Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Superman: the rumors are true

June 28, 2006

I’ll admit it: I’m totally gay for Superman. The Man of Steel stands for truth, justice, the American way, and he STILL has time for his lady. He may be a little too wonder bread and saintly for some, but I’ve always held the man in a certain regard. Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns” is not only a fantastic return for the long-gone (from the screen) superhero, it just might be the best Superman film of them all. And no, sorry folks, there ain’t an inkling of homosexuality to be found.

This isn’t a superhero film that redefines the framework of what one can be (“Batman Begins”), it’s just a spectacular example of what can happen when the right director takes on the formula and gets everything right. Singer has many nods to the original Richard Donner films, but is very careful to give “Returns” its own distinctive feel while including numerous old-school touches.He opens the film with unused voiceover work by Marlon Brando from the original “Superman” (and later features footage of Brando in the fortress of solitude) and it totally works. After some (very) quick exposition, we jump into the delightfully nostalgic credits—just hearing the Superman music the first time gave me chills. In fact, whenever the theme was played, I was filled with giddiness.

It’s revealed early on that Superman has disappeared for 5 years, and everyone, including Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), seems to have moved on (or at least pretended to). Lois is in a prolonged engagement with Cyclops (a.k.a.: James Marsden) and has a young son; more pressingly, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has been released from prison—Superman never showed up to his trial to testify—and is typically hell-bent on revenge and world domination. Much screentime and dialogue is given to note that Lois won a Pulitzer prize for her editorial, “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.”

Brandon Routh does a perfectly good job in a particularly daunting role as Superman / Clark Kent. He has a bit more of a distinctive take on Superman than he does with Kent, but for a guy I’ve never seen before, he should be proud of his work here, and at no point (at least to me) felt like a Christopher Reeve impression. It is worth noting however, that the guy’s almost too beautiful and at some points looks make-upped to the point of appearing to be made out of wax. Still, a fine job nonetheless.

Bosworth is another story. She’s adequate here, nothing embarrassing, but she just never feels (or looks, or talks) like Lois Lane. Not only is she far too young for the part (a five year old son AND a Pulitzer prize?), she comes off a bit too bland at some points to make us see why the Man of Steel is so interested in her.

Now: Kevin Spacey. Spacey is an actor I’ve grown disenchanted with long ago. Around the point of “American Beauty,” I declared him my favorite actor, and then, as if to spite me, he proceeded to make only shitty movies ever since. He also comes off as a bit of an arrogant ass whenever I see him on talk shows too. That said… I really loved what he did with Lex here. He made me laugh or smile and numerous lines of his dialogue, but he never turns Luthor into a joke. He always feels dangerous, and as a result, comes off genuinely more malicious and threatening than Gene Hackman’s Luthor did. I loved his interplay with Parker Posey as Kitty especially. It’s strange that Spacey needed to star in a $200 million-plus budgeted movie to really ACT again.

I’ve read some of the movie’s detractors call it ‘light on action,’ which I can’t quite understand. It’s not a “Die Hard” film, there are more than a few non-action scenes, but I thought there was a perfect amount of action and they were all brilliantly executed. There’s no moments to sigh or be bored here really. That airplane/shuttle sequence in particular, which has been glimpsed at in various marketing materials, is a real stunner that drew two bouts of applause from my audience. It’s worth the ticket price alone, but there’s still plenty more here for excitement-hounds not interested in the love story.

Make no mistake, this is an epic Superman movie in every sense. The scope is enormous, there’s so many difference plot facets going on, and perhaps most unfortunately: the length is enormous. Like I said, there’s no spots to get bored in, but at 158 minutes, one wishes some scenes were cut. The film comes off a tad too long—though maybe it was just my long day, by the time the credits rolled, my ass was more than a little fatigued.

Still, such gripes can be overlooked by the sheer sense of fun and excitement packed into “Superman Returns,” which you rarely get nowadays, let alone also working on an emotional level. Normally I won’t talk shit about critics simply for disagreeing with me on a movie but I’ve got to say: anyone who can bring themselves to trash this movie (e.g.: Manohla Dargis, David Poland) isn’t wrong per se, they just don’t have any fun left in them.Singer really has done a great job here, nailing virtually every detail. From the casting, to the look, to the music, to the sharp dialogue (“Three things sell papers: tragedy, sex and Superman.”), this is pretty much a perfect superhero movie. I know the big anticipation from folks my age has been for “Pirates of the Caribbean 2” this summer, but make it a point to see “Superman Returns.” It has pretty much something for everyone, and occasionally, truth and justice NEED to triumph. And for those of you who have ever had an inappropriate crush on Kal-El, now’s your time to pounce.


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