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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Film Review: Superman Returns

Superman Returns

Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Parker Posey, James Marsden, Frank Langella

Superb casting for the late Christopher Reeve's on-screen replacement really saved this movie. As a goofy, mild-mannered Clark Kent and a towering, freak-jawed Superman, 26 year old Routh nailed it like a natural - well as natural as wearing red underwear on the outside and a cape could possibly be. The World's saviour returns to Earth after a five year sudden no-goodbyes disappearance that is eventually revealed as some sort of wild goose chase/finding yourself/early mid-life crisis. In the meantime Lois Lane (Bosworth) got supremely fucked off, wrote an anti-Superman rant that earns her a Pulitzer, and shacks up with some carbon copy Clark Kent from the world section and they have a child. So when the Man of Steel finishes his mission to Krypton and re-appears, scores his old job at The Daily Planet, and swans back in expecting Superlove, Lois is conflicted.

Lex Luther (Spacey), master villan and free man (on his 5th appeal!) because Superman didn't show up to give evidence (whoops-a-daisy! Superman really needs a diary or something) is busying himself trying to use Superman's civilisation's crystals and stolen Kryptonite in a fiendish plan to create real estate. The USA would be destroyed in the process and Luther will hold the world to ransom yadda yadda yadda.. the usual. As the general agenda goes so far so good. He must be stopped apparently, and in between flying around the world catching people and pro bono emergency attendance, that is what he finally gets around to.

The version I saw was on the Imax screen with 3D parts that - as all 3D ever - never lived up to the humiliation of donning gigantic over-sized funny glasses and trying to work out if all the strobing is supposed to be part of the experience. 3D is pointless. When it's on a screen about 30 metres by 10 metres it's quite big enough to blow you away without having to look like Brains from the Thunderbirds. The opening sequence through space was not as good as it could have been and much of the sound was poor: either too quiet - or with most of the action scenes - far too loud and jumbled. Generally the cinematography was routine and the special effects uneven (though keep an eye out for the awesome machinegun incident). Having said that when those opening bars of the March of Superman score blasted through the surround sound it was at once both exhilarating and nostalgic.

Spacey's Luther, apart from being bald and therefore evil, was rather a positive, charming, cultured sort of chap. The lack of a real evil streak of personal nastiness means his threats to kill billions is all a bit theoretical and unbelievable. If he had tortured some guy with his own hands then maybe he would get some respect. The violence is all very lite. There was a scene in which he holds up a rod of kyptonite in awe - it would have been far more effective at that point to have him lick it or pash it up a bit to convey intensity. We know how Bill Clinton would have utilised it, don't we ;) With Luther's ditzy bimbo Kitty (Posey) fluffing around it would of been good to demonstrate some sort sexual connexion between the two just once. As far as the script goes Kitty is the only one with a memorable one-liner - that in itself is an indictment.

For Warner Bros. to rejuvinate the franchise (God that word is such an ugly piece of corporate-speak) was purely a dollar decision no doubt. The artistic and cultural merits of reserecting a boy's auto-erotic strength and control fixation in the guise of a muscle-bound, emotionally stunted, man-child whose greatest moments occur when he wears ultra-tight outfits is obviously absurd. The plot is ho-hum with no commentary on modern society or anything approaching the other DC comics franchise, X-Men (the first two *good* films being directed by Singer as well), and its take on current events. With the predictable twist that is set up early on and sealed as a potential development for multiple sequels at the conclusion we will no doubt see a succession of Superman movies in short order. So, Superman defeats evil and saves the planet - or at least America - and still meets deadline. But does he get the girl? All we can really know is that he isn't gay... anymore.

Superman is a winner - a swell guy, but Lois lacks charisma and Luther is more harmlessly disgruntled middle class than the next Hitler. Add to that the absence of humour, in-jokes or wit and an epic running time and we are left with a pleasant superhero romp that Dad can take the kids to. But we're adults... and you made me put those dorky fucking glasses on.

2.5-3/5 stars


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