Monday, July 03, 2006

Movie Review: Superman Returns

Logan is making such good and steady progress that Shannon and I sneaked out for a late showing of Superman Returns.

I may not be the biggest Superman fan (that honor may belong to the guy who runs the Super Museum I visited a few years back in Metropolis, Illinois--or maybe Steve Younis at, but I've been a big fan of the character since kindergarten, and I've been looking forward to a new movie for a long time, especially since I heard Bryan Singer was going to direct.

I was eight years old when I went to see Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie, and though I've seen many more and better movies since, it probably remains the greatest movie-going thrill of my life. I'm not so numbskulled as to think that anything could reproduce the feeling I had as a kid, but I admit that I was hoping I'd see a Superman movie at least as good as Spider-Man and possibly as good as the excellent Batman Begins, which to this point remains the high-water mark of the superhero genre. From what I had gathered from various interviews and articles, Singer was a fan of the character and the Donner movie, and he seemed both talented and motivated enough to deliver a movie that, if not quite great, would at least be rousing summer entertainment.

But something happened on the way to the big screen.

There's a line in a John Barth book--I'd quote it if I had the book on hand, but it's something about how one shouldn't use quotes in one's novel from books better than yours. Singer and company clearly never read that line, because they shamelessly and ceaselessly rip off Superman: The Movie throughout Superman Returns, and what was apparently intended as homage instead ends up going a long way toward turning the movie into a waste of 200 million dollars, and frankly doesn't do Donner's movie any favors, either.

Sadlly, as soon as the opening credits began, I had the feeling something was wrong. They were apparently intended to be updated versions of the first movie's credits, but while there was no effect resembling somebody waving a sparkler around, they nevertheless seemed cheesier.

Now, there were some great aspects of the movie--in particular, Brandon Routh's outstanding portrayal of a computer-generated Christopher Reeve. But Kate Bosworth, so delightfully unclothed in Blue Crush, decided for some reason to raid Elizabeth Dole's wardrobe for an adequate but bizarrely asexual rendition of Lois Lane. I say bizarrely because she has a child, meaning she must have engaged in sexual relations at some point, unless the boy was immaculately conceived--a distinct possibility, because I couldn't help but feel that if the two mains took off their clothes they'd look like disrobed Ken and Barbie dolls. Plus there's a scene where Clark uses his x-ray vision to watch Lois ascend in an elevator, which at first blush evokes the pink underwear discussion in the Donner movie, but again, there's nothing sexual here; rather than underwear, one thinks more of the Assumption.

One might have thought that Kevin Spacey would make a good Lex Luthor, but then at first blush George Clooney seemed like he might make a good Batman. Spacey's Luthor is incredibly uninteresting, neither menacing nor funny, and the entire Luthor plot kills what little life there is in the movie. I never thought I would miss Otis and Miss Tessmacher, but Parker Posey's terrible Kitty Kowalski helped me accomplish that unlikely feat.

But Spacey has been good before, and it's quite evident that the fault lies not with his or anyone's acting but rather with the writing, editing, and directing, all of which are pedestrian at best. There's not a single memorable line in the entire movie, at least not one that isn't quoted exactly or paraphrased from the first movie--which feels like about a third of the entire script, by the way, and in every single instance, the presentation here pales in comparison.

For instance, there's a running gag in the first movie about Lois Lane's incorrect spelling of words like "rapist," "brassiere," and "massacre." The point is not that she can't spell; instead, the gag is intended to show that Lois is a cynical, hard-boiled reporter, in sharp contrast to the aw-shucks good nature of Superman/Clark Kent. Singer and crew can't even resist parroting this gag, but what they come up with is having Lois ask, "How many Fs in catastrophe?" If you're familiar with the first movie, you recognize the reference, and then you grimace, realizing just how badly the writers missed the point--and if you don't know the Donner movie, you must be left wondering how Lois could be such a moron.

And there's not a single original thought anywhere; what wasn't stolen from the Donner movie was ripped off from Action Comics #1 or John Byrne's Man of Steel. The writers even resort to one of the most hackneyed of TV sitcom cliches (see "New Kid in Town" at And how old were these guys anyway, 12? I felt like I was watching a pre-teen's vision of an adult romance. In fact, the primary problem with Superman Returns is that from beginning to end it is almost entirely, utterly artless.

It's not like there weren't any pretty moments, but that's part of the problem: the pointless, uninteresting plot seems like it was just an excuse to present a handful of supposedly "iconic" moments. Luthor's evil plan is again a retread of Donner's movie, but far less interesting: he invades Superman's Fortress of Solitude and gains access to the knowledge of the "28 known galaxies," but all he really gets out of that is the desire to drop the crystals into the ocean and grow cheapo-looking land masses that (most unfortunately) bear a resemblance to the supremely anticlimactic alien ship/giant upside-down table from the conclusion of The Abyss. Frankly, I have no idea where the $200 million went; did the film crew dine on lobster morning, noon, and night?

Part of me hopes that I've just become too old for this stuff, and that there are eight-year-olds out there just as thrilled by this movie as I was in 1978. If that's the case, though, my descent into geezerhood took only a year, because I loved Batman Begins. This movie may well make back its insane production and marketing costs, but I don't think it deserves to. And that's too bad.


