Superman Returns

Last night, I dragged my girl­friend along to a screen­ing of Superman Returns, dir­ect­or Bryan Singer’s attempt to re-invig­or­ate the Superman fran­chise fol­low­ing the bloody awful Superman IV (which I saw with my dad, I think, back in 1987 or so). The irre­place­able Christopher Reeve has been replaced by Brandon Routh, an unknown (just as Reeve was unknown before he filmed Superman: The Movie).

I loved Superman as a kid, but only the films, not the com­ic or car­toon. I nev­er watched the ori­gin­al 1950s American TV series because, to my jaun­diced eight-year-old eye, the spe­cial effects weren’t good enough. I did, how­ever, pester my mum for sev­er­al years until she (or, rather, my dad) decked out my room with Superman wall­pa­per. So I speak some­what as a fan.

In Superman Returns, Superman has been absent for five years fol­low­ing a trip to his des­troyed home plan­et of Krypton, whose loc­a­tion has been pin­pointed by Earth astro­nomers. In the mean­time, Lois Lane has giv­en birth to a son — now five years old — and is in a stable rela­tion­ship with Jason White (who, by the way, is played by debutant Tristan Lake Leabu, and hot damn if that isn’t a screen name of the first water). Lex Luthor has been released from pris­on because Superman could not attend his parole hear­ing as a wit­ness; Luthor has plans to raid the Fortress of Solitude and steal the ali­en tech­no­logy of Superman’s home­world. What a git.

The exper­i­ence of the movie is a enjoy­able one. Bryan Singer has dir­ec­ted a work that is, in many ways, a trib­ute to Richard Donner’s ori­gin­al, and Singer uses the same music and even title sequence. (Remember those 3D whoosh­ing titles from the first movie? They cost more than the entire shoot­ing budget of most 1978 movies.) This sim­il­ar­ity is the main strength of the movie, but it is also the chief weak­ness. The film is haunted by the ghost of Christopher Reeve. Brandon Routh, our new Superman, is almost a dop­pel­gänger of the dead act­or. In addi­tion, Routh plays Clark Kent with the klutzy charm that Reeve brought to the role. To com­pound this phys­ic­al sim­il­ar­ity, New York once more doubles as Metropolis, and a num­ber of scenes from Donner’s first film are treated to uncom­fort­able reprises: gags are recycled, cine­ma­to­graph­ic frames are repeated, and some­times entire lines get a second out­ing. To be fair, Routh is not just a good act­or, he’s excel­lent; and Singer is not just a good dir­ect­or (X-Men, X-Men II and The Usual Suspects were ster­ling efforts). But, for me, as per­son who can recite chunks of dia­logue from the first film, these nods to the gal­lery under­mined its capa­city to stand on its own two (red booted) feet.

Some of the themes were inter­est­ing, too. I won’t provide too much detail because I don’t want to spoil the film, but this is cer­tainly a post 9/11 film. Lois Lane is about to receive the Pulitzer for her edit­or­i­al “Why the world doesn’t need Superman”; one of the mes­sages of the film is that, in this day and age, we need some­thing like Superman. Either the man, in the case of the char­ac­ters in the film, or the idea, in the case of the audi­ence. Overall, this is a good story, well told, and don’t be sur­prised if Superman Returns again and again.

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Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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