I think I would have been pleasantly surprised by this film – had it not been for those positive reviews out there. I am amazed at how many good reviews and how good some of the reviews are for this film. The trailers, casting, and story left me with pretty low expectations for this film. The only excitement being Bryan Singer as director. (Though I really really wish he had directed X-Men 3 instead.) The positive reviews gave me a bit more hope… though I wish they hadn’t.
The film follows up on Superman II, which I can respect. Basically, Bryan Singer and his butties thought of creative ways to expand upon the Kryptonian crystals and Supes/Lois one-night stand to develop a far-fetched Superman III that could never be manipulated into an Office Space spin-off. On the bright side, Superman I and II were good, but there’s really no reason to go through Superman’s origin, so continuing that story isn’t a terrible idea. I didn’t buy the “whole five years gone” and “Lois has a baby” things though. They just didn’t seem like natural steps for the Superman/Clark and Lois Lane portrayed in the Superman films. There never is a good explanation of why Superman would go to visit these remains and never seems to be an explanation of what these five years were like and how they affected him. Plus he has so many answers with the Fortress of Solitude… it would make much more sense in the Smallville plotline than here. And I just cannot picture the Margot Kidder Lois Lane falling in love and getting married (maybe there’s a reason she’s so attached to a Superman.) I just need some more background to make it buyable.
In general, I did respect the casting of Superman and Lex Luthor. They reminded me a lot of Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman. But Kate Bosworth was a poor choice for Lois Lane and didn’t come anywhere close to reminding me of Lois Lane or Margot Kidder. With the other casting similarities, it made it even more difficult to accept her. While the casting was reminiscent, it seemed to make it harder for them to really make the characters their own too. I felt it was Kevin Spacey playing Gene Hackman playing Lex Luthor, for instance.
I also thought the dialogue and character development was real weak. One could say this is more common of the ‘80s Superman films, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Sure, those had corny dialogue at times, but they seemed to still have some patience in developing characters and relationships – and where this lacked the most in Superman Returns was the Lois/Clark relationship. There was a big deal over Superman being gone for five years – but Lois didn’t miss Clark more than an acquaintance. For following up on the first two films, this relationship fell short. Also, I thought the weak dialogue limited the actors – especially Brandon Routh who makes a good Christopher Reeves, but whose performance fell short because of either acting or script.
Now there were some areas where the film moved away from the previous two – but these seemed very unoriginal at best. Lois Lane hooks up with Perry White’s pilot nephew? Reminded me way too much of Spider-Man 2’s relationship between Mary Jane and the Daily Bugle editor’s astronaut pilot son… which only raised the question: was this plot twist nothing more than trying to compare with what Spider-Man has done to both the comic book and movie genre? I don’t know if the Lois Lane fiancé story is based on anything in the comics… but I know Lois Lane never had a son! With comic books being these characters’ real life, this is the equivalent of life imitating art… rather than art imitating life.
Positives: the special effects were amazing! The airplane sequence was an awesome improvement. I also enjoyed small little references like the “SUPERMAN IS DEAD” and “SUPERMAN LIVES” newspaper headlines, and really enjoyed recycled movie lines and soundtracks. Also, I liked the costume changes and felt they did a good job all around with the Superman look and flying and all that.
The one other critique, and from a post-modern this might seem much, is I don’t like the loose sexual morals creeping into iconic superhero characters. They already did the dirty deed in Superman II, so Bryan Singer just maximized that, but now we have a constant reminder of how we really can’t count on our superheroes to live in a fantasy world focused on good and evil, but without conceding to cultural grays and moral changes. The Batman and X-Men movies also moved away from fidelity too but at least those are pre-designed for an older crowd, and all three franchises have done so without batting an eye.
So that just leaves Spider-Man I guess… which leaves my absolute final note on the nerd-block: the trailer for Spider-Man 3 looks awesome. Spider-Man 2 is my absolute favorite super hero flick with Spider-Man 1 right up there as well. What I like about both is this: they are great character films even without being a comic book film, they speak to a diverse range of audiences, and they have great and real themes to deal with. Spider-Man focuses on tough decisions around power, responsibility, and sacrifice. It doesn’t avoid the grays, but doesn’t seem to compromise either. Afterwards, you look at a movie like Superman Returns and you have to wonder: what’s the real point?