Superman Returns starts out with a paragraph prologue, explaining where the movie starts, essentially. The original score cues up and your skin gets goosebumps. How right that they keep the original theme! We soon discover that Superman, as well as Clark Kent, have been gone for years, visiting his dead home planet, Krypton. Both return in a blaze of fire at his adoptive mother’s house (Eva Marie Saint).
We follow Clark as he returns to the Daily Planet and discovers that a lot of things have changed. During his “soul searching”, Lois had a child and got engaged to her editor’s nephew, Richard White (James Marsden). Superman also discovers that the crime rate has risen and that Lex Luthor was appealed due to Superman not being there to be a witness. More and more we feel the weight on Superman’s shoulders burdened by his act of “abandoning” the world. And no one felt more abandoned than Lois, who won a Pulitzer for her article, “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman”.
After this depressing return home of finding his true love has moved on, what’s next for Superman? Well, what he usually does – help the world. In a blur of scenes, Superman randomly saves people and rights wrongs. It comes off as rather tedious and predictable…and then we are given a new facet of Superman: The Peeping Tom. That’s right! Throughout the movie, Superman uses his powers for frivalous spying on Lois Lane and her family in their home, peering through the walls with his x-ray vision and using her supersonic hearing to listen in on their conversation. Superman doesn’t even look guilty after doing this, which doesn’t strike true with fans of the character.
Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) visits the Fortress of Solitude and learns everything about Superman’s past and the crystals within the chamber. He learns all this through the image of Jor-El, played by Marlon Brando via archive footage. As his scheme unfolds, one crinkles their brow with confusion. Lex Luthor is coming off as one-note, and more dreadfully, he’s coming off boring. His whole plan is a viable one, but it just seems a stupid idea from the evil genius.
Spacey usually plays multi-layered, extremely fascinating characters, so when you see his name in the credits you assume that his portrayal of Luthor is going to be the best yet. It’s not. Luthor doesn’t even feel menacing or clever. Instead, the character romps about putting his plans in order like a rich kid all grown up while Superman is completely aware of his “devious” plan.
Bryan Singer directed Superman Returns, giving the film that witty humor we remember from the first two installments of X-Men. We also get plenty of nods to the past films, including direct quotes from the original. One would be hard-pressed to not notice that Superman Returns is an homage to its predecessors.
On the whole, the movie has a very angst-ridden quality to it. In fact, this goes on for the first hour and a half. Superman spies on Lois unbeknownst to her, angonizes on love lost. Lois doesn’t let Superman or Clark off the hook for abandoning her for years without even saying goodbye. Its obvious she still has feelings for both but doesn’t want to let either back into her life more than she has to.
By the time the real action arrives, people are falling asleep or just wishing it was over. There was no reason for this to go on and on. The confrontation with Luthor at the end seems rushed, even though the movie itself is a good two and a half hours long. Most of the screentime went to the not-so-subtle nods to the previous films and the confused turmoil of the Lois/Superman and Lois/Clark relationship.
The actors do their best in Return and I do not begrudge them for the longwinded essence of their characters. Lois is fresh-faced and fiesty with Kate Bosworth in the role. She does not portray an overall toughness to Lois, but she also doesn’t let people step all over her or tell her what to do. Kevin Spacey did the best he could with the role before him and Parker Posey is adorable as whiny Kitty Koslowski.
How does Brandon Routh fair playing the iconic Man of Steel? Decent. He looks strikingly similar to Christopher Reeve and attempts to emulate those performances, but due to the script and lack of facial nuances from Routh, Superman is flat and under-developed. He seems as though he is simply trying to mimic Reeve…and failing at it. The sweet, good-heartedness of Reeve’s portrayal is absent in Routh’s. Despite all the scenes that focus on the relationship between Clark/Superman and Lois, you never really feel connected to how Clark is feeling and that makes the scene tiring to watch.
Some were disappointed with the choice of Routh when it was announced. After all, Christopher Reeve himself appeared on several episodes of Smallville and effectively “passed the torch” to Tom Welling, whose portrayal of a young Clark living in Smallville had revived interest in Superman once again. There are those who doubt that Superman Returns would have been greenlit at the time it was if it had not been for the overall good ratings for Smallville, whose audiences are mostly female.
Perhaps we’re “all superheroed out”. The script of Returns, written by Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty, follows pretty closely to Spider-man: Superhero is in love with fiesty girl-next-door type, but cannot reveal his secret identity, therefore pining after her in secret while saving the world one person at a time. Maybe if the bar hadn’t been raised so high with films like Daredevil, X-Men, and X2, Returns could have been considered more interesting. Unfortunately, the movie feels generic, formulaic, and most importantly, quite a bit boring.