Superman Returns - Superman Lives!
| I have been waiting most of my adult life for Superman to return. Like Star Wars or Indiana Jones, Superman the Movie was one of the formative influences on the impressionable young movie-buff-in-training that I was in the early 80s. These were movies that would form a good part of who I was as an adult and as a cinephile. Sure I would come to appreciate a broader range of films and understand more intricate craftsmanship in film making but these films would always speak to what I love about going to the movies.
This film was a long time coming. It went through numerous directors from the inappropriate Tim Burton to the down right frightening choices of McG and Brett Ratner. There were going to be remakes, death and rebirth stories and general bastardization of the Christopher Reeve films and I was sure I was going to have my little 8 year old heart crushed. (Then again maybe I would have loved that as their reactionary hatred seems to keep a lot of Lucas bashers gleefully victimized.)
However, Superman and the dream I have of him survived. A brilliant little talent who has yet to go wrong named Bryan Singer has saved him and made the Superman movie that I have always dreamed about.
Seeing the familiar blue lettering pushing through space and the hearing the echoes of John Williams’ incredible score reassured me. Superman Returns is the movie I was waiting for.
We have been without Superman for a long time now and so has the world in Superman Returns. This film is about what that means and how we live in a world both with and without a Superman. Singer lovingly tells Clark’s story, what he’s given up and what we’ve lived without. Superman Returns is lousy with heart, exactly what I would hope for from the long awaited return of my hero.
I have heard this film described as a “chick-flick” and I don’t entirely disagree with that dismissive adjective. Superman Returns is very much about relationships and feelings. There is action, out of this world action, but it is not the feature of this film. Instead, Singer and crew deal with what it feels like to be these people. Why does the world need a Superman? Superman Returns explores that beautifully.
Like the first Superman film, Superman Returns is shot in a picturesque and iconic manner that reeks of a modern classic. The first film held up over time in large part due to this quality. Singer has captured that and made this feel as timeless as the first.
Naturally, everyone is going to be compare Brandon Routh with Christopher Reeve and while it may be an unfair contest, Routh holds his own. He manages to embody Superman and everything he stands for. You honestly forget that you are watching a young unknown trying to fill his predecessor’s tights and believe you are seeing Superman.
The other important performance here is Kevin Spacey taking over for Gene Hackman as the Greatest Criminal Mind of our time, Lex Luther. No one really could have done this as well as Spacey who channels Hackman’s ability to be both silly and sinister. He is after another land scheme, undeterred by his failure to send California tumbling into the sea.
This isn’t the only homage Superman Returns offers to fans. There are lines pulled from the first film, images and themes repeated. Singer lines the film with references to former adaptations including the iconic image of Superman lifting the car over his head from the first issue of Action Comics when he first appeared.
He also manages to fix the problems of the first films. There is no turning the world backward on its axis to turn back time. The film, like its audience has matured. Lois is a mother and Superman has to deal with a more bitter and jaded world.
Still, he manages to be the symbol of the best in all of us. Not just strength and good looks but honour and compassion and brilliance. Superman Returns is everything a good film should be; thrilling, engaging, inspiring and provoking. We may have stopped believing a man can fly but now we can believe again.