Looking back at Superman Returns

News Mark Oakley
9 Mar 2011 - 10:18

The reboot starts here as Bryan Singer, and a complete unknown, delivers a superhero movie like few others. Here’s Mark’s appreciation of Superman Returns…

Let's get this out of the way now: Superman Returns was the Superman movie few were expecting.

Moviegoers wanted high octane action and huge set pieces, with a liberal dose of special effects, the odd zinger or two and a fun, entertaining couple of hours. What moviegoers got was a downbeat, slow-paced dramatic outing that remains faithful to the original, while developing the myth in an absorbing manner.

It's fair to say it's a divisive film.

That's only half the story, though. For the film also contains a bunch of set pieces that will live long in the memory, a rip-roaringly over-the-top performance from Sir Kevin of Spacey and some truly gorgeous cinematography. Truly, this is one beautiful film to look at.

Newton Thomas Sigel is the man responsible for the amazing vistas and his previous work with director Bryan Singer on The Usual Suspects pays dividends, as the two are clearly in sync in the realisation of Singer's latest vision of a cinematic icon. It helps, of course, that Singer clearly understands his subject, the geek credentials that made him such an ideal candidate when his involvement was first announced shining through, permeating every moment of the film.

If there is a criticism to be had about Singer's detailed approach, it's that the film clocks in at a lengthy 154 minutes. Of course, this ample running time is another aspect of the film that belies its blockbuster status, with several scenes making it through to the final reel that arguably could have been left out. Still, Singer clearly had an idea of how he wanted to re-imagine the franchise and his confidence behind the director's chair largely pays off.

The central theme of the plot, of Superman returning to Earth after a five-year absence, was always going to be an intriguing one, and Singer covers all bases. How will Earth's inhabitants, especially those closest to him, react to his return? How have they coped in his absence? Is Superman even relevant to Earth any more? It's a cracking idea, and one the director clearly has faith in, and rightly so.

The film is undeniably a big screen affair, although it's gratifying to note that the strengths of the movie shine through in the living room, too. Whether it's the thrilling action sequences or the long-awaited face-off between Luthor and Superman, the film offers plenty for fans and casual viewers alike.

As for those action set pieces: wow. They may be in relatively short supply, but when they come, they are truly breathtaking. Singer handles them with such confidence that he's not afraid to blow the budget on an air crash sequence that will forever be most closely associated with the film. Look up 'thrilling' in the movie reference dictionary, and this is the scene from modern cinema that deserves to be referenced first up. It's the stuff cinemas were built for, the stuff movie fans crave.

While that's the undoubted action high of the film, other sequences such as the bullet-meets-eye bit are equally well handled, and while it's fair to say that they stand out more because of their infrequent appearance within the overall runtime, they are adroitly handled.

Aside from the blockbuster action, the film relies heavily on a romance between him and Lois Lane that marks the film's one real duff note. I've a lot of time for Kate Bosworth, unlike some critics of the film, but few sparks fly between her and Routh, which is obviously going to present problems when the film hinges on believing their relationship with one another.

Then there's the boy, a big misstep in my view, and really could have been left out of the movie altogether.

These two elements threaten to bring the movie down towards its final moments, appearing to weigh heavily on the plot. It's to the film's credit, then, that it remains an entertaining watch time and time again, despite an unrewarding, rather ponderous climax.

This is, in part, thanks to Spacey's strong performance as Luthor (far better than Hackman's, for my money), and Routh's better than expected turn as the Man Of Steel himself. When the pair finally meet, obviously it's Spacey who comes off best, but Routh handles himself well enough to ensure he maintains a decent enough screen presence.

There's also good support from the likes of Parker Posey, Frank Langella, James Marsden and, of course, Marlon Brando's computer-generated reprisal of his role as Jor-El.

Superman Returns may not have been the movie people were expecting, but by providing big money, big screen sequences, gorgeous cinematography and strong dramatic undertones, it delivers one of the strongest films of the entire franchise for me. It's certainly better than Superman IV...

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