After nearly two decades, the Man of Steel is back!
Superman Returns Review
Published in edited form in the Foxboro Reporter June 2006
and in the Boston City Paper in edited form in two parts June and July 2006
By Robert Gillis
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! SIGNIFICANT FILM PLOT DETAILS REVEALED! IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THE FILM YOU MAY WANT TO STOP READING NOW.
Superman is far more than a comic book character. He was the first, arguably the best, and the one from whom all others came.
He was also my first hero. He still is.
Superman is probably the best-known superhero in the world. Superman comic books have been around since 1938. He appeared in his own radio programs, three decades of newspaper comic strips, the Kirk Alyn movie serials, a myriad of cartoons over the years, the 1950s George Reeves TV show, two different Superboy TV shows, the four Christopher Reeve films, the Dean Cain / Terri Hatcher “Lois & Clark” TV show, musicals, plays, and most recently, Smallville.
And now, finally, he has been returned to the silver screen, in the new blockbuster movie, “Superman Returns.“
In the new film, it takes Superman five years to make the round trip to Krypton and back to Earth, on his quest to learn if anyone else survived his home planet’s destruction.
In the real world, Superman’s return to the screen spans some 19 years, and the journey was equally perilous.
Back in 1981, following the incredible success of Superman: The Movie (STM) and Superman II (S2), (two movies that many, including myself, believe portray the DEFINITIVE interpretation of the Superman character and his world) filming began on Superman III. With that film, and its abysmal sequel Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (and let’s not even talk about the 1984 Supergirl movie) the Superman movie franchise, like the Batman sequels, took a steep nosedive in quality. They were terrible.
Superman III, with Richard Pryor, was a forgettable and frequently embarrassing film that jettisoned much of the continuity of the first two films for cheap laughs and slapstick.
Superman IV suffered from massive budget cuts, laughably bad special effects, no studio publicity and a film so badly edited that people walked out of the theater. (My best friend David said at the time, and I quote, “I will NEVER go see another Superman movie.”) Even hardcore Superman fans hate the film. In his biography, “Still Me,” Christopher Reeve summed up the fourth Superman movie in one sentence: “The less said about Superman IV, the better.”
But even after the failure of Superman IV, Warner Brothers wanted another Superman film. Over the next 17 years a myriad of writers were hired to write full scripts for Superman. During that same period, almost a dozen different directors were either approached or signed to make the film. At various times, the film was actually in production.
At one point, Nicholas Cage signed to play Superman. Anthony Hopkins signed on as his father, Jor-El. As time passed, James Caviezel, Josh Hartnett, and Brendan Fraser — and many others — were approached or auditioned for the role.
Numerous directors were either approached or actually signed onto the project. Tim Burton would direct. McG would direct. Brett Ratner would direct. Oliver Stone (???) would direct. JJ Abrams would write and direct. Tim Burton added that he intended to play up “Superman’s darker, more murderous side” and that he hoped Cage was up to the task of portraying that aspect of Superman.
The behind the scenes politics were nightmarish as writers, directors and studio heads clashed over every aspect of the film. The biggest causality was the integrity of the legend of Superman himself.
Nearly all of the director-mandated scripts being churned out featured massive “re-imagings” of the Superman character that would be laughable if they weren’t true.
One of the first scripts had Superman dying in battle with the monster Doomsday as he had in the comic book, but managing to impregnate Lois Lane as he’s dying by way of Immaculate Conception. I’m not making this up. Lois is killed later in the story, but not before giving birth to a baby who grows to adulthood in three weeks’ time, and takes over as the new Superman and saves the world.
Another script has Superman performing Kryptonian martial arts, and not dressed in his traditional uniform and a cape, but a Matrix-ish black suit. He was also killed in this version. One of the next writers openly said he hated the special effects in the 1978 Superman film with Christopher Reeve, so he wanted to get rid of Superman’s ability to fly.
The push for marketing tie-ins and toys led to some dreadful script additions, including a hostile space dog, a gay robot servant called L-Ron, Superman using a sort of magic wand, and demands that Superman fight a huge spider. Again, I’m not making any of this up. I’ve actually read many of these terrible scripts.
(I must note that there was an exception; I thought that Alex Ford’s 1998 script, “SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL” was very good and pretty true to the character. It featured a great story, Luthor as an interesting villain, and even an appearance by Wonder Woman. But this script also fell victim to studio politics.)
In another script, Krypton doesn’t explode, Jor-El is the king of Krypton and Superman is a prince; he is “The One” whom a prophecy states will save Krypton from destruction. Worse, Superman’s costume was to be a living entity housed in a can, and it would climb onto him when needed. Lex Luthor, Superman’s enemy for the past 60 years, turned out to be an evil Kryptonian in this script.
And then things got worse.
