Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Monday, December 18, 2006

Superman Returns

Over the weekend, Brandi and I finally got to see Bryan Singer's Superman Returns on DVD.

While there were things about it I liked ("wait for it"), overall, I was disappointed. Now, don't get me wrong – just by its sheer scope and technical competence, it far surpassed any of the other sequels to Richard Donner's original film (which I happen to like a great deal, despite its flaws), but, unfortunately, Returns just wasn't very satisfying.

While I understand the practical reasons for casting young, Brandon Routh still looked more like Superboy to me than Superman (I had the same problem with Dean Cain). While I was willing to give it a chance after seeing the initial stills, I ended up hating the revised costume. Dark, dingy and with an understated "S" shield, it almost looked like the production people were embarrassed by the openly idealistic, bright colors of the traditional costume, and thought that by darkening it up, it would seem less... I dunno? Cheerful? Inspiring? In fact, there seemed to be a palpable cynicsm regarding the character and what he's traditionally represented, which seemed odd, especially considering Singer's slavish narrative devotion to the original, more upbeat, 1978 film.

Routh looks okay, but he delivers more of a Chris Reeve impression than an actual performance, and, unfortunately, he lacks Reeve's charm and charisma. The chick who played Lois was unmemorable and bland, and Frank Langella's Perry White came across as a stock Hollywood newspaper editor, with no attempt made on the actor's part to rise above the thinly-written material. Kevin Spacey could have been a fine, effective Luthor... if he wasn't forced to reprise the Gene Hackman interpretation. Oh, he's slightly more menacing, but only slightly. The always annoying Parker Posey essentially plays the Valerie Perrine role... and she's no improvement. At least Perrine provided some sexy eye candy. On the other hand, I kinda wish Posey had played Lois – at least she could have brought back some of Margot Kidder's neuroses and quirkiness.

The plot – well, it sucks. It's essentially an inflated remake of the '78 film with bigger FX, but even less logic. Additionally, the overall pretentiousness of the exercise sucks a lot of energy and charm out of what little's there.

And speaking of pretentious – okay, the Christ allegory has always been inherent in the Superman mythos, but it really didn't need to be played up so obviously and in such a hamfisted manner.

A digression, if I may: Personally, I never saw Supes as a "savior." Instead, he always just struck me as a good neighbor and citizen, who was brought up right by strong, moral foster parents. A guy who did right because it was right, and helped people because he could.

I guess that just isn't believable nowadays.

So, what did I like in Superman Returns? Well, it sure looked like most of the film's record-breaking budget was up there on the screen, so that's cool. The photography and production design were beautiful. The offices of the Daily Planet finally looked the way I always thought they should, and the effects were... well, super.

Filmmaking technology has finally caught up with the Man of Steel. Never before on film have Superman's powers and abilities been showcased as impressively as here. The flying scenes are amazing; no longer does he look like he's pasted into stock aerial footage. His strength, invulnerability and speed have never been as impressively and convincingly displayed. Every time Supes got to strut his stuff, my inner fanboy was thrilled.

John Williams' score still impresses and stirs the emotions, and John Ottoman does a fine job of adapting and expanding on the classic themes. I loved seeing Jack Larson in a cameo – the 1950's Jimmy Olsen still looked spry and healthy, and was even given a few lines of dialogue and some decent screen time.

I hope that in the next one, Singer & company – now that they've gotten their valentine to Donner and Reeve out of their system – will take the character in a new direction. I'd like to see them use a different villian (Brainiac, maybe) and bring some of the brightness and idealism inherent in the character back to the screen.

Most of all, I'd like to see Routh abandon the Reeve impression, and find his own take on the character.

I wanted to like it more. I may buy a copy eventually, just for the action/FX scenes and because I'm a Superman fan... but I doubt I'll watch it very often.

1 comment:

David C said...

Was the Christ allegory ever used much before the 1978 movie? I always thought the Moses allegory was much more natural fit (and more likely to be an intentional allegory from Siegel and Shuster.)

For me, the Christ allegory rankles a bit, I think especially because it essentially winds up making Jor-El into God. That's one of the irritating things in the original Donner movies - Jor-El constantly "forbidding" this or that from beyond the grave. (Though the "Donner Cut" of Superman II nicely wraps this up, as hologram Jor-El has to be sacrificed to return Superman's powers. Implicitly, Kal-El's free to make his own decisions, too, right or wrong.)

As for this movie, my feelings are similar to yours. There's a lot that's good, but it's a bit *too* reverent to the Donner movies, and there are too many bits that stray from "homage" to direct quotation, like Superman's little speech on the safety of air travel.

I kind of felt like "Well, this is all very nice, and I enjoyed Donner's movies too, but what's *your* take on Superman, Brian Singer?"

I do look forward to a sequel where we might see just that.