“They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way.”
The words of Jor-El via Marlon Brando, both spoken from beyond the grave, can not only be referring to the human race, but also director Bryan Singer and his able contingent of writers and fellow producers who delivered a Superman film the likes of which has never been seen – although one could easily ponder that if Dick Donner had access to modern-day technology, this would have been his film as well.
From the ground up, Superman Returns flies. It picks up, in case you haven’t heard, five or so years after the events chronicled in Superman II. Lex Luthor is out of jail and eager to pickup on a real estate scheme similar to his plan in the original Superman: The Movie but this one is of planetary proportions. As a result, Singer and screenwriters Michael Doughtery and Dan Harris wisely move away from bringing in a comicbook-inspired super-baddie to rough up our hero and instead focus on Luthor’s hatred of a “god in blue tights” revolving much of the main fight in a (Super)man vs. nature spectacle.
Whereas the main star of the film is probably the extensive but-brilliantly-done CG F/X, most of the actors step up to bat as well. Brandon Routh’s Reeve-esque performance highlights his ability to be both heroic and commanding, as well as stammering and sheepish while performing as the titular bespectacled civilian identity. Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey channels Gene Hackman and plays up Luthor’s sharp smile conning the audience one second and killing them the next. Even Frank Langella’s Perry White seems comfortable. Only Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane, although adequate enough, seems to lack that passionate fire that makes Lane such a compelling character.
The film is filled with Breakfast of Champions scenes and action staged to please both the general audience and fanboys as well. For those who care, be sure to take note of the nods to Action Comics #1 (1938) and Man Of Steel (1986) as well as a very clever re-cap of Superman’s first two films all told via Luthor’s model train room.
Unfortunately, this film is not perfect as the results of the finale are dealt with in a depressing manner that not only spoil the mood but also the tempo of the film. Then there is the sub-plot dealing with the mysterious lineage of Lois’ son that perhaps boldly goes into territory that even the much-more brazen monthly comics have yet to go. The pondering of this question really only proves that maybe the comic books are best left to such exploration allowing the movies to grow as fantastical companion pieces. Spider-Man’s Sam Raimi might be only director to fully grasp this concept. Until, at least, Christopher Nolan creates another Batman film.
As certain as believing that a man can fly, Singer crafts a tale full of magic and wonder that almost makes the 20-year wait manageable – as long as Singer’s follow-up appears faster, than say, a speeding bullet.
A version of this review is available on imdb.com