There were fights, rewrites, hirings, firings, threats. Burton was out. Director McG was in. McG was out. Kevin Smith was in and then out. JJ Abrams’ script was in. The revolving door on writers, directors, actors, and scripts continued. Casting rumors abounded.
By 2004, after 17 years of trauma, histrionics, tempers, fights, demands, egotistic writers and directors with god complexes, confusion, and multi-million dollar “pay or play” paychecks issued, the project was in chaos and limbo — again.
But the man of steel would return. With reverence, and respect for the legend.
Superman’s savior would be a man named Bryan Singer.
In mid 2004, acclaimed director Bryan Singer was in negotiations to direct the third X-Men movie, but he was then offered the chance to direct the new Superman film. In July 2004, Singer jumped at the chance and signed on to direct Superman Returns for Warner Brothers.
Singer, no stranger to the super-hero genre (“X-Men,” X-Men United”) has taken a very personal interest in Superman. He explains, “I am adopted and I’m an American, and I’m an only child, and Superman was these three things … What interests me is that he is the ultimate immigrant and he carries it with pride … Superman is extremely idealistic and kind of represents a bit of what America is and the pitfalls one experiences in their idealism, so I very much like the character.” And for years, he had a very specific idea for a Superman movie — a pitch that Warner Brothers loved.
Although his influences for the character run the gamut, Singer has a special love for the first Superman movie, starring Christopher Reeve and directed by Richard Donner (STM). Singer even asked for and received Donner’s blessing before signing on.
But don’t expect a retelling of the origin story — writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris describe the film as a “pseudo-sequel” because the two of them — along with Singer — were, “…so in love with what Donner did that it felt like a mistake to go back and remake the origin story. Everyone knows the origin story. Donner did it perfectly, as far as [we’re] concerned.”
So not only is Superman Returns a sequel to the first two Superman films (effectively ignoring Superman III and IV, thank Rao), but Singer and the writer’s great reverence for those movies is evident by the many homages seen throughout the film.
For example, Marlon Brando, who played Superman’s father, Jor-El, and who died in 2004, reprises his role in this film via unused stock footage filmed in 1978 by Donner and newly created digital images.
In addition, the soundtrack for the film, by editor (and composer) John Ottman, features leitmotifs created by John Williams including the iconic main title, Krypton, Smallville, and “Love theme from Superman.” Ottman succeeds in giving us just enough nods to the original score without being overbearing. The new music is soaring, beautiful, and a perfect accompaniment to the film. It feels very new, yet familiar. I LOVED it.
There have been some reviews regarding the soundtrack already. While many like it, some say that it’s a bit too melancholy, and that the “choir” music and “Danny Elfman” style sections (he composed Batman) are wrong for a Superman film. I disagree. First, there are melancholy moments in the film, and also moments of joy, and the soundtrack carries them both as well as the full spectrum of emotions. The music for “How could you leave us like that,” is a beautiful piece, positively haunting. While the soundtrack doesn’t really define a NEW sound for Superman (in other words, the new music isn’t incredibly memorable) the soundtrack still blends cues from the original with its own modern sound (much like the wardrobe, tone and sets throughout the film). The new music is also fun to listen to even on its own, so I’ll definitely be picking it up.
There are many other touches as well — For example, Ben Hubbard, the man who takes care of Martha Kent, was mentioned in STM, appears in this film, and has developed a relationship with Martha. The architecture of Krypton, Superman’s spaceships and his fortress of solitude closely resemble those depicted in the original films. There are countless nods to previous incarnations of Superman.
Now, despite all the reverence for what has gone before, obviously this new film must not only stand on its own, but be accessible to a new generation, break new ground, and have its own signature style.
According to production designer Guy Hendrix Dias: “From day one to wrap, whenever Bryan and I talked about the look of the film we always referenced Superman’s existing universe whether it be in the comics, TV series or earlier films. This is something that Bryan holds very close to his heart so when designing each environment I was very mindful of Superman’s past incarnations. Our goal was to update the Superman world, not to re-invent it.”
The updating and changes generated a lot of buzz. Obviously, the cast is new, and we’ll talk about them in a moment. The visual style of the film, particularly Metropolis, is also very different, and we’ll get to that as well. But the most controversy about the film so far seems to be about Superman’s costume itself.
Over a year ago, the first image of Superman star Brandon Routh in the new Superman costume appear
ed — and the response was immediate, and decidedly mixed. The iconic Superman costume, though instantly familiar, now has some significant modifications. And a lot of fans were very unhappy. The new suit features a much smaller S-shield, darker, muted colors, a heavy, leathery cape and a higher collar.
Long before a single frame of the film had been released, people were talking about the new costume. Many fans voiced their disappointment and even lobbied for it to be changed.
