Okay, the above title is overdoing it a bit, but I couldn’t resist. The truth of the matter is Bryan Singer blew it. SUPERMAN RETURNS is quite a big lumbering mess and most of it is his fault. In 1978, the ads for SUPERMAN THE MOVIE read: You’ll believe a man can fly. Almost thirty years later, Superman may return, but his new movie sure as hell doesn’t fly. It just kinds of lies there, inert, treated in a timed, overly reverential state that doesn’t give it any room to breathe.
As much as it pains me to type the following words, I feel that I must:
(As far I’m concerned, spoilers are just indications of bad writing. But since this is a blog and not the NY Times, here goes nothing…literally)
1. First and foremost, there are too many references to the Richard Donner original, beginning with the opening titles which are not very well done. The Superman logo should have roared to the screen from the back of the theater and announced its arrival like the triumphant fanfare it deserved. The use of John Williams' music is also kind of troublesome, keeping the film tied to an endless and distracting comparison to the Donner film. The 1978 movie should have been a jumping off point, not an anchor that restricts its movement. Donner could have almost received co-director credit. The use of Marlon Brando’s Jor-El monologues are way overdone to the point of absolute annoyance.
2.There hasn’t been a Superman movie in several years. How about a little re-introduction to the character? (Never mind SMALLVILLE as Singer has) The post-title summary explaining where Supes has gone and why was almost thrown away. Maybe the kid (who I’ll get back to) could have asked his mom or his dad who Superman was since he’s never existed in his lifetime.
3. Kate Bosworth. Fatal miscasting of Lois Lane, even worse than Katie Holmes in BATMAN BEGINS. However Kate’s scenes with Brandon Routh were actually not bad, if you take away the characters they were playing. They at least had a modicum of chemistry.
4. Parker Posey. I love Parker Posey. I’ve always loved Parker Posey. What the hell is she doing in this film? She has the worst, most unnecessary character in the film and not only is she is horrible in this part, Singer made her look absolutely hideous. If you’re going to have an archaic character like the villain’s girlfriend, give me Miss Teatsmacher every time. At least we are spared an Otis, unless you count Kal Penn. And I don't..
5. Kevin Spacey. I love Kevin Spacey. I’ve always loved Kevin Spacey. But do we really need yet another goddamn Lex Luthor? Talk about all over the map. First he’s a snarky wiseass from the Gene Hackman school, complete with various toupees, something else we never needed to see again. In the finale, he turns into an actual villain, even stabbing Superman in the back with a kryptonite blade. Does he get any comeuppance? No. He gets a dopey stuck-on-a-desert-island bit with Kitty Kowalski. Here’s what should have happened: When Kitty threw all the crystals out of the helicopter, Lex should have gone after them. Kitty would fly away, Leaving him stranded on his crystal island. When Superman hurtled the island into space, he would be inadvertently killing Lex in the process. Why not? The Joker is killed in the first BATMAN.
5. Lex’s henchmen have no personalities to speak of and after they beat the crap out of Superman, again, no retribution. A big crystal pillar falls on them. Yawn.
6. Way too much of the kid for as little as they revealed about him and-oooh-maybe his superpowers. For the most part, all he did was gawk at everyone with his big brown eyes, not unlike Damien from THE OMEN. And who the hell cut this kid’s hair?
The movie is not a total waste. It’s pretty decent in bits and snatches. The Superman-Lois-Richard triangle is semi-interesting, especially the cliché avoidance of turning Richard into well, a dick. What’s Singer got against James Marsden anyway? In the X-Men movies, he loses Jean Grey to Wolverine, now he loses Lois to Supes. He’s become this year’s Bill Pullman. (see: SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING and probably some other bad rom-com with sleep in the title) The scene when Supe asks Lois what she hears when they’re flying above the earth is damn near perfect. He hears everything and everyone. “They all want a savior,” he tells her. The best moment occurs when Superman drops the jetliner in the baseball stadium. The crowd cheers when they see that Superman has returned. I cheered a little too, because it was about the only time I felt the rush of heroism that this movie so badly needed. And my reservations about Brandon Routh in the title role were unfounded. He handled the role quite admirably considering the handicap of a bad script. Routh did not hit one false note, even if he only hit one note at a time.
In Bryan Singer’s film, Superman is not reintroduced and certainly not reinvented. He doesn't even return as much as he just shows up. What we really needed was to be REMINDED what makes Superman who he is and what makes him the greatest hero of all time. You ain’t gonna find in this bog. Should there be any follow-ups (judging by the minuscule audience I sat with in just its second week of release, it may not be likely), I hope the powers that be hire another director. Maybe Richard Donner isn’t busy.