a critiQal film review Superman Returns (2006)

Plot: After a five year absence, The Man Of Steel (Routh) returns to Metropolis, only to find out that the world has moved on...and so has Lois Lane (Bosworth). Plus, old nemesis Lex Luthor (Spacey) is up to a whole new set of tricks. Welcome back, Superman!

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  • ...Kevin Spacey's Luthor is worth the price of admission, but the viewer may tune out the rest.

Look! Up In The Sky! Is it a plane? Is it a bird? No, it’s director Bryan Singer’s new take on The Man Of Steel. Yes, the long-awaited rebirth of Ol’ Blue Tights is here in Superman Returns, and we couldn’t wait to check it out.

But, would Superman Returns become the regeneration of the hero that the film series so desperately needs (aka ), or will Bryan Singer’s new vision kill off the Superman series for good? And how would Brandon Routh’s Superman and Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor measure up to the originals – or to their newer counterparts in the hit TV series “Smallville” (TV)?

With “Smallville” (TV) burning up the small screen as the best adaptation of Superman yet, Superman Returns had to up the ante considerably to even try to compare. Taking a cue from “Smallville” (TV), director Bryan Singer went with a no-namer for the lead role, namely Brandon Routh.

Unfortunately, while he may look the part, Routh doesn’t come close to the impressive job in Superman Returns that Tom Welling has done with the role in the TV show. Brandon seems a bit nervous in front of the camera, and comes off as rather stiff – making Superman seem much more aloof and showing a little bit of a high and mighty attitude that clashes totally with the Superman persona – leaving the viewer with a bit of a bad taste in their mouth.

Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor, as expected, steals the show in Superman Returns. His coldly calculating Luthor jumps onto the screen with an evil glee that is fun to witness. Unfortunately, his character is so fun to watch, it’s almost a let down when he’s off-screen, and the viewer has to witness Routh’s next fumble – when all they want is more of Spacey.

Thankfully, Spacey also gets to spout some of the best lines of Superman Returns, so the viewers are rewarded for having to sit through scenes where he doesn’t show up at all (an example shown frequently in the trailers: he’s kidnapped Lois Lane, and asks her to “say it, come on, say it”, to which she replies “you’re insane!” With an evil chuckle, he retorts, “no, no, the other one”. Just as Lois begins to declare “Superman will stop you”, he cuts in with “WRONG!” A scene that no matter how many times the viewer sees it, will be just as funny the next time around.)

Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane does a decent job of presenting her conflicting emotions, while at the same time trying to maintain her strong female persona. The love story between Lois and Superman gets much more complex in Superman Returns, yet she never wavers in her convictions – and stays morally sound, despite Superman’s somewhat lecherous persona this time around.

At the same time as she deals with her conflicting emotions regarding Superman, she is able to juggle her job, her son and even a kidnapping – and does so with great style. Maybe a little too much calm most of the time – making her seem a bit detached from many of the goings on around her. As the film progresses, however, she is able to get her conflicting emotions somewhat in check, and manages to live up to the expectations of the audience.

Bryan Singer, who did a wonderful job bringing Marvel heroes to the big screen in X-Men (2000), seems a bit out of his element in Superman Returns. Who thought it would be a good idea to have Superman come back and start hitting on a now-married Lois Lane? That brings up all sorts of moral issues, conflicting with the film’s desire to have the audience rooting for Superman. With viewers trying to decide if they are rooting for Superman and Lois Lane to have an affair, a son is tossed into the mix, bringing up all sorts of more dilemmas.

With that conflicted beginning, the audience will be thrown off right from the start, and their interest in Superman Returns will fade almost immediately. With Bryan Singer showcasing Superman actually spying on Lois and her family at one point, the viewer’s attitude may begin to turn them away from Superman – not what a superhero picture wants.

Sure, Supes is a good guy, and saves tons of lives – but does that give him the right to play peeping tom? Most would say no. And should Supes be allowed to break up a happy home just because he’s a superhero? Again, most would say no. C’mon Singer, at least make Lois’ husband – played by James Marsden, into a guy the viewers don’t like or something – rather than the nice – if rather clueless – guy he is portrayed as.

As Superman Returns continues, most viewers will zone out the relationship between Supes and Lois – hoping it will eventually work itself out in the end (which it does) – and instead try to concentrate on the whole “good vs. evil” aspect of Supes and Luthor.

Unfortunately, with Spacey’s Luthor lighting up the screen, Routh’s Superman falls short here as well. Already somewhat disliking this new “peeping tom” Supes, the audience will be more likely leaning towards Spacey’s maniacally fun persona instead in Superman Returns. Only when his plans begin to threaten to reshape the US does the viewer’s American spirit kick in on Superman’s side. But, it’s almost too late to save Superman by then.

The special effects are the big redeeming factor in bringing Superman back. Gone are the days when Superman is obviously hanging by wires in front of a stage – in Superman Returns, he zips around and through obstacles with an ease the viewer has been waiting years to see. This Superman scoffs at gravity, coming and going through the air with a grace that the old Superman films could never have hoped for in their wildest dreams.

While the original films had fulfilling plots the viewer could easily get behind, Superman Returns presents a convoluted plot with glaring religious tones, turning Superman more into a God figure than just the superhero he once was. True, the special effects are truly out-of-this-world when compared to the rather cheesy effects of the previous series of films, but the plot is what should involve the viewer first and foremost.

Unfortunately, Superman Returns is all flash and no substance, making for a rather disappointing movie-going experience. While Kevin Spacey’s Luthor is worth the price of admission, the viewer may find themselves tuning out most of the rest of the film – despite the special effects blitz.

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