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Sep 12, 2007

Superman Returns (2006)

Well, I caught SR at the local ten cinema complex after a delicious home-cooked dinner and a glass of Hanwood Estate verdelho, so I was feeling mellow and ready to let a blockbuster movie wash over me. The fact that 90% of it was filmed in my home town didn't hurt, either.

Bryan Singer is the go-to director if you want to do a superhero movie. He paid his dues with X-Men, jumpstarting the subgenre in tandem with Sam Raimi's Spiderman, and consolidated his reputation with X-Men 2. But those films were ensemble-hero flicks. The focus was scattered among eight or nine characters. In SR, there's only the Kryptonian, the chick and the bald guy and that gives Singer the space to look into the idea of a single person with the powers of a god.

Brandon Routh does well as Kal-El. Superman is an iconic character. Strong, ethical, loyal, truthful (probably because if you're as powerful as he is, there's nothing you need to bullshit about) and good. Less is more in playing this character. The theatrics come from saving both a space shuttle and a 777 aircraft, doing damage control on an entire city as it suffers an earthquake and hurling a very large island into space. Routh does essay the controlled emotions of the character as he goes through some severe life changes. (Superman almost always has to keep his cool. If he gets miffed, really bad things can happen.)

Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor is of its' nature, a comic book turn. If you're a nutcase who wants to use Kryptonian technology to grow a new continent in the Atlantic, there's nowhere really to go with that except over the top. But he does it well, making the character larger than life and a creature of purest ego. Parker Posey as his girlfriend does have some slyly witty lines, but she's there as a foil for Luthor, someone for him to rant at. She steals some scenes, enough of them to make me wish she was in more of them. Kal Penn and Ian Roberts as his henchmen get little to do, though Penn is an engaging and funny actor as Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle showed. Here, he's used as a spear-carrier, so I hope he got well paid for the gig.

Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane is problematic. The actress is 23, way too young for the role, and too young to have a five year old kid (spoiler) to Superman unless he bonked her when she was in high school. She does okay, but maybe a more mature actress would have worked better, though Routh is 27 which doesn't make them a bad match age-wise.

In spite of these caveats, the film is a good summer blockbuster action flick. With the aid of some well used CGI, the movie carries off some audacious stunts. Even secondary characters are served well. Frank Langella is a great Perry White, taking the character from the apoplectic and bombastic shouter to a 21st Century hard but intelligent newspaper editor. James Marsden's Richard White (Lois' current partner) also gets to be more than a potential cuckold. There's been a lot of solid thought put into this one, and it was nice to see Noel Neill and Jack Larsen in cameos. Larsen as the bartender in the pub inside the daily planet building is a wry and likeable presence.

See this one on the big screen. It isn't perfect but it could have been a lot worse, as indeed the last two Christopher Reeve Superman movies were.
(Originally posted Saturday, July 01, 2006)

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