Superman Returns (2006)

4 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Oh, I so wanted to like “Superman Returns.” This is the fifth entry in the “Superman” series and the return to the big screen for the American superhero since 1987’s awful “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” and it’s unfortunate to be as disappointing as 1983’s lackluster “Superman III.” The special effects are there and some of the actors are game, but with little story material unnaturally stretched out, it only makes “Superman Returns” encourage apathy.

Superman’s been gone for quite a while, off to find other survivors from the demised planet Krypton, where he came from. Clark Kent’s been gone as well, since well…Clark Kent is Superman. It’s kind of odd that no one working for the Daily Planet realizes that when Clark comes back to work, Superman is back in action. Shouldn’t somebody make some kind of connection? To be fair, that’s not exactly a criticism to be had, since you can’t ask questions like that in a superhero movie. (Otherwise, Bruce Wayne’s cover as Batman would be blown instantly.)

Anyway, Clark Kent returns to Metropolis and finds that things have changed. But I had trouble figuring out if the reasons that things are so different in Metropolis is because Superman’s been gone for a long time, or because the writers didn’t think things were different from the other movies. The Daily Planet is now crowded with corporate sellouts, the shutterbug Jimmy Olsen isn’t as chip as he used to be and is somewhat dumber, and Lois Lane—the spunky reporter/sometimes girlfriend of Superman in the past—is without energy. But to be fair, I think that last one is because Lois isn’t enjoying herself with her fiancé Richard White, who is dull and definitely without energy.

Once Clark Kent returns, as does Superman, beginning with the rescue of Lois and several other passengers of an airplane about to crash. That sequence is actually well-crafted—it’s thrilling, fun, and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It gives a sense of how this modern-day Superman movie could have gone had it kept that energy level.

But what made the good Superman movies work, as well as its action scenes, were the human relationships, particularly with Clark/Superman and Lois Lane. In “Superman” and “Superman II,” there was a real sense of chemistry between Christopher Reeve as Clark/Superman and Margot Kidder as Lois. In “Superman Returns,” Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth play their characters as tongue-tied as an awkward soap opera teen romance. I didn’t feel any chemistry between them and individually, they’re pretty bland. Brandon Routh has the resemblance of a young Christopher Reeve, but has little to no personality. Kate Bosworth isn’t much better. She looks too young and too innocent and just isn’t as much fun as Margot Kidder played the role years ago. I also didn’t buy her relationship with James Marsden’s boring Richard White in the slightest.

Coincidentally enough, when Superman returns, the villainous Lex Luthor escapes from prison with yet another plan to destroy Superman and rule the Earth. But his plan will either be too ridiculous or too confusing. If I have this right, Lex’s plan is to use crystals from kryptonite to raise up a new continent in the mid-Atlantic and flood most of the populate world’s surface. Once he’s done that, he’ll have his own place. (Well, who’s going to go to go to this rugged and uninhabited landscape anyway?) Kevin Spacey plays Lex Luthor and he’s the best actor in the movie. He has the same kind of fun that Gene Hackman had as this overplotting, egotistical menace.

The plan leads to a climax that just goes on and on and on until I just checked out of the movie entirely. The effects are there, but the excitement is missing in action. Even with the revelation that Lois’ young son (sorry, forgot to mention him) could have Superman’s powers, there’s a real lack of interest.

Yes, Lois has a son, about five or six years old. I mentioned he could have Superman’s powers. That’s because it’s obvious that Superman is the father (remember the scene in “Superman II” when Clark and Lois finally “got together?”). Now, why couldn’t there be more with this kid? He rarely speaks and constantly stares off into space—not interesting.

“Superman Returns” is an attempt to bring Superman into a darker universe, as what was done with Batman and Hulk. But if you’re going to do that, you need better characterization, human relationships, and better paced action sequences (with the exception of the scene where Superman saves the plane). Superman is a duller in this movie and the supposed thrilling climax is at the same level. They ultimately make “Superman Returns” a lackluster return.

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