DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Superman Returns

Saturday 9 July 2011

Superman Returns

Superman Returns (2006) dir. Bryan Singer
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, James Marsdon, Parker Posey, Frank Langella


By Alan Bacchus

It’s too bad this film missed its mark 6 summers ago. It’s a rather unique and wholly admirable vision for this Superman. Virtually anything could have been done with the character and the franchise, and Jon Peters, the producer, tried many different directors to relaunch the series, including using his old Batman pal Tim Burton with Nicolas Cage as the man of steel. Bryan Singer’s film resonates strongly based on his meticulous precision in plugging it into the style, tone and overall mythology of the Richard Donner films (Superman The Movie and most of Superman II). Perceived success or not, Superman Returns is a terrific film.

What’s to be cherished most from the 1978 Superman The Movie is the treatment of the origin story, both the father-son relationship between Jor-El (as played by Marlon Brando) and Superman (nee Ka-Lel), and Superman's relationship with his adopted father on Earth played by Glenn Ford. What a stroke of genius to bring Brando back from the dead, incorporating outtakes from the original in this new one to provide a unique tie between the two films. In production, the announcement of Brando’s presence signified Singer’s desire to stay in sync with the other films.

Tonally, Singer hits the same marks as Donner. Brandon Routh not only looks strikingly similar to Christopher Reeve, but he possesses some of the same slapstick steps as Reeve playing Clark Kent. Kevin Spacey and Parker Posey admirably step into the shoes of Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty, the sometimes bumbling, sometimes deadly affable opposing duo.

John Ottman’s score admirably reworks John Williams’ recognizable music to find a satisfiable hybrid.

In terms of story, Singer finds a fun medium between continuing the story established by Donner, finding his own journey for Superman and even adapting/recreating a number of the scenes from the original for his own purposes. Lois Lane’s interview of Superman, for example, is choreographed and directed note-for-note with Donner’s memorable scene in the original. After getting the assignment to do a personal piece on Superman, he meets up with Lois on the art deco rooftop flying in from the sky. A fun conversation piece filled by sexual subtext and double-entendres ensues before Superman whisks Lois off into the sky for a nighttime jaunt.

Singer’s new addition, Lois’s child, who may or may not be Superman’s kid, also fits in wonderfully. It connects to his strong feelings for his two paternal figures, Jor-El and Pa Kent. If anything, it’s a shame we couldn’t see Ford, like Brando, somehow return in a flashback. The surprise moment in the third act when the child discovers his powers for the first time offers a pretty darn exciting piece of action, and the denouement, the final admonition of Superman as father to his sleeping son, is deeply affecting.

Where Superman Returns doesn’t land as softly, arguably, are in the overstocked action scenes. Sequences such as the airplane crash and the boat rescue at the end feel perfunctory, exercises in blockbuster excess demanded by its tent pole requirements. The overuse of CGI to replicate Superman during the scenes adds a negative cartoon nature to its generally serious subject matter.

Perhaps this is why the filmed failed – the needs and desires to create an action film conflicted with Bryan Singer’s desire to romance the genre as Richard Donner did so many years ago. Regardless, the work speaks for itself and succeeds as a worthy final chapter in the long yet truncated saga.

Superman Returns is available on Blu-ray in the Superman Anthology 1978-2006 set from Warner Home Entertainment.

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