audience pumped and excited for the climax is not how you do things. And as I hinted at up above, the tone of the movie doesn't help either. Bryan Singer may have had good intentions for coming up with this story but it's completely devoid of the sense of wonder and fun that I feel that Superman should have and is indeed what the original movies did. You can be serious with Superman, yes, but the sad, melancholy tone of this film does not make it an enjoyable watch at all and adds even more to the fatigue that I feel every time that third act begins. I wasn't really enjoying myself before then, so why should I start now? I'm sure that some will undoubtedly disagree with me because they enjoy the story and tone of this movie but it doesn't do it for me.

Now, I will start talking more about some things that I actually like since by now you're probably wondering why I didn't put this as another installment of Movies That Suck. My reason for that is because Bryan Singer is no slouch in the visual department and as a result, this movie is well made on a technical level. Its very look is well done. They used plenty of warm colors, with a lot of orange and a little bit of red, and the film is very pleasing to the eye as a result... for the most part. Once Luthor's plan goes into motion, the film stock becomes very gray and drab looking and while I understand the reason for that since this is supposed to be the darkest hour with all of havoc the continent is wreaking on the atmosphere and whatnot, it's just one more thing that causes me to yawn and sink down in my seat during that last section of the movie. That said, though, I'm so glad they didn't go the Man of Steel route and bleach bypass the movie so much that there's no joy to be found in it in any capacity. If nothing else, at least this movie looks like a Superman movie.

The film's production design is top notch as well. It had a budget of over $200 million and it shows. The sets and locations all look fantastic. The little section that we get at the old Kent farm looks really good and I admire the fact that they had that place built and grew all the crops that you see as well. I can't fault Singer for trying his hardest to make this movie work in every single aspect. Metropolis looks great and you'd swear that it was a real city and
both the interior and exteriors of the Daily Planet are impeccable. The classic globe atop the building is great and the inside looks like a real business office. The sets for the mansion and yacht that Luthor inherits from the old widow look good, particularly the latter with its enormous living area down below that has a spiral staircase, a pool table, a piano, and plenty of books, and what else can I say about the Fortress of Solitude and the continent that Luthor creates that hasn't already been said? They're amazing. The
fortress looks much more vast and imposing than it did in the original films, as well as perhaps a little more... cold. While the design is great, I'm not exactly sure why Superman would want to spend a lot of time there, despite the presence of his father's spirit (the movie itself probably answers my own question since there's only one instance where he goes there). And while Luthor's continent is another very impressive set, it does make Luthor look truly insane when he thinks that people will pay through the nose to live on such a barren, unpleasant-looking landmass that appears to have the worst weather conditions that one could hope to deal with. Yeah, people will definitely be fighting each other to try to live there. In all seriousness, though, this movie's production is amazing and, as every big budget movie should look, every dollar is up on the screen.

You have to really squint to see his heat vision
The effects in the movie are also well done. There's a lot of CGI and some of it is a bit dated (the completely computer-generated Superman that you see in close-up at the end of the movie is hardly convincing) but the majority of it does its job well. Actually, I think the best effects here are stuff like when you see the skyline of Metropolis (I'm sure there's a combination of CG and miniatures there) or the visuals of the Earth with Superman hovering above it in outer space. That is just breathtaking. I also like the image of Superman rising up into the sky in order to energize himself with the sun's rays after he's been saved and Lois has removed the shard of Kryptonite from his side. Again, that is awesome and would actually make for a great painting! Another thing that I appreciate is that they were quite subtle when creating the effects for Superman's powers. Of course, with the advent of computers, Superman can fly with more power than was ever possible before but they also decided to use some good old-fashioned harness and wire-work for when he's floating or flies off very gently. As it did with Christopher Reeve, it gives him a feeling of grace when he very gently flies off instead of just shooting around like a rocket all the time. And instead of making his eye-lasers over the top and flashy, they're very understated and surprisingly easy to miss as well, even when the camera is on a close-up of his face. The same goes for his super-breath and his X-Ray vision. I really like the effect of the latter power, in that it simply looks as if what ever he's looking at turns transparent when he uses it. The moment where he uses it on Lois to make sure she has no internal injuries after saving her from Luthor's sinking yacht looks very cool to me. The effects that you see when Luthor's continent is rising from the sea, when that criminal fires a mounted mini-gun at Superman, and when Supes carries the continent up into space are clearly CGI but it is pretty good CGI and serves its purpose. And finally, I really like the opening credits sequence. Not only does it have a nice recreation of the original film's actual credits but the camera zooming around the universe combined with the credits coming at the screen is very energetic and exciting. (I've heard some say that it looks the opening to 3rd Rock from the Sun but I just think that's being really petty and nitpicky myself.) It's just a shame that a huge chunk of the actual movie doesn't have that amount of stuff happening.

