Comic Book Movies 101: Superman Returns

And so 20 odd years after the originals, Bryan Singer tried and succeeded, yet also failed, to bring Superman back in Superman Returns, a film that divided audiences.  The connection to the Reeves films works, and works well as a narrative. He even manages to carry a feel for these films, helped in no small part to the revived music score. The film’s clear crowning glory is the casting of Brandon Routh. He doesn’t actually look as much like Christopher Reeve as people banged on about, but there are certainly moments where he’s got the look down. He makes for a very impactful Superman. These films have been very lucky to have leading men with enough screen presence and charisma to take on the role. So it makes me scratch my head and wonder if they will be lucky for a third time in a row when Zack (gulp) Snyder takes over the reins of a new franchise.

Bryan Singer on the other hand seems to have let his ego off the leash on this one and provided us with a very flabby story indeed. Like the first film, it takes a long time to get going. But that original film had an excuse: it was setting things up. Here is a continuation and although it’s been a while, we as an audience aren’t dumb and don’t require all the flashbacks. Hell, even a new audience I’m sure could do without them.

Don’t get me wrong, it is well shot and the script isn’t bad at all. OK, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor isn’t the best choice; he isn’t given the best role or even plan of action – but there are worse offenders (Parker Posey being a real offender in any big film she’s in – bloody over-acting!).

This brings me to the biggest sin of the film: the casting of Kate Bosworth.  In short, she’s too young and not talented enough. Simple as that.  She can’t pull off Lois Lane. We all know that Lois risks her life unnecessarily – but since when did she start endangering the lives of children on purpose?  Really Lois, you’re going to take your own son with you onto Luthor’s boat knowing that trouble may be ahead?

Sure, Frank Langella is also in the film as the editor, Perry White, and James Marsden pops in nobly, yet forgettably, as his son (poor old James got a bum deal on X-Men: The Last Stand as a result of taking this role. Not that his part in the second instalment was very substantial).  So it really is all down to Routh. But whilst his Superman works well, Clark Kent on the other hand is a little bit too square-shouldered and uncomfortable looking to come off as naturally bumbling. But you can’t have everything.

The film’s been accused of not having much in the way of action. And that is true. But what action we do have is all rather a bit stale. The ‘he’s back’ type montage is just upping the ante of the first film’s burglar hunt. It isn’t more exciting here watching him walk towards bullet fire. We know too much already. Even when he has to save an airplane (yes, Lois just happens to be onboard that too) you already know that this is hardly going to make him break a sweat – and yet they really stretch that set-piece out for all it’s worth and beyond.

Later, when we get the really big set-pieces, it’s more CGI than actual action. OK, some of it is well done (some of it isn’t), but it doesn’t really get interesting until Superman is injured. And this was an issue the previous films managed to avoid cleverly by focusing on character. Here all we get is another round of Lois and Superman revisiting past choices (YAWN).

But there is some hope in the drama. It’s very sad when after his traumatic encounter with a shard of kryptonite he lays in a hospital bed with a giant crowd outside the hospital; among which is a grieving mother who knows she won’t be able to get inside to be with her own child. It’s moments like this that Singer and his writing team must be commended for. But they forgot to add in the right level of excitement. With a different villain in place (seriously! Sick of Luthor and his property plans) then maybe we can make things feel a bit more fresh – and that’s the goal in mind now for Zack Snyder. Let’s just hope he remembers the phrase ‘faster than a speeding bullet’ and doesn’t have any scenes of Superman flying in slow-motion!

Steven Hurst

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