Review for Superman Returns
When scientists located Krypton in space, Superman left to discover what had become of his homeworld. That was five years ago. Since then, the world, and the people he left behind have had to come to terms with a world without a Superman. So when he returns to Earth, not everyone is ecstatic to see him. Certainly not Lex Luthor, who having been freed from prison, is about to enact another fiendish, megalomaniacal plan, and surprisingly not Lois Lane, who has moved on from the Man of Steel, and has settled down and started a family.
Superman Returns gets a 2.40:1 widescreen transfer and as well as the DTS-HD MA 5.1 English track, you get DD 5.1 French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, and Russian, with subtitles in these languages and many, many others. This is the most recent of the Superman films in this collection, and it has the worst transfer visually speaking. That might be down to cramming a 2½ hour movie as well as five hours of extra features (mostly SD) onto one disc. Certainly, when the opening credits started rolling, and I saw shimmer on the text as it flew by, I thought the disc was an upscale of a less than HD source. It isn’t, but the DNR, soft waxy skin tones, and comparative lack of detail doesn’t do the film any favours, while the autumnal, almost sepia colour palette leaches all of the brightness out of the film. The audio on the other hand is fine, the surround effective, the action coming across well, and John Williams’ iconic music allowed to soar once more.
2006 was a disaster year for comic book movies. Brian Singer had previously reinvented the genre with X-Men, cementing the reinvention with X2, but he decided that he wanted to make his tribute to the Richard Donner Superman films instead of making X-Men 3. That then fell to Brett Ratner who delivered an utter mess of a film in The Last Stand, and when Singer’s Superman Returns eventually showed up, it may have made its money back at the box office, but it turned out to be less an ode to Superman movies past, than simply odious.
There are things that impress, not least the special effects, which with 2006 CG wizardry finally stop audiences looking for the wires. Superman Returns certainly has that sense of nostalgia that links it thematically with the Christopher Reeve movies, and it doesn’t hurt that star Brandon Routh really does look the part, resembling his predecessor more than just superficially. The film also captures the humour of the Donner movies, honest and wholesome, but not as slapstick as the Lester films. The film unfolds with a pace and an energy that manages to hold the attention, and you never feel the narrative sag at any point. Superman Returns is a watchable film.
There are plenty of problems with the film though, which really let it down in my estimation. For one thing, Superman Returns is supposed to be a direct sequel to Superman the Movie and Donner’s Superman II, if those films took place in 2001 and not the seventies. However, the characters don’t resemble those of the Donner films; Lois Lane isn’t as much of a firecracker, Perry White isn’t as tetchy, and worst of all, Lex Luthor lacks that manic charisma of Gene Hackman’s take on the character. Kevin’s Spacey’s version of the villain is more oily, a more obvious villain, lacking the sociopathic amiability that gave the original version so much charm. Then there is Superman/Clark Kent himself, who as well as showing signs of narcissism and ego that Reeve’s character never did, crosses the line into stalker territory when he learns that Lois has moved on. Apart from that however, everything seems toned down, pulled back from the comic book reality of the original movies.
By far the biggest problem though is the need for the narrative to keep referencing the original films. It’s irritating when it’s merely recycling the old dialogue, but for the climax, Lex Luthor’s evil plan involves yet another real estate swindle, or the Kryptonite Krystal Kontinent Kaper, as I’ve taken to calling it. I almost forgot the one aspect that is worse than Stalkerman, it’s Lois’ little boy Jason, who spoiler alert, is a little bit more than human. Thinking it through logically, Jason was conceived during Superman 2, at the end of which Superman erases Lois’ memory with a kiss. So all this time, she either thought her boyfriend was the father, or she’s victim of an immaculate conception. That is way creepier than Stalkerman!
Okay, having written that, Superman Returns has just dropped even further in my estimation. Singer may have wanted to pay homage to the Donner movies, but the implications of his story shift the characters into a weird dimension where they just don’t seem right. It would have been far better if they’d gone with Lois’ Pulitzer prize winning story, “Why the World Doesn’t Need a Superman” and use that as the basis of a story, creating a world where after a five year absence the title character returns to a world that doesn’t want him anymore, and exploring the implications of that. That would have made for a more interesting film, instead of one that makes my skin crawl.