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superman returns
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Superman Returns

Starring Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Parker Posey, Kevin Spacey
Screenplay by Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Directed by Bryan Singer

IN SHORT: It's nice to have the Man of Steel back. . . . [Rated PG-13 for some intense action violence. 155 minutes]

Before we begin, fans will note that Noel Neill and Jack Larson, co stars of The Adventures of Superman television series, have cameo appearances at the start of this film and Marlon Brando "reprises" his role as Jor-El thanks to old old recordings and cutting edge animation. Then it's on to what is, continuity-wise, the third Superman film leaving Christopher Reeve's work in the first two films to mark his place in the continuity. The animated prolog to Superman Returns beautifully restates the fate of the doomed planet Krypton and its red sun. Then director Bryan Singer, a non-fanboy who absolutely nailed his adaptation of Marvel's X-Men comics picks up where Richard Donner left off in style and sound. Singer tries to create something epic to thrill and delight the audience. He gets off to a great start, stating that Superman went into space to search the "newly discovered" ruins of Krypton, only to find nothing . . . Well, he does manage to find a new costume, one with a diminished "S" that is never explained and makes Superman look downright scrawny . . . and makes a quick visit home to Ma (Eva Marie Saint) as all good boys should

Singer, long known to be comic book ignorant (which is a good thing) delivers a Superman that looks very much like the character created by Siegel and Shuster in 1938. That means that the man in tights is skinny as a stick, even with a prosthetic muscle suit on under the tights. The look is too skinny . . . yes, we know we're not to make comparisons but it's Superman! Certain things are expected to be seen and, if missing, better be overly compensated for. Yeah, we can understand that this seems all a bit nit-picky since actor Brandon Routh nails Supes' bumbling alter ego of Clark Kent beautifully. In the long johns, though, his Superman is almost emotionless; the physical image is overwhelmed by the effects and props that comprise the big finale.

Singer film's shot moves at such a breakneck pace that we strongly advise that you avoid anything that may cause you to want to duck out an hour or so down the line. Blink and you'll miss how Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) discovers the location of the Fortress of Solitude, which sets up the big finale to this film. Seriously. We looked down to make a note so that we wouldn't forget part of the story . . . and in doing so missed it. (Now we've got to pay the ten bucks just to make sure it's our fault...)

That mea culpa being issued, Superman Returns is really two films. First, it's a story of Life Moving on without the guy in the red cape. Then, a story of why you really need a superhero when push comes to shove, in which Lex Luthor engineers his revenge on Superman. In that very terrific first hour: With the Man of Steel missing in action, Luthor evades a certain prison term, finds the Fortress of Solitude and, with the knowledge gained within, plots the downfall of our Kryptonian Hero. Suffice it to say that Kevin Spacey appears to be having the time of his life as Luthor. The comic relief hench-person for this installment is one Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey). Why and how she is involved isn't coherently explained. IF it is, well, we did say "breakneck pace," right?

Meanwhile in Metropolis, ace reporter Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is now an Pulitzer Prize winner, for an editorial entitled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman" Ouch. She's also engaged to Richard White (James Marsden), nephew of boss Perry (Frank Langella) and mother to an asthmatic and otherwise sickly son named Jason (Tristan Leabu). Nicely coinciding with events seen in Superman 2, director Bryan Singer, who kicked this film's story around with screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, teases the audience mercilessly about the kid . . . and we're not going to spill the beans, either. "Clark Kent" (Routh) has been, allegedly, wandering the world, and his return is noticed only by Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington). How Clark gets his job back is stuffed into a line of dialog which whips by quickly. Listen for it. To our eyes, though, in the five years that have passed, Jimmy Olsen seems to have aged twenty. Lois Lane looks pretty good as a single mom. Clark Kent appears to have regressed ten, though Brandon Routh's sound and movements are a dead-on compliment to the character established by Christopher Reeve.

Hour two is all Spacey, as Lex Luthor endeavors to bring about what we will teasingly call Superman's doomsday. Individually, both hours are great. Collectively, something is missing. For those thinking "what the hell does that mean?" it means that, while there was applause at the end of our screening of Superman Returns, Cranky's reaction was the same as all the other men we talked with on the way out. We wanted to cheer at the end of the movie, not just applaud. We all wanted that old "rah rah yea team Go! Supes Go!" feeling when Good triumphs over Evil and the proverbial Day is Saved. We didn't get that from Singer's version and that pretty much sums up why the film ultimately falls a wee bit short. Superman Returns didn't make us cheer but it moves much quicker than the running time would indicate and it's not a bad sit.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Superman Returns, he would have paid . . .


While there are comic book references in the film, the only one missing (to this fan) is a pissed off Lois Lane yelling "Hold it, buster!" at Superman's first (re)appearance. Fanboys will understand what that means. It makes no difference to the story whatsoever but so much attention has been paid to other famous moments in the canon, that it would have been a nice nod to John Byrne's revamp, which is when we started reading the comic, long, long ago.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.