Blogger Erin Monahan said...

I'd been holding my breath waiting to hear how Logan was doing! So glad to hear he's improving so well!

4:43 PM  
Blogger Pursuit said...

Having first seen Spacey as Mel Profit in the Ken Wahl late '80's TV show, I would have thought he'd make an excellent bad guy here. Too bad. I think he is too preoccupied with The Old Vic. Ever since he was appointed Artistic Director he hasn't been much good in anything.

8:33 AM  
Blogger Michelle Makus Shory said...

Glad to hear that all is going well. We saw Superman last night and your brother wasn't impressed either.

2:31 PM  
Blogger willgarcia said...

i believe they tried to start off the story after superman 2, but they somehow screwed up with the timelines...cause in superman 2, supes and lois did it(wow, a spoiler). anyway, i guess it's a DC comic style to screw up timelines, and universes. for me, superman returns was a story from another universe, another storyline, and another something...


3:02 PM  
Blogger Lein Shory said...


Yeah, you're right about Superman II. My point was more about the way the characters were presented in Superman Returns.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Pursuit said...


I thought of your review this morning as I was driving to work. I happened to be listening to Bill Bennett when he and his listeners were discussing Superman. I guess there has been some talk about this Superman being gay, which aside from the whole trashing of another American icon thing, doesn't really surprise or bother me....I mean tights and a cape? Hello.

At any rate one caller phoned in and was discussing how the super baby (they really have a super baby now?) proved that Superman was not gay. Of course Bennett pointed out that this was not definitive as anyone who has ever been on a bender can attest. Bennett then expressed concern that Superman did not marry the mother making the super baby illegitimate. The caller reassured Bill that Superman did once marry Lois Lane, at the beginning of SM II, but then had to renig on the marriage to get his powers back so he could save the world. Apparently he kissed Lois so that she forgot about the whole marriage thing. Bennett correctly pointed out that this was the first time in history any woman has forgotten she was married.

At this point I'm just slack jawed in amazement....I mean I think these guys may have forgotten that Superman doesn't really exist. This is the point that it began to get interesting. Bill kind of kept insisting that Superman really should marry Lois to make it all ok, even though they really are still married because you can't undo that sort of thing. The caller, God love him, suggested to Bill that even if they weren't really married it was ok, because Superman is an alien! Yup, and as an alien, if he isn't exactly the marryin' kind, well thats ok because it will take him some time to adjust to our earthly customs.

True story.

Me? Well I just think this is another good example of how illegal immigration is destroying this country!


9:02 PM  
Blogger Lein Shory said...


I think one of the great things about the concept of Superman is that the story can be interpreted in many ways--the immigrant to America, Christ figure, Moses figure, even some kind of metaphor for homosexuality (or any kind of difference) if that's your bag. I personally think Singer may have overdone the Christ figure stuff, rather than any kind of homosexuality angle--and not because I don't think it's applicable, but rather because the entire movie is so ham-handed. And just plain weird.

I think his future with the child and Lois is a legitimate point of discussion. I don't know if he necessarily needs to marry her, but what exactly is his plan--to sneak into the kid's bedroom every now and then while he's sleeping? Again: ham-handed. Plus, if she was made to forget that she ever slept with Superman, what did Lois think when she suddenly turned up pregnant? Did she suddenly remember? And wouldn't she be outraged, rather than ambivalent, when Superman disappears, since he's basically a Super Deadbeat Dad?

But I guess I'm overthinking it all, which is definitely a mistake when it comes to this movie.

As far as Superman II goes, I liked it a great deal when I first saw it, but the last time I saw it I thought it was terrible.

Except for Zod.

Kneel before Zod.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wasn't going to chime in until the kiss was brought up. I feel like these two young writers don't know what they're doing. They screwed Cyclops up royally in the X-men series, and now they say they borrow from Superman 2 yet only certain things. Like what? The fact that Lois slept with Superman and got pregant? But they leave the memory swipe kiss out. So shouldn't she really be walking around wondering who the fuck this kid is if the memory swipe took place? If a fanboy argues that the kiss/memory swipe never took place, then there is another serious flaw: SHE KNOWS THAT CLARK KENT IS SUPERMAN. Everyone says they're just setting things up to be discovered in a sequel. I hope they get new writers. For the record, a website published Singer's gay ad on a match site in Australia and his age expectation was 18 to 21. He took it down once people noticed it. So IMHO that's how the writers got their job, if you know what I mean.
They should have ignored Superman 2. The reason Batman Begins was cool was because it redefined a template based on great texts. Singer pussed out because he knew that Donner scored back in 78, but in all reality there are so many cool Superman stories out there he could have borrowed from a number of scripts. The imagery is cool, but alas, the 90s comic books days sucked with all that glorious art and shitty ass writing.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Pursuit said...

Well I am certainly not into Superman as much as you guys. The only thing I can remember about the first one is that I was far more interested in making out with my date than watching the movie! But then, that was 1978. Of course, I'm a bit shallow that way.

I won't see this version, but what I'm reading into your comments is perhaps what is standard when Hollywood makes a movie of a subject that first appeared in another medium; they miss the entire point, and instead focus on what will be visually exciting, or over compensate and end up trying to do too much and just make a muddle of things.

8:50 PM  

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