Superman Returns (2006)

The Man of Steel is back, after 19 years of movie development hell. Multiple rewrites, many failed casting ideas, many walk-outs. So now what? Are we expected to embrace this sequel, simply because it’s been “nurtured” for so long, or because superhero movies are popular these days? Perhaps we should instantly fall in love with the film based on overwhelming marketing campaign? I can no longer tell what “reviews” are plants, and what – come from people who have the balls and honestly to day “the new Superman movie is FAR from a satisfying experience”. I tend to agree with these people. Not as an act of counter-current to hip, jolly plugging of the new and improved Superman brand, but as a natural, honest reaction. Why? A movie that’s gone through so much production hell doesn’t have to feel like a burden. It’s a fantastic story, with great characters, and involving plot, but it’s so damn dark and slow, I felt like I was watching yet another Batman origin story. Where did all the fun go? The man can fly, see through walls, and hear multiple sound waves. Why is he not having any fun?

As I said, the film is gorgeous. The sets, costumes, and of course, special effects are amazing. There are some sequences where you KNOW that Superman is a computer graphic animation, and not Brandon Routh, but they are not very imposing. Spidey had the same problem – looked like a cartoon – and I didn’t mind. As long as textures, shadows and laws of physics are preserved, it all looks good to me. Back to costumes – Lex Luthor is a snappy dresser. I loved his suits, rings, hats. If you were an over-the-top, plotting villain with unlimited resources, that’s what you would look like, and you’d flaunt it, too. He’s also got a cool boat – with a huge library, a baby grand, and a pool table the size of my living room. Yep, planning to take over the world, and doing it in style. Even his assistant, Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey) was played just right. She attempted to play a similar second banana to a villain in Blade 3, but the writing here is so much better, and doesn’t call for over-acting. So her silences said more than her words. Which is easy to do if you are Parker Posey. She’s top notch, shedding a quiet tear, and reaching out silently with her hand exactly when needed.

Now about the good guys – Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Richard and Perry White (Kate Bosworth, Sam Huntington, James Marsden and Frank Langella). Ironically, the youngest and oldest in this crew (Huntington and Langella) are the most convincing. Huntington is looking to establish himself as an actor, plus he has plenty of role models to pick from. In some scenes, the sparkle in his eyes even outshines Superman’s – but on that later. Langella is just a marvel, convincing, without being overpowering. As for Bosworth and Marsden, I couldn’t care less. Marsden pretty much comes off as a dick in everything he does – if they needed someone who looks like that, but can act and emote, why not hire Guy Pearce? Why does Marsden still work? On what merit is he hired? Can’t act, can’t be positive, can’t be a villain, please someone explain to me. And Kate Bosworth, I just think she could have used a few more lines, and maybe more emotions. I saw Kent staring at her lovingly, but because she was underused, I couldn’t figure out why he’s so taken with her.

Now, the hero. Great costume, convincing makeup that creates two distinct personalities, and great acting. BUT, why the dark mood? I remember the original Superman films being fun, cheeky, why all that gloom this time around? It’s all done well, but for some reason the entire universe of Superman is much more sinister than it used to be. You could pluck out Batman from Gotham and stick him here, and he’ll fit right in. Whereas Spidey will most likely get depressed. This film tries to fit into a mismatched, existing superhero world (Batman’s), and even though it does that quite well, it fails as an original world. Plus, I just couldn’t buy some of these characters existing in such a world. The newspaper (and everyone in it) would have to be more negative; the villain wouldn’t need to show off his library; the hero wouldn’t want to interact with these people. Instead, Superman does the same things Spidey does (flying around, saving people at random), but it’s a very dark, brooding place – you’ll need a team of superheroes to keep up (Hellboy comes to mind).

This is my biggest beef with the film. Everything’s done so well, and with such attention to detail, why such a terrible mismatch of characters and their environment? There are also a few scenes that were wasted (James Marsden must die), and a couple of characters that were underdeveloped (Lois and her son, in particular, were wasted in here). I’d prefer less “goon” time for Lex – why bother showing his peons again and again, if they have no lines, and don’t contribute to the story? The film was way too dark, and as a result, felt long. Perhaps it was indeed long. I would love to see this franchise continued, but it needs to lighten up. Less time looking into the distance, and a bit more time interacting with the world. Steal some ideas from Spidey – his ramblings around the city are much more amusing than a bespectacled guy looking into a distance. Definitely more character development for Lois Lane. And do not touch anything else. The effects were just perfect – not too little, not too much. The story was not too overwhelming, and the cast is pretty good (James Marsden must die, of course). Keep the good stuff, and improve what’s lacking.

I can’t wait to see Superman again, but if he spends another film quietly moping around, to hell with him, I’m sticking with Batman and Hellboy. At least these guys can embrace the darkness, and still make it look fun and dynamic.

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