About five minutes before I was headed out the door, I so happened to find something on cable that was playing at the same moment I was preparing to leave to see what I thought would be one of the best movies of the year. It was “Superman”. I’m serious. There’s Christopher Reeve about to save Lois who is dangling over the Metropolis skyline from a helicopter just as I was leaving, and if that wasn’t some sort of coincidence, I don’t know what is. It was creepy though. On the way to the theater, I found myself rather nervous, and I finally saw what I’d be dreaming of for two years. I’d finally seen “Superman Returns”, and I was cool as a clam. Leaving the theater, I’d decided I loved it, I truly loved it.
Even with the flaws present. The Lex confrontation is anti-climactic, there’s not much of a story, and Superman doesn’t really have much of a hard time getting things done. But beyond those minor flaws, “Superman Returns” relies on its actor’s strengths, and the fantastic work behind the camera to get it where it wants. And it works. From the booming title theme, the streaking credits, and the opening, I knew Bryan Singer hit the mark just right. I guess you can describe Singer’s foray into the Superman world as sort of a midquel™, a film that takes place after part two and before part three of the first franchise. And Singer includes many, many references to the Superman lore, and the first Superman film altogether. Most of all, though, the spirit of Superman’s story is there, and I enjoyed it.
Upon Superman’s return from discovering the remains of his planet, he discovers the world is in turmoil, and he must do something to set it right, but Lex has discovered Kryptonian technology, and he has big plans. Superman’s essence is thankfully restored with the charismatic performance of Brandon Routh who easily inhabits the character and his sensibilities, and he manages to performance that almost surpasses his predecessor Christopher Reeve. As Clark he’s the humble, klutzy, and almost invisible reporter, but as Superman, he’s a presence that people look to for help. Singer never gives too much camp, which was one of the problems with the first “Superman” movie. Lex is menacing, but he’s also demented, his sidekicks are idiots, but not comedic, and his mistress Kitty is devious, but not much of an idiot.
As always, the film begins on a twisted note with Lex re-claiming his fortune after being jailed, and he uses that to go about his pursuit to bring down Superman, and claim the world as his own. The action sequences are incredible, as Singer knows how to use Superman’s powers to great effect as we watch Clark hearing conversations, and watching Lois lovingly, while Superman is forced to help the entire Metropolis all on his own. The sequences where Superman realizes that the world really does need him after all are fun, especially as we watch him once again in his suit and cape and a fantastic suit at that. Singer, as Donner did, surrounds the unknown Routh with talented actors.
Bosworth is entertaining and sweet as Lois Lane, who has moved on from Superman and decided to turn against him because of feelings of abandonment, Sam Huntington is Jimmy Olsen case closed, Frank Langella is perfect as Perry, while Parker Posey is fun as Lex’s sidekick Kitty. Kevin Spacey seems to be having with the role of Lex, and he instills the same demented joy we saw from Hackman, onto his own depiction. Spacey steals the show, and once again really does steal the film from everyone else. “Superman Returns” is not a remake, but a film that takes place between films, and it works. Singer knows how to convey the same lore and wonder Superman has always had and he’s summed it up in one fantastic scene where Superman walks against a tide of bullets. It’s classic Superman, and Singer has it. “Superman Returns” is one of the best depictions to date.