Saturday, July 01, 2006

'Superman Returns'

Yes, Supes, we’ve all missed you.
Perfectly cast, perfectly written, and, most important, perfectly realized, “Superman Returns” is the quintessential summer blockbuster, an eye-blasting film nevertheless not so high on action that it forgets its soul.
Director Bryan Singer one-ups even his two spectacular “X-Men” movies with what must be considered one of the genre’s best adaptations of all time. He dedicates this film to Christopher Reeve, and I can’t imagine the late movie icon who so famously took on the title role from 1978-87 wouldn’t endorse this heartfelt homage. It’s clear right from the zoom-in opening credits—complete with John Williams’ original theme music—that Singer knows his history and truly loves this character. His “X”-scribes, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, make some gutsy choices with the plot, but Superman is definitely back in all his red, yellow, and blue glory—tights, cape, and all.
Newcomer Brandon Routh proves, much like Reeve, to be a diamond in the rough as Superman, who returns to earth after a five-year absence while searching for remains of his home world, Krypton. In that time, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has given birth to a son, Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu, in his first role), and is now engaged to Richard White (James Marsden, otherwise known as Cyclops from the “X-Men” films (don’t worry, he’s MUCH better here)), related to Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White (Frank Langella).
So, needless to say, ol’ Clark Kent has a bit of catching up to do now that he’s back zooming around Metropolis. Not to mention his nemesis, Lex Luthor, is out of jail (thanks to a legal loophole) and plotting, again, to take over the world. The greatest villain in all of comic book lore is played to the nines in “Returns” by Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey, his best role—and performance—in years. Where Gene Hackman envisioned Luthor as a wisecracking aw-shucks megalomaniac in the original “Superman,” Spacey goes all out in a preferable version of the sadistic villain, chewing up the scenery along the way.
The primary criticism I’ve read of this film is Singer has somehow “lost the fun” of the original Reeve incarnation. I beg to differ. The special effects in “Superman Returns” are so stunning, this time you really will believe a man can fly. In the nearly three decades since “Superman,” you’d think we’d seen it all when it comes to high-wire thrills, yet Singer somehow still manages to blow your hair back throughout his movie’s two and a half hours. The first time Clark blasts off to save Lois from certain doom, goosebumps run from head to toe.
Even more important than the stunning visuals, though, is Singer’s now tried-and-true ability to find the hearts in even the most outlandish characters (blue-painted and tattooed Nightcrawler from “X2,” for example). The idea of a love triangle between Superman, Lois, and her fiancé isn’t exactly a whimsical comic book fantasy, but it allows the Man of Steel’s character to shine in a way Reeve’s never did. Luthor’s destructive antics almost play second fiddle to the story of how Superman finds his way back into a world radically different from the one he left. Routh may not be having as much “fun” as his predecessor, but Kal-El has never felt more human.
And in a world that feels like it’s ripping apart at the seams, the idea of such a relatable Superman actually put a little lump in my throat. Wouldn’t it be incredible if some blue blur could scream down from the heavens and make all the pain go away?
Well, for the 154 minutes of “Superman Returns,” he actually does.
Grade: A

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