Brandon Routh (Legends of Tomorrow)
Kate Bosworth (Wonderland)
Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)
Parker Posey (Blade: Trinity)
Frank Langella (All Good Things)
Sam Huntington (Fanboys)
Eve Marie Saint (On The Waterfront)
Marlon Brando (The Godfather)
Kal Penn (Van Wilder)
Tristan Lake Leabu (While The Children Sleep)
Jack Larson (Adventures of Superman)
Noel Neill (Superman 1948)
Peta Wilson (La Femme Nikita)
Dan Ewing (Power Rangers RPM)
Superman Returns opens in a world without a Superman. The Man of Steel (Brandon Routh) left Earth without a word of warning, spending the past five years investigating the ruins of his home planet of Krypton. The world he left behind has suffered in his absence, prompting an embittered Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) to pen a Pulitzer Prize winning article titled “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman”. He’s able to return to his life in Metropolis as Clark Kent with ease, but the world he knew has changed. Lois now has a fiancé (James Marsden), the nephew of Daily Planet publisher Perry White (Frank Langella), and she’s also mother to a young, asthmatic son. Most of the world at large is thrilled to have Superman return as its savior with the exception, of course, of Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey). Fresh out of prison and flush with cash, Luthor has discovered Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and schemes to use its advanced alien technology to wipe out most of North America and create his own continent.Bryan Singer isn’t a director shamelessly trying to cash in on a high profile franchise. This is clearly a movie by someone with boundless passion for the material, and Superman Returns is a worthy follow-up to Richard Donner’s films. Singer has done a remarkable job staying true to Donner’s vision from a quarter-century earlier while still feeling rooted in the here and now. Most of the campier elements from the earlier movies have been gutted. Ned Beatty’s Otis has been discarded, and Superman Returns’s equivalent of Miss Teschmacher has been dialed down a few notches, even if the character is still ultimately useless. Kevin Spacey’s spin on Lex Luthor is faithful to Gene Hackman’s performance while having more of a menacing edge. Spacey’s Luthor seems like a genuine threat in Superman Returns, not just a wealthy, eccentric goof, and his eventual confrontation with the Man of Steel in the finale is wincingly brutal. I’m not entirely sure why he’s convinced a barren, uninhabitable rock of an island would have any resale value, but that’s beside the point.Taking the reins from the late Christopher Reeve after his near-legendary turn as such an iconic character must have been indescribably daunting, but Brandon Routh does a tremendous job as both Clark Kent and Superman. His Kent in particular is a seamless transition from where Reeve left off and is a pitch-perfect recreation of the nervous energy and awkwardness he brought to the character. Routh does play a very different Superman, however. Superman may be a strange being from another world, but Reeve exuded the kind of warmth you’d expect from someone embodying truth, justice, and the American way. Routh’s colder, more alien Superman is in keeping with the tone of the story, where he’s been removed from humanity for five years and feels detached from the world at large, but I didn’t feel nearly as strong an attachment to him.
Routh is about the same age that Reeve was when cameras started rolling on the original Superman film, but he looks so much younger that it’s easy to forget occasionally that this is supposed to be Superman Returns, not Superman Begins. I have some slight misgivings about the way Superman was handled in this film, but if the rumors of an impending sequel are true, I’m looking forward to seeing what Routh brings to the character the second time.
With most action movies, it seems as if a small army of writers scattered themselves across a conference table, brainstormed the most elaborate, over the top, effects-driven sequences they could imagine, and then haphazardly tossed together a story to string ’em all together. I was left with the opposite reaction to Superman Returns. Singer paints Superman as some sort of messianic figure who’s a savior, not a fighter, and he literally doesn’t throw a punch in the entire movie. There are several phenomenal effects sequences that are certain to get pulses racing — the world’s re-introduction to Superman as he rescues a plane that’s careening into the stratosphere, steadying a crumbling Metropolis as Luthor sets his megalomaniacal scheme into motion, and sparing hundreds of millions from certain death in the film’s closing moments — but those really just see Superman intervening as disaster looms. Only a bank robbery has Superman struggling against an actual opponent, although even much of what happens there is passive; Superman just stands there and lets ricocheting bullets do the work for him. I’m not trying to downplay what an adrenaline rush these sequences are, but one of the most frequent criticisms of Superman Returns has been its lack of action. I admittedly did not find the movie at all dull despite the lack of Kryptonian soldiers or twenty story robots.Lois is in love with Superman but never felt it thanks to the utter lack of chemistry between Bosworth and Routh. At least Margot Kidder managed to sell Lois as a spunky reporter, but Bosworth doesn’t even attempt to capture that sort of tenacity. Bosworth also seems much too young for the role; she looks like she may have just gotten her undergraduate degree in Journalism, but a seasoned, Pulitzer Prize winning writer? Not so much. Bosworth is passable but instantly forgettable. Giving Lois a son also strikes me as a misfire. Hollywood has been churning out action sequels for decades now, and in the history of cinema, there have been two…maybe three…cases where adding a kid into the sequel wasn’t an unmitigated disaster. For some inexplicable reason, directors are determined to keep trying, and Lois’ wheezing tyke is as ill-conceived an idea as ever. Give the audience a little credit for being able to suss out the kid’s parentage from word one too.Bryan Singer’s sequel inhabits the same world as Richard Donner’s films, but the core of the story is almost excessively faithful to the original. A spaceship crashes to Earth from the long-dead planet of Krypton. Superman makes his presence known to the world by rescuing intrepid reporter Lois Lane from a mishap involving an aircraft. He later has a rooftop interview with Lois and whisks her across the night sky. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor schemes to cash in on the creation of new beachfront real estate at the cost of untold millions of lives, and he has his ditzy but good-hearted moll feign danger as a distraction for a theft. Luthor gets his hands on some Kryptonite to bring Superman to his knees near the climax, and it all ends with the Man of Steel soaring heroically into space. Roll credits.I didn’t have a problem watching Superman Returns a few months after Donner’s Superman, but sitting through the two back-to-back would undoubtedly inspire a nasty case of déjà vu. Sometimes its adoration of Donner’s original works incredibly well, though. It’s a thrill to hear John Williams’ instantly recognizable orchestral score again, and reincorporating some digitally manipulated archival footage of Marlon Brando is a clever and effective touchstone.The movie is littered with subtle nods to various incarnations of Superman, from the casting of Noel Neill and Jack Larson to an homage to the cover of Action Comics #1 . For months, I’d heard Superman Returns praised, assaulted, analyzed, and dissected from every conceivable angle. It’s such a polarizing movie that I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be when I got around to seeing it, but I never expected to feel so completely indifferent. Superman Returns is a movie I appreciate on a great many levels, but for something so enormously anticipated, just being okay doesn’t seem like enough.