The 90’s were a rough time for geeks. It was an era of dreams – dreams of the movies that might be, that could be, but never were. How long did we dream of Star Wars Prequels, or The Lord of the Rings, or the Spider-Man film caught in an endless web of legal red tape. The studios hinted at the X-men on film, Freddy Vs. Jason, Aliens Vs. Predator. But nothing ever seemed to come to fruition. Time and again we were offered geek films that never lived up to the hype. Godzilla. Spawn. The psudo-sequel to Blade Runner, Soldier. And all turned out to be crap – mindless drivel that preyed upon our geek sensibilities and became words we now spit as swears.
But at the turn of the century that all changed. Our dreams started to slowly leak into reality. Sometimes the result was hailed as a classic, sometimes it divided the geek communities into separate and warring camps, and sometimes, just sometimes, the result was complete crap. And yet, we continued to dream. Dreaming, after all, is what we geeks do best.
One endlessly dreamed of project was the ever-nonexistent Superman reboot. How many different variations on this project have we drooled over, argued and ultimately dreamed about since it was announced as In Production in the mid-90’s? The Tim Burton/Nick Cage version? The Kevin Smith penned version? Leading into the new millennium with a McG version, a Michael bay version, a JJ Abrams penned version. Hell, for a while we almost had a World’s Finest movie meant to reboot both Superman and Batman at the same time. But then, out of nowhere, Bryan Singer jumped aboard the Superman train and it sped off into production. Finally, Superman was going to be a reality again. The question was, would Singer take two films to get everything fine tuned like he did on X-Men, or had the two comic films under his belt taught him everything he needed to know to make a perfect Superman movie? Could this actually be any good?
Yes. Hell yes. Hell fucking yes. The movie is insanely good – dare I even say great. I don’t believe I am slipping into the realm of hyperbole when I say that Superman Returns is the Lord of the Rings of superhero films – in both scope and emotion of the story. Singer wasn’t simply content with making the prettiest Superman film ever made – he had to make the most tear jerking, heart-rending superhero film we’ve seen to date. Right from the credits this film grabs geeks by the balls and begins to squeeze. The credits. The fucking credits.
The theatre goes dark, the WB logo plays, followed by the Legendary Film logo…then the screen goes dark once more. Marlon Brando begins to speak. John Williams’ familiar Superman March blares out of the speakers and all of a sudden, the familiar blue outlined credits float toward the audience then streaks straight at you. Then and only then does it really hit you. You’re about to watch a SUPERMAN movie. Not some dressed up retread of the Superman story – A FUCKING SUPERMAN MOVIE! All of a sudden I was eight years old again. The excitement rose in my gut and 22 years had been shaved off of my life. And that feeling never went away. Not for two and a half hours.
This film plays to every geek sensibility you have, equally striking chords of the comics (with shots that emulate some of the all time great covers and panels) and the films it is attempting to follow in the footsteps of. When Superman flies, it isn’t some lame ass wirework or the old school front angle flying shot. It’s graceful, it’s beauty in motion. He flies exactly the way we’ve always dreamed he could – the way every comic panel we’ve ever seen has tried to show us. Yes, it needs to be said. You will believe a man can fly. Again.
But while the special effects in this film are simply astounding (and really, they better be for the price Warner’s paid to get it right) you won’t walk out talking about the explosions or the fights or cities being torn apart. You’ll be talking about the heart. Because this movie, above all, is a love story. In fact, it’s two love stories. The first is the classic story of the Clark/Lois/Superman love triangle – with the added twist of new complications. And it is about our (and Bryan Singer’s) love of Superman, the icon, the hero, the man we all wish deep down inside we could be (except for those few sick bastards out there that wish you were Atomo.)
Singer gets Superman right. Every aspect. There isn’t a single moment here that would make a single Superman fan wince. On the contrary, there are scenes that will bring tears to your eyes – not because they are emotionally manipulative moments at which you are supposed to cry, but because you are actually seeing the first truly amazing Superman rescue of your adult life. It sounds hokey, it sounds corny, but god damned if I didn’t look around and see some bleary eyed little bitches tearing up at a Supes rescue. After I wiped my own eyes that is.
Last month, in my X3 Review I said “Comic books always have and always will be great morality plays, lessons wrapped in entertaining metaphor – just as early mythology and fables were. And to get it right when translating it to the screen, one need not stick to the facts, but rather to the soul, of what you’re adapting.” With Superman Returns, Bryan Singer sets out to prove my point exactly. Does he stray from Canon? You bet your ass he does. Strays way off of Canon at times. Hell, there are a few points in this film that stray so far from ANY established Canon that it makes what Singer did with the X-Men seem like a truly faithful word for word adaptation. But Superman is without a doubt Superman. He’s so Superman it hurts. It’s like seeing him for the first time. The soul is 100% intact.
