Superman Returns, dir. Bryan Singer
Superman returns and brings the Blockbuster with him! Superman Returns is Bryan Singer’s attempt to make the super-sequel he always felt the first two Superman films deserved, ignoring the more lightweight, but in my opinion enjoyable, Superman 3 and 4.
From a purely visual standpoint the film is beautifully photographed, Newton Thomas Sigel, making full use of the new Genesis HD cameras. Metropolis is depicted as a place constantly bathed in the light of magic hour, invoking the wistful, romantic tone of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie.
Drawing on the feel and iconography of an earlier age the film acquires a mythic, larger-than-life-quality. The opening credits are spine-tinglingly good: A veil of stars, dark, silent. The words ‘Superman Returns’ appear, the same font used in the earlier films. Then the words fly towards us leaving a streak of blue light in their wake. The camera begins to move, past planets and moons, around meteors and through asteroids, John Williams epic music swells to its full fanfare and my smile widens. THIS IS A MOVIE!!!
This sequence establishes a level the film cannot maintain, a short while later we have to come down from the stars and Superman must return to Earth. He finds Lois Lane engaged to Richard White (nephew of 'Daily Planet' editor Perry) and mother to a five-year-old kid. Here is where the film looses a much of its zip. Scenes involving the Lois-Richard-Clarke love triangle are well executed, and even the kid stays the right side of annoying, but from a narrative standpoint these additions handcuff the story, not allowing Superman to be as super I would like. Also, Lex Luthor, fresh out of prison, has hatched a new plan. I would have preferred to see Superman facing off against another character/creature/machine of super-human capability.
What of Brandon Routh as the title character? To an extent he is fighting a losing battle even attempting this role – Reeves embodied Superman to such an extent that for many people, myself included, he is Superman. Routh is not Reeves, obviously, but he does a fine job of channelling his likeness, his physicality and the timbre of his voice. His Clarke is not as clumsy as Reeves, but he is equally awkward and dorky, Superman perfectly disguised behind those thick dark rimmed glasses. There is a nice moment between Lois and Richard when, looking at Clarke they think on the fact that he looks a bit like Superman. Clarke, listening to their conversation using his super-hearing spots them across the room and waves nervously. Lois and Richard share a laugh at their ridiculous thought.
A lot of people seem to have a problem with Superman’s moral certainty and lack of inner conflict. Personally, I enjoy the way Superman embraces its "comic" nature. His character doesn’t spend nights alone in a cave, brooding about the death of his parents, or lamenting his struggle to maintain a duel identity. Dressing up like a giant bat and taking it seriously is just as ridiculous as anything in this film.
Released 20 years ago Superman Returns would have been hailed as a classic. As it stands today it is a nostalgic nod toward an earlier time, never quite capturing the magic of the ‘Golden Age’ of Blockbuster, but coming quite close on several occasions.