My take on the costume? I have to agree that the “S” is too small. That “S” is so associated with the character that it MUST be made prominent, and on this suit, it really isn’t. But since the “S” shield is now an actual chest plate rather than a silk-screen emblem, it would obviously be heavier and more difficult for the actor to wear during filming. Singer himself has spoke at length about the “S,” explaining, “I went back and looked at the other suits. If the “S” was too large or silk-screened, I must tell you it would have looked, at this point, like a billboard or something. It had to be just the right proportions for [Routh’s] head and chest and things like that.”
So we have to live with it. As to the costume’s colors — yes, they are darker than some previous incarnations, but look great on camera and blend in well with the overall look of the film. I like them a lot. The tone of this film is darker, and it makes sense that Superman’s costume reflects that. I’ve seen computer manipulations of Routh wearing the Christopher Reeve costume and it just doesn’t work.
The new suit, tailor made for Routh, works for him. I especially like the new cape, made of heavy fabric (it looks like leather). The shirt and tights are fine; eagle eyes will notice the little “S” shields laser-cut throughout the uniform and on the “S” shield, making the uniform look like it was not made here on Earth.
The red trunks, I think, are a little high, and make Routh look a little too much like an underwear model. I do like the new “S” on the belt buckle, that’s pretty cool.
My only other complaint on the suit, like many others, is the high collar. The higher neckline looks almost like a turtleneck — and prevents Superman’s cape from draping over the neck and shoulders in the regal fashion we’ve come to expect, but I can live without it. Overall, the suit looks great.
So now we move to the man in the super-suit.
Bryan Singer’s decision to cast Brandon Routh, a relative unknown, was very wise. The character of Superman is far too iconic to be played by a known actor. If he were, it would be (God forbid) Tom Cruise playing Superman, or Nicholas Cage playing Superman. (As producer Ilya Salkind once commented on the casting of an unknown for the 1978 Superman film, “Thank God, [Robert] Redford turned it down.”) By casting an unknown, Routh’s presentation is fresh, and we see him as the character, not the celebrity. That makes it much easier to accept him as Superman.
When I first saw a picture of Routh, I was amazed by how much he resembles Christopher Reeve. He looks a little young, but at 26, he is older than Reeve was when the first Superman was filmed (24-25). And personally, I think Superman SHOULD look young. After all, as time passed, Reeve needed to wear a hairpiece for Superman IV, and near the end of the 1950s TV series, George Reeves started to look a little too old to play the role — so younger is better, especially since sequels to this film are planned.
As the year of filming passed and more images, footage, previews and interviews were released, I came to realize that Routh is perfect for this role, and the new costume works well for him. I still wish the “S” were bigger but he looks great in the Superman uniform. And he carries the role with tremendous self-confidence.
And as I get to know Brandon Routh through interviews, I find that I like him very much and am very happy he’s playing Superman. Routh looks perfect as Clark and his portrayal of Superman is excellent. He makes the characters his own. As Superman, he looks the part, carries himself with dignity and power, and speaks in Superman’s voice. In other words, as I watch the film I am now seeing SUPERMAN, not the actor Brandon Routh.
Having seen the film, let me say this:
The torch has been passed.
Brandon Routh IS Superman.
Familiar, yet new. Channeling Christopher Reeves, sure, but exuding Brandon Routh’s confidence, charisma, charm, spirit, and gifts.
(My wife added, “He’s a hunk.”)
Another aspect of the film that adds so many dimensions to Routh’s portrayal is that this Superman returns to Earth not as a god-like superhero, but a vulnerable, troubled man plagued with self doubt and wondering if the world needs him anymore, because everything has changed. It’s also a reference to the real world question of whether the character of Superman is relevant or needed in these cynical, post 9/11 times. (My answer, by the way, is absolutely YES).
Routh explains, “The whole movie’s about [Superman’s] humanity … But he can still be pretty much like us, except he has these other powers of course. But I think the love story is very relatable to everyone. You lose love. You get it back. The journey you take to get the person you
love back. Giving up things. Finding the positives in the negatives. All these are human things. I trust that’s evident in the film, in my portrayal.”
This is a central theme throughout the film — “Superman Returns” isn’t just a franchise back on the big screen, it’s an appropriate description for the story of a hero who returns after a long absence to a very changed world. He wants to reconnect with the life he knew on Earth.
But reestablishing that connection proves far more difficult than Superman could have imagined. As the film originally opened, Superman explores the ruins of his home planet Krypton, after a journey of over two years. When he finally locates Krypton, he finds a radioactive field of debris. The scene was deleted for time and will hopefully be restored on the DVD. Without the Krypton scene, moviegoers might be unclear why Superman is so weak when he returns to Earth, but the pace of the film is probably better without it.
“That place was a graveyard. I’m all that’s left…”
So the film opens with an incredible explosion of Krypton — the pull back from the planet, and then the flaming run sun shrinking before it goes supernovae and destroys the planet — very impressive.
