' Cinema Romantico: Superman Returns

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Superman Returns

Yes, Superman is back. And contradictory to most summer films, “Superman Returns” chooses to put its characters and personal relationships front and center. This is not to say there is no action because there is plenty (including a sequence involving an airplane AND a space shuttle but more on that in a minute). But it grounds itself and that sets it apart from so much of the summertime cinema schlock.

Superman (Iowa’s own Brandon Routh) has returned to earth after a 5 year absence in which he had gone back to his home planet of Krypton. In his absence, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has not simply written a renowned article but won the Pullitzer Prize for her piece “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman”. A bit bitter, perhaps? Understandably so. And here’s where the movie differs from your typical slam-bang summer action thriller. The driving element is Superman and Lois. She has begun dating someone at the Daily Planet (who, thank God, isn’t sketched as the over-the-top jerk of a boyfriend) and now Superman’s return stirs up old feelings, naturally. “Everyone was in love with him,” she explains to her boyfriend. “But were you?” he asks.

Meanwhile, Superman gets back to his old world-saving ways but note the initial event that causes him to do so? It’s the plane AND space shuttle (I assure you, more on this in a minute) that are out of control. Who’s on that plane? Lois Lane, of course, and that’s the key. He’s back but it’s Lois that pushes him ALL the way back. Are you paying attention, Michael Bay?

At the outset of the movie, I was concerned that it seemed Routh was just mimicking Christopher Reeve. But then I thought maybe it was just because Routh looks so much like Christopher Reeve. But then I thought maybe it was just because, hey, that's how Clark Kent is. And before long I wasn't even thinking about it anymore.

Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is also up to his usual no-good, as he must be, but his no-good is more the side-show than the main attraction. This is not a bad thing. And this does not mean the side-show is weak. I enjoyed his diabolical scheme. It is ludicrous in just the right way and Spacey does a good job as Superman’s nemesis. I always thought Gene Hackman’s performance in the original movie was a bit too comic. But here Spacey plays it pretty much straight evil and wisely leaves the comedy to his sidekick (Parker Posey, who does a great job at it). I loved the scene where’s she clomping around in her high-heels specifically so Lex can hear her clomping around in them.

The problem with the movie is the pacing, specifically the action. Director Bryan Singer puts his biggest and best action scene first – the aforementioned plane AND space shuttle. It’s pulsating, dig-your-fingernails-into-the-seat-cushion type suspense. In fact, it drew applause at the screening I attended. But, again, it comes first. So the rest of the action sequences are just a let-down compared to this. Either, you place it at the end or put it in the middle so it functions as the crux of the movie. But not the beginning. Start strong, finish stronger.

Also (and this is a random complaint but, man, did it bother me), what was going on with Frank Langella as the chief newspaper-man at the Daily Planet? This character is supposed chomp on cigars like he chews scenery - yelling, and hollering, and spouting run-on sentences filled with bloated adjectives. But Langella played him so sullenly. Every time he was onscreen the movie lost mounds of energy. Were they trying to play against the stereotype? Probably but that's one stereotype that is a stereotype for good reason.

Ah, but I quibble. This was a good movie. Was it out-and-out spectacular? Not really. Will it wind up on any end-of-the-year Top 10 Lists? No. But I thought about it well past the theater parking lot and for a summer movie you can't really ask for any more than that.

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