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As you know, every comic book ever published is being made into a movie. Even stories like Batman that have been made into movies countless times are being remade once again. Batman Begins did a really good job of pushing the reset button and starting the story over at the beginning. Now, it is Superman's turn. In addition to the TV series from my childhood, there were four Superman movies starring the late Christopher Reeve which appeared between 1978 and 1987. The new film does not go back to square one of the Superman saga but as the title suggests, picks up the story after Superman (Brandon Routh) has been missing for 5 years. While he was gone, he traveled to Krypton, after astronomers discovered its location, but found it to be a dead planet. Meanwhile, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) hooked up with Richard White (James Marsden), Perry's nephew, and now has a young son (Tristan Lake Leabu). The rest of the original supporting cast, Perry White (Frank Langella), Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington), and of course, Lex Luther (Kevin Spacey) are back. Lex has been in prison for 5 years but was released when Superman failed to show up to testify at his trial. Lex seems to have fallen on hard times. When we first see him, he is bilking a dying old woman out of her fortune with the help of his partner in crime (Parker Posey). But soon he back to his old tricks, breaking into the Fortress of Solitude, (apparently Superman forgot to lock the door) and stealing the crystals. Lex is treated to a message from Jor-El (Marlon Brando). Anyway, Lex plans to build his own continent using the crystals, destroying most of North America in the process. Lois still reeling from the return of Superman, blunders on board Lex Luther's ship with her son and is kidnapped. You'd never guess the rest. Superman has to try and save Lois and and rest of the World from the clutches of Lex Luther. I never would have guessed it either.
Superman Returns is a big disappointment. Unlike Batman Begins, which has revitalized that franchise, the new Superman movie is a step backwards. Batman Begins wiped the slate clean from the slapstick campy TV series and the over-the-top movies by retelling Batman as the simple story of a real man. Superman is harder to update. He is still an alien from Krypton with real super powers. But Bryan Singer, who left the X-Men franchise, to direct this film, doesn't seem to know whether to try and go the Batman route or stick with a retelling of the Christopher-Reeve version of the story. Superman Returns ends up being a mishmash of the two. The first half of the film is very cartoonish, particularly Lex Luther and his henchman who have the campy style of the Batman TV series. I love Kevin Spacey but he is at his worst here, playing a one-dimensional Lex Luther who is as inept as he is silly.
The two leads in Superman Returns, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane and Brandon Routh as Superman have mixed success with their roles. Routh is much better as Superman than Clark Kent. Bosworth is a bit flat and blank through most of the movie. And the sparks don't exactly fly when the two of them are together and they recreate the flying scene between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. Since this is the 21st century, attempts have been made to update Lois' character. She has just won the Pulitzer Prize (for a story entitled, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman") and is a working mother. But she doesn't have any pizzazz. Most of the supporting cast are just window dressing. Frank Langella is great as Perry White. He even says, "Great Caesar's Ghost." Jimmy Olsen is still a cub reporter and doesn't seem to have aged along with the other characters. Parker Posey's role as Lex Luther's sidekick and possible (???) girlfriend is bizarre. Her character seems to be right out of the Batman TV series bad-guy playbook. It is really nice to see Eva Marie Saint who gets to play Ma Kent. Marlon Brando appears as Jor-El, courtesy of some archival footage left over from the original Superman. And keep an eye out for the the actors who played Lois Lane (Noel Neill) and Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larson) in the original TV series. They make cameos in the new movie as the old dying woman and the bartender.
Things do improve a bit in the second half of Superman Returns and Lex gets a bit more menacing as he comes close to killing Superman with some green Kryptonite. But there's never much drama. Lex and Superman have been at this for decades, always with the same result. The only real drama in Superman Returns is over the parentage of Lois' son. You'll have to see the movie to see what I'm talking about. But it makes no sense unless the gestation period of a half-human, half-krypton baby is a lot longer than normal. Or maybe Lois' fiance, Richard White is just clueless. But he doesn't seem clueless, and is actually the best developed character in Superman Returns. If he looks a bit familiar, it's because James Marsden also plays Cyclops in the X-Men movies. Even a jealous Superman would agree that his character is a good guy. And White also gets to rescue Lois. He shows up before Superman at one point and Lois asks,"How did you get here?" to which Richard answers,"I flew" (by seaplane). The pace of Superman Returns is very slow and the movie feels even longer than its 2 1/2 hour running time. This movie is in need of quite a bit of editing. Apparently, Bryan Singer is suffering from Peter-Jackson syndrome. But he didn't even have an exciting dinosaur scene to fill up the extra time. And for a movie with a budget reported to be $260 million, the special effects aren't that good. In particular, Superman looks plastic, like something out of Toy Story.