The biggest mistake the projectionist at the Burbank AMC 16 did when he put Superman Returns together that fateful evening was to put the Spiderman 3 trailer as the last thing you see before the feature presentation. If it wasn't for that, I might have been a bit more forgiving. But let's face facts: I'm a Spiderman-man, not a Superman... man.
Superman Returns is a really good movie, but it's not a great movie. It doesn't provide more than a requisite number of thrills and some emotional splattering around the rim. (Wow, there's a blurb and a half). When compared to what we as fanboys have been exposed to of late with the Spiderman films, Batman Begins, and even Singer's own X2, Superman kind of feels like a more competent version of Daredevil. At least on par with Hulk.
I'm coming off more negative because more time has passed between when I saw it and when I'm writing this. I've had some time to think about it, and I have some problems with the flick. It doesn't mean that some of the action scenes aren't truly mind blowing, nor does it mean I'm not gonna see the movie again on the 3-D IMAX screen, because that would be a pretty damn cool way to see this movie. It's just that I have a lot of problems with the film that prevent me from liking it more, which is something I really wanted to do.
Where to begin...
Let's start with the good things about the flick, which there are many. I liked the acting from Brandon Routh, taking on a mighty big role with little experience in the field. He plays both Clark and Supes well, and I believed him in both roles. He was a damn good find, although I think I might be in the minority on this one. For what it's worth, I really liked him. Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor was fine, if a little slight. (More on this in the negatives). Still, he wasn't playing the role as a lark, and truly believed in the evil of Luthor. (Best moment is in the very beginning with the pen). Parker Posey was really good as Luthor's flunky, and she kind of made me wish that she was playing Lois Lane instead. Frank Langella was alright as Perry White, but I guess nobody's gonna beat J.K. Simmons in Spiderman as the newspaper chief from hell. White is actually... a nice guy. Weird. Oh, and James Marsden (Remember him as Cyclops? It took me awhile) as Lois' boyfriend is a nice guy, which is a change of pace for these roles. He's not weak, and seems like any normal guy who's a little jealous of his girlfriend's past boyfriend. Regardless that it was Superman or not. (Although, that can't be too good for the ego).
All the acting was good, if a bit glum. Ebert was right when he talks about how joyless everyone seems, but I think in a world without Superman, we would be kind of melancholy. Just a thought.
There's also a fair amount of scenes with no dialogue, where the pictures tell the story. Long stretches where nobody will speak. I barely remember Superman speaking at all. But for some reason, this worked for me. I show much respect and appreciation for these scenes. Along with the crowd I saw the film with, who sat silently and appreciated, instead of giggling nervously. Or talking on their cell phones.
The special effects are also, top notch. The scene where Superman does indeed return features an amazing sequence involving an airplane AND a spaceship. Only in my dreams do the two collide. (Although, the plane could have used some snakes on it for good measure)
It's a damn impressive sequence, and one that gets the heart pumping for more. For that matter, the opening credits were top notch as well. An updating of the original Superman movies' credit sequences puts you in the mood for something kind of special. It's a technically well made movie, even if it does suffer from King Kong-itis, where fifteen shots are used when five would suffice. Still, it's a damn pretty picture, mostly. (Some HD stuff is a little "foggy")
However, those sequences and the actors can only take you so far, as the kind of weak script takes a lot of wind out of the sails.
(I'm gonna get into some spoiler territory here, so if you don't want to know ANYTHING about the movie, I advise you to stop reading.)
Seriously. There's a great post later on about Snakes on a Plane.
Let's begin with Lex Luthor's plan. It's really not a very good plan. It's not well thought out, and he would sort of achieve the same results if he, say, destroyed a levee and flooded an entire city. You know, like the president did. (ZING!). Overall, it was kind of weak, and in this day and age of super villains coming up with grandiose plots to destroy humanity (For God's sake, Magneto moved the GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE for his attack), this one seems tame. What's Lex going to do, sit on a rock and wait years for someone to fall into his brilliant real estate scheme? Not very good. Sure, it's probably an afterthought, seeing as how the movie is more concerned with "serious" matters like Superman's "feelings" but at least throw us a bone.
Next problem: Lois Lane. I understand that she's a spelling challenged reporter, and that there is spell check. Hell, search this article and you'll see TONS of them. But I'm not a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and there's no excuse for a PULITZER PRIZE WINNING JOURNALIST to NOT know that catostrophic contains no "F"s. Come on! It doesn't help that I didn't care for Kate Bosworth's portrayal of Lois. She's kind of bland, and makes a lot of stupid choices throughout the film. It kind of feels like watching a high school student in a play version of Superman. She looks nice, sure, but she's not Lois Lane. Just like I was no Nathan Detroit*. Did not care for the performance, nor the character.
Let's see, what else? Oh, right, the last fifteen minutes of the movie. Dreadful. I understand that Superman would be weakened lifting a giant rock full of kryptonite and hurling it into space. I understand that he'd have a great fall to Earth. What I do not understand is the rationale behind people TAKING HIM TO THE FREAKIN' HOSPITAL! He's SUPERMAN. Earth medicines will have no effect. And how the hell are they going to put him in the hospital standard garb? And why, since he's laying there in bed, will no one (Especially Lois) realize that he does indeed kinda look like Clark Kent?
Then, when he finally recovers and flies off into the night (for which I thought to myself, who is the hospital going to bill for his useless stay?) and goes to Lois' house and talks to... his child. Yes indeed, Supes and Lois had a kid. the kid's about 5 years old. About the time that Supes has been gone. Making Superman the ultimate spokesperson for Deadbeat Dads everywhere! He says some weird things a father might say to the son he just found out he had, but nothing that makes a whole lot of sense. It's prolonged, and at this point, we've sat through two and a half hours of movie. Just end the damn thing.Show us Superman flying over Earth, looking at the camera, and roll the credits!
Which eventually happens. Still, we have to contend with the possibility that they're going to add a child to the franchise of Superman, and if The Mummy Returns taught us anything, this is never a good idea.
And since I'm griping, I have one more. It might seem like nitpicking, but this is something that has been bothering me since the original Superman movies. superman lives and works in Metropolis, mostly. I get this. But why hide the fact that it's New York City? It's foolish, and annoying. Just call it New York. If you call it New York, you can have Spiderman swoop down and save Superman on that great plummet to Earth. (Which, I admit, I kind of half expected him to do, because my mind was wandering).
All these negatives I have about the film came after extensive thought about the film. The film does work, and it's a lot of fun, provided you can get past these issues, which I did, but still feel the need to complain about, because quite frankly, I can. It's not a waste of time at all, far from it. But it could have used a little more work. And given that it took 19 years to get it here, we could have waited the few extra months and been alright.
*Full disclosure: I indeed WAS no Nathan Detroit, beccause I didn't portray Nathan Detroit. Nor anyone in the cast of Guys and Dolls. I ran lights. Both times.