Harry Spent FATHER'S DAY watching SUPERMAN RETURNS!!!
Today, I took my father to see SUPERMAN RETURNS, it also happens to be Father’s Day. The theater was filled with an enthusiastic audience eager to see the return of Superman. All of you know how much I’ve been anticipating this film.
I have had an immense amount of faith in Bryan Singer and his team – mainly because Bryan made a pretty damn good first X-MEN film, even when the studio was working against him most of the way. And then on X2, when he had the proper support – he knocked it out of the park. But more so… the faith in Bryan Singer originates with THE USUAL SUSPECTS and APT PUPIL. Two films that are absolutely great character pieces. That Bryan miraculously found Hugh Jackman for Wolverine gave me faith in Brandon Routh. My hesitancy and fears lay squarely on how closely they kept to Donner’s vision.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the original SUPERMAN… I also love SUPERMAN II. And I own 16mm prints of both films. I’ve seen them… countless times. Hell, this year alone, I’ve watched the original SUPERMAN, no less than 4 times. And while I love Christopher Reeve to death… and I love everything that happens prior to the introduction to Otis’ Theme… I really do dislike “evil” in the SUPERMAN films. Gene Hackman was perfectly cast – but I hated that he wore a wig 99% of the time. I hated that he surrounded himself with absolute buffoons. And I despised that his schemes were more of the huckstery actions of a blowhard… not that of the greatest criminal mind of our times. Not the actions of a brilliant criminal scientist.
But while those scenes were integral to the last two thirds of the original SUPERMAN… I still love that film to death. It’s iconic. Primal. On December 11th, 1978 – my father hung the Mylar SUPERMAN one-sheet on the wall of my bedroom – before I woke up. I remember opening my eyes – seeing the poster and just laying there on my belly looking at it – believing I was going to see a man fly. 2 days later Dad had passes to an advance screening of SUPERMAN in 70mm at the AMERICANA here in Austin. A few weeks later and several screenings of SUPERMAN, someone had written in to the local newspaper to ask how to get autographs for HARRISON FORD, MARK HAMILL and CHRISTOPHER REEVE. Dad cut that out and showed it to me. I sat down and wrote a letter to each. Three months later, I got a little photo of Christopher in his Superman costume and an autograph. That blew me away. I was hooked.
Hell, I even have a fond spot for 3 & 4, just because of Christopher Reeve. He was never “the problem” with the original series. Neither was John Williams and his brilliant music. The first 2/3rds of SUPERMAN were so good – that they left a lasting residual effect on the last third and the rest of the films – that this little boy, loved them.
There are many films of youth that you grow up and away from. I grew away from SUPERMAN 3 & 4. I grew up with SUPERMAN 1 & 2.
And finally today I saw a SUPERMAN film that is no fantasy – no careless product of wild imagination. No, my friends… this is the film I was hoping and dreaming for. A movie to reintroduce SUPERMAN to the world. Many would take this to mean that I was "predisposed" to love SUPERMAN RETURNS - actually - for me, that's not exactly true. I could have shown up today and found a basket of lies and false hopes. I could have not seen the film I saw. A film filled with love and beauty.
To not brush the original films of my childhood away like artifacts of a misguided time. Instead – what Singer, Dougherty and Harris have done – well… they too liked the first and second films. And they dared to honor them, but not be beholden. To acknowledge, while reinventing. And – not so much improving, but learning from the mistakes of an era.
They knew that the characterizations of Superman, Clark Kent and Jor-El… along with the Kent homestead and the amazingly cool design of Krypton were all dear. However, they wanted a harder Lex Luthor. A man who thought he was unbeatable, beaten, imprisoned and reduced in rank to a common convict. Years wasted. Infuriated, yet wholly awake to what could be accomplished once he got out in a Superman free world. All the while, wanting a rematch. Wanting to prove to himself that he was the better man. Wanting the world to acknowledge and be in awe of him as they were to the man in his flappy red cape.
When they cast Kal Penn and Parker Posey – I could hear Otis’ theme in my head. I was terrified. Parker is a tad much… just a tad, and she doesn’t have the screen time to hurt in any real way, this film. However, Lex’s thugs… are the useful sort of cutthroats and hooligans that Lex would employ. Men that would and do kill for him. Men that know when to leave the room. Lex’s ambition is huge in this film – and when he gets the upper hand with SUPERMAN – he does not for a second waste time monologue-ing. He decides to take those years out in raw brutality. No robots, no laser beams, just pure therapeutic whoop-ass.
Basically, Singer and crew made the threat as real as the heroics, the personal stories, the romance.
How did Brandon Routh do? He’s not Christopher Reeve, but honestly – he didn’t make me miss Christopher Reeve. He simply was Superman. The timbre of his voice in the title character is simply wonderful. Whether he’s talking to his adopted mom about what is bothering him, or to Lois about her articles and the needs and wants of her world… or to a sleeping child… he is majestic and human. Amazing, super and courageous. Is it just a straight Christopher Reeve imitation? I don’t believe so. To me… he’s playing the part of Superman. Superman doesn’t bullshit. Superman doesn’t mince words. He’s selective in his words. As Clark… I honestly feel this is not a clone of Reeve’s Clark. Is he “clumsy” – not very. He’s not spilling shit on everyone. He isn’t getting his coat stuck in women’s restroom doors. In this film… where he’s trying to catch up on 5 years of living. To just understand exactly what has happened in the world. And more importantly to him… the one person on the planet he felt a genuine connection with… he’s trying to re-establish a connection with her – and he is having trouble letting go. After all… he was “raised as a human being.”
