Superman Returns(Warner Home Video, 11.28.2006)
What the hey is up with all the haters? Why did an aesthetically beautiful rendering of a long-iconic representation of human ideals of integrity and truth, albeit featuring a svelte alien, go so conspicuoulsy uncelebrated this past summer? Superman Returns gets much right and little wrong. Pros: 1) there are classic elements interwoven with fresh ideas, 2) it stars a game, darkly hammy Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, 3) the music is all class, and 4) there's a nifty, downright snazzy twist. Cons: 1) Kate Bosworth is shoe-horned into the role of intrepid reporter Lois Lane, 2) it only works if you like the familiar, 3) it isn't better than Batman Begins -- but that's because Batman Begins rules -- and, above all 4) the plot is either thin or downright ill: some parts just don't make sense at all!
Alright, so Superman is a comic book character who has all the powers of all the other comic book characters. In the neighbourhood of our yellow sun, he's power incarnate. It makes sense, then, for the filmmakers to portray themes of power-addiction and the the struggle of responsible good against corrupt evil. Lex is a jealous power-monger and the starkly-lit Spacey sneers towards the camera, full of resentment: "Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don't share their power with mankind." Lex's mad Captain Ahab drive to harness Superman's unbridled power is director Bryan Singer and co.'s natural antagonist of choice. Superman is all-powerful, hence Superman has to... rise above man's dangerous, ugly power envy.
Flying! Flying is Superman's greatest power. If the best thing about the Spider-Man films is their dazzling, visceral evocation of web-slinging through the city, what Superman Returns offers is gobsmacking, high-flying thrills. The Man of Steel flies into space -- numerous times! -- and it's thrillingly rendered. Some complained that this movie drew too much from the past iconography of the Donner originals and yes, Superman Returns hovers precariously close to the modern field of film remake, which is a thoroughly shark-hopped, veritable field of worthless Hollywood crap and bluster.
But any modern Superman story is automatically a re-telling. Singer's film manages to pay sly homage to the classic, tried-and-true Superman films, while pushing things forward in certain departments. It's a classy, yet conservative, film with its heart on the sleeve of its epic, widescreen jacket. The use of Brando as Jor-El refers folks to Donner's Superman: The Movie if they want to see an origin story. In an unassuming and calm manner, this movie dares itself to exist. In Superman's absence, Lois wrote "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." The continuity of the past films is moved to a present where unchecked power has created brutal wars and Superman has been forgotten.
Superman spends the first half of the movie proving that he is indeed needed and the second half cruising an awkwardly weird plot. He proves he is needed time and again because he is a superstrong flying hero. There's not a threat quite worthy of his capacity for heroics, I suppose, but in context, the climactic power-lift sequence is darned formidable. He hauls a continent made of kryptonite, people. Holy moly!
So why does the world need a Superman movie? Because Superman's the only character in film history who could have caught that plane and caught it with style. The elements are all there. The new twists are absolutely delightful. The spirit is purely summer matinee. The photography is fabulous and kinetic outdoors and tasty, smooth and still indoors. The tale is wide-eyed escapism, fit for anyone you know.
Lifting! Lifting is Superman's second-greatest power. And with Superman Returns, Bryan Singer and co. have lifted Superman out of the ill-repute of those last two sequels and restored the dignity and necessity of Superman in modern popular culture (much like 2005's Batman Begins restored the relevance of Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego). So say it with me now. Shout it, shout it, shout it out loud: Superman & Batman. Make that movie, Warner Bros. -- Ken Stuebing