Friday, November 16, 2007

Cinematographicus: "Superman Returns" (2006)

I bought the special edition DVD of "Superman Returns" shortly after it was released, but was never quite in the mood to watch the movie for a while, even though the only time I'd seen it was on its opening night in theaters. After moving to the DC area recently, I had an itch to watch it again, but decided to hold off a bit longer in order to do the film justice. You see, my new roommate had recently done some army time in Korea, and had a 40+" HD flat screen on the way. It arrived two days ago. I broke it in last night. So beautiful.

Any movie that involves grand-scale action scenes and threats deserves to be viewed in such a way. In fact, doing this made me realize something: "Superman Returns" really isn't as boring as most people seem to think. I heartily disagree with the myriad of complaints I find online whining that the movie was a dud.

First of all, you have to view this film with the understanding that it's somewhat a continuation of "Superman: The Movie" and "Superman II" (the Richard Donner cut?). I use the word "somewhat" because there are possible inconsistencies between the films that are given vaguely-implied explanations -- the biggest one being that Lois Lane has been raising a child she had conceived with Superman.

(Spoilers ahead for those who haven't seen the first two films!) In "Superman II," Lois Lane finds out that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same. After realizing this, Clark throws caution into the wind, swoops Lois away to the Fortress of Solitude, and makes superlove to her on a bed lined with space blankets (because, of course, Kryptonians were actually a race survived by cheap hookers -- perhaps a better explanation for the planet's downfall). In the original cut of the film, near the end Clark realizes that the pressure of dating Superman is too much for Lois to bear. To relieve her of her stress, he performs a "superkiss" that erases her memory of the past few days' worth of events, so she now has no recollection of Clark and Kal-El being the same person. In the Richard Donner cut, a similar end is met when Superman repeats the time-reversing performance of spinning the Earth backwards on its axis. Granted, both of these endings are ridiculous in nature (spinning the Earth backwards would simply wreak havoc with its gravitational pull and tear it apart, and a "superkiss" that erases memories is not one of Superman's powers in any other incarnation of the character), but at least the latter is consistent with the ending of the first film and deletes a stupid superpower, though encourages false ideas about physics and time travel.

Back to "Superman Returns," apparently Lois recalls having slept with Superman, but how could this be, unless we assume that they hooked back up after the events of "Superman II" had ended, without her ever learning again that he is Clark Kent? And by making her forget everything, does that classify the lusty field trip to the Antarctic as date rape? Did Jor-El teach his son how to give Earth women a super-roofie? In any case, there could be a little better bridging of the gaps in this regard.

But the relationship to the first two films establishes much of the tone of this film, and the continuation of said tone is pulled of majestically. Brandon Routh's Superman may not look or sound EXACTLY like Christopher Reeve's, but he did a better job than any of the big-name celebrities I could think of. His Clark Kent is almost dead-on the same as Reeve's.

Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor was a criminal genius with a twisted sense of humor that he couldn't help but evoke in every diabolical plan he outlined to everyone he came in contact with. Kevin Spacey's version of the same character is a fitting tribute to Hackman's. Spacey does an incredible job of making you believe that he IS Hackman's Luthor, not just another spin of it. And Parker Posey is the perfect, ditsy companion for Lex.

Lois Lane, however, is a different story. Margot Kidder played the first love interest to Supes, and while she did a great job of portraying the gutsy, independent, won't-take-no-for-an-answer reporter, her sex appeal wasn't as great as one would perhaps imagine for Lois. Kate Bosworth, the new version, arguably has the sex appeal (despite the ominous, barren wasteland she calls a forehead) , but, for the most part, lacks in making you believe that she could hold her own in a fist fight with Raquel Welch. It would have been great to find the happier medium of these two takes on the damsel in distress.

The story's pacing is right on target with regards to the pacing of its prequels, as well. Watching "Superman: The Movie," you really don't get blown away by the action scenes too much. It really focuses more on the characters and describing the life of an alien trying to find his place in a planet where he can't openly be himself. "Returns" continues in this tradition, bringing this struggle to a sort of conclusion as Superman finds company in the realization of his offspring.