Some may feel this part of the film is Soap Opera-y. However, to me – that’s Superman. Sure it’s about astonishing acts of heroism. Sure it’s about feats of enormous strength. However, it’s also about an individual unique amongst all upon Earth and very possibly the entire multi-verse who can hear everything and see everything. While he sees the great famines, crimes and acts of cruelty here on Earth – he also sees families, people in love… people he loves, who may not love him in return.
How is the action in the film? The entire Space Shuttle / 777 sequence is a jaw-dropper. The robbery stop is very cool. The runaway car sequence is delicious with that Action #1 ending. And the birth of a Kryptonite laced continent… well… it’s something amazing… and emotion. The action and threat upon the surface of that continent is something truly terrifying.
Bryan uses our memory for horrors to remind us just how wonderful having a hero like Superman would be. The saving of Lois, Richard White and the munchkin from a boat disaster. The way it’s handled is this. Supes was busy saving folks in Metropolis – but we’re not on Supes – we’re on the disaster on the boat from start to finish. How their own acts of heroism saves them right up to the point of total despair. Right to the point where you would honestly give yourself over to the fact that you were a goner. Where, there’s no more hopeful words of encouragement. The reality is, you’re dead, your fiancÃ© is dead and your child is dead. At this moment – you face our reality. You’re dead. However, in a world with SUPERMAN – this is when the boat begins to be pulled up from the depths… Death turns to life.
Superman represents hope in hopelessness. Had the shuttle/777 incident happened in a Superman free world… Each and every passenger and member upon that space shuttle would have been dead. The entire United States would have been destroyed… along with Canada and Mexico and some of Europe.
This isn’t just some stick up. These are cataclysmic events. However, at the heart of it all is someone that cares and loves us mere mortals more than we could possibly understand. He’s the last of his kind. His world was destroyed. There was no Superman for Krypton.
As for the whole… “kid” storyline, I love it. Love it, because the kid works. He isn’t annoying, he’s just a 5 year old kid. He’s curious, not obnoxious. The kid is a bit of a geek, aces in science, evidently pretty darn good on the piano… but physically not up to par. Now since this is a spoiler review – I can talk about this…
I love that Superman was searching the universe for something like him, when all along he had a son growing back on Earth. Superman’s destiny is now intertwined with our own.
As for Kate Bosworth and James Marsden… they’re played straight. Kate’s LOIS is actually an investigative reporter. Watching her track down the source of the blackout was classic working the phones reporting. She may look young, but her actions as a reporter speak of her experience. The scene of her with Superman, she plays it as someone that was hurt by another’s actions. It feels genuine and the nerves are raw. And Marsden’s Richard White… well, you don’t root against him. He’s a very good guy, concerned about all the same things we’d be concerned about. I also love that Kate doesn’t want to just drop him for this… “fly by night Romeo”. She’s a mom now, she needs someone that’ll be there. That won’t just… take off at a moments notice for a trip to the other side of the universe. Simple things like that.
However, there’s a moment in SUPERMAN RETURNS that absolutely killed me. It’s my favorite scene in the film. After Superman has wound up in the hospital… and the whole world is freaking out. He literally just averted the greatest disaster to ever befall mankind, and done good all over the world. Outside the Hospital it is… as you would imagine if such a figure had been stricken. Lois and Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu) can get in, due to her very public relationship with Superman. But as the camera scans the crowd, it settles on Martha Kent (Eva Marie Saint) – the look on her face is distraught. Her child lies on a bed, dying? In pain? What? All she can do is stand as just another face in the crowd as her child, that nobody knows is her child, is “alone.” The scene is a killer. And one I had never really thought about. The concept really got me. Not only is traditional medicine of little to no use… due to his secret identity – those he protects with his identity… can’t be there for him.
I love that this is a personal story with huge developments personally and globally. At the end of this film, where we go from here is limited only by the imaginations of Singer and his writers. Just as BATMAN BEGINS relaunched an ailing Batman, SUPERMAN RETURNS sends Superman into the stratosphere.
The film is filled with love for more than just the previous movies, but the comics and even the classic George Reeves television show. This honors them all, while doing its own wonderful thing.
I see this one again on June 26th… and again on the 28th. I couldn’t be happier. As I left the theater – there were a few geeks leaving at the same time wearing Superman shirts and Superman memorabilia… “It was worth the wait.” They were talking about how they’ve been waiting for the SUPERMAN movie since 1990 when we first started hearing rumbles in the post-Burton BATMAN world that Warners wanted to kick start their Man of Steel. The lesson to be learned from the “SUPERMAN RETURNS” development is this. Waiting for talented people of passion and vision is worth every year of delays and restarts… of blown deals and costly explorations. At the end of it all, Warners did it right. Thank God. The Man of Steel is Back!