Warning: Contains Significant Movie Spoilers!
Don't read unless you have already watched it, or don't care if I tell all!
From the beginning I have had very mixed feelings about the new Superman movie. After watching it on Monday, I'm still not entirely sure what to think. Early on I criticized the final choice of Brandon Routh in the lead role. While I stand with that specific scrutiny, I am surprised at how Routh visually filled the roll in the end. He is definitely too young and has a plastic-boy appearance, but there are many times in the movie where I found myself quite forgetful of these flaws. In reality, the magic of film can make just about any person look decent in blue, red and yellow. Though some of the early choices would have been ghastly - such as Brendan Fraser (George of the Jungle, Mummy) and Nicolas Cage (National Treasure, Lord of War).
I was a bit nervous going to see the movie because it hasn't initially received many solid, positive reviews. Even one of my good friends gave it a thumbs down or "So so" at best. I went to the theater not expecting a whole lot.
If it wasn't for my keen interest in Superman and other comic book heroes (if not completely ludicrous and pathetic, like Joel Schumacher's Batman movies), it would have been easy to dislike the new Superman movie. I can't really explain what caused me to leave the theater thinking, "That was a cool movie!". It is so full of flaws and weaknesses after giving it a second thought and reading what several others have expressed.
The Definite Flaws in
- Lois Lane: First of all a bad actress choice. She has too sweet and docile a face to be the outgoing and even overbearing personality of Lois Lane. To me, I wasn't even thinking "Lois" at all while watching. It was just some other woman who was fabricated into the story.
- Plastic Boy: A combination of Brandon Routh and imperfect CG made Superman out to be Plastic Boy Express DX-256. Perhaps Routh was chosen for this very reason: there was less of a gap between the plastic face of Routh and second-rate computer work. Some of the flight sequences featuring the Man of Steel were very well done, but too many shots were ineffably Plasticoid Barnaby Wostcot & Tucker, Inc.. Plus, a few shots showed Superman with an absolutely unforgivably waxy and mal-shaped hair. The worst hair moment was after his first heroic act - moments after blasting through fire, metal and the like, he delivers a cheesy line to the bewildered passengers, undisturbed and gelled hair in tow. It was almost wig-like. Perhaps this could be explained as an alien who hasn't yet learned to comb his hair according to acceptable earthly fashion standards, but less precision scuplting could have worked wonders. In fact, my favorite scenes were those where Routh's hair was a total mess, like when Superman lifts the severed yacht from the ocean. Beautifully unstyled hair - natural in the wind. Not to mention the fact that they chose a totally inexperienced soap opera star. This was a dumb mistake, but some of the effects and cinematography overcame this weakness. Also, Superman had very little dramatic presence in the movie. He was almost a silent actor, with very little discernable personality. I don't know why this approach was taken... perhaps it was the only solution to the poor actor choice. They gave him the lines he could handle!
- Relationships: Most of the relationships in the movie were totally meaningless, devoid of honor, integrity and even romance. I'm sure no one who watched cared a bit about Lois' boyfriend. Though his character wields a tiny shread of decency, his very existence and involvement is pretty mindless. The idea that Lois would give up on the love of her life, Superman, and pursue a random normal life with Joe Schmoe is absolutely ridiculous to any die-hard Superman fan. This point is especially ridiculous because of the fact that in this account, Lois has a child with Superman, fiending this boyfriend character as the father in Superman's absence. It is totally stupid to see Clark Kent treated like an outsider after his return from a 5-year absence - except for Jimmy Olson's mindless fondness, of course. When Clark talked to Lois, she completely ignored him as if he was a nobody, even though nearly every previous adaptation of Superman suggests a close friendship if not romance between the two (aside from Lois' romance with Clark's super alter ego). The whole idea that Lois might love Superman without his powers is tossed aside as quickly as Clark is in the movie, denying a wonderful ethical and romantic dynamic that should not have been spoiled. Even the famed romance between Lois and Superman is anything but strong or endearingly portrayed in Superman Returns. It seems Lois is simply desparate and unintentional in her romances and has only marginal interest in a restored relationship. It bugs me that Superman would be presented as having a sexual relationship with Lois and immediately leave for five years with no sense of responsibility for his actions or attachment/loyalty to her. I guess most people are doing such things nowadays, so why not Superman, eh? So much for presenting any shred of moral role model in the guy. I never remember seeing such soap opera antics in any previous installments. Oh well, soap stars encourage soap morality, I guess.