Singer’s allegiance seems not to the comic books, but to Donner’s original two films. He borrows visual cues, enhanced by the amazing set design and effects, and turns them into truly beautiful little moments evocative of the originals while remaining entirely Singer’s at the same time. This isn’t really Superman Returns. This is Superman 3, the way we all wish Superman 3 had really been made. But it’s Singer’s reliance on pieces of Williams’ score and Donner’s little moments that remind us throughout the piece of its place in the story. Despite this being an entirely different cast and time period from the originals we know and love, you don’t doubt for a second that this is a continuation of those stories – and it never for a moment feels like a mere copy.
Brandon Routh is amazing, defying all of the expectations. He is singularly able to at times emulate Christopher Reeve while adding an entirely new human dimension to the character that Reeve was never able or demanded of to attain. There are expressions here that run the gamut from anguished to lonely to downright damned proud to be able to take a bullet to the chest. He gives looks that break your heart and make you laugh out loud. There is no question in my mind that this guy is Superman. I’m not saying he’s better than Reeve – but I will say that he is more than capable to fill his red leather boots.
Kate Bosworth. Here’s an actress that has really come into her own. When I met her almost five years ago she was an unknown with a small role in Roger Avery’s The Rules of Attraction. But she was amazingly charming, charismatic, beautiful and had that rare quality that you could just sense - she had it. Everyone around her knew she was going to be huge someday. You could just feel it about her. Unfortunately, as I noticed in her subsequent films, the camera just never captured her just right. For some reason, contrary to what occurs with most people, the camera never managed to capture just how beautiful she actually is in person.
Well, that all changes here and now. DP Newton Thomas Sigel (who seems to be able to frame beauty in every shot of this film) captures her essence and allows her not to simply play Lois Lane, but to become her. This is the definitive Lois Lane. Headstrong, beautiful, relentless and all the while a damaged woman in love but afraid to admit it. Singer offers up a very complicated Lois Lane, one of tremendous depth, and Kate meets every challenge thrown at her. This is a real career rebirth for her, her first chance at a truly high profile role, and she runs with it. This isn’t the young, raw talent I met five years ago. This is a woman proving herself to be one hell of a strong, capable actress and has raised the bar by which any and all future Lois Lane’s will be compared. And damnit if she doesn't look absoultely radiant in this.
Kevin Spacey? Come on. No brainer. Anyone who doubts his ability to nail Lex Luthor, even after seeing the trailers, needs to turn in their geek club card at the door on your way out. The man owns every second he’s on screen and displays the exact type of menace the role of Luthor demands. The guy’s just ruthless and is given a few perfect little moments to showcase just how dangerous he is. There’s part of me that would like to see more Superman films with some of his other iconic villains, but really, after seeing this, I want more Spacey.
And the rest of the cast works just as perfectly as the leads – especially the ones I was unsure of. Parker Posey, who I normally grit my teeth while watching (Oh, gee, I wonder if she’s going to play another chain smoking, catty, uptight, bitchy character? Oh look. She is!) actually bowled me over. I loved her here. She’s funny as hell, playing perfectly off of Spacey at every step – and managing to do so within the framework of an entirely different character than we’re accustomed to seeing her as. And Sam Huntington’s Jimmy Olsen is the perfect mix of puppy dog charm and over exuberance that has made the character of Jimmy Olsen stick around for so long.
But what amazes me most about this film is the fact that it maintains the soul of a kids movie. It’s very wholesome and cute, in just the way a Superman movie should be, without sacrificing the mature themes that they were striving for.
However, if Superman Returns faces any obstacles with audiences whatsoever, it will be in the form of length and pacing. First of all, while modern audiences aren’t as scared as they used to be of a two and a half hour film, the pacing will come off as a little slow for some. Not boring, just slow. Personally I loved the way this moved, taking its time to develop each of the characters so you can ultimately feel the punch of each desperate third act moment; but others will wish there was a trim here and there. Expect the same level and type of complaints you heard about Lord of the Rings and you’ll get what I’m talking about.
All in all, Superman Returns is easily one of the best and most satisfying films I’ve seen all year. It got me. It got me good. While I’m not quite certain where it sits yet, it is easily in the top 3 of my all time favorite superhero films. It’ll take a few more viewings to find out for sure – viewings that are just as long a wait for me as it is for you folks. Highly recommended for anyone who has so much as said the word Superman aloud before.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.