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Superman Returns : Two-Disc Special Edition (DVD)

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Holy Caesar’s Ghost! They’ve done it! – “Superman Returns” is super-exciting, super-fun, and super-bly performed! This is the only Superhero film you need to see this year!


Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Eva Marie Saint, Sam Huntington, Kal Penn, Marlon Brando

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s… probably just one of those whopping promotional banners for “Superman Returns”, draped across the top of an overpass several miles ahead.

Yep, the effectual colour consortium of red and blue has reappeared throughout the world – in bus shelters, on the side of public transport, on highway billboards, on the back page of the entertainment lift out in the newspaper, and anywhere else that’s open to some sturdy advertising revenue – reminding viewers that not only is the Man of Steel back, but so is cross-promotional wide-spread all-inclusive mass-marketing. The ‘S’, it seems, didn’t stand for “Superman” at all, but…. Sales.

For once though, the hype to entertainment-value ratio ties: “Superman Returns” and he’s back in spectacular fashion!

Comic fans from as far as Kansas (appropriately enough) and Kathmandu will be ready – baton’s by side – to take a swipe at the first new “Superman” movie since 1987’s super-slumber “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” (still trying to get my money back for that time-waster). You can’t blame them either. This new film has been in the works longer than Pauly Shore has been out of work. The wait has to be worth sometime, right?

Right.

But let’s admit it, fans aside, just the name along will draw people in, and honestly, they probably didn’t even need to try that hard (at one stage, it seemed they weren’t trying, actually – Tim Burton was going to direct Nicolas Cage in a travesty called “Superman Lives” – can you imagine how that would have turned out?), because frankly, audiences will flock to the thing – with their large popcorn, super-size coke and free ‘Superman’ mini-poster – anyway. At the end of the day, this new “Superman” movie could’ve centred around Krypto the dog taking on a newly-resurrected Nuclear Man, aided by Jon Cryer as Luthor’s nephew, and registers would still go ‘ting’. You can essentially draw a line right through the middle of that ‘S’ to be $.

Thankfully, master-storyteller and proficient director Bryan Singer (“X-Men”) believes in giving an audience little more for their money (If only because he’s afraid those stringent fans will shower his freshly ironed white pants-set with tomato juice) – so Mark Pillow didn’t get a job, after all.

Singer has taken on a lot, though. What he’s done here is he’s tried to tie this new film – with its new cast, new tone, new environs – into the original films, the Christopher Reeve ones. For the most part, he convinces us that there is a correlation, but at the same time, the film might be best enjoyed if viewed as it’s own, distinct, entity – sort of how “Batman Begins” (2005) was to the 1989 “Batman” – because of the things we’re supposed to overlook, like, for instance, the lack of the original cast.

Yep, the filmmaker wants you to believe this is merely the fifth movie in the old series – and not a restart, or independent commodity, like, the aforementioned “Batman Begins” (2005) – and it’s a daring move indeed, especially considering there’s no real link to those classics (though he has used some old audio/video footage of Brando that was originally going to be used in “Superman II”, He’s also using John Williams’ legendary music score, and the title sequence is unravelled in the same way as the original films) and our hero looks about ten years younger than when we last saw him.

So, here’s the checklist you have to cross off before you walk in:
1) Consider Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh as essentially the same guy. Those trips around the sun did de-aged him, a little.
2) Forget that there was ever a “Superman 3” and a “Superman 4”
3) Overlook the fact that the new Lois Lane is much foxier, and less feistier, than the old one
4) Don’t mind that Superman doesn’t need to hang from wires, anymore.

To enjoy “Superman Returns” you have to leave the purist bullshit at the door, and come in ready to experience something – mostly – new, otherwise you’ll be playing the comparison game for the duration of the film, and that’s about as fun as doing a side-by-side comparison of Coke and Pepsi. And like those, this is essentially the same bag as the other, but with a slightly different feel, taste and degree of aftertaste.

Not to say “Superman Returns” isn’t very rationally faithful to the original films, it is. Singer is obviously a huge fan. Not just referring to the musical cues and characters either, but the overall tone of the pic. Like Dick Donner’s film, the film is the perfect blend of action, adventure, romance, drama and hammy one-liners. It’s as devoted as a moggie to its owner, it really is.

Superman (Brandon Routh) has been gone for five years. He returns to Earth, only to discover that his former love Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is now married (to Perry White’s kindly nephew, Richard, played by James Marsden) with a child. Coincidentally, Superman’s old foe, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), is also returning to the fold – having been locked away in a prison cell for a number of years. When the scheming no-gooder gets wind of Superman’ return in Metropolis, he comes up with an all-conquering plan to rid of him forever. Will Superman save us? Will he win back the heart of Lois? Will anyone finally notice the striking resemblance between Clark and Superman?

In order to give an overall opinion of the film – we’ve been waiting this long for a new “Superman” movie, why not give its review an extra paragraph or too, hey? – Let’s dissect the finer elements.

The performances: Brilliant, without being ‘spot on’.

