Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Superman Returns (spoiler free)

Well, last night he did do that, no question. After watching Superman Returns last night, I can clearly see how this was as a Superman for a new generation. There will be tons of kids and teenagers and twenty-somethings who will see this movie and have Superman redefined in a shape and form that works for them. And that's really something worth celebrating.

Singer wrote and directed a fabulous movie. It is beautifully shot, the action sequences are top-notch and all of the interpersonal relationships are 100% believable. Singer included many subtle and gentle nods to the Donner movies, both in quotes, subtle references (that can be missed without harming Returns ability to stand on its own), and using the classic title sequence zoom with the John Williams Superman theme music. There are also some iconic images in the film, including a photograph by Jimmy Olsen that captures the scene from the cover of Action Comics #1.

James Marsden is at the best I've ever seen him as Richard White, the new man in Lois's life. He's Perry's nephew, generous, giving and heroic. In many ways, my complaints about how Cyclops was portrayed in the three X-Men movies are made that much worse by his role here. Richard White is the hero I wanted Scott Summers to be. Frank Langella makes an entirely believable Perry White, and Jimmy Olsen, played by Sam Huntington is at the same time the annoying cub reporter/photographer we know and love and a legitimate friend and co-worker to Clark and Lois.

Of the three principals, Bosworth is the weakest as Lois Lane. Not because she lacks the spark and fire that Lois needs to possess, because she does. That spark has been slightly redirected into her duties as a mother, and I was fine with that. There is a moment in the film where you see Lois leaving a risky situation that would have been out of character for Lois on her own, but the decision "I don't want to endanger my son" makes that choice believable.

No, my problem with Bosworth focuses entirely on her age. Kate Bosworth is no older than 24, and she looks exactly that young. Lois was already a successful reporter six (or more) years ago, when Superman first appeared in Metropolis. And it was nearly impossible for me to believe that Kate Bosworth was in college ten years ago. She plays the character well, and is quite possibly the most attractive of the live-action Lois Lanes, but her age was a difficult hurdle for me to overcome.

Spacey was, unsurprisingly, brilliant. His Luthor has more in common with the manic, mad-scientist, "Greatest criminal mind of our age" Luthor that was evident in the sixties and seventies, and portrayed by Gene Hackman, than the ruthless businessman Luthor that modern audiences (and especially fans of Smallville and the Animated Series) have grown accustomed to. However, Spacey actually manages to take elements from both visions of Luthor and bring them together. Where Hackman seemed somewhat goofy, Spacey portrays a Luthor that is clearly a psychotic, out only for himself, and willing to discard the lives of anyone who gets in his way. The moments you find yourself laughing at him are the same ones you will look back on as proof positive that the man is dangerously insane.

Really, this was a masterful performance on Spacey's part and if genre films were seen as legitimate by the Academy, I could easily see a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Spacey from this film.

Finally, we come to the Man of Steel himself, Brandon Routh. Somehow, Routh's portrayal is the hardest for me to analyze. Why? Because he isn't Christopher Reeve. And I don't mean this in a "I watched Christopher Reeve, I liked Christopher Reeve, Christopher Reeve was a hero of mine. And you sir, are no Christopher Reeve." kind of way. Because Routh was good, both as Superman and as Clark Kent. Superman was strong and kind, Clark was bumbling but good hearted. Both were dead on.

But Superman is special among superheroes. He doesn't wear a mask. Superman's face is Superman's face. And Christopher Reeve will probably always be the face I see when I think of the face of Superman. Oddly enough, I didn't have that problem with Tom Welling, Dean Caine or Gerard Christopher, probably because it was television and not the Silver Screen.

Or the problem might actually be that Routh does resemble Reeve, but has slight differences that add up. They are small and hard to put my finger on which means that he just felt slightly off, like a room where the walls aren't at 90 degree angles. I think that for those who don't immediately see Reeve's face when Superman comes to mind, Routh will easily become the new face of Kal-El, and he is a worthy choice.

And now we come to the problem with this review. It is easy to discuss the things I liked about this movie, and much harder to discuss my problems without divulging spoilers. So, I will try to touch upon them gently.

The first, which I can discuss, is the level of brutality in the violence of the movie. It is easy to believe that no one was actually hurt in the first two Superman movies. The action was cinematic and comic-book, and actual pain and injury and death are implied, not seen. The violence in this film is a bit more realistic. There is unquestioning proof that people die, and there is a scene where Superman is beaten that is just painful to watch.

Somehow, it is easier for me to watch Superman thrown across the city and impacted into a building and being hurt from that then the beating he takes in this film. The beating he takes is too human, too real for me to be comfortable watching Superman take.

The second element is the one I can't really talk about. There is a central theme to this movie that involves the relationships between characters that is well-done and realistic, but I just don't know if I can accept it as a part of the Superman mythos. All of the characters involved handle the situation in realistic, believable fashions, and none of the actions they take seem out of character, but it raises uncomfortably moral issues, moral issues that I just don't know that I can bring into my vision of who Superman is.

Overall, it is an incredible movie, and one I will both see again and purchase on DVD. But I'm not yet sure if I liked it.

3 Comments:

Blogger Chana said...

i loved your last sentence...it's a funny but real statement. thanks for the heads up...my kids and i can't wait to go see it..

1:29 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Glad to give the heads up.

It was hard to write this review, because I wanted to praise the movie unconditionally. And I think that if the film was about anyone other than Superman, as he exists, iconically stamped in my head, I would have loved it.

1:31 PM  
Blogger redlib said...

Did I let you know you are now part of the Comic Book Legion?
http://www.midjerseycomicon.com/bloglegion

Blog on,
Redhead Fangirl

7:17 PM  

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