I just returned from watching SUPERMAN RETURNS a second time. I went to an old school non-stadium seating theater that’s just up the road from my apartment at Excelsior and I-100. I’m breaking up this review into a few components in order to maintain focus and not turn into a blathering idiot. I decided not to review the film until I saw it twice. Now I realize that most of the negative reviews that I’ve read online are the result of previous expectations going awry. Watching something twice will also give you a better idea of whether or not this is a One Time See or a Multiple Time See. In my case, it’s the latter.
Lois Lane as played by Kate Bosworth is no where near the same character that Margot Kidder created. Margot was huskier. She was sassier. Some might even say pluckier. Kate comes off as mature, but only on occasion. At other times she looks or sounds like she’s 16 years old. I figure she’ll settle into the part as time goes by. Lois Lane does a lot of annoying things in the comics, so I’m willing to let slip some of the actions she takes in this film. Lois is a screw-up on occasion. That’s not Kate Bosworth’s fault. She portrays that aspect quite well. You never know what impulsive decision may be next and whether or not she’ll need saving or not.
Jimmy Olson as played by Sam Huntington is like a breath of fresh air. He’s funny and he pops up unexpectedly. He’s nerdy and he seems to worship fellow nerdling Clark Kent. It’s good to see that his role hasn’t been minimized as it often has been in the past. There are some pretty good scenes from SUPERMAN that were removed which feature more Jimmy Time. Here’s one.
Perry White as played by Frank Langella gives me a warm feeling. He’s not a jerk like most editor or boss types have been played in the past. He’s thoughtful while still being strict about his way or the highway. At one point in the film he addresses all section editors of the paper by asking them to cover Superman based on their area. That scene is brilliant. There aren’t a lot of Perry moments, however, but I think it’s wise that they went Perry Lite in this film. He’s no Jackie Cooper, but his new take on the character is refreshing.
Richard White, as played by X-MEN’s Cyclops, also known as actor James Marsden, is somewhat of an enigma. How did he fall for Lois? His dad is Perry White and he works in the newsroom. That makes sense. Nevertheless, I feel like his real backstory was missing. From what I can tell, it seems that Richard caught Lois on the rebound when Superman disappeared five years earlier. He’s a good guy, but he’s got the disadvantage of being Rebound Guy. You feel for him. Sorta.
Jason White, also known as The Kid, as played by Tristan Lake Leabu in his acting debut, is Lois Lane’s son. Bosworth looks more like his older sister than his mom. Kate is 22 so this means she would have been 17 when she had him. Riiiiight. See the problem? The kid is done with a light touch. I couldn’t figure out if I liked him or hated him until I watched his performance the second time around. He’s cool. Granted, he’s no Haley Joel Osmant.
Clark Kent as performed by Brandon Routh is exactly how I like my Clark served up. He’s nervous. He’s nerdy. He’s very aware that he’s doing much more than just putting on a suit and glasses to disguise himself. Like the late Christopher Reeve, Routh uses awkward mannerisms and gestures to bury Superman beneath layers of angst and discomfort. People say he’s imitating Reeve. I say he’s channeling. Besides, I’ve never liked the way previous Clarks were portrayed. Reeve hit it right on the nose and I would be quite happy to see Clark played the same way regardless of who has the role. The only discernable difference in his performance happens where Clark’s glasses fall off. Routh does not have the same physical disparity when he’s wearing the glasses and when he’s not. Still, he’s good.
Superman, as also portrayed by Routh, is dead on perfect. He has enormous strength and can move mountains if he wants to, and yet he’s still vulnerable. People say he’s a boy scout. People say he’s two-dimensional. What they fail to recognize is the fact that given great power comes great responsibility. SPIDER-MAN literally called out those exact words and no competent reviewer could ever say that Spider-Man was a boy scout. Superman is a hero and a hero can be a boy scout or a police man or a fireman or whatever. They don’t cower. They don’t hide in the dark. Why the unfair comparison, then? Superman in this film has his flaws. He’s unsure of himself at times. The one moment of the film that makes me love this movie happens when Richard White asks Lois if she ever loved Superman. Her reply, after a lengthy pause, is no. Superman happens to be outside listening to their exchange unbeknownst to them. He reacts by looking away and leaving. He’s clearly heartbroken. You can see tears welling up in his eyes as he passes a dark storm cloud in the night and flies toward the stars. That moment is priceless.
The movie’s look and sound are also a welcome blast from the past. The film addresses change indirectly. Cell phones and flat panel televisions are now everywhere. Technology has advanced, but the core elements remain. John William’s theme is thankfully preserved. The writing team for SUPERMAN is far better at telling a story than Lucas. I have some minor quibbles with re-treaded plotlines and dialog stolen from the first film, but this is a new story while still acknowledging the preceding films. I’d like to see new character elements added when they make the next one. How about those Clark Kent robots from the Fortress of Solitude? Superman uses them whenever he has to look appear at the same time as Clark. What about Brainiac? Bizarro? I thought there were scenes in SUPERMAN RETURNS with General Zod. They’re missing. There are so many stories. The writers need to pluck one out of Superman’s nearly 60 year history. I’m fervently happy with this story and how it was told. I hope Bryan Singer will stick around for another one. Any movie that can make you feel like you can fly as you’re walking outside to the parking lot is okay in my book.