Friday, July 14, 2006

Smoking kills and Jesus loves me: what I learned from SUPERMAN RETURNS

Gosh, Mission Impossible III is looking better by the week isn't it? Actually, I don't really mean that. SUPERMAN RETURNS is brilliant in parts. Unfortunately those are all parts that are taken entirely from the Richard Donner classics starring Christopher Reeve as Superman, Margot Kidder as Lois Lane and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. The director of this new version - Bryan Singer - brilliantly uses the old footage of Marlon Brando as Superman's daddy to open the movie. It gives us that epic, mythic, inspirational feeling that we need. And then, when you get that opening orchestral score by John Williams, I defy even the most cynical of film-goers not to feel like a ten-year old kid again. The set pieces where superman saves a crashing plane, or has bullets bouncing off his body, or lugs a kryptonite continent into space - are outstanding. The CGI is great, the production design is amazing, and Brandon Routh certainly looks every inch the Man of Steel. To see him flying through space, almost for kicks, at the end of the movie as that iconic music starts up again, is a thing of joy. I was glad to have Superman back on the screen.

But the film is by no means perfect. SUPERMAN was always an odd super-hero. Updating BATMAN or SPIDERMAN for the modern age is easy because their pathologies match our own insecurities and cynicism. But SUPERMAN was never a conflicted soul. Sure, he wanted to protect Lois and could not be with her, but this was nothing compared to the angst of the Bat. So, in making SUPERMAN RETURNS the producers had two options. The first was to keep SUPERMAN 100% good, primary-coloured and battling easily delineated evil. Trouble is, in a world where the Evil Empire has been replaced by splinter cells and we have all read THE WATCHMEN, that option seems unsatisfying. The other option is to somehow "update" the franchise.

SUPERMAN RETURNS falls between two stalls. On the one hand, Singer keeps the iconic good versus evil stuff, ladelling on the Christian imagery until it sticks in the throat. On the other hand, he makes Lois a single mum balancing work and child-care, not to mention an inconvenient and ill-used fiance. These innovations seemed weaker than the narrative purity of the original movie. This isn't helped by the fact that Clark Kent (Routh) and Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) have remarkably little screen time together and no chemistry. Where are all those great screwball comedy moments from the old movies?! Kevin Spacey is a shameless ham as Lex Luthor, and poor old
Frank Langella has little to do as Perry White. Worst of all, Jimmy Olson is now just an idiot. Also, why cast an actor of such great comic potential - Kal Penn - as Luthor's henchman to have him say ABSOLUTELY nothing?!

Overall then, SUPERMAN RETURNS is a partial success. It's great to see Superman save the world, but you know, how about we save the preaching for church, and next time, let's hope for some actual character development. It's hard to believe that this film was written by the same people who gave us X2.

SUPERMAN RETURNS is on global release.


  1. There's been rumours of a movie adaptation of Watchmen for a while. Think it'll happen? I can't see it happening because of the ending.

  2. Hollywood can make the ending, it's just it would take a lot of money. I just don't think they'd want to tackle material so dark. You'd probably get some schmaltzy re-write....The best would be a super hi-budget TV series like Twin Peaks where the multiple stories and the comic within the comic have time to breathe...Whaddya reckon Ali?

  3. Great review and I agree Bina!! Though I'm gunna be slightly more harsh towards it when I finally get round to reviewing it tomorrow, but I think having time to dwell on it since I saw it on Friday has helped, I came out bitterly disappointed. But it was worth it for the super cool opening credits...

    And I believe that a Watchman film is once again in the works, although many have attempted and then claimed its unfilmable so I'm not holding my breath.

  4. It'd be interesting to see how Hollywood attempts to make the ending of the comic, "palatable" where the death of thousands and the destruction of a city is possibly a good thing. But I think a series would be good as that would allow much more character development.

  5. ...HBO might have the balls to tackle the darker content...

  6. Possibly, with the big-budget levels of production you get in TV shows today it could be done. Maybe something like Alan Moore's "Top 10" or Warren Ellis' "Planetary" could maybe be done in some form.

    As long as they keep the bad language in.

  7. That's a HBO specialty. Did you ever Deadwood? More swearing than that tit Gordon Ramsay