As the debris expands into space, we see that the familiar animated blue credits are back, just like the first film, but seem more modern somehow. You know this is Superman. The space scenes behind the credits as we speed toward Earth — breathtaking. It’s all POV and we zip through asteroids, around planets and through galaxies. We’ve never seen anything like this in a Superman film before.
As the credits end, we hear an old woman talking. She is dying, telling her husband how she knows there is good inside him and how grateful she is that he took care of him. The woman is Gertrude Vanderworth, a wonderful cameo by Noel Neil, who played Lois Lane in the original 1940s Superman serials and for all but one season of the George Reeves series. (In sort of a double homage, (Neill, along with Kirk Alyn, played Lois Lane’s parents in STM.) What’s interesting is the paradox of her role — 86 year old Neill plays a woman who is frail and dying, but having met Miss Neill at a convention in 2004 I know that she is lively, friendly, and has more energy than people twenty years younger.
But the elderly billionaire, a widow, is being bilked and has left everything to Lex Luthor, Superman’s diabolically brilliant nemesis, played by Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey.
Having worked with Singer previously on the film, “Usual Suspects,” Spacey took to the Luthor role with gusto. In fact, the role was written specifically with Spacey in mind.
One frequently told story is Spacey driving crazily around the Superman set in a golf cut with a Superman figure tied to the back while he terrorized Routh and other people on the set, shouting, “Kill Superman! Die Superman!” into a megaphone. None of this appears in the film, of course, because this Lex Luthor is NOT played for laughs.
While Gene Hackman played Luthor in three Superman films as comic, campy, and more silly than evil, Spacey plays Luthor with deadly seriousness and danger. Luthor is still obsessed with real estate, but he has spent five years in prison and is now darker, bitter, and seeks revenge on Superman. This Lex Luthor is VERY dangerous.
In every scene Spacey has, he projects a feeling of menace, of danger. Even when he’s being cute or coy, you can tell this man is brilliant, and certainly to be feared.
“You’re not a god,” his partner in crime, Kitty Kowalski tells him at one point.
Steel eyed, Luthor replies, “Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don’t share their power with mankind.”
So to steal that godlike power, Luthor heads north to return to Superman’s arctic Fortress of Solitude, created by advanced Kryptonian crystal technology (and the place that allows Superman to commune with the spirits of his parents.)
The Fortress of Solitude gave me goose bumps. This is one of the many places in the film where the special effects technology shows up so well. This fortress, while faithful to the original design concepts in STM, is modern, towering, beautiful, and the camera pans around in 360 degrees to reveal all of it. And the recreation of Brando makes the scene. Rather than some random Kryptonian elder — Lex and the other intruders have an audience with Jor-El — God himself (“I have sent them you, my only son”). The computer process to recreate Brando was incredibly complex and the result is impressive.
“Tell me everything, starting with the crystals,” Luthor says to Jor-El.
Once Luthor is able to learn about and harness the crystal technology, he intends to use the crystals to create an eighth continent from the ocean floor — his own ultimate real estate venture — regardless of the catastrophic damage its creation it will cause to the rest of the Earth.
Meanwhile, Superman has returned to Earth. After a spectacular fiery crash landing on the Kent farm, Superman gets a good night’s sleep in his old bedroom and then tries to become acclimated to being back home.
The reunion of mother and son is poignant. “If your father were alive he wouldn’t have let you go,” a tearful Martha Kent (the perfectly cast Eva Marie Saint) tells Clark. And then she breaks down. “I never thought I’d see you again.”
Although some of her scenes were cut, what remains is perfect. There is real emotion here — this isn’t a comic book — this is a story about a man returning home to his family and the people he loves. The acting in this scene is powerful, and reminds me of the scene in the first movie when Martha tells her son, “Remember son. Always remember us,” and you feel the tears welling up in your eyes because of the sheer power (and heartache) of the moment.
Superman spends some time walking the farm, soaking in memories. I loved the scenes with Stephen Bender as young Clark, running through the fields and his delight when he learns he can fly. Bender is another perfect cast; he looks just like a young Brandon Routh. One departure from the canon of the first movie is that young Clark Kent wore glasses. Perhaps the Kents wanted Clark to wear them so he wouldn’t stand out? (Later in the film, we meet another young man who just might be pretending to be weaker than he really is to cover up special abilities.)
There are some deleted scenes here as well; I hope that the DVD shows the scene of young Clark finding his spaceship and older Clark (Routh) reviewing five years worth of newspapers as he brings himself up to speed. Both looked great in the previews.
I liked the way Routh portrays “Farm Clark.” This is the “real” Clark, the guy who doesn’t need the glasses or the cape — he can just be himself, and confide in and seek advice from the one person in the entire world who knows his secret, and understands him completely — his mom.
And it’s mom who gives him solid advice — it’s time to get on with your life. It’s time to go back to work.
