Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mister Fanboy Movies Superman Returns Review

Mister Fanboy Movies joins us with a review of Superman Returns, which opened in theaters today.

Mister Fanboy Movies: Last night I joined Mister Fanboy Comics for a showing of Superman Returns at our local theater. He was supposed to join me for this review, but he probably was up all night on message boards leaking spoilers to other comic geeks. At any rate, this review will contain spoilers, but we'll try to keep you guessing about things that haven't yet been revealed in the popular press. You've been warned.

First off, let me say this straight out: Superman is not my favorite comic book character? Why? It's hard to say. Probably because he can do just about anything. I like a bit more vulnerability in my superheroes. Having said that, I completely got into the film and enjoyed it immensely.

The movie starts off about 5 years after Superman 2 (Director Bryan Singer wisely forgets the 3rd and 4th installments). Superman (Brandon Routh) has been on some sort of journey to find himself (kinda like your slacker friends who go to Europe for a month and end up backpacking for 7 years), or in this case, to visit the remnants of Krypton to look for survivors. He doesn't find any and returns to Earth, crash landing into the Kent Family Farm in Kansas. Eva Marie Saint does a nice turn in the small role of Martha Kent. Superman then returns to Metropolis to try and pick up where he left off.

But things have changed immensely. Although Daily Planet editor Perry White (Frank Langella) gives him his old job back and he reunites with Jimmy Olson (Sam Huntington), Lois is nowhere to be found. Why? She's on assignment in the skies on a 747 that is ready to launch a space shuttle into space. Peta Wilson from TV's La Femme Nikita has a nice cameo here. Alas, things go wrong and he must change his guise from "mild-mannered" Clark Kent to uber-male Superman to save her. And save her he does. The action sequence is phenomenal. Although it's obviously necessary to use CGI for stunts such as this one, it's not overused and is entirely appropriate.

Lois (Kate Bosworth) is stunned to see Superman, but they don't get chance for a reunion just yet. He just plain dropped out of sight 5 years previous. In fact, she received the Pulitzer Prize for an editorial entitled "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman" while he was gone. Much has changed in her personal life too. She has a young son Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu) and a new man in her life Richard White, Perry's nephew played by James Marsden (Cyclops from the X-Men movies). Clark wants to tell Lois how much he loves her, but with so many changes in her life, he demurs. Later in the film as Superman he goes through the same dilemma. For her part, Lois now has family obligations and more of a commitment from Richard than she ever had with Superman.

But wait, what about a villain? Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has been released from prison because Superman didn't testify at his trial (I guess Krypton is a bit too far to serve a summons). He's joined by Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey) and assorted Henchmen. Luthor then steals the crystals that Superman used to create his Crystal Fortress. Luthor designs a grand plan to create a large land mass in the Atlantic that will displace so much water that it will kill over a billion people. On the plus side for Luthor, he'll become the world's most successful real estate agent. Superman gets wind of this and conflict ensues. That, boys and girls, is the story in a nutshell.

Spacey does a great job as Luthor. At times, he's as funny as Gene Hackman was in the earlier films, but he turns evil on a dime. Very well cast. However, Parker Posey almost steals the show as Kitty Kowalski. In the showing I was at, nearly every line spoken by her resulted in roars of laughter from the crowd. I was left wanting to see more of her and Spacey. Hopefully, there's much that was cut from the finished film that we will be able to see on the DVD.

All of the smaller-roled actors did well. We even get to see Jack Larson (Jimmy Olson from the 1950s Adventures of Superman TV show) as a bartender and Noelle Neil (Lois Lane from the same TV show) as a woman Lex married on her deathbed solely for her immense wealth.

Which leads us to the two big characters. As Lois, I was a bit put-off by Kate Bosworth during the first half hour of the film. Much like Margot Kidder did in earlier Superman films, she played the strong woman clawing her way to the top in a man's world. In this reviewers opinion, it didn't work at first. But when Superman came back things changed. I don't know if it was a conscious acting choice or some of my own personal opinion, but once we got over that hump, I thought she did a great job.

When I saw clips from the film before it was released, I was a bit concerned that Brandon Routh looked too wooden (like Al Gore) and was too small and young for the role of Superman. For me, Christopher Reeve is the ideal Superman type. This likely has to do with the fact that I was 6 years old when the first film debuted. However, once I saw this film I was very happily surprised. As Clark, he may not be able to pull off the broad bumbling physical comedy of Reeve but he does a great job of making the role his own. Once he puts on the suit, he fills it in and takes on the Superman persona so well that I forgot I wasn't looking at Reeve. In sequels (you just KNOW they are coming), he will fill out the role even better as he ages. Good job to relative rookie Routh. Hopefully, he won't be typecast and will be able to carve a varied career out of this.

The music was great and once I heard it I was instantly transported back to my childhood with all of the giddy feelings and happiness. It was a wonderful feeling. The opening credits were "retro" and we very similar to the first films. See, fonts do matter. Although the costume is pretty sacrosanct, the boots seemed a bit "puffy" to me (I can't think of any other way to describe it) and the Superman emblem seemed like a weird cross between a wet suit and an iron-on T-shirt emblem. Although, that's a minor quibble.

Bryan Singer has to be commended. His film has been described as an homage to the Richard Donner directed first film and it shows. In fact, through the use of nifty-CGI long-dead Marlon Brando is able to reprise his role of Jor-El, Superman's dead Kryptonian father (it should be noted here that the Jonathan Kent character has died at some point as well, though it's only mentioned briefly). As I said before, the special effects are very effective and not overdone. The scene after the credits (or was it before?) where we are allowed to follow Superman's rocket from the exploded Krypton through space on its way to Earth was one of the single most beautiful uses of special effects I have EVER seen. Although my astrophysics is rusty (and yes I took an astrophysics class in college AND barely passed it thankyouverymuch), we got to see a journey through nebulas, exploding stars, black holes, galaxies, solar systems, asteroid belts, and our own Milky Way as the rocket falls to Earth.

Singer does a nice job of balancing the human drama (or in this case, human-alien drama) well with the action too. Women in the audience clearly responded to the love story between Lois and Clark/Superman. Singer has again exceeded all expectations with this film. His filmography stands out for high quality films and this one continues in that vein. It leaves me wondering what might have happened if some accommodation could have been made with Fox to delay filming of X-Men: The Last Stand so he could have directed it as was originally planned. However, it wasn't meant to be.

One more thing. There's one MAJOR plot point that I have not even alluded to here, but you really must see in the film for yourself. You didn't think I would give away the WHOLE story now did you?

In summary, Superman Returns is a quintessential fun summer escapist film with the bonus of a great screenplay and acting.

Film Grade: A

-Mister Fanboy Movies


Blogger Arden said...

did you feel like that piece toward the end while he was pushing the island into space... wasn't that VERY VERY ALMOST TOO MUCH LIKE the ligeti piece in 2001?

12:00 PM  
Blogger Fanboy said...

I didn't notice it at the time, but now that you mention it ... When I first posted the review I forgot to mention the sheer beauty of the opening sequence through space (I've since corrected that). It reminds me of how much space movies have become so much better. Try watching the first Star Trek movie sometime and you'll be struck at how much time the film makers spent panning over the exterior of the Enterprise from space. And they do it again. And again. At the time, I am sure they wanted to show off their cool special effects. Today, however, it's a royal bore. I digress ...

12:09 PM  
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2:22 AM  

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