June 29, 2006

The Return of a Great American Hero

Superman Returns

Matt Watson – 5 out of 5 stars

There’s always an element of risk when Hollywood decides to remake a classic. Not only does the new film have to live up to its predecessor, it has to bring something else to the table to make the story its own. Couple that with the remaking of an American icon who also happens to be the grandfather of all comic books, the bar is set so high it’s practically impossible to leap in a single bound. That is unless the leaping is being done by Superman.

Superman Returns is a fantastic movie. It grabs you at the opening credits and just doesn’t let go. The cast is exceptional, the plot is well developed, the effects are spectacular without being the story themselves and I was riveted the entire time. Director Bryan Singer shows he’s still got the touch when it comes to telling a story and he’s not afraid to throw in a twist or two. With the proliferation of comic book movies over the last few years it’s was easy to lose Superman in the shuffle and it’s a shame we lost him. Superman really is the greatest of our heroes and this film really brings home how powerful he is. It also humanizes the Man of Steel and reminds us how hard it is to live a double life. He still fights for truth and justice, all the while sacrificing his own happiness for the greater good. Such is the burden of a super hero but Superman is saving the world not because he’s motivated by revenge or his own survival, he is saving the world because it’s the right thing to do and because only he can. As we hear Superman tell Lois, “You wrote that the world doesn't need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one.”

When our story picks up the Man of Steel has been crossing the universe to see for himself the remnants of Krypton and in his absence earth has moved on. The people have done as best they could without him, including intrepid reporter Lois Lane and criminal mastermind Lex Luthor. While Superman was away Lois found another good man and together they produced a precocious son. Lex weaseled his way out of prison and found a love of his own, sort of.

When he returns, Superman tries to reinsert himself back into his old life, assuming his alter-ego Clark Kent and his old job as a reporter at The Daily Planet. As soon as Clark gets back into town Lex is up to his old tricks and he has few new ones up his sleeve. Thankfully Superman is there to stop him.

In this case, Superman’s cape is donned by newcomer Brandon Routh. I don’t know where director Bryan Singer found this guy but he was born to play this part. Superman is a man of few words and Routh makes every one count. With every glance Routh does a tremendous job imparting Superman’s torn feelings about Lois Lane. He also exudes a nobility of purpose that gives gravitas to our hero. Routh also dances a wonderful tightrope between being mild mannered Clark Kent and The Man of Steel. Every scene with him is a gem, doubly so if Kate Bosworth is there.

Bosworth plays the aforementioned Lois Lane. She takes Margot Kidder’s sharp edged Lois and adds a dose of humanity and frailty. It’s this new vulnerability that really adds depth to the relationship between Lois and Superman. Bryan Singer incorporates some much needed character development that really gives the movie another level. It’s not just an action film, it’s a complicated story about love, family, responsibility, and heart.

The family part of that equation is provided by James Marsden as Lois fiancĂ© Richard and Tristan Lake Leabu as their son Jason. It’s refreshing to see that Richard is not an unlikeable creep per the standard threatened husband. Jason is your usual wise beyond his years five year old. In this case Leabu doesn’t overact and Singer coaxes a good performance out of him.

The counterpoint to Superman and Lois is the nefarious Lex Luthor, played with aplomb by Kevin Spacey. Spacey has some of the best lines in the movie and seems to revel in the madness that is Luthor. Singer has a knack for getting the best out of Spacey, as seen by their turn together in The Usual Suspects. Spacey is aided by the performance of Parker Posey as Luthor’s Moll/Accomplice Kitty and a band of nameless thugs to order around.

While the cast really does make the film, the effects are amazing. From crashing planes to city wide earthquakes the CGI is top notch. What really helps here is that the CGI is not just for affect, its part of the plot. The effects never outshine the principles. In fact, Superman’s simple act of flying is elevated to art, displaying amazing beauty and pageantry with every trip.

Wrapping all of this together is the brilliant incorporation of John William’s music. The original score is such an iconic peace of music and with every fanfare the film pays homage to the original and instantly causes goose bumps. It’s impossible to imagine the story without it.

After years of stops and starts, three different directors and a slew of discarded scripts this project seemed doomed from the start. Instead Bryan Singer provides us with a great motion picture that re-introduces us to one of America’s most enduring heroes. We see his goodness, his pain, his suffering, and his greatness. This is a phenomenal movie in every respect; you might even say it’s super.

5 comments:

Chris Needham said...

I saw that they're playing this in Imax at the Air and Space Museum in Dulles. I'm tempted to head out there. I've heard that the onorous parking charge is waived at night.

Watson said...

We actually talked about seeing it again in IMAX while we were walking out of the theater. Let me know how it goes on the really big screen.

MissChatter said...

For a second, I thought you were going to say they made a movie for "Great American Hero" and I hadn't heard about it!

El Gran Color Naranja said...

5 out of 5 is too high. Given the 5 point scale - I'd give it a 3. A little long. The characterization of Lois was completely off (though not really because of anything Kate Bosworth did - I just felt she had too many non-Lois moments). And the subplot (not to reveal anything) while written and acted as well as it could be, still felt uneccessary. Routh/Superman was excellent however.

Watson said...

GCN,

I think the Bosworth's softening of Lois helped the movie tremendously. Margot Kidder was so abrasive I could never figure out why Clark would fall for her. What's to like? Bosworth was at least likeable. The subplot twist is a staple of Bryan Singer films. While it might not have been necessary it did add another layer to the story and I think that helps the movie as a whole.