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Review: Superman Returns

Despite the aforementioned back trouble, I saw three movies yesterday. By curious coincidence, two of them included Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint. I saw:
  1. Superman Returns
  2. The Enforcer
  3. On the Waterfront
I enjoyed all three of them, but I'll only cover the first in this post.

I liked Superman Returns, but with reservations. Please keep in mind that I've never read the comics, and I haven't seen Superman in a movie since I was maybe ten or eleven years old.

Things that worked for me:

  • Brandon Routh. I think he did an excellent job handling both the Clark Kent and the Superman personas. He balanced an undercurrent of gentle amusement with commitment and dedication, and delivered beautifully. He got me to rally for him in my inner monologue: I'll admit that I said "Yeah! Go, Superman!" in my head a couple of times. Good casting choice.
  • Frank Langella. I haven't seen anyone mention his performance, but I liked his interpretation of Perry White. I can't speak to how true he was to the comic book character, but the on-screen character seemed believable to me. He didn't overplay it, and he didn't underplay it. Just right.

  • Very good special effects. I don't know if they did it with miniatures, CGI, or some combination thereof, but the crystal formations looked like they had real heft and mass.
  • I liked that they made Lois' current flame a decent fellow instead of a bad guy. I guess now we know why Cyclops (James Marsden) had such a small part in the most recent X-Men film.
Things about which I'm ambivalent:
  • The evolution of Metropolis. The juxtaposition of Parker Posey's retro floozy and the Art Deco styling seemed to clash a bit with the cell phones and computers, in my opinion. It just felt odd to me. Speaking of Parker Posey, I'm a little tired of seeing her what feels like everywhere I look. I'm sure it's just me, and were it not that I really feel the character she plays on Boston Legal adds nothing good to the show whatsoever, I wouldn't have the issue. I know that's the writers' fault and not hers, but I'm still tired of her.
  • The new Superman costume. The materials seem practical and durable, but the rusty blood-red pigment seemed too dark. I got that they were going for heavy and serious with it, but it was a shade too much, if you'll pardon the pun.
  • It was longer than I expected (140 minutes, but it seemed longer), and every time I thought "okay, it'll end here," it didn't. I probably noticed it more because I really had to go to the bathroom.
  • The kid thing: this could either be really good, or a big steaming pile of super-poo, depending on how they handle it from here on out.

Things that I felt didn't work:

  • Both the writing of Lois and Kate Bosworth's performance seemed to hinder the depiction of the character. Even though I saw the movie about 25 years ago, I remember Margot Kidder. Her spunky Lois would never have turned to her boyfriend and said "Could you persuade Uncle Perry for me?" Heck, no. She'd have gone in there herself, right off the bat, and told Perry that, as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, he needed her, not the other way around, and that was how it was going to be. When my spouse and I discussed this, he suggested that an optimistic reading of Lois' behavior would be that she was not herself and affected in that way by losing Superman for five years, but we both agreed that the movie wasn't that subtle. Besides, that's inconsistent with the information that we get from the movie about the title of her winning piece, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." Now, she's clearly lying to herself, but it seems like she was doing it with an outward show of bravado.

    Bosworth also lacks the vulnerable-beneath-a-tough-shell snap of Kidder's performance. She doesn't seem to have any real fire at all: even when the script is all "We've got to go back for him!" I never felt any real sense of urgency on her part. I never felt like she experienced much more than resignation.

  • The writing and portrayal of Lex Luthor. Without a doubt, this was the biggest problem I had with Superman Returns. The writing of his character and Spacey's depiction really don't seem to fit the rest of the movie. We've got the "more serious" somber tones in contrast with a cartoony, one-dimensional Lex. My husband says that Spacey's performance does good credit to the way Gene Hackman played the role, but to me, he made the role more like the sort of ruthless, sadistic bad guy I've seen Spacey play in other roles (Se7en; The Usual Suspects).

    Perhaps I'm just ruined by Michael Rosenbaum as Lex on Smallville, seeing as how Lex's story was the most interesting thing about that show during the first three seasons, but Superman Returns reduces the character to a petty crook with no finesse. I was immediately alienated by the bilking-the-widow bit at the beginning, and it didn't get any better for me from there. Lex Luthor, as imagined by the television show, is much more interesting when he's grey: you don't know when he's going to be on your side ... he's suave and manipulative, and, one of the most important things for any villain, he convinces himself that he's doing the right thing for humanity, and he's just misunderstood. The new movie Lex is base: he's just all about greed, and he doesn't get any more interesting than that.

