Superman Returns, the long-awaited return of Superman to the silver screen, generally succeeds but in the end has enough flaws that it has to be considered a schizophrenic mess.
Let’s start with its good points.
Casting. Across the board, the casting was top-notch. Kevin Spacey is Lex Luthor. Brendan Routh is utterly convincing as Superman. Even Kate Bosworth, who seems a little young in the role, works as Lois Lane. I’ve no complaints with the casting, though it is a little odd to see Frank Langella in something other than a sinister role.
The Superman Feel. The music was perfect. The opening credits were perfect. Superman flying around hither, thither, and yon was perfect. I felt like I was eight again, and I believed a man could fly.
Pacing. The film runs two hours and forty-odd minutes. You won’t notice. Bryan Singer’s direction and editing keep the film moving along at a brisk clip, and you won’t be stopping to check your watch. Batman Begins, by contrast, had me checking my watch at about the two hour mark, and we were still a long way from the end in that one.
The Concept. The film had a fantastic hook–what if Superman went away for a time, and when he returned the world and the people he cared about had moved on and no longer needed him? As long as the film’s dealt with that the film succeeded. This was truly new territory for Superman, and the film developed the relationships around Lois–her son and her fiance–well.
This leads us into the things the film didn’t do well.
The Story. Quite frankly, the story was a mess. The parts about Superman’s return and its effect on people were handled well. The parts about Lex Luthor’s plot were a mess. Luthor’s plan had so many flaws in it that I’m surprised that he couldn’t see them. Just off the top of my head, if you’re going to raise a new continent in the middle of the ocean no one’s going to be able to live on it for a long time just because you can’t grow anything on raw bedrock. All of Lex’s claims of new real estate fall flat on their face when you stop to consider that. People aren’t going to want things they can do nothing with. In some ways, and I may discuss this at a later date, the story might’ve worked better as a Lois & Clark reunion movie.
Clark. Routh did an excellent job as Superman, and a merely adequate job as Clark Kent. The problem may lie in the fact that the script doesn’t call for Clark Kent to do much of anything.
The Triangle. Inherent in the film’s premise is the idea that Lois Lane has moved on her life, having a child and becoming engaged to Richard White, Daily Planet editor Perry White’s nephew. While there are hints that Lois is torn between her love for Richard and her love for Superman, the film never actually dramatizes the love triangle, and Superman never comes across as someone that would be better for Lois than Richard.
The Climax. Superman saves the day and foils Luthor’s plot. We expect this. But there’s no final reckoning with Luthor, no final confrontation due to the manner in which Superman foils the new continent scheme. Thus, the film’s ending felt hollow.
Casting. Yes, I praised it above, but there are two exceptions. First, Parker Posey. She looked too much like Teri Hatcher, and that was disconcerting. Second, the guy from Harold and Kumar go to White Castle as one of Lex’s henchmen. Bad casting decision there, guys, because it was distracting seeing him there.
So, what’s the verdict?
As I said, Superman Returns generally succeeds. It could have used more polish in the scripting stage, it could have used a stronger villain, perhaps even one that wasn’t Lex Luthor. But when the film gets something right, it does so magnificently. Fortunately, the film succeeds more than it fails, and in the end it made me feel like a kid again.