- Return From Where: More background into Superman's decision to leave earth for five years and what he encountered on his journey would have added to the plot development. The whole Krypton exploration explanation seems weak and unthoughtful.
- The Evil Plot: Pretty much a dumb idea. It seems like a Superman movie should be the most creative, intriguing plot idea ever, especially after 20 years of waiting. Using a kryptonian crystal to build a continent to drown out all others is pretty flimsy.
- Lex Luthor Again?: Sure, Lex Luthor is the archvillian that everyone knows, but let's have some variety. In fact, this movie parallels the first (Superman the Movie, 1978) way too closely anyway: 1) having something to do with using natural powers combined with technology to alter the landscape of the world in order to gain power and property, and 2) Lex's brainless girlfriend shows her conscience at some point in the movie. Superman has many more film-worthy foes, and one who could actually match him in strength or challenge him in some way other than using kryptonite would be more interesting and original. For example, Mongul and Darkseid from the comics can match Superman's powers because they are powerful alien warlords. Let's try a different villain never before seen in film! I mean, it's like every Batman movie having Joker as the villain instead of using the Riddler, Penguin, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Ra's Al Ghul, Catwoman and others (which the various films have done, to their credit). Besides, unless you portray Superman as kind-of dumb-minded, you really can't match him with Lex Luthor. Granted, Lex is very intelligent, but he has nothing without kryptonite. For some reason most accounts show a adversarial friendship between the foes, and Superman never treats Luthor with violence. This is fine, but in reality (unreal reality of their world), Superman could overcome any of Luthor's plots in a microsecond, combining his infinite durability, strength and speed. So the grand, slow entrance of Superman to meet his foe is not really sensible. Even if Lex had the chance to reveal a piece of kryptonite in Superman's presence, in the blink of an eye, Superman could be halfway across the planet before feeling the poisonous effects. Oh well.
- Super-Dad: The idea of Superman being a father kinda ruins his splendor. To think of a child flying around with him in his own cheesy supersuit gives me the willies. I hope the next movie doesn't explore that scenario much if at all. Haven't we learned anything from Schumacher's mistakes with Batman and Robin? Batman and Superman alike work best alone, in my opinion. The addition of halfling sidekicks and wonder dogs make for dumb movies.
- Clark's Glasses: Clark Kent and Superman look exactly the same except for Clarks' glasses. They both are gone for exactly the same span of 5 years, Superman often carelessly rips open his disguise to jump into action, and not one person ever notices or makes the connection? This isn't really a flaw of this particular movie so much as a flaw in the original concept from the beginning (which there are many more not worth mentioning in this article). And anyway, most people don't see this as a flaw in the story, but rather a comical element. All movies, including this one, capitalize on this ridiculously dopey concept. It seems Superman was never intended to be taken completely seriously - like the Wams, Soks and Pows in the old sixties Batman series.
The Finer Points of
- Special Effects: Despite some plasticity, there were some pretty amazing sequences that add to the wonder and admiration of the fictional characters and fantastic stories. Such wonderment could not have been achieved in the 1980s with Christopher Reeve, despite his ability to fill the role with magnificence.
- Superpowers and Heroics: Largely due to modern special effects, Superman's sheer power and ability were presented very well in this movie. Every child sits in amazement to think of one who can fly, who is invincible, almost infinitely strong, with heat, x-ray, telescopic, and microscopic vision, icy breath, and super-everything-else. To see these powers portrayed in a mostly believable fashion is a site for sore eyes. Of course I think just about any youthful fan can dream up even more imaginitive uses and combinations of Superman's powers than any movie director ever will!
- Lex Luthor: Even though the part of Lex has just about worn a hole of repeated use in film, I mostly enjoyed Kevin Spacey's performance. He has the "Lex face", to be sure. His performance didn't come across with nearly the volume, charisma and flamboyancy as Gene Hackman's (like trying to compare Willy Wonkas - Depp-sucks), but his appearance was convincing.
Somehow, even though the flaws outnumber the redeeming qualities in Superman Returns, I am still able to respond with "I liked it", as a final synopsis. Sorry if my analysis and conclusion disappoint some of you die-hard fans! Batman was/is my favorite anyway. Superman was never better than second. By the way, I don't think of superheroes as gods, just fun and imaginative stories. The Creator's powers, character, personality and abilities far outweigh them all. He is not fictional to boot! Plus, He chose to give up His infinitude and live a lowly human life in order to reach us - A fact that no made up story can best!