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Superman Returns (2006)
Director: Bryan Singer

review by Eric Turowski
Spoiler Alert!
The man of steel is back - or at least the movie franchise is back on the big screen. It seems that this film was put together by people who, rather than existing on a steady diet of comics books in their youth, watched the Superman movies of the 1970s and 1980s ad nauseum.

While one might wish for the motion picture folks to return to the source material for a revamp of the big blue boy scout (a la the recent Batman Begins), what we get is more like a continuation from the first two films. Superman Returns views like Superman III(B) or 'Superman V', with the result of the earlier-seen romance between Superman and Lois Lane being the birth of a child. Or is that Kal-El Jr?

Let's start with a little comic book nerd rant before we get on to the meat of the film. First, Superman is an alien, and should be no more genetically compatible with Lois Lane than, say, a baboon. Second, Superman has been gone from Earth for five years because astronomers have discovered the destroyed planet Krypton - and we flaunt all the laws of physics getting him there and back, especially when we're told by Jor-El (a post-mortem cameo from Marlon Brando) that, by the time Kal-El reaches adulthood, Kryptonian civilisation has been dead for thousands of years (some of that must have been transit time, right?). Third, there is an utter lack of the prime archetype that has made Superman an American icon, that he is an adopted son of Earth, the ultimate immigrant, who is raised by the depression-era farmers who find him and raise him as their own. Superman is not heroic because he can fly and lift heavy things like airplanes. He is heroic because he chooses to use god-like abilities to benefit mankind. Why? Because he's returning kindness with kindness, because he's been raised right and because he believes in the human race, truth, justice, etc. and he just feels obligated to do the right thing. And while there is much being bantered around the Internet about Superman being a Christ-like figure, let's not forget that this is the creation of two Jews, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, and if you can just for a moment look past your own (Christian?) viewpoint, you'll see far more ties with the story of Moses than Jesus. Fourth, what's with this stupid crystal technology? I thought we left that behind in the 1970s. Or maybe this is just moron talk for nanotechnology. And finally, what is it with this real estate McGuffin? We've seen that already in Superman (1978). Can we please have a polar opposite villain for Superman? The comics made Lex Luthor a wealthy industrialist, super capitalist presidential candidate, etc., someone who uses power and twists American ideals for the benefit of himself - a villain, for crying out loud. Rant over.

Brandon Routh doesn't seem to be portraying Superman/ Clark Kent so much as portraying Christopher Reeves portraying Superman/ Clark Kent. There are moments when you would swear Reeves has possessed Routh's face. Kate Bosworth's Pulitzer Prize winning Lois Lane is almost as smart as Lex Luthor's bimbo, Kitty - where's the moxie, Kate? It's hard to get behind the love story when you have to wonder what a man who can fly through space and lift up 747s sees in her. Kevin Spacey's Luthor is slimy and psychotic, humorous and ironic. But Spacey, like Routh, seems to be taking a page from Gene Hackman's Luthor rather than the comics' villain. He's under-utilised, with his motivation for homicidal attitudes toward the last Kryptonian unexplained except in a few throwaway lines that don't add up to much. His moll, Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey) pretty much steals the show. Valerie Perrine couldn't steal Superman, which pretty much sums up the lameness of Superman Returns. Frank Langella makes a fine Perry White and Sam Huntington is fully believable as Jimmy Olson. We don't see enough of Eva Marie Saint to know whether she's a decent Martha Kent or not. James Marsden plays Lois' love interest, Richard White (Perry's nephew) and he's almost more interesting than Superman.

So what do you end up with? Lame romance scenes formed by the quadrangle of Clark, Superman, Lois and Richard White. The same old Luthor's-bimbo-feels-sympathy-for-Big-Blue stuff (seen it)... Action sequences that are not very active... One fight scene, where Supes has been weakened by kryptonite and gets his butt kicked (seen it)... Around 20 total minutes of cow-eyed angst. Dead Superman, lovesick Superman, sick Superman, and just about everything other than heroic Superman. A lot of really big stuff being lifted up (seen it)... A few tips of the hat to the comics, mostly in photos taken for 'The Daily Planet'. The sort-of unanswered question regarding the parentage of Lois' offspring, (in other words, the set-up for 'Superman Returns Again', or 'Some More', or 'Forever', or whatever).

The franchise may be back, but in order to serve up some satisfying man of steel, a return to the source material must be made. And in this age of corporate greed, immigration issues, and bloody conflict between the east and the west, a Superman movie should easily write itself. Instead, we get a hack plot derivative of a film from 1978. Back then, we were told we would believe a man could fly. Today, it would just be nice to believe in a hero.

Save your money for the upcoming Pirates Of The Caribbean flick.
Superman Returns

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