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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Superman Returns - Retro Review (2006)

As a young lad I remember watching Superman with my father in the living room of my family home. Immediately after watching Superman drop Lex Luthor and Otis off at the Federal prison and then fly off into the atmosphere I was so enthralled with the adventure I had just witness that I sat down at their dining room table and started drawing a picture of Superman. This weekend I got to enjoy the wonder of one of the greatest superheroes around after a long twenty year absence (not including the crappy television incarnations) and not long after I ran to my dining room table here in Astoria and started to, not draw a picture, but write this review. The good news is there is still a lot of magic flying to the silver screen with this installment of the Man of Steel.

I will do my best to not reveal any spoilers, but for the sake of the review a few minor ones will be revealed - if you plan on seeing this movie soon read my review later, but if you are on the fence read away and see if I sway you one way or the other.

Let me start with the story, Superman leaves to investigate findings of his former plan Krypton and this film picks up as he returns to earth. When he arrives things have changed Lois is dating someone and has a kid, Lex Luthor is out of jail on a technicality and the world for the most part has forgotten about Superman. Superman attempts to work his way back into Lois' life, his old job and into the hearts of the people of the world. Of course, with his exit from prison Lex has a plan to get revenge on Superman and regain some of his clout a an evil mastermind at the same time.

The story for the most part is interesting and contains some great action sequences, but suffers from a poorly paced final third. Some of the early scenes are top notch, edge of your seat stuff, but then there is a drop off in the intensity and when the film loses it's momentum and becomes a little too soft for its own good it. Some of this softer Superman is one of the reasons the film is not a dud - Superman is no longer only flawed by his susceptibility to kryptonite, he also has more of a human heart than in previous films, feeling alone in the universe as the only survivor of his home planet and missing the companionship of his old flame Lois. Adding some emotional complexity to Superman makes this more than a guy film, but also more inviting for the female audience - I must admit there were a few scenes I thought were kind of touching - FAG! For the sake of the film there needed to be one less emotional scene and have it replaced by another encounter between Superman and Lex - who as is share very little screen time.

Back to the storyline, as I mentioned the film's rising action comes to a halt and never reaches the same levels for the last third of the film. This may be due to a couple flaws in the planning for the film there are two things that I feel that could have been addressed if the film was to really fly - the inclusion of too many characters and subplots, the Luthor master plan weaknesses. The inclusion of a few characters and sequences that could have been cut including Lois's boyfriend, the flashbacks to Superman's beginnings on the Smallville farm and others would have allowed for more important items to be covered properly. For a film about a guy who has been gone for six year, there is little explanation of his disappearance; he left to check out the remain of his home planet, but what did he do after that - take a super nap? Another poorly addressed story element is Lex's plan, it is lacking in logic and is light on the menacing factor that make great evil materplans so effective. Not only is the plan confusing, but it also seems like it may just be a poorly planned flop (perhaps the years in prison made Lex a little rusty.) I am hoping they insert a couple lines (at least) for the DVD release to better explain how Lex's actions are expected to payoff . To be fair, there is one line toward the end of the film that may give a little insight, but it is far to late and not prevalent enough to factor in. As a result the climax of the film does not pack the super punch needed to put this film over the top. The lack of urgency makes Superman's heroic actions unnecessary and everything that follows have the feeling that he did not look before he leaped. This film really needs on last great scene to tie it up properly -m this can be discussed in the comments section.

The acting has its ups and downs. Starting with the most important the new Superman, Brandon Routh, the guy looks uncannily like Christopher Reeve and even captures a few of his mannerisms. Routh does more than hold his own even though his lines are limited; a fine choice, much better than the latest TV Superman incarnations on Smallville and Lois and Clark. Lois Lane, played by Kate Bosworth, on the other hand is miscast and loses the spunky, mischievousness that defines her character. I do not think it as much the fault of the performance as it is the limiting writing, but Lois is known for being in the wrong place at the wrong time by choice, this time around she barely bends the rules. She and Superman are much younger than the 80's versions of Superman, making it a little strange how Lois is now mid-20's Lois Lane is a seasoned reporter who look barely old enought to be an intern. Oscar winner Kevin Spacey's take on Lex Luthor is great, but needs more time in the spot light, not quite as good as Gene Hackman (if you have not watched Superman 1&2 lately check them out for his hammy performance alone), but still one of the better balanced villains on film. One of my favorite actresses (not the best, but a fave) Parker Posey does a great job as Lex's sidekick Kitty Kowolski - a nice Polish girl with a great delivery. In the "meh: department are the new Jimmy Olson and the Perry White, neither were terrible, but they could have been better. Now here are the two characters that I feel take up too much screen time and inevitably creating pacing problems that may have been preventable. The two duds are Rich, Lois' boyfriend played by James Madsen and her son. Madsen is an actor that gets by on his looks, he is wooden and boring. The son on the other hand should have been cast as SCARED KID #4 instead of Lois' son, his entire acting repertoire consists of staring blankly at he camera. I do not blame the kid for this, but there is one time in the film he could have delivered a easy, but effective laugh and the director/writers dropped the ball when the response that could have been a good laugh is said literally about a minute too late - I need to get to Hollywood and save them.

On the technical side, the film is beautiful possessing some top notch cinematography allowing the digital effects not to take over each shot. More filmmakers need to focusing on making beautiful films not just cool effects. The film is at times also very loud and will be a welcome addition to any home featuring a surround sound system with a subwoofer. I saw this film twice, once in a standard theater and once in an IMAX theater in 3d - save your time and the money, the 3D is great for some scenes, but for others it makes it tough to decipher what you are viewing - not to mention only to my estimates about 1/5 of the film is in 3D. See it the standard way, no not downloading it I mean see it in a theater, then if you want see it in 3D.

The film succeeds as a continuation of the first two films in part due to director Bryan Singer's (Usual Suspects, X-Men 2) homage to the original films - go back and watch the DVDs after seeing this in the film and watch for the similarities. Hopefully, he will have the opportunity to make a sequel in the next few years. I am going to give it a perhaps mildly inflated 4 stars, because as that great John Williams theme blares over a dedication and the end credits I stood and waited until the very last frame and then left, went home, put on my Superman Underoos and jumped off my apartment roof... it has been three days and I am still humming the theme.

7.5 Stars out of 10

- written June 2006

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