Thursday, July 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: On Superman Returns

I haven't seen this movie for years. Honestly I don't know if I ever actually saw this movie all the way through. I decided, in honor of ripping the sh*t out of Man of Steel I'd take a backward glance at the last time the red and blue boyscout hit the big screen in Bryan Singer's Superman Returns. 

I have a real soft spot for this movie. Maybe it's because I was raised on the Donner Superman films and the Burton Batman films, but these takes on these characters are strikingly iconic. Superman Returns attempts to hearken back to that era, and personally I think it did it really well. I feel like, in comparing this and Man of Steel that they are two ends of the pendulum swing. One is new and gritty and the other is classic and nostalgic. One has a lot of heart and soul, the other has a lot of grand motifs and epic battles. Maybe one day we'll get a film that balances the two. 

Most Idiotic Review

"... glum, lackluster movie in which even the big effects sequences seem dutiful instead of exhilarating." -- Roger Ebert

Okay, I don't mean Ebert's an idiot so much as I disagree. I feel like the film offers a lot of heart and the few big actions scenes had me personally on the edge of my seat. 

Most Accurate Review

"Superman Returns was f*cking boring, man. It was a really boring movie. Bryan Singer is a very talented man, but he made a very f*cking boring movie, and I can salute him to the degree that he obviously got to make the exact f*cking version of a Superman movie he wanted to do .... and he's like, 'f*ck it, I'm going to make the arthouse version of Superman, the whiny emo Superman movie, where Superman won't throw a single fucking punch.' The first movie's [tagline] was, 'You will believe a man can fly,' this one is 'You won't believe how fucking boring this man is.'" -- Kevin Smith (Q&A)

There were a lot of issues with this film, but honestly, a lot of the flaws Kevin Smith named ... I really liked, or at least wasn't turned off by. I felt like this was the honest Superman film that constitutes 90% of what the character actually goes through in his day-to-day struggles, as opposed to Man of Steel, where 90% of Metropolis gets massacred and people still cheer that Superman ... saved ... them? 

What I Say

Still both films suffer from an overabundance of storylines and subplots, most of which no one was expecting or even wanted. In this film, the main wart on the nose is the existence of the kid. Superman's kid to be specific. He's got the charm and natural talent on par with Jake Loyd, and only a smattering of dialogue through the whole affair. We're never given any real reason as to why we should invest in this kid's story. He was ultimately extraneous. 
Beyond that, we have Superman returning (if you couldn't have guessed that, you're beyond my help). Where's he been? Searching for the remnants of Krypton, of which he finds only a graveyard. It's been five years since Richard Donner's time, even though all the leads seemed to have aged backwards by a substantial couple of decades, and once Superman's back in town, Lex Luthor coincidentally springs his latest real-estate plot, drowning America by growing a new continent using crystals. 

The plot loses a lot of grounding as it progresses through the story. Its not bad by any means, but seriously a little out there. I think the combination of the outlandish story mixed with the lack of action makes for an ultimately boring film. The only highlights of the film are some very sincere and honest character moments. Clark and Lois have an entertaining set of interactions throughout the film, and again, there is a lot of sincerity in the way these incarnations of the characters are written and portrayed. Where Man of Steel had messianic preaching, Superman Returns has honest vulnerability. I definitely know which one I prefer. 

For all Man of Steel's efforts to impart its message about the godliness of Kal-el (via long-winded speeches about the weight of his destiny), it is Superman Returns that encapsulates what it means to be Superman in the exchange between the titular character and Lois Lane, "I hear everything." Right there, that is the true tragedy of Superman's character. He will never be fast enough, or strong enough to prevent all the suffer that he is witness to. Even for him, it's impossible, but he will never stop trying. 

Although he'll take a break to woo a reporter. 
In the movie I never honestly had a problem with any of the characters (although, again, the actors may have all been cast a little too young). Their sincerity supports their behavior pretty consistently, no matter how silly the situations became. It was like the entire cast was taking the approach that Mark Hamill did toward Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars, wide-eyed naivety. 

Brandon Routh plays the continuation of Christopher Reeves Superman from the previous feature films (although we try to only remember the first two) and he does a fantastic job. It might not be a replication performance like Zachary Quinto's Spock or Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Bruce Willis, but he hits a lot of the same beats, especially Clark Kent's nebish charm.

Lex Luthor was beautifully played by Kevin Spacey. He is one of my favorite actors and this film doesn't do much to tarnish my opinion of him. I wasn't sold that the writing ultimately served the character, failing to really portray him as one of the world's leading minds, who we all know (especially post House of Cards) that he can totally play that role with deft skill and ... a kind of whimsy. 

While it's still not my favorite, I far prefer twenty-two year old Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane to Amy Adams'. This character feels more real to me, despite the nostalgic approach to the character, as opposed to the gritty modern feisty woman that Adams was saddled with. 

The rest of the cast isn't really much to write home about, although I did really enjoy Sam Huntington's excitable Jimmy Olson. The bow tie was wonderfully out-of-place, but a welcome addition and James Marsden does well ... even if skipping out on X-Men: The Last Stand to make this film ... /sigh. Just /sigh

As opposed to Hans Zimmer's soundtrack for Man of Steel, the music in this film is the classic John William's scores mixed in with John Ottman's, although they're still very much in the original's style. It beats Hans Zimmer out of the water every day of the week. It really encapsulates the hope and old fashioned values ... reflective of a simpler time

The spectacle of this film is a bit unbalanced. We have some of the quintessential Superman imagery in this film, including the bullet striking the eye, catching the airplane, rushing about the city actually saving citizens and saying cheesy things like, "I hope this doesn't turn you off to flying. Statistically it's still the safest form of travel." But a lot of the movie is dedicated to ... just talking. There is an undeniable soap opera element to the film, and it's not a small aspect. Oh, and Superman Returns has Jesus imagery too. Just ... not as bad as Man of Steel.

At the end of the day, I will always prefer Superman Returns, for as weird as the plot holes are, they're padded by a lot of charm generated by a good cast, and there's a real reverence for the previous incarnations. Man of Steel I have to respect for ... trying to go in a new direction, create a contemporary Superman, and failing almost across the board. 

And Brandon Routh's suit was better. Not realistically or functionally, like Cavill's ... but truly the classic. Routh had red undies, and that's the American Way. 

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