Posted by: Brian Hibbs on July 2, 2006
Hurray, it’s me!
SUPERMAN RETURNS: is absolutely a gushing love letter to the 1978 Donner SUPERMAN film. The are repeated shots, structure, even Lex Luthor’s plot is basically identical to the one from the first film. And all of this would probably be fine if it didn’t keep missing what I took as the best elements of the original.
Here’s a for example: both films have a sequence of vignettes of “superman fighting random crime one night”. In RETURNS, this is more bombastic: chain guns and bulletproof eyeballs, and lifting cars over his head and whatever. But for me, what made the ’78 version work was that Supes stopped to help a little girl get her cat out of a tree, too.
Or how about the climax of Luthor’s plot? In ’78, Lex sent out TWO missles, in opposite directions, one immediately killing people, and one indirectly doing so. Superman had to make a CHOICE about what to do, and that’s where the drama of the character comes from. “save the innocents, or stop me”. Nothing even close to that here, even when they had some perfect chances (like, what happened to the Tidal Wave they set up earlier in the film?)
The SUPER parts of SUPERMAN RETURNS — the plane spectacle, the car catching, lifting a mountain, or flying backwards with his heat vision, or the super-hearing or super-breath elements — were all really well done. Terrific terrific stuff.
On the other hand, all of the MAN parts were just terrible. Predicated on a few inane concepts — namely that Superman would leave earth and Lois for half a decade without bothering to say one word to anyone; or that it coincided with “astronomers finding Krypton” and that no one thought to say “oh, right, he’s probably looking for home” — on both sides that just doesn’t make sense, and so all the resulting drama feels emotionally false. And all that stuff with the kid? I can’t find a way to add up the time-frame to make any of that work.
What’s really missing for me, though, was the marraige of the SUPER and the MAN — I gave 2 examples from the ’78 version above, and I’m sure you can all think of several more. And I don’t think there was really any of that in RETURNS. A Superman film needs to show why he’s SUPERMAN, not just how he’s super, and why he’s a man. And, yeah, rescuing kittens from trees is part of that.
The performances varied — Routh looked the role, most of the time, but he had such vanishingly little dialogue to deliver, it’s a little hard to call it a performance. He certainly did a fine enough job playing Chris Reeve playing Superman playing Clark Kent. Clrak is basically not in the movie, anyway — he makes no impact and he has no role, other than, I guess, to see the fax. Spacey’s Luthor was fine — he gave a deal of gusto to whatever he was doing. Bosworth’s Lois Lane was the real problem for me, though — she looks way too young, especially with a five-year gap, and she’s far too conventionally pretty to my tastes. Margot Kidder was raspy enough to be a journalist, I thought.
I walked out of the theatre thinking “That was good!”, and by the end of the bus ride home, I was way down to “That was merely OK”. Today I’m at a VERY low OK, and by this time next week, I could be well down to AWFUL.
Ben liked it though, which is the important bit. I didn’t know if he’d sit still through 2.5 hours of film (he was fine, though he asked [whispering!] “Where’s Superman?” 2-3 times through the show), or if his interest would hold. For nearly two weeks before Ben woke up every morning and asked first thing if Superman had opened yet. Swear to god. And now that we’ve seen it, he wants his SUperman figure to talk to him all the time. “Daddy, can Superman talk to me?” — which actually means, “Daddy will you answer questions for him in a Superman voice?”
Overall, a very low OK from me on the Savage Critic scale.
What did you think of it?