(When Luthor invaded Superman’s arctic Fortress of Solitude, he says to his colleagues, “This is where he found out who he was. This is where he came for guidance.” While Superman did indeed learn his Kryptonian destiny up north, I would argue that it is in Smallville, on the farm, where he finds out who he is, and where he comes for guidance. And rather than listen to Jor-El speak of virtue and the total accumulation of all knowledge spanning the twenty-eight known galaxies, Superman gets his best guidance and love from his adoptive mom, who offers a hug, an ear, a good night’s rest, and in the end, a loving push in the right direction.)
So Superman returns to the work at the Daily Planet as Clark Kent and plays the role of “Clumsy Clark” to perfection. While not as over-the-top goofy as some other interpretations of Kent, Routh’s Clark Kent is more of the shy, insecure guy that we can all identify with. With one exception, he doesn’t bump into things, knock things over, or cause chaos. He’s just the nice guy who still says, “Swell” and tries very hard to be liked. It’s a refreshing portrayal of Clark — and clearly even this character has matured.
But Clark’s surprises keep coming. Superman’s true love, reporter Lois Lane (the beautiful and engaging Kate Bosworth), has written a Pulitzer Prize story, “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” Lois is engaged to be married to Richard White, nephew of Planet Editor Perry White (Frank Langella), and she has a young son, Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu).
Over the last year I wasn’t at all happy that Lois had a child. As a sequel to Superman II, it would certainly be possible that Lois and Superman conceived a child during the night they spent together. But children in movies are usually unbearably cute or an unholy terror, and Lana Lang having a child in Superman III didn’t go over too well with fans.
But thankfully, the fragile five year old Jason is not portrayed as the god-awful annoyance as Jake Lloyd was as Anakin Sywalker in the first Star Wars movie, nor is he a cute moppet or another McCauley Calkin. He’s just a little five year old boy. Likeable, cute but not overbearingly so, sweet but not sugary. A kid. And in the film, he has some nice moments and is never annoying.
Still, I didn’t know how it would be played out. Is Superman a deadbeat dad? How can he handle the guilt of unknowingly abandoning his son? And what if Jason was not Superman’s child? Obviously, Superman isn’t a home wrecker. Except for her anger toward Superman’s not saying goodbye, Lois seems to have a good life. She has a son she adores and a fiancée who adores her. They live comfortably and seem happy.
And yes, what about poor Richard?
James Marsden’s Richard is excellent. Yes, he’s the guy who replaced Superman and is “Daddy” to Jason. But you cannot dislike him. He’s a good guy, does the right thing, is a great father-figure to Jason and clearly loves both Lois and her son very much. Throughout the film, you see examples of why Lois loves him — like Superman, he’s confident, kind, loving, and wants to help. This makes the story even more compelling because if Richard were a jerk we could immediately dislike him and root for Superman. But since Richard is a good man, we feel his pain and small jealousy as Superman Returns to Lois’ life.
“Were you in love with him” Richard asks Lois.
“He was SUPERMAN,” Lois replies, a little exasperated. “Everyone was in love with him.”
Richard doesn’t let it go. “But were you?”
And after a long pause, Lois says, “No.”
Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen would disagree. “If you ask me,” he tells Clark, “she’s still in love with you know who.” Sam Huntington’s Jimmy Olsen is honestly the first time I’ve ever liked the character. Jimmy Olsen has never been a favorite of mine; in the comics he usually the bow-tied geek or an irritating kid. In the movies, I also thought he was just annoying. But this Jimmy is cool, interesting, and wants to do a great job as a photographer. He also really likes Clark. He is overjoyed at his old friend’s return (he even makes him a little cake) and takes it upon himself to play welcome committee and mentor to Clark. The scene where Jimmy takes Clark to the BAR for a DRINK — not a soda pop mind you, shows how Jimmy has matured.
And the bartender is played by Jack Larson, TV’s Jimmy Olsen throughout the 1950s Superman series. Larson, 78, plays bartender “Bibbo” as a gruff, no nonsense type. Seeing “Jimmy Olsen” serve drinks to “Jimmy Olsen” was very cool. (Larson, a Quaker, doesn’t drink in real life!)
Here at the bar, we learn that Lois is aboard a Boeing 777, which is carrying a new type of shuttle, the Genesis, up for a test launch into space. But the flight is disrupted by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) caused by Luthor’s crystal experiments at the Vandeworth estate. A widespread blackout causes massive disruptions and fouls the shuttle’s computers — the shuttle cannot disengage from the 777 and its booster rockets are ready to fire. The launch can’t be aborted and the couplings won’t release. The thrusters ignite and send the jet hurtling through the sky.
The passengers are being tossed about, and Lois undoes her seatbelt in order to help someone who fell get to safety. I really liked how Lois immediately became a hero — looking out for others rather than herself — there are several instances in this film where is LOIS who is the rescuer. She even saves Superman’s life at one point.
