|Superman Returns (2006)
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Kal Penn
Director: Bryan Singer
Legions of “X-Men” fans were livid when director Bryan Singer left the third installment of the franchise – just before principal photography was slated to begin – in order to take the reins on Warner Brothers’ resurrected Superman franchise. (Levels of lividity rose even higher when the hacktastic Brett Ratner replaced Singer on “X-Men.”) In the end, Ratner screwed the pooch on “X-Men: The Last Stand,” though in fairness to him he inherited a script with dialogue more wooden than Natalie Portman in the “Star Wars” movies. Disillusioned “X-Men” fans (okay, I) walked out of the theater thinking, “It better be worth it, Singer.”
So was “Superman Returns” worth killing the “X-Men” franchise to make? Um, maybe. It’s certainly better than “X-Men: The Last Stand,” though that admittedly doesn’t say much. In many ways, it’s the mirror image of the last “X-Men,” which had a great story but no idea how to tell it. “Superman,” meanwhile, looks exquisite, is reasonably well acted, and has some entertaining dialogue, but has no story whatsoever. And it still nearly got away with it, but didn’t have the sense to know when to wrap the damn thing up.
The movie begins with an exposition card (I’m sure there is an official name for those things, but exposition card pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?) stating that Superman left Earth five years ago to find any remnants of his home planet Krypton. We then see Martha Kent (Eva Marie Saint) in Smallville, watching a giant, pointy ship crash about 300 yards from her house. How the Feds weren’t swarming the scene within 30 seconds is anyone’s guess. Before you know it, Superman/Clark Kent (Brandon Routh) is back in Metropolis, and “Daily Planet” editor in chief Perry White (Frank Langella) gives him his old job back (it’s too good a joke to ruin why White gave him his job back). Clark, as you might imagine, has trouble adapting at first, but Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) is thrilled to see Clark and fills him in on what he’s missed, notably Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) moving on with her life, becoming engaged to Perry’s nephew Richard (James Marsden, wisely hopping franchises with Singer) and, horrors, having a son. But there is no time to worry about such petty matters when Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is sprung from the joint and has even bigger, madder plans than ever. Moo-ha. That’s slang for evil, maniacal laugh, in case you weren’t sure.
Like I said, not much to chew on in terms of a story, and yet Singer sets them up and knocks them down like no other. The opening sequences of Superman back in action are tons of fun, especially the jet/space shuttle zaniness where Lois, realistically, would have been killed ten times over. Routh is creepy good as Clark, invoking the spirit of Christopher Reeve without allowing Reeve’s legacy to overwhelm him. Spacey has his best part in years, and while Singer has directed Spacey to Oscar glory in the past, it appears he’s giving Spacey a longer leash here, which in retrospect comes back to haunt them both at times. And was that really Parker Posey as Kitty Kowalski, Lex’s moll? That scarcely looked like the girl from “Best in Show.” Bosworth was, well, Bosworth. For a go-getting journalist, she had little to work with. But at least she was allowed to talk; Kal Penn, the Indian namesake in “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” didn’t have a single line of dialogue, which is nothing short of criminal. Dude’s funny. Use his talents.
And then there’s the movie’s third act, where the wheels fall off the wagon. The movie loses all focus, as if they let the expensive special effects shots dictate which scenes made the final cut, and in the end had a big pile of filler. Granted, some of it is spectacular filler, like the “wave” scene in Metropolis. But the movie is too long by a good 30 minutes, which, given the complete lack of story, is a difficult thing to cover up. And sure, we’ve heard all of the Superman-as-a-metaphor-for-Jesus talk (which is amusing, since the two men who created Superman are Jewish), but what on earth was with all of the Christ poses? It was like watching a Creed video.
“Superman Returns” had all the makings of a “Batman Begins”-style resurrection, but they messed up the most important part of it all: it’s the story, stupid. Indeed, it is a glaring indictment on our celebrity-obsessed culture as a whole that “Mission: Impossible III” will make far less money than “X-Men: The Last Stand” or “Superman Returns." Yes, Tom Cruise is batshit crazy. But his movie was better, dammit. And you’ll realize this after you’ve seen “Superman Returns.” But hey, don’t listen to me and my condemnations of our vacuous culture: I’m more excited about “Snakes on a Plane” than the rest of you combined.
Fans of the Man of Steel might take one look at the two-disc special edition release of “Superman Returns” and completely discount its existence. True, the DVD doesn’t feature any audio commentaries, nor is the list of extras particularly booming, but that hardly speaks for the amount of material that is included. The eleven deleted scenes don’t offer much more than unnecessary backstory, and the “Resurrecting Jor-El” featurette – which takes a look at how a team of computer animators brought Marlo Brando back to life – is almost too brief to enjoy, but any worries about the DVD’s shortcomings are quickly eradicated upon revealing the five-part documentary, “Requiem for Krypton.” Running just under three hours long and covering almost every angle of production that one can possibly imagine, “Requiem” delivers the best behind-the-scenes experience that you’re bound to find on DVD. If you’re a fan of the franchise, or simply director Bryan Singer’s reboot, you’re gonna love this new two-disc set.