Monday, July 3

Man of Steel

Superman returns. But is this a good thing?

I finally got to watch Superman Returns on Sunday. As you've read in my previous posts, I was not too enthusiastic about the movie, given some lukewarm to downright-pissed reactions from some of my friends to this 'requel' of the classic Superman films from former X-Meg Bryan Singer. Reviews all over the place have praised it to the high heavens or damned it to the depths of the sea. So what does a MADman think about this latest superhero flick?

Superman Returns picks up the slack sometime after the old Superman II flick (you all know... the one with "KNEEL BEFORE ZOD"). Knowing this is important since there is a pivotal event that happened in II that bears fruit (Hehe) in Returns. Anyway, Bryan Singer's film basically retcons the horrid Superman III (with the supercomputer) and the absolutely abysmal Superman IV: The Quest for Peace to the blackness of oblivion. After II, Superman finds out that astronomers have found deep in space what appears to be the remains of Krypton. Struck by the need to see if there's even a tiny shred of his origin left out there, Kal-El squeezes into his star-shaped spaceship/cradle and goes off into space, not to be seen for the next five years. Once he returns, he finds a world more violent, less innocent and more troubled than ever before... a world desperately in need of a god-among-men to help give a hand. But while the world praises Supes for his return, the one person he values the most seems to have gone on without him.

Despite all my misgivings about this film, I actually got through it without much of a strain. In fact, it's quite enjoyable at times, given that modern special effects have finally, FINALLY allowed the grandness that is Superman- flying, invincible Superman, to be realized on the big screen. The special effects, for one, are quite good compared, especially compared to the old movies. Brandon Routh, the relative unknown who has now been catapulted into instant recognition (thanks to countless action figures that bear his mug), acquits himself rather well as both mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent and his super alter-ego. As Clark, he seems to emulate Christopher Reeve, but thankfully with little of the over-the-top dorkiness. As Superman, he's doesn't talk much but lets his actions communicate his benign, 'big brother' like presence (yes, he hears EVERYTHING).
As for the other cast members, Kevin Spacey does, in my opinion, a fairly excellent job in his portrayal of Lex Luthor, Superman's nemesis. There's a hint of Gene Hackman's con artist in there, with a bit of Mr. John Smith from Seven, and a little bit of Keyser Soze's seeming infallibility. This new Luthor has humor and slightly a forgiving side (at least he doesn't kill off moll Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey) for an act of betrayal, and he does seem to care for his underlings a bit). He's still ruthless and scary when he's serious though... and he's still ridiculously obsessed with REAL ESTATE.
Other characters. Kate Bosworth is gorgeous, but I really see her as too young for the part. Otherwise, I like her. Frank Langella's Perry White, Eva Marie Saint's Martha Kent and Sam Huntingdon's Jimmy Olsen are note-perfect. Jason Marsden is a revelation in this one... X-men's former Cyclops vindicates his defection to DC's flagship as a character that is pivotal to the movie (unlike his underwhelming role in the X-films)- Lois Lane's fiancee' Richard White. Here's a man, an ordinary man, who nevertheless stands equally with the Man of Steel in terms of the love of one woman. Marsden plays it with class and I hope his character pans out more in future installments.

And then there are the iffy's. Parker Posey's Kitty Kowalski is Luthor's moll, his mews. She provides quite a few laughs in the film and serves a good purpose as the inevitable turncoat. A bit grating she may be, but she fares better than Kal "Kumar" Penn, the young comedian who is given a dialogue-less role as one of Luthor's thugs. His bit of casting mystifies me, but what the heck.

Unfortunately, Superman Returns is not flawless. The movie is overlong and could do well with several minutes chopped off. I understand as a starting movie you can't throw in Darkseid or have Zod return from the Phantom Zone just yet, but darn... all Superman does in this film is fix stuff. There are no big fight scenes. No toe-to-toe fights, save for a one-sided beating late into the movie. The most thrilling part is an airliner/space shuttle rescue that happens in the first third of the movie, leaving uneven action sequences for the rest of the movie, along with a non-climax that doesn't really pay off much. Yes, the movie opens for a sequel, but it would not have hurt to have a good finish, a satisfying getback before the final Christopher Reeve-emulated smile in space.

In the end... Superman Returns wasn't as horrible as I feared (Ang Lee's Hulk is still untouchable in that regard). The flashbacks to younger days didn't last too long, and I didn't get the urge to walk out of the theater (except to go piss). Performances were fine, the special effects amazing. Let down a bit by non-action and a questionable, too drama-heavy script, but promising for good things to come.

What I want? For the 'requel' of Superman II to have Ralph Fiennes as General Zod, Angelina Jolie as Ursa and Paul 'Triple H' Levesque as Non. Let the speculations begin. Hoho!

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