DVD Review : ‘Superman Returns’

Movies are a vicarious medium.  We watch people do things we could (or would) never do, and if we suspend our disbelief, are able to get a glimpse of what it must be like to do what we are unable to do.

I have always wanted to fly.  A totally cliched notion, I know, but when I watch Superman Returns, I’m breathless.  The scenes where Superman sails through the sky still–two years since its theatrical release–give me goosebumps.

Don’t get me wrong; the film has its share of problems.  I hadn’t seen the film in its entirety since it first came out, and I wanted to know how it would hold up, particularly in this new post-Dark Knight era of superhero films.

Despite some head-scratching plot elements that bothered me before (Superman fathered a kid?  Lex Luthor’s making an entire continent out of Kryptonite?), Superman Returns is still an entertaining and sometimes exhilarating film.

It didn’t fare so well at the box office–it cost $200 million to make and grossed the same amount domestically.  I suspect that if there is a new Superman film in the relative near future, it will be a reimagining as opposed to a continuation of director Bryan Singer’s vision (which in turn was a continuation of Richard Donner’s from the 1978 film).

What’s it about?  It’s been five years since Superman (Brandon Routh) disappeared.  The world has moved on.  Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has moved on.  She now is engaged to Richard White (James Marsden), an editor at the Daily Planet, and has a five year-old son, Jason (Tistan Lake Labeau).

Superman returns to earth after searching for remnants of his home planet, Krypton. His alter ego, Clark Kent, also returns to Metropolis and gets his old job back at the Planet.  Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) also returns, out of jail early because Superman wasn’t around to testify in court.  And of course, Luthor is once again bent on destroying Superman.

Luthor and his henchmen discover Supe’s Fortress of Solitude, where he steals crystals that produce land formations when put in water (this is one of those plot elements that I’ve never fully bought, even way back in Donner’s film).  Long story short: he launches a hybrid crystal/Krytonite thingamajigger off the East Coast, causing massive destruction and pushing Superman to the brink of destruction.

What’s good about it?  The flying sequences are amazing.  Such rich detail to the special effects make me feel like I’m truly up in the sky with Superman.  And I still get goosebumps when he saves that airplane from crashing.

What’s bad about it?  First, Kate Bosworth is a terrible Lois Lane.  For a film that tries to recreate the essence of Donner’s first two Superman films, Bosworth has none of the spunk that exuded from Margot Kidder’s Lois.  (Rachel McAdams would have been a much, much better choice.)  There’s also some fuzzy math: Richard thinks that Jason is his and Lois’s kid, but we discover that the real father is, in fact, Superman, which means Lois would have had to have hooked up with Richard immediately following Superman’s departure five years earlier.  And the whole notion of Superman having an illegitimate child seems a betrayal of his character.  For all intents and purposes, he’s a secular messiah, and though not bound by Christian moral codes, wouldn’t knock a girl up and then take off for five years.

Perfect for: anyone who’s forgotten that Superman, while currently overshadowed by The Dark Knight‘s box office power, still has the ability to make us believe a man can fly.

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