Superman Returns Review
The reason that Superhero movies are so consistantly interesting, is that the central characters are adaptable to the time they appear in. Every generation can have the hero they need. In Superman Returns, Singer gives us a Superman who is vulnerable both physically and emotionally, a super hero who is in touch with his emotions, and one who has to deal with matters of the heart as well as matters of human survival.
At the beginning of the story, Lex Luthor (a superbly hammy performance from Kevin Spacey) has just been released from custody after his trial collapsed. The reason for this is that Superman had gone on an extended sabbatical to investigate planetry remains that may be from Krypton. With no chief witness, the authorities have to let Luthor go. This is, admittedly, not the most promising of setups. A superhero who abandons the planet and allows a master criminal to go free? This is not your usual plotline in this type of move, and is one that doesn't entirely sit well with this reviewer.
But Superman Returns (geddit?) to Earth just as Luthor is freed, and with unerring accuracy manages to land in exactly the same place as he did when a baby. We thus get to see the farm where he grew up, and his Aunt - who is still with us. We get to see some flashback scenes where he remembers growing up, and the discovery of his super powers.
It is then off back to Metropolis where he walks back into his old job and into his old friend's lives. Everyone is still there, but magically looking about ten years younger that they did ten years ago. Lois Lane is now married with a child, and is about to pick up a Pulitzer prize for an article entitled “Why the World Doesn't need Superman”. Not everything in this world is quite how it seems, though.......
Superman Returns is a strange film. At times it seems that Singer is so wrapped up in the original that his version is almost smothered by the classic 1979 version. Following the original almost exactly thematically makes for a strange choice for a man who gave The X Men films such a powerful sense of their own identity. However, this film is stunningly shot and put together, and the writing and production qualities are top notch.
The cast are also excellent, with even the child actor giving a strong performance. Routh, as Superman is excellent, giving a performance that almost seems to channel the masterful Reeve, and he is surrounded by other actors at the top of their game. It does seem rather strange given the actor's ages in general. They just seem to be too young to be in the situations that they are in, and certainly compared with their ages in the original movie it seems most incongruous.
Whether you like this film very much depends on your attitude to the original movie. A lot of people have criticised Returns for its lack of action. I disagree. There are some stunning set pieces here (the shuttle riding on the back of the plane, the boat breaking up), and I believe this is mixed well with the more sedate dialogue scenes.
However, if you did not grow up with the original movie, you may well feel short changed by Singer's version. This is certainly not a film for those who are new to the franchise, which makes it remarkably different to the recent Batman, Spiderman, and X Men movies. If, like this reviewer, you were there in the cinema when the original came out, you will be sitting watching this with a stupid grin on your face and a warm sense of nostalgia. I was watching this in the cinema with the very same person I saw the original with nearly 30 years ago, and it had the same effect on us both. If, however, you are coming to this new, it might not quite have the sense of wonder about it.
At the end of the day, it is a rather schizophrenic film. It doesn't have quite enough of its own identity about it, and whilst I am going to mark the film highly, I can fully understand why it wasn't the huge success the makers were hoping for.