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Superman Returns - Review

Superman Returns

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Double Disc Set – Special Features: Over Ten Revealing Additional Scenes With Characters And Plotlines Never Before Seen; Requiem For Krypton: Making Superman Returns – Multi-Part Documentary; Secret Origins and First Issues: Crystallizing Superman; The Crystal Method: Designing Superman; An Affinity for Beachfront Property: Shooting Superman – Superman on the Farm; An Affinity for Beachfront Property: Shooting Superman – Superman in the City
An Affinity for Beachfront Property: Shooting Superman – Superman In Peril; The Joy of Lex: Menacing Superman; He’s Always Around: Wrapping Superman; Resurrecting Jor-El – Featurette; 3D rendering of Marlon Brando’s face for the Fortress of Solitude scene.

YOU have to take your cape off to Bryan Singer, the director has done what many thought impossible and made you believe that a man really can fly again.

Having turned the X-Men franchise into an all-conquering success for Marvel Comics, he now breathes new life into DC’s Man of Steel with the equally impressive Superman Returns. The result is a film that’s both deeply respectful to its source material and Richard Donner’s first two Superman movies, that’s brave enough to explore new avenues.

It’s an effortless crowd-pleaser – one that boasts cutting edge special effects and some breathtaking action set pieces, but a film that has plenty of heart as well and a cast worthy enough to deliver the emotional investment required.

Singer took a risk when he cast the unknown Brandon Routh in the title role, but the actor proves an excellent choice – mixing the amiable nice-guy charm of the slightly awkward Clark Kent with the smooth charisma required of Superman. That he looks uncannily like a young Christopher Reeve is simply the icing on the cake, serving to present audiences with a nice sense of familiarity from the outset.

Strong, too, are the rest of his cast, including two of the usual suspects from past Singer successes – Kevin Spacey, clearly having a ball as the villainous Lex Luthor, and James (X-Men) Marsden, as the new love-interest of Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth).

The plot is also involving enough to hold the attention for the duration of its two and a half hour running time. Having been away for five years for an unknown reason, Superman returns to an Earth that no longer depends on his heroics.

Life has moved on, as have the staff at the Daily Planet – most notably intrepid reporter Lois Lane, now engaged to the newspaper’s deputy editor (Marsden), the mother of a five-year-old boy and the Pulitzer prize-winning author of an article entitled “Why the world doesn’t need Superman”.

Clark Kent clearly has his work cut out winning back his beloved, while convincing the rest of Metropolis (and the greater world) that there’s always a need for a man in a cape.

Lex Luthor (Spacey), meanwhile, is fresh out of prison and hell-bent on revenge, having discovered a formula for sapping Superman’s power with some kryptonite-laced energy crystals that can also help realise his plans for global domination via the property market.

Though darker and more emotionally complex than earlier Superman movies, Singer’s film feels so much better for it. The director takes what could have been the film’s achilles heel and turns it into an asset by introducing a love triangle that provides his central hero with a dilemma worthy of Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne.

Hence, Clark Kent’s inherent goodness is put to the ultimate test as he has to prove himself once more to a sceptical world while potentially coming between a good man and the woman he left five years ago with no explanation. Never mind the peril he faces by taking on Luthor once again, who’s much more ruthless than previously.

As serious as much of this sounds, however, Superman Returns is still much lighter in tone than a lot of superhero movies. Singer is careful to inject a lot of humour that’s both playful and engaging. Several jokes come at the expense of our previous knowledge of the franchise, while there’s also some fun to be had at Superman’s perceived invincibility (witness the montage involving his globe-trotting exploits).

Routh, too, demonstrates a subtle comic timing, especially when portraying Clark Kent, and there are several moments to savour as his double identity comes close to being revealed (especially in one terrific off-camera moment involving Lois’ son). As sinister as Luthor becomes, Spacey is also given free reign to play him nicely over the top, generating several big laughs along the way to unveiling his evil masterplan.

No summer blockbuster would be complete without a few grandstanding set pieces and Superman Returns excels on this level too, beginning with the rescue of a stricken plane and culminating in the inevitable confrontation with Luthor’s villains and the rescue of many Metropolis citizens. But none come at the expense of plot or characterisation and merely serve to augment the emotional connection.

This is, first and foremost, a love story – between Clark and Lois and between Singer and Superman. The director is clearly smitten with the franchise (having been enthralled with the superhero since childhood) and his adulation is beautifully realised on-screen.

The film may threaten to become a little too sentimental towards the end and boasts one too many slow-motion shots of, ooh, Superman flying but audiences will be prepared to forgive the director such excesses.

Superman Returns works hard to earn our sympathy but subsequently deserves every bit of it. The film soars and its feel-good factor is utterly infectious. Singer has delivered a note-perfect blockbuster once again.

Brandon Routh interview

Bryan Singer interview

Kevin Spacey interview

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs 30 mins

  1. Superman does soar. It’s a tired cliche but its appropriate. I love this movie and Bryan Singer is God

    Mike    Jul 21    #