And resurrecting Marlon Brando's Jor-El? Genius. Nobody else can measure up to Brando's performance of this character, and this is probably the strongest tie to the original movies. I get chills up and down my spine every time his voice is heard in this movie.

Aside from what's already been mentioned, there are four major aspects of the film that make me want to stand up and cheer when I watch this: 1) The best opening credit sequence perhaps to ever be made, complete with spectacular space images and huge respect given to the original film; 2) An incredible soundtrack that implements much of John William's original scores and themes, while updating the movement of the works a little bit in a natural progression from its predecessor; 3) Breath-taking landscapes and colorfully-rich views of the sky, Earth from various levels in the atmosphere, and Metropolis at night; 4) A heart-racing scene where Superman stops a 777 jet from crashing into a professional baseball stadium during a sold-out game, a scene which caused me to applaud and cheer out loud in my own living room (and, as I recall, it led the entire audience I saw it with on opening night to follow suit).

The film really is a masterpiece in every respect, and does great work with characterization. I also appreciated that Lois was dating another man, but we weren't dragged through a cliche routine of the boyfriend being the flaky, jealous type who makes us want her to get back with the protagonist even more. No, Lois's beau is actually a decently admirable man whose character rivals that of Clark's.

It took a little bit of work to get over the fact that Superman fornicated in the continuity of the movies (I know Superman isn't exactly a Mormon, but he is widely referred to, in the comics, as the "Boy Scout" - a character who is squeaky-clean with the highest standards you could find in a man), but once I was able to deal with the films as more of a "what if?" scenario for the Superman character, I was able to more-readily accept the possibility of Superman having a bastard child and unwittingly becoming a dead-beat dad. But what still gets me is how ugly the kid is. Doesn't Lois care if her son looks like a schmuck? I suppose the casting director is really to blame in the end, though, for casting a child who made me want to turn away from the screen whenever he appeared.

It was also interesting me to realize that, in the end of the film, Superman really only had one scene where he interacted with his intellectual adversary, Luthor. I suppose this is in keeping with the original film, but I wonder if most of the viewing audiences out there sub-consciously had problems with the fact that the protagonist, for the most part, wasn't directly confronting the villain.

When all is said and done, I give this film a hearty two thumbs up. I think I would LOVE to see a modern take on Superman going head-to-head with other super-powered beings, but for now I feel like re-establishing the connection between Superman and his surroundings, especially his arch-nemesis was rightfully given priority in this film. The next one will build more on brute strength and awe-inspiring, god-like capabilities.

Until then, oh wicked generation, get over your short attention spans and revel in a film that brings back a classic American icon in a very fitting way.


Cabeza said...

You forgot the ominous, barren wasteland that is Kate Bosworth's waistline.

Real women have butts.

JKC said...

Cabeza, have you been listening to Sir Mix-a-lot?

I thought this film was kind of a yawn. Not bad, just really forgettable. Though the points the shark brings up make me reconsider. I will agree that the characterization was fantastic, Hackman et. al. do a smash-up job. I will also add that I was blown away by Frank Langella's Perry White. It's a minor character, but he nailed it so unbeleivably well.

There's a lot of interesting Christological overtones as well. Though one of the things I disliked about the film was that I thought it was a bit heavy-handed at times what with Superman floating above the earth in cruciform listening to all the "prayers." And all the father-son talk.

The Shark said...

I forgot to mention the Messianic figures and the father/son discussion.

I would expect Superman to be a Christ figure in the film, but I do agree that they sort of forced it down our throats at times. The one that bothers me the most is the cruciform he poses as he is dying in Earth's atmosphere after sacrificing himself to save the world.

I thought the father/son part was touching, and though it does tie in closely with the whole God/Christ comparison, I thought it brought a depth to the character, as well insight regarding his solitude on Earth.

Cabeza said...

I didn't say that real women have BIG butts. I just think that a woman should have curves. And a butt.

And that "a" in "a butt" is pronounced like Wayne's "a gun," as in: "I don't even own a gun, let alone many guns that would necessitate an entire rack."

Just to be clear.