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June 17, 2024

Superman Returns: Never Thought We'd See the Day

By Bernie and Sand Pilarski

Still rather annoyed at the disappointment I felt over X-Men III, I wasn't in much of a mood to go see Superman Returns and see another feeble attempt to continue the Superman debacles of Superman III and Superman IV, or worse still, some fool trying to remake the Superman movie that introduced us to Christopher Reeve as Superman. "Why on earth are they wasting their time with such a stupid idea?" I asked Bernie when he told me Superman Returns was coming out this summer. "And fer cryin' out loud, what the hell are they thinking casting Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor???"

I liked Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. I didn't want to see Kevin Spacey butcher the character any more than I wanted to see young what's-his-name Brandon Routh dismember my fond memories of Christopher Reeve. Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve. Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman. Got it? They owned the characters, and that was final.

Besides, I have always loathed Kevin Spacey. Anything with his face on it would make me get right up and leave the room. He's always struck me as sleazy, even sinister. Gave me the creeps, made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle with irritation. Now I know why. Kevin Spacey is a super-villain! He really is Lex Luthor! That creaking sound you heard in the movie theater? That was the sound of my jaw dropping and swinging back and forth in astonishment at how utterly perfectly Spacey played Superman's nemesis. I didn't even want to turn my head to look at Bernie for fear he would see me enjoying Spacey's work. I put a bag over my head, poked two eye holes in it, and continued to watch.

Brandon Routh I had never heard of before today. No, really. I didn't look at any Superman Returns movie trailers or advertisements because I was sure it was going to be a total waste. In his first scene, I was appalled that he was so young! It put me off for a moment until I realized that almost 30 years have gone by since the first Superman movie. Then I was appalled that I am so old! I was grumpy about Routh until he, as Clark Kent, bumbles his way into the office and smiles twitchily at his co-workers. For a split second, I saw Christopher Reeve again, and as far as the movie went, I was in.

Ready to give the main actors a chance, the next whack to my brain was the interesting juxtaposition of modern-day technology with 1920's - 1940's style of architecture and clothing. I think I'll have to watch the film about seven more times before I decide whether it was done really well or not, but I have to say that if I have to work in a newspaper office, I want it to be The Daily Planet. (Note to self: look into redecorating my Piker Press studio.) And Lois Lane's clothes -- if I could find stuff like that on the rack, I might even be motivated to get skinny.

Which brings us back to actors again. Kate Bosworth was an okay Lois Lane; she was spunky enough, to be sure. The long hair put me off a bit, as my life-long image of Lois has worn a no-nonsense practical bob. Possibly my favorite scene in the film includes her verbal exchange with Lex Luthor after he discovers her poking about, trespassing on his yacht.

Sam Huntingdon as Jimmy Olsen was prime. Frank Langella as Perry White was surprisingly good -- I even forgot he was Frank Langella. Parker Posey as Lex Luthor's bimbo "Kitty" was terrific. I thought she actually overshadowed Kate Bosworth by a long shot.

What? The story? Superman comes back to Earth after a long trip through space to see if astronomers have really seen the remains of his home planet, Krypton. He has to deal with Lex Luthor getting out of jail (no doubt due to the efforts of the ACLU) and trying to take over the world again, and finding out that after his five-year absence, Lois is engaged to be married and has had a child. Oh, and that Lex, well-acted villainous genius that he is, has sneaked into the Fortress of Solitude, and found out the deadly secret of Kryptonite.

Go see it. I know that when it's out on DVD, I'm going to buy it.

Bernie said:

Sequels are always an iffy proposition, and when a franchise outlives the original artists, the going is even more treacherous. Star Trek, for example, is a franchise that did an excellent job morphing from the original to The Next Generation, and again to Deep Space Nine, but then began an agonizing spiral down to oblivion. Who knows, it may someday be resurrected, but it's going to take some work. And James Bond -- I am solidly in the "Sean Connery is James Bond" camp, and while I think that Pierce Brosnan gave it the old college try, I by-and-large find the non-Connery Bonds exceedingly tedious if not downright painful to watch. Batman? The Tim Burton/Michael Keaton collaboration on the first two was wonderful, followed by a dizzying spin into the mire, and then a stunning revival of the franchise with last year's Batman Begins.

So when word got out that there was to be a new Superman movie, I was more than a bit skeptical. (I tend to be a skeptical person about movies.) The 1978 Richard Donner movie was excellent. All three of the leads -- Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, and Margot Kidder -- gave memorable and imaginative performances. Indeed, Christopher Reeve did for Superman what Sean Connery did for James Bond. All other performances of Superman before or since would be measured against Reeve's, and all of them, no matter how good, would be wanting in some measure. Not that Christopher Reeve was that good an actor, he was simply genetically destined for the role. For all I know, his father could have actually been Marlon Brando. And Mr. Reeve was by all accounts a good and likeable man. I was shocked by his accident, frustrated by his paralysis, and saddened by his death. To have director Bryan Singer decide to do a sequel of the 1978 movie was a risky call. The "sequel" here is not about the story -- all Superman stories are the same: good guy, bad guy, good guy wins with a little help from his friends -- the sequel here is that Singer decided to bring back the cast of the 1978 movie. We all know from the Bond experience that this is just fraught with peril. It seems to me that Singer wanted you to walk into the theater you left 28 years ago and when the movie starts, feel like it was just yesterday, just technically better.

Did he succeed? I say yes, and impressively so. This is a fun movie, a comfortable movie for the fans of the 1978 film, and a very savvy piece of story-telling. Kate Bosworth continues the evolution of Lois Lane into an intelligent, modern woman. Kevin Spacey, whom I have never liked, does a fantastic job as the eccentric Lex Luther being at times comic and then chillingly sinister.

And Brandon Routh as Superman ... I don't know anything about Mr. Routh. This is the first time I've seen him act. I don't know if he is a good actor or a one trick pony, but I will give him credit -- his portrayal of the character paid tribute to Christopher Reeve, but was not an imitation of Christopher Reeve. This was a new Superman, but one with whom you were already comfortable and familiar. I'm guessing that was hard to do for an actor, but Mr. Routh made it seem like fun.

And the real star of the movie? Director Bryan Singer. Singer once again resists the temptation to make a special effects summer blockbuster where everything blows up and some actors are thrown in as props (like X-Men 3), and instead takes the time to craft a story told through the action of the actors, and the special effects, good as they are, just enhance the telling of the tale.

I liked this movie. I hope it succeeds. I will always remember this movie, at least until next weekend when I get to see PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN!!!

Article © Bernie and Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-07-03
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