Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s… well you know the rest. In 2006, nearly 20 years after the Superman franchise met its demise at the hands of the much maligned “Superman 4: The Quest for Peace”, Warner Brothers decided the moment was finally right to resurrect the Man of Steel.
For almost a decade the studio had tried and failed to get a new Superman movie off the ground, tapping various writers, directors, and actors to get the job done. After so many years and so much money spent on what looked to be a lost cause, Warner Brothers finally enticed director Bryan Singer (director of “X-Men” and “X2: X-Men United”) to join them on bringing Superman back to the big screen in a way befitting the greatest superhero of all time.
“Superman Returns” begins with Superman (Brandon Routh) returning to Earth after a five year expedition into space to discover any possible signs that Krypton may still exist. However, upon returning to his adopted planet, the Man of Steel finds that the people he has grown to care for so much, including Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), have moved on and may no longer need a hero to save them. That is, unless the recently paroled Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) manages to succeed in his newest evil scheme to amass power, this time through the use of Kryptonian crystals. If that happens, mankind may need their greatest champion much more than they ever imagined.
Following such an extended absence from Hollywood, was Bryan Singer’s epic adventure worth the wait? Absolutely! This is the movie, at least in my opinion, which showcases that even in our decidedly more jaded world, a hero that embodies all that was once bright, hopeful and good in all of us is still relevant.
Director Bryan Singer along with writers Mike Daugherty and Dan Harris (writers of “X2: X-Men United”) have brilliantly captured the spirit of Superman and continued on with the stories started in the previous films. This new take on the hero drops most of the tongue-in-cheek elements of the originals, opting for a more mature direction than the series has ever seen before. If you ever looked at the original films and thought that they could have been better if taken more seriously, then this is the Superman movie to see.
Even with the more serious tone, Singer and his writers have clearly done their level best to remain reverent to what has come before, but not to the point of hamstringing their film with the weaker elements of the past. Bravo gentlemen, to a job well done on bringing the Last Son of Krypton back into the mainstream with a movie that feels classic, yet fresh at the same time.
The casting for “Superman Returns” is terrific all across the board. Relative newcomer Brandon Routh does an excellent job of bringing Superman/Clark Kent to life. He perfectly conveys the many emotions our hero goes through as he tries to redefine his place in our world. Plus, his relative resemblance to actor Christopher Reeve makes him a solid stand-in for the late actor who had previously portrayed the character in the other four movies.
The supporting actors each make these classic characters their own by taking what had previously been done throughout all their different incarnations, and tweaking them for the modern day. Kevin Spacey truly shines in the role of Lex Luthor. Even though I enjoyed Gene Hackman’s version of Lex, I feel that Kevin did a much better job of bringing the evil and duplicitous nature of Lex to life, while still holding on to some of his dark wit. To me, Kevin’s sense of humor for the character actually resembles Michael Rosenbaum’s portrayal on the hit TV show, “Smallville” rather than Hackman’s. In my estimation, Lex’s change in demeanor with this movie was one of the key components in elevating this installment above the mediocrity and silliness that plagued the previous two films that had effectively grounded the series.
Kate Bosworth is perfect as Lois Lane, providing a much better interpretation of the character than Margot Kidder did in the Christopher Reeve movies. Kate’s portrayal of Lois was even feistier than Margot’s and seemed like a more realistic take on the beloved character and not just the semi-damsel in distress that Kidder embodied. I think the character’s appearance on “Smallville” (as played by Erica Durance) prior to this film’s release, provided a definite influence on how she should be handled in this iteration. This was yet another aspect of the change in tone from the previous films that served this movie well.
The rest of the cast that fleshed out the lesser parts of the film were equally enjoyable. From James Marsden’s (“X-Men”) portrayal of Richard White, to Sam Huntington’s Jimmy Olsen, and Frank Langella (“Frost/Nixon”) as Perry White, every actor truly shines in this movie. Unlike the previous films there were thankfully no real weak spots amongst the cast or the characters they were portraying. As I said, the writers clearly knew what they didn’t like from the previous movies and did everything within their power to ensure that nothing resembling those trouble spots appeared in this one.
The special effects for this movie are truly top-notch. The scenes with Superman flying are so incredible and visually stunning that you truly, honestly believe that you are actually witnessing a man flying. The excellence that this movie’s visual effects wizards achieved is remarkable and truly befitting the triumphant return of Superman to the movies.
“Superman Returns” brings the Man of Steel back to life in such a magnificent way that you leave the experience wishing that there were truly heroes like him in this world. With a great story that harkens back to the first two classics, a terrific cast, and wondrous visual effects, this is the movie that will remind you of what it’s like to believe that a man can fly.
By the way, if viewed in the proper context as intended by Bryan Singer, “Superman Returns” actually takes place after “Superman 2”, effectively ignoring the events of the last two entries. In my opinion, you can view this new installment after the fourth film, that way you can fully experience the entire Superman saga, and it won’t impede your enjoyment of this movie at all.
“Superman Returns” is rated PG-13 for violence and brief language.