This is spoiler-free — or as spoiler-free as I can make it — review.
Let me just say this so there's no mistaking what I'm about to write: It's not a bad movie. People who know me know I am an unabashed Superman fan. I love the character to death. I understand how the character works
, and I know Bryan Singer understands it the same way.
I also know many comic fans enjoyed it, some just as curmudgeonly, if not more so, than I am. It has some wonderfully realised set-pieces, excellent special effects, better performances that I expected from nearly all concerned, especially Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth. It had a good emotional core, was quite exciting in spots, and an interesting new twist that really needs to be followed up in a sequel.
Let me also say this: I'm going to watch it again. Not because I didn't give it a fair shake, but because, oddly enough, the movie didn't give itself a fair shake. I'll try and explain.
I was sceptical of Superman Returns
from the start. It was clear in my mind that Christopher Reeve
cast a very large shadow that could not be easily replaced. I didn't like the costume, I thought Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth were too young to be playing the parts that were ostensibly five years down the road from Superman II
, and generally I thought it would compare badly to the movies of my childhood.
This was why when I went into the cinema, I was trying desperately to think to myself: "Take it on its own terms; take it on its own terms; take it on its own terms. Don't compare it to the first two, don't compare Routh to Reeve, just see how good it is on its own."
Ironically, however, the movie just wouldn't let me
. From John William's "Superman March", from the credits that duplicated the style of the Salkind movies, from whole passages of dialogue that were lifted/repeated from the first two movies, from Routh's Chris Reeve impression, and the glimpses of Hackman in Spacey's performace, as hard as I was trying not to compare this movie to the past, it kept bringing me back
. Never has a movie worked so hard to stop me from trying to accept it on its own merits.
Again, let me emphasise — it's not a bad movie. But the shadow of Richard Donner, Tom Mankiewicz, John Williams and Christopher Reeve haunts the movie, and I think it does everyone involved in it a disservice. Some may say that it's homage
, it's tribute, and for a fresh new generation who don't remember or haven't seen the originals in any big way, I'm sure it resonates. But for myself, and I'm perfectly willing to admit I'm in a minority of one, if you keep reminding me of how good the first two movies were and mining them for iconic moments, you're not going to convince me how good this
movie is. I hope I'm making sense.
So I'm going to watch it again, and maybe this time I can adjust my mind so that I can accept the kisses to the past without being reminded too much about it.
The good bits: Routh, Bosworth, Spacey, Posey, Marsden, everyone, really, all turn in great performances. Even the kid that plays Lois's son isn't bad, and generally I hate the cute kid syndrome. Luthor is written and played as much more intelligent than the Hackman days, as someone who actually thinks things through, and the movie is much improved for that. Special effects, top notch. Script is witty. Climactic scene, suitably awesome, although mildly implausible. Did not mind the twist at all, although there are continuity problems with that which I won't go into because this is supposed to be non-spoilerish.
The bad bits: Plot is very, very thin. Concentrating on the emotional core is great, but as intelligent as Luthor appears in the movie, there's very little intelligence involved in his scheme. Also, despite the knowledge he's gained, he never makes use of it and thus leaves himself wide open for the way Superman defeats him. As mentioned, the movie also keeps wanting to invite comparisons with the earlier ones. The ending has at least three different denouements, which is always a bad sign, as if the movie can't decide which way it wants to end. Routh and Bosworth still too young to convincingly play a Superman and Lois five years on. Hate, hate, hate the costume: "S" too small, no "S" on the back of the cape, boots too short, stupid "S" buckle... please redesign it for the sequels.
In the end, the basic sin of this Superman movie, to my mind, was that, compared to every other super-hero movie, it was ordinary
. So my first watching of it didn't stir any fanboy impulses, didn't make me feel nostalgic, didn't even make me all emotional (and these days, I'm a real sap and tear up at movies a lot, so for a movie about a character who has been my particular hero since childbirth not
to do that takes some doing).
Given the frame of mind I went in, and how it was completely stymied by the way the movie structured itself, I think I should give it a second chance. So I'll take a second tilt at it, and hopefully I'll enjoy it more.
On a completely separate note, this week's issue of The Thing
was hilarious. Dan Slott is probably the most underrated writer in mainstream comics now. One scene halfway through the book in particular had me chuckling and saying out loud, "Ben Grimm, you're such a bastard." You'll know the one I'm talking about when you read it.