Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Superman Returns

Staring at the Sun
by Ryland Walker Knight

Sure the real estate angle is silly. Sure Kate Bosworth is as wrong for Lois Lane as Tommy Lee Jones was for Two Face. Sure they wasted Kal Penn and that odd detail of the documentarian goon.

This movie is about an icon. And it delivers some of the best iconic images for a superhero film since Burton's BATMAN.

Going in with lowered expectations (yet holding tight my respect for Bryan Singer) helped me enjoy the film more than it may deserve. And all the success of the film truly belongs to that guy in the director's chair. He embues these superhero stories with real worries but he never wallows in self-pity. Superman may be an outcast who doesn't really get everything in return that his heroism warrants (and yes, he pouts), but it's all about the bigger picture: striving for that light to show the way. That's what a hero does, super or not--they perservere.

I've never been into Superman comics, or as a hero really, because he was conceived of as so infallible: even more so than Achilles. But this film makes him more human than anybody else he shares the screen with, even with that stupid curly q of hair. Brandon Routh deserves more credit than critics are giving him for taking on this role and, while using Christopher Reeve's performances as a jumping off point, makes his new Superman all his own. It's a shame he has to adore such a vacuous beauty like Bosworth. There's no way in hell I believe she's a 30 year old mother. Or writer, for that matter--she looks nervous behind the keyboard. You don't really understand what either Superman/Kent or her stand-in hubby Richard White (the underrated James Marsden) see in this Lois other than her movie star good looks. Ms Bosworth's indignant immaturity shows in her self-righteous take on being "right" much like how Julia Roberts acts her characters; it's all selfishness. Which makes Routh's unselfishness poignant, oddly enough. His goodbye in the seaplane made me inhale deeply because you can see both Routh (and Superman) trying his human best.

And I've said nothing of the reason anybody goes to these movies: the spectacular, visceral action. This is another thing that sets Singer apart from the rest of current blockbuster directors: he plans out every detail of an action scene so it not only excites us but helps the story and develops his characters. That's why X2 worked so well: you cared that Jean Grey was sacrificing herself. And that's why SUPERMAN RETURNS succeeds: he knows he has to protect the citizens of Metropolis first before he can rescue the one he loves and it eats at him. So when he soaks the sun before diving underwater and into the seabed you feel the peace of that quiet among the clouds but also the resignation that Lois cannot be his woman. For now. Now means he uses his powers to the best of his abilities so this new continent Lex Luthor has fiendishly created cannot overpower and engulf our home; we like aliens to help us, not dominate us, and especially not with crystal trickery. (A whole other take on this film which I'll leave to somebody else.)

But how about Kevin Spacey replacing Gene Hackman? It works, actually. It's campy in the right spots and frightening in others but he could have gone overboard. As it stands, he's obviously the best actor on screen enjoying himself just like Spacey always does; his self-inflation works for a devious character like Lex Luthor. However, real estate--while a shrewd and calculating business--is hardly devious enough for a supervillian. What makes it a plausible villian plot is Kryptonite. And let's be honest, it's better than Nuclear Man from that cold war bookend, SUPERMAN IV: QUEST FOR PEACE. We even get a The Passion of The Superman moment midway through, to show Superman cannot always beat Luthor with sheer will, and without a gameplan.

I hope Singer makes enough money so he can be happy to return to smaller films and use his newfound power to emmulate the career of his idol, Spielberg. Like Steve, Bryan has an overload of talent that often shines brilliant despite lapses of judgement or time-conscious compromises. Singer's knack for beautiful compositions, tender humanity and stunning action scenes will surely spell a long career to rival his idol's. I can forsee an Oscar or two once he makes that transition to "serious" films. Maybe he'll foreground his queer & adoption subtexts and create a Hollywood film to rival BAD EDUCATION or MYSTERIOUS SKIN. One can only hope, for now. Clearly, sky's the limit.

02006: 153 minutes: dir. Bryan Singer: written by Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, Singer (all also story) & Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster (characters)


  1. Enticing review, Ry. I had no desire to see the flick until now. I'll definitely be checking in with this blog, for the flicks and, yes, the big booty commentary. Damn damn.

  2. Thanks, Nik, I'm glad you followed my link. And I'm also glad you may check out the movie--I totally think it's worth it. Also, Walter Chaw gave it 4/4 so I'm not too worried about thinking I was alone in the dark on this one.

    But, alas, I don't live on Manhattan anymore--not anywhere on the East Coast--and probably won't have many good nubian princess stories for a while. I'll keep my ears (and eyes?) attentive but for now all I'm probably going to write about is raging rapids and lizards and waterfalls and scorpions and eddies and birds and hollowing a watermelon, filling it with kerosene, and then floating it down the river.