After a nineteen-year hiatus, Superman has indeed Returned. Considering it followed Superman III and IV, two of the worst comic book films of all time, hell, possibly two of the worst films in general, I’m surprised this film was met with such criticism. An incredibly misunderstood and under-appreciated film, Returns doesn’t quite match the Donner directed films, but succeeds very well as a standalone sequel.
After astrologists may have discovered the remains of Superman’s homeworld of Krypton, the Man of Steel (Brandon Routh) sets off in hope of seeing his home planet for the first time in his life. An inexplicable amount of time later, Supes returns to Earth to regain his title as the world’s saviour, and the heart of the woman he loves, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth). To his dismay, his sharp-tongued partner is married to Perry White’s (Frank Langella) young nephew, Richard (James Marsden) and is the mother to a five(?) year old son Jason. To add to his troubles, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is out of prison and he wants revenge! Spacey brings less arrogance to the role than Gene Hackman, although his sociopathic Luthor is even more loathsome.
Brandon Routh is alright as Clark Kent, although he lacks the charisma to fully portray a convincing Superman. While every movie Superman will be compared to the first and best (Christopher Reeve), it is unreasonable to expect another perfect portrayal of both Clark and Superman. Routh certainly fits the mould of a modern Superman and he is certainly a decent actor, although his “x-factor” is missing. Maybe we just look too hard for a Christopher Reeve clone. His chemistry with Kate Bosworth is all over the place (not really his fault) and his Superman seems a little forward in his actions and seems to lack the thought processes and reporter’s nous Clark should have.
On the other end of the spectrum, Kevin Spacey is completely engaging as Superman’s arch enemy. While not as arrogant and hair-needy as the Lex Luthor we’re used to, Spacey’s sociopathic, gold-digging Lex is incredible. For once, he doesn’t have a plan solely devoted to killing Superman. Maybe he learned from the piece of crap which was Nuclear Man. Instead, Lex’s plan is to develop an entirely new landmass the size of the United States, made from Kryptonite, and sell the new land off to potential developers for heaps of money. He doesn’t even mind that millions, no billions of people will die in the process.
Meanwhile, Richard is convinced Clark may just be Superman and Jason’s parentage comes into question. Frank Langella is reserved as Perry White, and Sam Huntington holds a disturbing case of people worship towards “Mr. Clark.” To add to the list of disappointments, the usually sharp-tongued yet spelling-challenged Lois Lane is not only too young, but too plain. Kate Bosworth may have fit the bill to someone, but she is certainly not the image of Lois Lane not only we love, but Superman loves. Not even Clark seems too interested in her.
With a hefty run-time and plenty of “this is a sequel” garbage to get out of the way, Superman Returns was quite unlucky to not receive a sequel. The film was flat in places, and the casting choices certainly weren’t perfect, but it is rare a comic book film succeeds in all aspects. Grossing $500m in the US alone, we are left wondering how successful a deserving sequel would have been.