July 5, 2006

How I Spent My Fourth of July

To be completely honest, I wasn't sure I wanted to see Superman Returns - not because of the buzz on the Internet (which I tried to avoid), but did I really want to see an angsty turn on the character? Could I believe again that a man could fly?

The answer to those questions is no...and yes, this movie actually made me believe that a man could fly. As someone who saw the first two movies when they came out (I missed 3 and 4 - but not that much), this is not a slavish aping of Donner's movies, but uses them as a great template to move forward. It may not be one of the greatest comic movies ever made...but this is a Superman movie for adults.

That's right - for adults, not the whiny fanboy types that deserve our contempt. But enough of me - onto the review (potential spoilers - read with care):

First, the movie is a well-crafted, very nicely paced piece of filmmaking, and some of the sequences (especially the space plane rescue) are handled very well. We're not given a lot of exposition - we know that "Superman Returns", and that he fights Lex Luthor. Brandon Routh handles the role of Superman very well, giving us an almost (gasp) human version of the character, taking bits of Christopher Reeve's performance and mixing them into a brand new tapestry. Kevin Spacey rocked as Luthor - instead of being as overtly hammy as Gene Hackman, Spacey's Luthor runs the line between genius and insanity, giving us an antagonist worth our while. Even Parker Posey as the "comic relief" works for me, especially since I just caught Party Girl and didn't care for it, thinking it more as a bad recruiting film for librarians. However, this blog is very pro-librarian. Just ask Roger.

However, like many others on the blogosphere, I thought James Marsden stole the show as Richard White - a human guy who, much like Superman, does what he thinks is best. I was expecting to hate the character, but he works - a man who will do anything to protect his family. I'm willing to bet that Marsden was relieved to not have a huge role in X3 - this is the kind of character I would like to see more of - the "nice guy" who's willing to do what's right. In short, the whole movie seems a meditation on the nature of manhood - breaking down the traditional stereotypes and showing us a more emotional, vulnerable side to the 21st century male.

(Even Frank Langella got into the act - I never saw anyone declare "Great Caesar's Ghost" with such awe and wonder).

And now, my thoughts on The Big Reveal - thematically, it worked in the movie. As an addition to the mythos, well....I know the last Superman television show started dealing with it. However, there are some cool parallels between Superman's own experience and The Big Reveal. (And if you want a spoiler for that, Google it. I'm not going to). For me, it was a touching way to show the dilemma of Superman - wanting to be part of humanity, but not knowing how he fits.

And now, the quibbles:
  • Kate Bosworth....doesn't do a convincing Lois Lane. Sorry, but she seems a little young and too fragile to be a world weary, Pulitzer-winning reporter. Maybe it's the patronizing man in me, but she really didn't work all that well.
  • Although Routh's Superman was excellent, I found his Clark Kent rather off - maybe this was deliberate on his part, but it still didn't quite jibe, even during a scene where he left his glasses off a little too long.
  • Plotwise...ok, you're Lex Luthor. You have advanced technology, and want to earn "your cut". If it were me, I would use the technology for advanced superweapons, faster-than-light ships, even new energy sources...but a whole new continent? Doesn't make sense.
  • Also, when Lois is investigating - I know she was heading to a party; wouldn't most mothers (especially with Lois' history) think to not bring their child into a potentially dangerous situation? (Again, I could be wrong on this call - please call me on it if I am).
  • Too much Superman-as-Christ imagery. Ok, we get it, Superman's our unwilling savior. He metaphorically "dies" in a crucifixion-style pose, and rises again. We get it. Please move on.
It's not a perfect movie, by any means, but Superman Returns does something that the comics haven't done in awhile - provide the perfect balance between the super and the man.

For that reason alone, it's worth seeing.

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