Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman
Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane
Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor
James Marsden as Richard White
Parker Posey as Kitty Kowalski
Frank Langella as Perry White
Sam Huntington as Jimmy Olsen
Eva Marie Saint as Martha Kent
Marlon Brando as Jor-El
Kal Penn as Stanford
David Fabrizio as Brutus
Ian Roberts as Riley
Vincent Stone as Grant
Jack Larson as Bo the Bartender
Noel Neill as Gertrude Vanderworth
Stephan Bender as 15-Year-Old Clark
Peta Wilson as Bobbie-Faye
“Superman Returns” features great performances, cool special effects, and beautiful imagery. Fans may be surprised to find it’s more of a love story than an action film. Long time Superman fans will also see a lot of similarities to the 1978 Richard Donner film, for better or worse.
After a 5-year expedition into space to search for the remains of Krypton, Superman returns to Earth to find things have changed. The world is mired in turmoil, Lois Lane has a new love, and she even has a young son. She has moved on with her life or has she?
But some things haven’t changed. Everyone still ignores Clark, Jimmy Olsen is still Jimmy Olsen, and Lex Luthor is up to his old tricks again. This time his real estate scheme involves using stolen Kryptonian technology in a way that will not only threaten Metropolis, but the entire North American continent. Will Superman be able to save the day?
“Superman Returns” is rated PG-13 for some intense action violence.
I should probably put things in context before starting this review. I’m a lifelong Superman fan. I’m a fan of the comics, the TV shows, and especially the Richard Donner film. In my mind, Christopher Reeve IS Superman. As a kid I used a towel as a makeshift Superman cape, I have jumped off of high places trying to fly, and I had Superman Underoos. I have now brainwashed my own kids into being Superman fans and I even got a chance to visit the set of this film in Sydney last year. Needless to say, I had very, very high expectations. Were they met? While “Superman Returns” didn’t quite meet my exceedingly high expectations, it was still a very good movie. It’s good enough that I’d like to see it again.
First off, Brandon Routh makes a great Superman. Going with an unknown actor was a wise choice because he doesn’t bring any excess baggage with him into the film. That worked very well here as you buy him doing superhuman feats. Routh not only looks like Christopher Reeve, but he plays the various aspects of Superman’s personality well. When he’s Clark, he’s bumbling and goofy. When he’s Superman, there’s a total transformation that is very effective. He really seems like two different characters. Overall, Routh gets a ‘thumbs up’.
The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Kevin Spacey dances that fine line between being goofy and menacing as Lex Luthor. Gene Hackman perfected it, but Spacey does it slightly differently. Kate Bosworth has also taken some heat as Lois Lane, but I thought she did a fine job. She’s tough, determined, and alternately lovestruck by the Man of Steel. I thought she was well paired with Routh though she unfortunately spends much of the movie annoyed that Superman has come back into her life. It doesn’t make her very endearing at first. James Marsden has the unfortunate task of being the man standing between Lois and Superman as Richard White. The poor guy walks around most of the film with a bullseye on his back because you begin to think him being killed is the only clean way to remove him from the love triangle, but the final resolution may not be what you expect. Parker Posey gets a few good lines in as Kitty Kowalski while Sam Huntington steals a number of scenes as a spot-on Jimmy Olsen. I’ll also add that I thought Lois Lane’s kid was handled well. He wasn’t overbearing and he acted like a real 5 year old. I was afraid he was going to be a low point of the film, but he wasn’t.
The effects of “Superman Returns” are also quite good. A scene where Superman rescues a crashing plane is breathtaking to behold and it uses modern effects in all the ways you’d hope a Superman movie would. They give you a real sense of power and speed as Superman saves the day. Some scenes where he breaks the sound barrier are very cool, too. Yet despite the impressive special effects, some of the quieter scenes are the most memorable. A scene where Superman flies Lois Lane over Metropolis is both beautiful and romantic. Other scenes where Superman hovers over the Earth listening for trouble are amazingly executed. Bryan Singer has made a beautiful movie here.
I was also quite impressed with John Ottman’s work. Not only did he edit the film, but he scored it as well. Ottman wisely used the John Williams theme here and there throughout the movie. The score still holds up so well today that even the opening credits drew applause at our screening. But Ottman also manages to sneak in a few original tunes, most notably in Clark’s flashback scene and during Lois’ flight.
I also have to add that I enjoyed the sometimes sick and twisted humor of the film. In one scene we learn the grim fate of one of the Pomeranians that were left alone in a mansion too long. In another scene Lois Lane catches Lex Luthor in an awkward moment while he’s brushing his teeth and wearing a bathrobe. It’s one of the more hilarious reveals of a classic villain. There are other bits of humor like this spread throughout the film and they make it a bit more enjoyable.
One final aspect of the film that I like is that it progresses the character of Superman beyond the nearly 70-year rut that he’s been in. For the first time, Lois has a kid, Superman finds himself at a crossroads in his life, and the character is well poised to head into new territory beyond where the comics have taken him. To me, that’s quite exciting.
What Didn’t Work:
I want to throw out the disclaimer that I really enjoyed “Superman Returns.” I think it’s a good movie and you should check it out. However, I will acknowledge that it does have faults. First and foremost, the pacing can be quite slow at times. This is very much a character-driven film. It’s a love story that happens to have a few action scenes. Thus there are many long, drawn out moments of dialogue that, while crucial to character development, drag the pacing of the movie to a near standstill. And when a movie is well over two hours long, those long quiet spells can seem even longer and quieter. All this leads up to a very anti-climactic, slow ending that’s not necessarily satisfying. There is no big, explosive finish to this movie. It may not be the resolution that you’re expecting or want.
I also thought that Bryan Singer made the right choice patterning his film off of the Richard Donner film. You can’t have a better template to go by. That being said, I thought “Superman Returns” hit a few too many of the beats of the 1978 Superman film. Both feature Lex in an apocalyptic real estate scheme. Both have a henchwoman with a heart of gold. Both have similar opening credits. Both have the romantic flight scene with Superman and Lois. Both show Clark as a young man growing up on the farm. The similarities go on and on. For every original concept “Superman Returns” offers, there are two that it retreads. But unless you’re intimately familiar with the ’78 film like I am, you may not notice this.
I also thought there were a number of lapses in logic. Why would Superman leave the Earth without saying goodbye to Lois? Why does kryptonite affect Superman in one scene but not noticeably in another? Why does Superman struggle to catch a plane but he’s able to do something significantly bigger in the finale? It’s really all nitpicking, but they are points I noticed. I’ll also add that I thought Kal Penn was strangely underused in the movie. I think he had maybe one line in the film. He’s such a funny guy I thought they would have used him a bit more.
In the end, “Superman Returns” really feels like the setup for the next film. The characters are all in place, the potential conflicts are set up, and the relationships still need to be resolved. It almost feels like the second film is going to be more entertaining than the first because all of that setup is out of the way.
The Bottom Line:
Despite a few pitfalls, “Superman Returns” is still a great summer film. I think guys are going to love it because of the action, women will enjoy it for the prominent love story, and kids are going to love it because it’s simply Superman. They may get antsy during the long character developing stretches, but this is a film that Superman fans of all ages will enjoy.