    I'm not saying that Spacey is a bad actor. He's reasonably talented, and I know he's capable of giving a more nuanced performance, which makes the whole thing even more baffling. To my mind, he was either miscast or wholly misdirected. I'm inclined to think the former, given that his treatment seems so different from the rest of the movie. Maybe the actor and the director were both committed to emulating Hackman. I have no idea how much it resembled the comic book character, but regardless, I find television Lex much more compelling.

Side note: I know that Metropolis isn't New York. I mean it is, but it isn't. It's a comic book rendering of the Big Apple that's larger-than-life and in its own moment in time. All that being said, I think it's possible that some New Yorkers might feel a bit sad or wistful watching this movie. Watching Superman save the city ... well, putting myself in their shoes, it might conjure some painful memories. I can imagine that some might wish that they'd had a Superman there to save them during 9/11. I wasn't there, didn't lose anyone that I knew to it, but I still couldn't help thinking this. It's just a movie, but Superman is so iconic that I think he touches people in unexpected ways at times.

Overall, I liked it: I didn't love it. It's not that it was bad, it's just that Bryan Singer appears to have been at the top of his game with the X-Men movies. We might all have been better off had he stuck with that other hero gig.

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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
jasondemotte
Jul. 5th, 2006 08:53 pm (UTC)
I agree with most of your points, however I disagree with your comment on Spacey. While it wasn't quite the perfect Luthor, you know the one in my head, I thought Spacey did a good job. And I honestly saw very little of Hackman's Luthor (easily one of the weakest element's of Donner's Superman movie) in Spacey's performance. In fact I read that he purposefully avoided rewatching the movie so that the character would belong more to him then trying to emulate Hackman. I had some quibbles with some of Luthor's plot (another real-estate scam? It barely worked in the first movie.), but Lex brought really nice moments. I love the line of "Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don't share their power with mankind. " That's such a great line, and right in line with the comic book Lex. It's sad that right after that he lessened himself almost immediately by the "As long as I get my cut" thing. Still, I generally enjoyed the cold and cruel moments of Spacey's Luthor. Hackman's Luthor was a goof, Spacey's Luthor was a bit chilling at moments. I too would have liked to seen him as a bit more of the suave and manipulative Luthor, but I imagine that would have been too much of a departure from the the first two films. But I think Spacey did a wonderful job with the material he was given.
pointedview
Jul. 5th, 2006 09:24 pm (UTC)
I think I'm going to have to rent Superman to determine for myself, because I'm having to take your word, hubby's word, and everybody else's word on how much Spacey does or does not echo Hackman. :) From what I vaguely remember from 25 years ago, Hackman seemed hammier than Spacey. Spacey, although still exaggerated and cartoony, IMHO, seemed colder.

I agree that the "Gods are selfish" line suits Lex. I just like the depth (okay, mind, I'm using the term loosely, given that I'm about to mention Smallville :) ) that the television show has given the character. The SR script moved him right back to flat villain, and I think that's a disservice. If Superman is allowed to evolve to be touchable, hurt, and tangible (I was intrigued by the hospital scene) in 2006, if that's the current state of our hero, then don't his adversaries get to evolve a little bit, too?
jasondemotte
Jul. 6th, 2006 02:31 am (UTC)
I kinda understand what you're saying, but keep in mind that Smallville has had 5 years to develop Lex into a more three dimensional character.

The movie is a semi-official sequel to the first two Superman films, and while they can handwave away some of the differences, they really are kinda tied to Hackman's Luthor. Obviously prison cooled many of Lex's more hammy/goofy traits (well, most of them. "WRONG!" and "BILLIONS!" come to mind), but they can't completely escape that this is the guy who in the first movie wanted to sink the west coast and use some desert locations he's bought as new beachfront property.
pointedview
Jul. 7th, 2006 12:37 am (UTC)
Both of those are very good points indeed. I don't disagree with them at all.

Is it okay with you if I still think that bit of it was yucky? :)
jasondemotte
Jul. 7th, 2006 01:22 am (UTC)
Of course! Your opinon is valid as mine,
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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