Kate Bosworth mightn’t be as go getting or confrontational as Margot Kidder was in the original film, but she’s still good – bringing amiability and sophistication to the role. It’s hard to say why she hasn’t emulated Kidder a little more, when the other actors have obviously been told to remember the original’s turns, but she does well.

Sam Huntington is a scene-stealer as Jimmy Olsen – offering some great comic relief, and some of the best lines the character has ever been offered on celluloid. Again, looks a little younger than Marc McClure’s version of the character, but it seems to work.

Kevin Spacey plays Lex Luthor a little differently to how Gene Hackman played him – not just referring to the fact that Spacey actually went bald for the role, either – by giving him a much meaner streak, a more malicious approach, than simply being a quick-quipping ungainly crook. As his ditzy sidekick, Parker Posey gets some good laughs for her Kitty Koslowski – whose sort of this film’s Eve Teschmacher (the character Valerie Perrine played in the original film).

Frank Langella makes for an OK Perry White too, but he doesn’t really get to shine. Same with some of the other supporting characters, whose scenes seem to have been dwindled down to nothing more than cameos (Eva Marie Saint as Martha Kent, Kal Penn as the henchman Stanford, and James Karen as Ben Hubbard).

And finally, Brandon Routh as the new Superman/Clark Kent. How’s he fare? He is great. Better than great. He’s essentially just channelling Reeve in both parts, but it works a treat. Because of his look and performance, it helps us accept him a lot easier in the role. Sure, he looks a little younger than Reeve did in the last couple of “Superman” movies, but Routh is so likeable and solid in the part, that he seduces you with just one spangle of those sparkling blue eyes and that first gallant commanding speech. He truly makes the movie, and it obviously it was worth wadding through all those auditions (everyone from Brendan Fraser to Paul Walker, Ashton Kutcher, Josh Hartnett, Matthew Bomer and Jude Law were considered at one stage) to get to him. Nice find.

The story: The central plot, concerning Luthor’s latest attempt to thwart Superman, is preposterous – but that’s “Superman”, these big criminal-master-plans are always outlandish. Still, it’s pretty entertaining – and it’s not a bad way to go. The subplot, involving Lois/Superman/Richard/The Boy, is well handled. It’s one of the more dramatic elements of a “Superman” film, and it’s welcome. In some respects, it’s the most ‘adult’ the series has been.

At the same time, the film does fall a little flat in some parts, and the pacing feels a little off at times. The end, especially, feels like a bit of a letdown – like someone let the air of the tyres a little earlier than they should’ve – but everything before that is pretty tight, and effective. Still, can’t help but think it needed a bit more ‘wham’ in the final reel.

The Production Design: Nice. Very Sweet. Sure, Sydney-siders will be smirking as they spot many of their landmarks masked as Metropolis, but mostly, the design team have done a nice job of giving us a city that looks a little like the main location of the first film, with a bit of contemporary funkiness. The other locales, including the Fortress of Solitude, the Kent family home, The Daily Planet, are all rather well done, too. Oh, the big one… the suit. OK, so it doesn’t look exactly like it did in the first films… but that’s OK, surely Superman’s allowed to keep up with the fashions, too, right?

The CG: Though it’s noticeable, only because we were so used to the wires and blue-screens of the original films, it’s very effective. Superman soars through the sky like a firecracker, and we feel like we’re with him every whisk of the way. They’ve spent a lot of time making it look as flawless and as realistic as possible – which, of course, is kinda hard since we’re talking about a guy flying – and it works, just a couple of moments here and there where I sensed the ol’ blue-screen from ’78 might have been dragged out. Otherwise, good.

So what isn’t real good about this latest “Superman” movie? Well, to be totally honest, not a lot wrong here. Sure, you will miss Christopher Reeve at times; it was, after all, his role. He owned it for such a long time. You’ll also miss seeing some of the other faces from the original films. But this is as good as a “Superman” comeback could ever have been, believe me, it’s been handled with fragile heed and some real man-hours have gone into making sure it delivers on all counts.

Holy Caesar’s Ghost! They’ve done it! – “Superman Returns” is super-exciting, super-fun, and super-bly performed! This is the only Superhero film you need to see this year!

Folks may have been divided over the movie – but they won’t be arguing the merits of the DVD. There’s some sensational stuff on here.

Besides the deleted scenes (15 mins worth of OK stuff], a featurette on how they incorporated Brando back into the film (actually kinda interesting – and I’m not even usually interested in these technical things), and a, there’s a wondrous 3-hour documentary on every single damn aspect of the film – beginning with the moment that Singer finished his treatment.

Called “Requiem for Krypton: Making Superman Returns”, it’s a truly exhaustive piece where you’re essentially following singer and company around as they endeavour to bring Superman back to life. You’ll sit it on casting decisions, see Routh pick his ‘Clark’ glasses out, watch some of the contraptions and set-pieces being constructed, and most notably, see it all come together.

Had there been an audio commentary on the DVD, this would’ve been a perfect package.

Rating :
Reviewer : Clint Morris

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About Caffeinated Clint

Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole.

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