Superman Returns

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Superman Returns
Review (9/10)
(By Blair Barbesin)

We are in an interesting era. No one has really talked about this, but it should be said. "We are in the Golden Age of Comic Book Movies". In the comics, certain events, catalysts or a specific comic book ushered in a new era of comics. It's widely held that Action Comics ushered in the Golden Age of Comic Books. This comic was printed in 1938. So how can movies be so far behind? Well, the Golden Age in comics was ushered in when comics became so hugely popular readership was measured in millions rather than thousands. I think that we can see a parallel now to movies. Never before have comic book movies been so popular, been done so well or earned so much. One bad movie doesn't spell the death of future attempts - it just makes you try harder next time.

Look at the recent glut of comic book movies. X-Men, Batman, Hellboy, Sin City, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and more. Sure, before this glut we had lame attempts at Spider-Man, Superman, Hulk, Captain America, even Fantastic Four either on film or TV. Before that we had the serials of Batman and Superman. However, we have not had anything like the films today. Why all this babbling about the movies? Well, I think that Superman Returns is going to have the same impact on comic book movies as Action Comics #1 did on comic books. This movie represents the pinnacle of comics on film. I don't know how it can get any better than this.

This movie works in so many ways that director Byran Singer needs to share his secrets with any other filmmaker that dares attempt a comic movie. For some reason he just gets it, so much more than anyone else. He knows how to pay homage to previous versions, to the fans, to the general public and to comic book geeks. Keep your eyes peeled for the "Action Comic #1" moment in the film.

Singer isn't redoing another origin story. He knows we all know where Superman came from so his story isn't re-told. Rather he takes a very bold approach and re-adapts or integrates his story into the previous movies, that being Richard Donner's Superman 1 & 2. He uses many of his similar designs, like the spaceship and the Fortress of Solitude and incorporates them into his vision. Subtle nods to the Donner films are present here, like Lois asking how many letters in a word, Clark's use of the word "Swell" the smoking scene and of course the music. Using John Williams' original score in certain places was a brilliant idea. Williams' score is Superman and trying to remake that would have been fool hardy.

This movie does a nice job of dancing around the large gap of time between Superman 2 and Superman Returns. "You act like you've been here before" are words said to Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) who was in the Fortress of Solitude before as Gene Hackman in Superman 2. There are bridges all throughout the movie and it's nice, especially if you are a fan of the Donner films.

The tag line for the first 1978 film was "You'll believe a man can fly" because the effects were so cutting-edge in 1978 you did believe. Well, as you can imagine, the effects have gotten a little bit better and the results are friggin' jaw dropping. Everything that Superman does is so believable and not just flight. The x-ray effects, super-hearing, heat vision... Everything looked so well done.

Including the cast. I have to start off with Kevin Spacey because looking at the trailer I thought he was going to play it way over the top and be unbearable. That isn't the case. He actually plays it smart and controlled. He emphasizes the use of his brain and smarts and his grand scheme. His grand scheme is grand and it's a worthy scheme of a great villain. Too many times we see bad guys that just don't have the knack for evil genius like Lex Luthor does. Take over the world? Been there done that like a thousand times. Money? Who needs money. It's a means, but not the end. No, Kevin's Lex, like Gene's Lex is interested in real estate, and that's all I can really say about that. Except an "Ottis-berg" comment would have been funny and a nice touch.

Kate Boswerth made a good Lois, but I don't know about a great Lois. She seemed too... well... when she fainted, that just didn't seem like Lois to me. Other than that, she had a great knack for getting into trouble. Kate didn't jump out at me as Lois Lane. She had her moments, but there just weren't enough of them. For Lois it was all about getting the story regardless of anything else. Gwyneth Paltrow's Polly Perkins in Sky Captain was a classic Lois Lane clone and I was hoping that Kate would be able to channel a bit more Lois into her. I'm not saying she was bad. She just wasn't as good as everyone else.

Which brings me to Brandon Routh. So much is riding on him and his performance. He is going to be compared to the late Christopher Reeve. He is going to be judged on how he plays Superman and Clark Kent. He is an unknown. Or at least he was. Can he pull of what Reeve did and step into one of the most signature characters of all time and be any good? Yes. Yes he can. I'm not sure what psychic Routh visited to get the spirit of Reeve but whatever he did he needs to keep doing it. He reminded me of Reeve without being a poor copycat or a bad imitation. He lookes like Reeve a bit and that helps. But he was able to bring a familiarity to the role of Clark and Superman that let you enjoy what he was doing and be reminded of what Reeve did. No small feat. His "Goodnight Lois" was perfect. His Clark mannerisms were perfect. And his flying was, well... perfect. Routh makes a great Superman and Clark. Some of his Superman lines were a little off. They didn't carry the weight properly, but that's just nitpicking. My biggest complaint? The color of the cape, but again that's just nitpicking. Actually I really wished that Superman gave another person a Kryptonian name. When you see the part you'll know. That would have been just perfect.

You might think its odd that Clark Kent and Superman are both gone for several years and both return at the same time. I'm sure that it's the hardest thing that the writers had to overcome and it was played with nicely. Lois has a six year old kid and from his point of view looking up at Clark with the TV monitor behind him he sees that Superman is Clark and he is the only one to notice and it plays for a nice laugh with the kids asthma. Richard White (James Marsden) tries to draw the connection but laughs it off with Lois. I really feel bad for James Marsden. He seems like a nice guy. If its not Wolverine stealing his girl its Superman. How does a guy compete with that?

This movie was a huge risk. I think it has been in development hell for years and years. It passed through many directors' hands like McG, Tim Burton and Brett Ratner before it came to Bryan Singer. It seems these days if you want a comic book movie done right you have to get Singer to pull it off. I'm glad he didn't do X-Men 3. If he had committed to that then he wouldn't have done this, and I wouldn't want anyone else touching this masterpiece.

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