Clark bolts from the bar, racing down the street and rips open his shirt to reveal his Superman costume. (What was fun for me, besides the power of the moment, is recalling that this was one of the very first scenes of the movie that was shot back in April 2005, and I remember the headlines, “First photos of Routh as Clark Kent!”)
I don’t have an adequate superlative to describe the flying sequences. Special effect technology has come so far, even in these last few years. These days, it’s not “You’ll believe a man can fly,” because everyone flies around in movies these days — even Keanu Reeves flew in the Matrix films (and did so realistically; I remember seeing “Matrix: Reloaded” and musing that if a new Superman film were ever made, I hoped that the flying would be that good). These days, the question is, “Is the flying believable? Does the flying seem organic to the story or does it look like a special effect?
The flying throughout the film is incredible and believable.
Another thing I liked about this shuttle scene — a feeling carried throughout the movie — is the very real sense of danger. I recall a scene in Superman IV when a train conductor had a heart attack and the train raced through the tunnel, out of control, until Superman came to save the day. A train was speeding, people were screaming, but it all seemed contrived. The people weren’t really threatened, it was just stupid.
But in this new movie, the 777, its engines dead, its tail on fire, is plummeting to the ground as the passengers aboard are tossed around like rag dolls. The danger is real. In this movie, people get hurt, people get beat up — badly. And in a few cases, people actually die. It makes the film seem more real, less like a comic fantasy.
Another aspect of this realism is how Superman handles rescuing the shuttle and plane. He’s not godlike, he is not sure how to handle it. After using his heat vision (nice effect, by the way) to sever the shuttle’s couplings, he boosts the shuttle into orbit, while the plane, its tail in flames, plummets to the ground as people are thrown violently about. Again, there is nothing cartoonish here — this moment is violent and you believe people are in grave danger and going to die.
As the plane continues it death spiral, Superman attempts to lift the plane up by its wing, much as he did in STM — but the wing explodes and breaks off, seeing him hurling. He’s made a mistake — this idea won’t work. Regrouping, Superman hurls himself in front of the plane, grabbing its nose, and with tremendous effort is able to finally slow the plane and right it, setting it down gently in the middle of a baseball stadium. I really liked how Superman had to work to get this job done — this is not the omnipotent guy who threw the planet Neptune around in the 1960s comics.
Ever so gently, Superman lands the plane onto the field in the middle of a baseball stadium. As thousands of spectators cheer his return, Superman races into the plane. He asks if everyone is all right — then locks eyes with Lois: “Are you all right?” There is an immediate connection.
There is real chemistry between Bosworth and Routh. The two leads say a lot to each other through facial expressions,
eye contact, and what they DON’T say. These two are great actors, and we believe they were (and are) very much in love.
I really like Bosworth’s Lois Lane. She plays the role not as a comic book character but as someone who has loved and lost, and moved on with her life. She works very hard, she’s intelligent, aggressive, driven, but when her true love comes back into her life, she is confused, hurt, and torn.
At first, Bosworth seems just a little too young for the role of a mother and someone with a history with Superman and a five year old child (23) so a small suspension of disbelief is necessary here, which isn’t much to ask in a movie about a guy who files. But as the film unfolds, Bosworth plays the role with such maturity — both as a mother to Jason and lover to Richard — that you forget all about her age.
Lois is still spunky and impulsive, still smokes and can’t spell, but she is a very good mother to Jason and devoted partner to Richard.
And she’s mad, and hurt. When she and Superman finally meet on the roof of the Daily Planet, she is pissed at him. “How could you leave us like that?” Lois asks Superman. She’s angry. She is very hurt. “The world doesn’t need a savoir, and neither do I.” And Superman sees how hurt she is. That he caused this pain.
“Lois, will you come with me?” He asks. “Please.”
The two share a flight over Metropolis, and Lois remembers what the experience of being with Superman is like (the effects here are dazzling, and I particularly like the scene of the pair flying just inches above the ocean, their reflections in the water as they fly back toward Metropolis).
But too much has happened. Everything is different now. Their rooftop parting has finality.
The next day, Lois, investigating the EMP, and finding its center at the Vandeworth mansion, sneaks into the yacht with Jason — and is horrified to find Lex Luthor. Luthor reveals his plan — using Kryptonian crystal technology to create a new continent off the East Coast — the ultimate real estate deal. In the process, billions will die as earthquakes and storms destroy parts of the Earth.
Lois and Jason are held prisoner, and Lois manages to send a distress fax to the Planet before another massive EMP erupts as the Kryptonian Crystal begins building the continent Lex dubs, “New Krypton.”
At the planet, the fax received, Superman flies off to save Lois, while Richard follows in his sea plane.
