Wednesday, July 12, 2006 0
Now before you get into a tizzy, I'm not implying that O.J, Simpson killed his wife. I don't believe he did. But he did do something that Superman does in Superman Returns, and so they have at least one action in common.
To determine what that is, read on.
I came into the theater wanting to like Superman Returns before I saw it. In other words, I came with a bias. I'm one of those who remembers watching the black-and-white "Superman" TV show as a kid. I was never really into the Superman comics, preferring Wonder Woman (!), but I did watch "The Super Friends" and "The Justice League of America" cartoons.
Then there was Richard Donnar's "Superman" -- a masterpiece of a film that launched the career of soap opera actor Christospher Reeve, who we think of as anything but now.
What made Superman an incredible film was that it was faithful to the character I and others of my generation remember as kids: the defender of truth, justice, and the American way.
And that doesn't go for invading Iraq.
In other words, Superman was part of my childhood. I never watched one episiode of the popular TV series "Lois and Clark" or "Smallville" for that matter. (Well, I did see one "Smallville" story, which was pretty good.) They don't present the Superman I remember.
In other words, I don't associate Superman with sex, child support, birth control, jealously, stalking, homelessness, or alcoholism. Yet Brian Singer's deals with all of these issues either directly or indirectly in Superman Returns.
A Work Not Marvelous, But I Do Wonder...
Superman Returns is the result of a 13-year collective quest to make a new Superman movie, an effort that seemed as if it was going to be stuck in development hell until it was saved by Director Brian Singer and Producer Chris Lee. Two years and $250 million later, Superman Returns was released on June 30, 2006.
Superman plays Brandon Routh, who like Reeve before him was a soap opera actor, and who basically looks like a cross between Reeve and Dean Cain from "Lois and Clark" -- he's more Reeve than Cain, to be sure. 23-year old Kate Bostworth takes on Lois Lane, a character set in Zeitgeist stone by Margo Kidder and Terry Hatcher.
The cast is rounded by the appearance of Frank Langella as Perry White, the editor of The Daily Planet. (As a momentary aside, Langella's getting a lot of work of late, and he's sinks his teeth into every role.)
Finally (at least for the purpose of this review) one of my favorite actors, Kevin Spacey, plays Superman's enemy, Lex Luthor.
The question is how does each actor do compared to the ones who've come before them. My answer: not bad at all. It's not the actors that are the problem, it's the material they're given.
The story goes like this: Superman crash land on Earth -- and right onto his adopted mother's farm -- after a five year absence. Apparently astronomers discovered the remains of Krypton so Superman went back to investigate the find for himself. After all it's his home planet.
The trouble is he left without telling anyone where he was going -- except his Mom. So after enjoying some sleep in a comfortable bed at home and a game of "fetch" so unfair to the dog the canine gives up, Clark Kent returns to Manhattan -- opps, Metropolis -- and to his old job at the newspaper The Daily Planet, courtesy of Editor-In-Chief Perry White.
Jimmy Olsen's there (played by Sam Huntington) as is Lois Lane, at least her chair's there; she's part of a press group on the maiden voyage of a Boeing 777 carrying a new Space Shuttle into the sky.
He's reacquainted with her after a spectacular scene segment -- hampered by one major flaw -- where Clark Kent / Superman saves the 777 from crashing into a baseball stadium after a midair malfunction directly related to the doings of Lex Luthor.
Clark Kent / Superman is obviously anxious to see Ms. Lane, but discovers that she's moved on. She's got a husband-to-be -- Richard, played by James Mardsen -- and a five year old kid with an asthma problem and a weird ability to throw pianos when excited. Right, five years old. When Clark Kent / Superman sees the photo of Lois new family and Olsen fills him in on the new beau, Kent cracks the picture frame in an anger he struggles to hide. This guys jealous, big time. But he's Superman, which means that he could do some damage if he gets pissed. Better a planet than a family, right?
When Clark Kent / Superman leans of the home address of Ms. Lane, he flies off as Superman to -- well, go there. He arrives and while floating in air, uses his X-ray vision to observe the activity of the Lane household. We and he see the action one room at a time, and I feel creepy. At this point, I started to put this segment together with the picture frame cracking accident and think of Clark Kent / Superman as...
Finally Clark Kent / Superman sees Lois and Richard in the kitchen and with his super hearing listens to her say she's not in love with Superman anymore. At this point, he hangs in the air for a moment just long enough to make you believe he may do something rash, like blow the house down. Just think if he caught them making love, which the segment seems to communicate the possibility of happening. What then? Pound his fist in anger hard enough to make them think there's an earthquake and stop?
Why the OJ comparison? Well, one thing he did was go to the home of the guy his wife was seeing and peer into his window while she was "doing it" with him. What did he do?
Well, both he and Clark Kent / Superman did get angry. In Clark Kent / Superman's case, he flew off to Earth orbit, crying.
He Can't Find A Home...
Clark Kent / Superman can't seem to find a place to live. On three occasions he says he's still looking for one. Never finds one. He just hangs in space listening to just about everyone on Earth, picking and choosing where he goes at any moment in time. That's fine, but it seems to take away from the responsible Clark Kent, who knows he needs a home and one would think a place to entertain other than the Fortress of Solitude. Instead we get the homeless Clark Kent.
On top of all that Clark Kent / Superman reacts with an annoying indifference to the kid he sires and this is where the material show it's problem of lack of passion. In real life, Clark Kent / Superman would have asked Lois why she wasn't on birth control or something. To be fair, he does sneak back to Lois home to see his kid, but then that's what bugs me yet again.
Why couldn't he have just asked Lois to see him?
Moreover, why didn't Lois invite him? I actually liked Kate Bostworth as Lois. She played the role of Lois as Mom real well.
I also liked Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor, that is until he and his men beat up Superman / Clark Kent in a scene way too violent for the Superman movies.
$250 Million For This?
Finally, I come to the matter of the special effects that give shape to this movie. The airplane save scenes were really great. But the whole effect just plain fell apart for me when the 777 was in the baseball stadium. The face that it's not really there is obvious by the bleed lines between the aircraft and the real life stadium. It just takes away from the impact of the scene.
It left me wondering where the $250 million went. For that money, they should have been able to realize resolution so detailed the bleedlines were eliminated, but no. Yes, there's two scenes in King Kong that have the same problem, but they're minor and small in time, and way outnumbered by some jaw dropping effects, like Kong himself.
But in Superman Returns these bleedlines are everywhere, even on Superman himself as he flies. It was disappointing.
Do I Or Don't I Want A Sequel?
As I write this, Superman Returns is being clobbered at the box office. It has two problems: Pirates of The Carribean II and it's $250 million price tag. "Pirates" arrghed up $132 million in just a weekend. That would pay for 50 percent of the cost of Superman Returns, which has made $142 million in two weeks, and it's revenue gain is declining; it only took in $21 million last weekend, and with more flicks coming out, the number of screens it's on will shrink, making the breakeven target of $250 million harder and harder to reach. Ouch.
I believe Superman deserves a better movie life than this. Given what Singer brought to the screen this time, I'm not excited to see the sequel. But given the box office, getting one made may be hard to do.
The lesson here is clear. Don't mess with a kid's view of a comic book legend by making him less of a hero. Adults know heroes are flawed, but we don't want our childhood ones to be.
The Superman in Superman Returns is not the Man of Steel I remember as a kid; he's not the one I want to see today. Apparently, many agree.
Heck, I'll bet O.J would too.