"Superman Returns" was par for the course concerning the summer 2006 lineup. It was good, but not great — like "Talladega Nights" — and fun, but not quite edifying — like "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." Despite one of the more costly advertising campaigns of the summer, "Returns" disappointed at the box office, meaning many wondered if a "Superman Returns" sequel would ever see the light of day. According to the Internet Movie Database, however, a sequel has been announced, with director Brian Singer ("X-Men," "X2") attached.
Countless writers worked on "Returns," rumored to include J.J. Abrams and Kevin Smith. Consequently, the film overflows with plot lines and events as the audience is brought up to speed and introduced to new things simultaneously. That's great, but sometimes the plot lines don't interconnect, which can be bothersome.
So, yes, "Returns" straddles innovation and faithfulness, resulting in an ambitious film picking up where past Superman movies left off. Viewers could enjoy this nostalgic angle, as opposed to fresh takes on a franchise, like "Batman Begins." The thing with "Superman Returns" is that those who grew up with the original films may be saying, "been there, done that," while younger generations like many of us may like the fresh take much more.
The plot in summary: After leaving earth to verify the destruction of his native Krypton, Superman returns to a world that has learned to live without him. In particular, his romantic interest Lois Lane is raising a son with her fiancee. Also returning to society is conniving Lex Luthor, bent on profiting from Superman's powers. Luthor's newest get-rich-quick scheme could potentially endanger billions. Superman's goal is to stop Lex Luthor. Or is it to once again protect the entire world? It could also be to find a Kryptonian like himself. Then again, it could be to win back Lois Lane's heart.
Superman's flurry of demands and goals makes for an exciting, but somewhat unsatisfying piece of cinema. With a protagonist dealing with so many issues upon arrival, we see a lot of what he does but don't have much time to get inside his head. We see Superman racing to save Lois Lane from a danger that also threatens an entire city, but we don't even see him make a choice — we just see him go save the city. Perhaps, though, returning to life after any excursion is overwhelming, and maybe this film captures that.
Or maybe the film's huge scope and runtime are to blame. At nearly three hours, "Returns" is another of a number of increasingly long film releases. I've heard that directors are now writing clauses in their contracts stating the director has control over the film's final edit. If this is the case with "Superman," it explains the director's cut feel. While most of the scenes in this film were enjoyable, there were definitely a few that did not need to be included.
On the other hand, there are several reasons to like this movie, namely the casting and special effects. The two lead actors turn in the most enjoyable performances. Baby-faced Brandon Routh plays Superman very similarly to Christopher Reeves' portrayal of Superman in the original films. Routh's speech, mannerisms and goofiness as Clark Kent all play well and hold up to scrutiny. Even his flying body language is spot on, thanks to training from a movement coach.
Even more fun to watch is Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. Where Gene Hackman of past "Supermans" was gruff, Spacey is darkly flamboyant. Notice that Luthor portrays giddiness most of the time while hardly ever smiling. Spacey once again proves he's among the best actors of his generation.
Also noteworthy of "Superman" is its technical prowess. Technology has finally caught up with the Superman story, providing insanely cool action sequences, like slowing down time for us to see Superman literally outrun a speeding bullet. The camera easily moves from space to earth in one take. These sequences overflow in this film, and are simply impressive. It wouldn't surprise me at all if "Returns" takes home several technical Oscars.
"Superman" is an iconic, complex character that is a perfect fit for the movies. Although the story of "Superman Returns" is too jumbled to match up to original films — like "Superman 2" — its acting and special effects save the day. "Returns" is an entertaining homage to a comic book icon and his movies of the past. I'm glad another Superman film is being made; I just hope it will have a more concrete focus.
4 out of 5