In retaliation for trying to escape, one of Lex’s goons goes after Lois — obviously intent on killing her — when suddenly the piano where Jason is sitting flies across the room and kills the thug. Interestingly, Lois doesn’t seem too surprised at this development.
As the new continent, laced with Kryptonite, continues to build, chaos erupts across the eastern seaboard. The EMP has blacked out Metropolis again. All hell is breaking loose. The earth is splitting. Fires are erupting, power is out, gas lines are exploding, buildings are collapsing, people are falling from buildings, buildings are exploding — and Superman is there to help. The rescue sequences are spectacular; I particularly liked the scene of tons of broken glass falling toward the street until Superman flies under it and vaporizes it with his heat vision, or as the Daily Planet Globe plummets to Earth, Superman catches it. Perry White, nearly killed by the Globe, utters an astonished trademark “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” to the wild applause of the crowd in the theater.
And I have to say — seeing a metropolitan area so devastated immediately made me think of 9/11. The idea of a city under siege isn’t fiction any more — also adding to the emotion and realism of this sequence.
Back on the yacht, Lex has locked Lois and Jason in a small room. Bosworth is excellent here; conveying despair and genuine fear — she’s terrified, and sure she and her son are going to die. But Richard arrives to rescue them, just as one of the giant crystals spears the yacht, causing it to split it in half. Richard heroically rescues an unconscious Lois and Jason, only to find the three of them trapped in the smashed yacht. Superman rescues them in spectacular fashion, and then Richard, Lois and Jason take off for Metropolis in the sea plane and Superman heads to “New Krypton” to confront Lex.
As Lois regains consciousness, she convinces Richard to turn around and go back so that they can see if Superman needs any help.
As Superman finally confronts Luthor in the Kryptonite-laced continent, Lex and his thugs proceed to beat the powerless hero mercilessly. This is an incredibly powerful visual. The goons really, really beat Superman, breaking bones and nearly drowning him before Luthor stabs Superman with a Kryptonite shiv while snarling, “Now FLY!” It is chilling and horrifying. THIS Luthor is not being played for laughs. He HATES Superman and wants him dead. It’s powerful stuff, and horrifying to watch as a near-dead Superman plummets into the sea.
In a nice turnaround, it is Lois who dives into the water and rescues Superman, removing the Kryptonite from his side. As the trio head back to the city, Superman flies into the sunlight to recharge his powers — a beautiful image — and then plunges back toward New Krypton and proceeds to begin lifting the entire continent into the sky.
Lex and his cronies make a run for it, and several are killed as the massive crystal towers crush them. Kitty and Lex escape by helicopter as Superman finally manages to hurl the continent into space. But not without cost — the deadly Kryptonite emanating from the continent has fatally poisoned him, and as the great land mass is thrown into space, Superman loses consciousness and falls back to Earth.
scenes of our hero being rushed into the ER as hundreds of onlookers watch are startling. Seeing the defibrillator paddles explode and the IV needles break on Superman’s skin is humorous and chilling — humorous because we know Superman is invulnerable, chilling because we know that invulnerability will prevent his receipt of life-saving aid.
Our last sight of Luthor and Kitty is on a very tiny island somewhere, their helicopter is out of gas, and they are stranded and trapped. As we panned away overhead, we see that Lex got his wish — his own “continent” which is a little beach about twenty feet wide. The irony is delicious.
As Superman lies near death in Metropolis, thousands stand vigil outside, waiting for word. Among them are Martha Kent and Ben Hubbard. It is gut-wrenching to see Martha there, so concerned, so alone, because no one knows that’s her son dying in the hospital. She can’t get in, no one would even believe her if she told the truth about who she is. It’s heartbreaking that all she can do is wait. I sincerely hope EVERYTHING with Eva Marie Saint is included on the DVD. She is just wonderful.
Lois and Jason visit Superman, and Jason quietly traces the S on Superman’s discarded costume as Lois leans toward Superman’s ear and whispers, “There’s something I have to tell you.” Presumably, she’s telling him that Jason is his son.
“I like him,” Jason says.
“Me too,” Lois tells her son gently.
There were rumors that early drafts of this script has Jason, Superman’s son, save his father by means of a blood transfusion as Superman lay dying in the hospital. That doesn’t happen in the film. Instead, we get a beautiful scene where Jason, on leaving the hospital room, races back and gives the unconscious Superman a little kiss on the forehead. It’s such a kid thing to do, very loving, very sweet.
So after everything that has happened, the big question is: Is this little boy, who was born right after Superman left, the tyke with the asthma inhaler and allergies — is he Superman’s son?
