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Superman Returns, but not quite with a bang
on 28 November 2006
`Superman Returns' has a lot going for it. I can only imagine the problems trying to replace Christopher Reeve. Reeve captured the essence of both Superman and Clark Kent with a warm, compassionate, funny and yet determined performance - and he managed to look exactly like him too. So, what can be said of Brandon Routh? Thankfully, Routh is excellent. His is a much more restrained Clark Kent, as the bumbling and fumbling of Christopher Reeve's version is brought into 2006 with a more mellow geekiness from Routh. For the modern Clark Kent, this works perfectly. Routh's Superman also seems a little more restrained and straight-faced than Reeve's, but thankfully is still allowed the occasional naive-sounding one-liner. All in all, a good start from a newcomer with some mighty boots to fill. Another with big boots to fill is Kevin Spacey. The difference here is that Spacey is a highly experienced actor and he brings his typical calmness to the role of Lex Luthor. A little more of him wouldn't have gone amiss though.
It almost goes without saying that any current big-budget movie will probably be CGI-laden and modern technology gives a character like Superman the opportunity to do some really incredible stuff. The early action scene involving Superman and a Boeing 777 is shot fantastically and is easily the best section of the film. Mind you, it isn't all perfect; watch the final shot of Superman doing a patrol around the Earth and it`s obvious that Routh's face has been fixed onto a CGI body.
It is also worth tipping the imaginary hat to Singer for his approach to this blockbuster. Instead of going for a plotless, sterile, action-laden behemoth, he actually tries to bring some feeling, relevance and meaning to the world of Superman. It's also nice to see this film following on (albeit loosely) from `Superman 2', thus bringing back Marlon Brando and almost making us forget the loathsome third and fourth films.
So where's the missing star got to? Maybe Kate Bosworth took it with her. In the first four films, as well as in `Lois & Clark' and `Smallville', Lois Lane is a feisty, sharp, driven, and gutsy reporter. Kate Bosworth's version is not. While I accept that the one the film's themes is change through the passage of time, I cannot accept that Lois would have changed that much, nor would I want her to. The dynamic of Lois' streetwise drive paired with Kent's apparent naivety and clumsiness has been a strong part of what made the partnership so watchable. Kate Bosworth doesn't deliver at all and it's a real shame.
Lex Luthor is a great villain, and his wanting revenge on Superman for the years he spent in prison is OK as far as super-villain motivation goes. But the idea of him being some overblown property developer seems a little weak; just compare that for a moment against Ra's Al Ghul's motivation for wanting to wipe out Gotham in `Batman Begins' and you'll see what I mean. More thought required for the sequel.
The film has pacing problems too. After the initial rush of Superman's return and the Boeing 777 scene the film seems to go into a very long lull, with only some minor action scenes to show Superman in action, and the final stand-off isn't exactly rivetting.
Finally, I can just about live with the rest of the world not being able to see that Kent is Superman, but when this is added to the fact that they (presumably) took off at the same time, spent exactly the same amount of time away, and then coincidentally reappear at the same time is utterly preposterous. Hercule Poirot not required for that mystery, I think.
The thing about the aforementioned faults is that they should be easily fixable, which could make for a tremendous sequel. It's also worth remembering that when Singer made `X-Men' he almost used that film to set the scene for the superior follow-up,'X2', so all bodes well for the next film. So, taking `Superman Returns' in the context of a scene-setter, it serves its purpose very well. But, the problem is that it too is a sequel (of sorts), to `Superman 2', and in that respect it fails as it is a slightly less enjoyable film.