Even though there isn't a lot of action in the movie, the action scenes that are present are well done. The most impressive by far is the first one, where Superman saves the airplane that Lois is aboard when the shuttle that's attached to its back malfunctions and threatens to travel off into space with it. Even people who absolutely despise this movie seem to agree that this sequence is great. It's very well filmed and choreographed, showing us the chaos that happens inside the plane when the crisis first begins and then showing Superman doing what he does best by detaching the shuttle from the plane and then slowing the plane's descent. We also get a feeling that this isn't as easy for Superman as you would think, particularly when we see one of the plane's wings break and Supes has to quickly shoot downwards to catch back up to the plane, where he gets on its nose and slows it to where he's able to set it down gently in the middle of a baseball field. Really, really good stuff and it's a shame that the movie doesn't give us more action like that. The next action scene takes place quite a while after that and is technically a two-parter. First, we have that moment where this criminal gets his hands on a mounted mini-gun and is about to fire on some cops when Superman swoops in at the last minute and shields them from the bullets. The effect with the slow-motion bullets is a bit lame and it's hard not to think of The Matrix (that bullet-time gimmick had gotten stale long before this film) but that does lead up to the somewhat iconic moment where the guy pulls out a gun and fires it right at Superman's eye, which it bounces off of. That's quite cool and I like the smirk that Supes gives the guy after that happens. And then, we have the moment where Kitty is acting like she's in an out of control car in order to distract Superman while Luthor steals the Kryptonite from the museum. However, Kitty discovers that Luthor cut the car's brake line to ensure that it would go as well as it could and she's actually saved by Superman when he grabs her car, lifts it up into the air, and sets her down safely after she caused a lot of chaos throughout Metropolis. Standard stuff but in a movie as slow as this, you really have to count your blessings. And at the beginning of the movie's last act, we get a sequence where the earth tremors caused by Luthor's rapidly growing continent cause some mayhem in Metropolis, with an explosion blowing through a sewer that Superman has to extinguish with his super-breath and the moment when he has to stop the Daily Planet's globe from crushing a lot of people. This is the last major action sequence in the film. While there are some other instances of Superman doing stuff afterward, this is the last action setpiece that's of any major length.

The last act of the movie would have been much more satisfying if everything were building to an exciting climax where Superman has to race to stop Luthor's plan but it doesn't work out that way. As I've said, this last section of the movie drags like nobody's business and what we get instead are some sporadic scenes of Superman doing stuff scattered throughout it. First, not too long after we get a nicely done moment aboard Luthor's yacht where one of his henchmen attacks
Lois and Jason reveals himself to be Superman's son, he saves the two of them, along with Richard, from drowning in the sinking yacht and helps them take off. Nothing noteworthy there. Then we have the scene where Superman lands on Luthor's continent and, having been weakened by the Kryptonite, is beaten within an inch of his life by Luthor and his thugs. It's actually a pretty brutal scene and it is humbling to see Superman screaming in
pain as they beat him to a pulp, shove his head in a puddle, and then Luthor delivers the coup de grace by stabbing him with a shard of Kryptonite and breaking it off in him before he falls off the side of the landmass into the water. (I have to nitpick, though, I don't like it when you can hear Superman in a muffled voice, "I'm still Superman!" Given how humble Christopher Reeve played him, that doesn't feel like something he would say.) That's when Lois and Richard fly in and save him, with Lois removing the shard from his side. Superman, knowing that he must stop Luthor even though it could potentially mean his death, flies up into the sky to energize himself with the sun's rays and then swoops down with all his might and uses his heat vision to burn his way into the continent. Not too long afterward, Luthor and his gang feel the continent starting to shake and Luthor, realizing what it has to be, tells everyone to head for the chopper. This is another nice enough sequence, with lots of falling debris and Luthor's two henchmen getting crushed by a falling pillar, and it leads up to another great image of Superman using every bit of his strength to push the continent up into outer space (the version of the Superman theme that you hear makes this even more awesome). After doing so, he falls back to Earth due to his weakened state and lands with an audible thud. The problem though is that, despite how good this and all these scenes are, the snail's pace of this final act robs them of much of the power they could have had because by this point, you're more than likely bored and wish that the movie would just end, as I felt the first time I watched it. And plus, I still think they should have had it be a gradual struggle for Superman to triumph instead of just having him get injured, energize himself back up, and then succeed.

The music score from this film is one that I do enjoy. Granted, a lot of it is just John Ottman redoing John Williams' original themes (which sound really, really good, I might add) but Ottman did manage to come up with some music of his own that I do like. Some of them are very quiet, whimsical themes, like the stuff that you hear during Superman and Lois' flight above Metropolis (which includes a nice reworking of the love theme from the other movies) and when Superman is leaving Lois' house after visiting Jason at the end of the movie, and others are very big, orchestral pieces like when Superman is lifting the continent up into the sky as well as that great piece that's full of vocalizing voices when he's flying above the city at the end after leaving Lois' house, but all of them are very good and help to give something of a soul, even if the actual movie is rather lacking in that regard. 

At the end of the day, Superman Returns is a very mixed bag. On the good side, the film is well shot, the acting is good for the most part, there are some great visuals, the production values are high, the action scenes look good and are executed very well, and the music isn't too bad. Unfortunately, the film is way too damn long and slow, with the final hour dragging horribly, it doesn't synch up well with the first two films in many ways and flies in the face of what occurred in those films in others, and, ultimately, I think it proved that after Christopher Reeve was no longer able to physically play Superman, they shouldn't have continued with this continuity. Brandon Routh wasn't a horrible stand-in for Reeve but the very idea that he was hired simply because he looked so much like him is a smidge distasteful for me, particularly when you realize that Reeve had died by the time this movie was put into production. They should have just rebooted it here, as they eventually did do with Man of Steel, kept everything else including the story (with some retouching, mind you) and the cast and I think they would have been fine. But, history is history, and we'll have to accept Superman Returns as a rather lackluster ending to a series that began with an awesome movie that starred a really great actor who absolutely embodied the legendary character that he played.