Superman Returns

Friday, January 04, 2008

Superman Returns is one of those modern blockbusters that while enjoyable lingers in the memory for about five seconds. It leaves no lasting impression other than one of crushing indifference. Contrary to what the film says, the world really doesn't need Superman.

One of the most telling things about this sequel/update/re-imagining is that the most memorable thing is the music. Or to put it more accurately, the most memorable thing is John Williams' music, as John Ottman's score is completely anonymous. But the beginning with the wonderful Williams cue actually gave me a false sense of hope – I thought the film might rise above the mediocre. And then you have the titles, which are also great. But again this is something that is lifted from Donner's film. Doesn't Singer have anything fresh to contribute?

The answer to that is no. The film ticks all the boxes – conflicted hero, psychotic bad guy, big set pieces – but never ties them together with a story that makes you care. Instead it washes over you, evaporating almost instantly.

I guess it doesn't help that Superman's love interest, played by Kate Bosworth, is so anodyne. She just doesn't have the comic timing or energy of Margot Kidder, and she's not in the least bit sexy. Therefore it's impossible to care whether she and Superman will get back together. And it's also impossible to care about her marriage to her dull husband. The guy is meant to be a new man – caring father, decent spouse, action hero when required – but he's about as interesting as John Kerry. Fair enough, the film could have taken the easy option and made him a bastard to make us invest more in the Superman/Lois Lane relationship, but by making him so squeaky clean you're robbing the film of any drama.

Another new element that doesn't work particularly well is Lois Lane's son. Again he's completely devoid of interest. He's just too cute – children just aren't that decent and reasonable, even if they are infused with Superman's DNA. However, even though the kid's presence in the film is largely an aggravation, he does feature in the film's best scene. There's a great moment when he's playing the piano inside Luthor's massive ship. He's trying to make himself feel less scared, but then a bad guy with a rather disturbing tattoo on the back of his head begins playing the piano with him. It's unsettling and it helps build the tension wonderfully.

The only other scene that can come close to matching this one is when Luthor and his thugs attack Superman. Maybe it's just me but it's always nice to see an almost impervious, squeaky clean Christ metaphor (Singer doesn't miss a chance to insert a gratuitous crucifixion pose or two) get a severe kicking. And I like Luthor's parting line: "Now fly." But then the scene is spoiled somewhat by the PC moment where Lois dives into the water to save the superhero.

Other action scenes, though, don't stand up particularly well. The airplane scene, for instance, is spoiled by an abundance of CGI. You might as well be watching a computer game, and as a consequence, it takes you out of the film. And say what you will about the effects in Donner's film, they're no more obvious or blatant than the ones here.

A second action scene that fails to get the blood pumping is when Metropolis is being ravaged by Luthor's attempts to build a new continent. Superman flies about and rescues people, but there's nothing remotely exciting about it.

And the plot here feels like a regurgitation of the one in Donner's film. In that version Luthor wanted to cause an earthquake so that he can make money from real estate. Here Luthor wants to destroy America and create a new continent to do pretty much the same. Hasn't Lex got any new ideas? And the Luthor here isn't as good either. Although that's not to say that Spacey turns in a bad performance. I like the energy he brings to the role and the idea of him nailing some old granny to inherit her fortune ("You've shown me pleasures I've never felt") cracks me up, but he doesn't have the meanness that Hackman possessed. And it must also be said that that Parker Posey as Kitty is a poor substitute for Ned Beatty's performance as the dimwit Otis.

However, the one person who does stand up is Brandon Routh. He doesn't quite have Reeve's gift for comedy – his Kent isn't quite as amusing or pathetic – but he's just as good as the Man of Steel. In fact, the two almost seem identical – the likeness when it comes to performance and physical presence is uncanny.

But unfortunately Routh gets paired with the lacklustre Bosworth, rendering a lot of the film tedious and uninteresting. And it's a shame, because had the casting been better there was some potential. But as it stands the film is cold and forgettable. It certainly lacks the warmth and charm of the original.

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