Genre: Superhero Running Time: 2 hrs. 34 min.
Release Date: June 28th, 2006 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Bryan Singer Actors: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Sam Huntington, Eva Marie Saint, Kal Penn, Tristan Lake Leabu
hen astronomers discover the distant remains of Krypton, Superman’s (Brandon Routh) obliterated home-world, the alien being suddenly disappears. Five years pass, with Earth learning to survive without the interference or aid of a superhuman savior. Sticking with familiar title graphics (outdated as they may be) and John Williams’ thunderous theme music, this belated fifth part (or sixth, if counting “Supergirl,” while chronologically ignoring everything after “Superman II”) hopes to rejuvenate the dying franchise, bringing back recognizable personas, concepts, and adventures.
Superman’s main nemesis returns as well; Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has inherited a fortune, with which he can plot a fresh path to world domination, now accompanied by a new moll – Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey). Coincidentally, that’s the exact same time that Superman crash-lands yet again at his adopted home in Smallville, nourished back to his old self by his earthbound mother, Martha (Eva Marie Saint). Quite quickly, Superman – getting back into his guise as normal human reporter Clark Kent – goes back to work at the Daily Planet, where he hopes to rekindle a flame with Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth).
Since Spacey does his best to recreate Gene Hackman’s performance as the previous iteration of Luthor, aided by additional counterparts of a ditzy woman (the target of nonstop jabs at her intelligence, and someone who harbors second thoughts about her choice in companion; Lex definitely has a type) and a silent, unquestioning assistant/stooge (Kal Penn as Stanford), this latest attempt to bring Superman back to the theatrical realm is a surprisingly faithful follow-up. Casting Routh, himself a reasonable lookalike for Christopher Reeve, is yet another component that makes this endeavor an apt sequel just as much as a reboot. And the tone is a comparable match; the feats of heroism, the action, and the villainy are right in line with the previous episodes, alongside the abundance of humor, mainly in Kent’s clumsiness, his cheesy one-liners, and Kitty’s moronic observations. The inclusion and casting of editor Perry White (Frank Langella) and photographer Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) are thoroughly recognizable as well.
The special effects have advanced to a remarkable degree (as has the budget), though the orchestration of high-stakes rescues – the first of which is in low orbit involving an exploding, nosediving aircraft – are still wildly over-the-top. Clearly, Superman’s abilities are reserved only for the most catastrophic of circumstances. They look sharp, even if the sensibilities (particularly surrounding physics) are absent. His suit has also undergone some modernized upgrades, notably in muted colors, though the unconvincing transformations from Kent to Superman (generally by ripping open his shirt and passing behind an obstacle) haven’t shifted into anything smoother. Curiously, Lois Lane is the only one who has had a complete makeover (save for smoking), as Bosworth looks and behaves entirely differently from predecessor Margot Kidder.
While Luthor’s complex machinations take time to come to fruition, various subplots stretch out the running time, including a love triangle (involving James Marsden as Perry White’s nephew), a fragile kid, weapons testing, damsels in distress, random people in need of rescuing, and arbitrary locations in need of protecting. Supporting roles tend to receive an inordinate amount of screentime – a fault of many of the other entries in the series as well. But what this picture gets right is a focus on the love story; amid the deathless destruction and globe-conquering schemes, Superman and Lois sharing a moonlit flight across Metropolis is still the most poignant moment.
The glossiness of the visuals and the faithfulness of the cast in mimicking their ’70s counterparts makes “Superman Returns” a fitting revisit to a meandering property. In many ways, it could even stand on its own as a remake. But despite the welcome enhancements (thanks to CG), some of it is too familiar, while other parts are reminiscently tiresome. The pacing is off at times, stalling the action until it borders on boring; the conflicts aren’t imaginative enough to entertain over the course of two-and-a-half bloated hours (perhaps due to the age-old issue of a superhero without weaknesses). A few stunts and disaster sequences hold interest, along with a scene or two of dramatic heroics, but by the end, it’s evident that the writers still can’t come up with a story exciting enough to warrant additional chapters to this superhero’s filmic journey.
– Mike Massie