I’m just going to come out and say it: I was never that big of a Superman fan. As a superhero, he was just so unstoppable that I couldn’t really get too excited about his adventures. Bullets were always going to bounce off of him until the villains obtained the ultra-rare green rock that weakened him. In addition to being invincible as a crime fighter, Superman never really dealt with any personal crisis, even as Clark Kent. While the X-Men were dealing with persecution, Spider-Man with balancing a normal life and responsibility and Batman keeping his dark side in check, all was well with the Man of Steel. As cool as it is to see a character display amazing powers and accomplish impossible feats, a perfect being isn’t that fun to read about. It’s conflict and vulnerability that makes a hero that more heroic. And that’s exactly what we get in this film.
In a unique twist on superhero movies, it starts off with our hero missing in action. According to the opening text, astronomers claim to have discovered remnants of the long lost planet, Krypton. Superman disappeared shortly after this discovery was made. The story picks up five years later as he returns to Earth having found nothing but the shattered remains of his home world. But things have changed in the world he once protected. Everyone was forced to move on in his absence, including Lois Lane, who is now raising her son with her fiancé and even won the Pulitzer Prize for an article titled “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” Not to mention Lex Luthor, who got out of his double life sentence on a technicality and is already carrying out his new evil plot.
Hell of a homecoming for our boy in blue but it makes for such a great film. We see Superman dealing with some serious issues. For one thing, he’s facing the fact that he is indeed the Last Son of Krypton, having experienced that firsthand. Tough thing to deal with after being given hope that something or someone may have survived. Tougher still is to see what he did to the people that he loves by leaving them behind for so long without even a word of goodbye. Ma Kent had nearly given up hope that her adopted son would come back, leaving her all alone. Then you have Lois, who not only has moved on but wants nothing to do with our hero. It’s a gutsy move to take the iconic elements of a comic-book character, like the romantic interest, and steer them in such a profound new direction but the gamble pays off big time.
A big credit to this movie’s excellence is its screenplay. Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris have penned one of the better and tighter scripts I’ve seen in a while. They manage to bring something new to the mythos of Superman while still remaining true to the character and his past incarnations. It’s honest, engaging and believable, perfectly balancing our hero’s struggles and the fun of watching him save the day. Even more impressive is the amount of parallels within the context of the story. One example of this is between Clark/Superman and Richard White, Lois’ fiancé and editor of the Daily Planet. As Clark, he feels threatened by Richard because of his strong relationship with the woman he loves. This becomes even more difficult to deal with since they are going to be working together everyday and their son fills out the sense of family and humanity that he longs for. Yet Richard feels threatened by Superman and his past with Lois. It gives the characters that extra depth that is lacking in other blockbusters and strengthens the themes of the story. There are plenty more of these great parallels in the writing throughout the movie ranging from subtle details to main plot points but I’ll let you enjoy finding them yourself.
Working off the first-rate script, the cast delivers strong performances. Newcomer Brandon Routh embodies the legendary superhero nicely. He has that all-American country boy look with a slight sense of not being of this world that is necessary for the role. Routh’s portrayal also captures the sincere heroism that Superman is known for while still conveying this new introspective incarnation. Kate Bosworth, while not who I pictured for Lois Lane, proves capable of playing the resourceful, smart, tougher-than-she-looks reporter. There is also considerable chemistry between her and Routh for two characters that now have a lot standing between them. And then of course, there’s Kevin Spacey. The man continues to prove that he’s one of the best in the business as Lex Luthor. He creates a villain that has equal parts of humor and sly charm while still posing a big threat to Metropolis and Superman. It is a joy to watch Spacey scene after scene.
If ever there was a director who showed his passion for comic-book characters, it’s Bryan Singer. Following up his masterful work with “X-Men,” Singer continues to set the mark for superhero movies. He creates such fantastic imagery that showcases the Man of Steel and his great powers. Never before has a man flying looked so good and there is an action sequence with an airplane that simply has to be seen to be believed. All the while that he is amazing the audience with fantastic visuals, he never forgets that he’s telling a story and does it in a serious but entertaining fashion. He even manages to pull off the rare feat of making a movie that acts as both a sequel and stands on it’s own. Whether he’s paying homage to the past films or comics or making his own mark, Singer’s love for the character is present on every frame of this film and it makes it all the more special.
“Superman Returns” is a bold new step for the series and it looks to be going in an exciting new direction. One of the better comic book films of recent years, it’s full of action, ideas, and heart. I can’t wait for the next one.