Superman Returns

Directed By: Bryan Singer

Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Eva Marie Saint, Parker Posey, Kal Penn, Sam Huntington, and Kevin Spacey

Before we entered this era of filmmaking where studios reboot a franchise at the drop of a hat, studios opted to keep franchises alive forever and ever.  There are countless examples of this.  Look at the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series, kept alive through the 1980s, the 1990s, and most of the 2000s.  Take a look at the Alien movies or the Terminator franchise, and you'll see undead series that just keep going and going.  The most baffling decision to keep a franchise alive has to be Warner Bros.' decision to keep Christopher Reeve's Superman series and make the 2006 film Superman Returns.  After all, it had been nearly thirty years since Reeve first donned the red and blue tights on camera.

It's been five years since General Zod escaped the Phantom Zone and invaded Earth in Superman II.  Soon after Zod was defeated, astronomers located what was once Krypton and Superman/Clark Kent (Brandon Routh) left to see the remains of his home planet for himself.  He's now returned and ready to resume his life in Metropolis.  Returning to his former employer The Daily Planet, Kent is fortunate enough to get his old job back from editor-in-chief Perry White (Frank Langella).  Unfortunately for Kent, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), the unspoken love of his life, has married Perry White's nephew Richard (James Marsden) and had a son during his time away.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has once again amassed great wealth by conning a dying widow out of her fortune.  Now he can set his sights on other things like world domination.  He decides to make a visit to Superman's Fortress of Solitude and steal some Kryptonian crystals.  Jor-El (Marlon Brando) left his son Kal-El these crystals so that he could create a place of his own that resembles his home planet.  Luthor hatches a plan to use the crystals to reshape the world's real estate market.  Despite the blackouts and mass destruction the crystals cause, Luthor's plan is pretty solid.  He just didn't anticipate that his mortal enemy Superman would return to Earth just as things get going for him.

We as moviegoers have a tendency to bash superhero movies that don't live up to the hype.  Mostly, we're right, but we do go a little too far at times.  In the case of Superman Returns, I'm of a mixed mindset.  I completely disagree with the decision to continue the Reeve series (though they ignore the abysmal Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace).  The time has come and gone for this series decades ago.  At the same time, I respect the work that director Bryan singer does on this film.  We've got some great cinematography, a solid score, dazzling special effects, and a gorgeous new vision of Metropolis as its own city rather than just New York.  Most importantly, we have one of the best midair rescues I've ever witnessed.

When Luthor first tests out a tiny piece of the Kryptonian crystals, it causes a blackout that leads to a midair crisis for an ongoing shuttle launch.  This catastrophe brings the Man of Steel out of hiding.  In this particular scene, Singer crafts one of the most spectacular, pulse-pounding crash landings in cinematic history.  With the special effects coming front and center, the music raging, and Superman struggling to catch a falling plane, you'll be at the edge of your seat for the entirety of this scene.  It's the stuff blockbusters are made of.

I've shown a lot of love for Superman Returns in my last few remarks.  However, there are two sides to this coin.  Bryan Singer, his cast, and his crew really drop the ball throughout this film.  Most problems stem from the simple fact that they're rehashing old material from the 70s and 80s.  From a creative standpoint, Singer and his crew make several key missteps. 

First, they can't find a tone.  Because they're continuing the Reeve series, they have to be campy to some extent.  Because they're catering to modern moviegoers, they also want to be modern and edgy.  The result is that we end up in some weird place right in the middle tonally.  Second, they repeat the mistakes of the past by bringing Lex Luthor back for another go as the villain.  To make matters worse, he's looking to take control of the real estate market all over again.  There's no need to repeat Superman: The Movie to the tee.  Finally, Superman Returns is one big, long reminder that it's part of the Reeves franchise but not really.  It spreads nuggets of reminders of the old days — archival footage of the late great Marlon Brando and stale recreations of a 1978 vision of Krypton.  These relics of the past hurt the film more than they help it.

Our three leads give disappointing performances as well.  As the Man of Steel, Brandon Routh just doesn't get the job done.  He's too meek in his role as Superman and doesn't offer a strong, confident superhero.  Not giving us a caricature of mankind, he doesn't live up to the standard set by Christopher Reeve as Superman's alter ego Clark Kent either.  The bland goody two-shoes Routh brings to the table in Superman Returns just doesn't cut it in a post-Batman Begins cinematic landscape.  For her part as Lois Lane, Kate Bosworth can't hold a candle to Margot Kidder.  She doesn't bring that feisty spunk to the role nor does she have any chemistry on screen with Brandon Routh or James Marsden.  Bosworth's character just isn't likable.  Finally, we have Kevin Spacey taking over the role perfected by Gene Hackman.  While Spacey can hold his own on screen any day of the week, his more serious take on the evil criminal mastermind doesn't fit in a film with such a light tone.  Doing the right thing doesn't necessarily pay off when everyone else is doing the wrong thing.

Ultimately, the film falls victim to the fact that it doesn't match or outdo the work done by Richard Donner and his awesome ensemble at a time when this sort of campy comic book flick worked.  Last generation's Superman doesn't work for the modern generation.  Still, the film is a poorly conceived idea done well by Bryan Singer.  All in all, Superman Returns gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few glasses of Chardonnay with this one.