He is, although the evidence is compelling but not conclusive. There is obviously a deliberate effort to confuse the audience — There’s no moment when Jason starts flying, but there are clues: Very, very subtle clues, and one big giveaway. There are little things, like Jason immediately recognizing the resemblance between Clark and Superman. Jason is academically gifted. Jason spotting Superman in the water when no one else could see him (telescopic vision?). Jason, tightly gripping the arm chair of Richard’s plane as the aircraft makes its way out of a death plunge (flying?). His mother’s fear of Jason’s proximity to Kryptonite as Jason just stares frozen at the lethal element. And Luthor asking, “Who’s that boy’s father?” And when Lois replies, “Richard,” Luthor asks with a smirk, “Are you sure?”
And of course, there is the dead giveaway: On the taught Gertrude, a horrified Jason, sitting at a piano, watches one of Luthor’s goons threaten Lois, intent on killing her. The piano suddenly flies across the room, killing the would-be killer. And there’s Jason, his arms outstretched from the “shove.” Did the boat shift? No way — Having seen the film five times at this point, it is very obvious that Jason pushed it — nothing else in the room was disturbed except the piano, which literally rockets across the room at incredible speed.
(Despite the vagueness in the film, Bryan Singer was later quoted at Comic-Con as saying, “Jason is 100% Superman’s son.”)
In the final scenes in the movie, Superman is standing at the foot of Jason’s bed. The child is asleep and Superman has a look on his face that conveys so much happiness, so much pride. Superman has tears in his eyes. He is in awe. He begins talking to Jason in the words of his father, Jor-El. You will feel different, but you will never be alone. The son becomes the father and the father, the son.
It’s probably the most moving Superman scene ever filmed. I was literally choked up.
And what I love most is what wasn’t said — Superman isn’t a home wrecker, it’s not his intention to break up Lois and Richard, or disrupt Jason’s life. He promises his son he will never be alone, and he knows that his boy is in good hands, and tells Lois, “I’m always around.” He’s back for good.
Superman spent five years away, trying to locate something he had on Earth all the time. Home. Family. The irony isn’t lost on Superman, and it’s clear that he’s found what he was looking for and he will never leave again.
The series can go anywhere from here, and in the care of this cast and crew, we know Superman is in good hands.
Since 2004 I have been following the production of this movie almost daily. I didn’t want to get my hopes too high; Superman has disappointed me before.
But I could not have asked for better. I never expected the film to be this big, this good. There was NOTHING I didn’t like and dozens of scenes that impressed the hell out of me. I LOVED IT. I will see this film many times — something I haven’t done for a film for many years.
Some reviews of this film have commented that the best scenes have already been shown in the 20 TV spots or three trailers. This isn’t true. While many terrific scenes have been shown (and you h
ave to LOVE the bullet bouncing off Superman’s eyeball shot), you simply can’t get an accurate understanding of the movie from minutes of clips. Even if you’ve read the novel, even if you seen the movie guides, you don’t know this film.
There are twists and turns, there are nuances, subtleties, and subtext. The actors bring these characters to vivid life and make us care about the story. The sets and “look” of the film transport us easily to Metropolis, Smallville, the ruins of Krypton, and to many other places.
Visually, the production design of the film is very impressive. While the Donner film was clearly set in 1978, this film has more of timeless feel, due to the deco style throughout, particularly in the Daily Planet sets, which appear to be a pleasing combination of modern technology with Art Deco facades. This blending of old and new gives the film a timeless feeling. There are deco fixtures next to plasma screens. And everything looks lived in, not shiny like it was just created. And the details, the details, the details... from the framed newspapers on the walls to the unusual facade at the entrance, everything on this set are in the details.
The special effects are simply phenomenal. Finally, we have the technology to show Superman as he was meant to be seen. Many of the shots in this film use advances in movie making magic and computer technology undreamed of just a few years ago.
The CGI and other effects are organic to the film, never intrusive, but simply spectacular.
The surprises — some telegraphed, some out of nowhere, are brilliant. The look of the picture is stunning.
Fans will probably be divided over whether the film is too derivative or not derivative enough of other Superman movies/shows, but I think one particular decision will be embraced by all — the film is dedicated to the memory of Dana and Christopher Reeve.
Acknowledging my lifelong love of the character, I have never been obsessed to the point where I will accept anything. Some interpretations of Superman have been tolerable (the third movie, some of the cartoons), some have been unforgivable (the 1974 musical, the fourth movie) and some have produced outrage and confusion (the comics, the new “Birthright” Superman origin).
So I say with no hyperbole whatsoever that the movie is perfect. It was completely worth the wait. I absolutely could not have asked for more. I never expected it to be this good, this perfect.
I loved the story. I loved the nods to the comics and the movies that were everywhere, making this universe both new and familiar. I loved that the characters are handled with reverence and respect, that the story is meaningful, and the action is intense. The performances are dead on, they are brilliant. The casting is perfect. The film has heart.
Thank you, Bryan Singer. Thank you, Brandon Routh. Thank you to everyone who made this movie a reality.
Superman Returns. Better than ever. The legend intact. The film, perfect.
You will believe, again.