Friday, February 20, 2009

Late Review: Superman Returns

In an effort to distract myself from my current woes, such as fretting about this pesky toe of mine, I thought I'd do some creative writing. In this case, I've decided to do what I can to rip apart the travesty that is Superman Returns. If by some chance you haven't seen this movie and intend to do so, you should stop reading now. There will be spoilers that go beyond the spoiled product that was this movie. Much of this is taken from an e-mail I sent ages years ago, but edited to correct some errors, as well as being mostly for those who have seen this embarrassment to the Superman mythos.

For me, the story of this movie begins in the summer of 1976, when I was sent to a camp for diabetics. Mail arrived one day, and a large envelope containing comic books was delivered. Talk about an addiction! I was hooked on comic books ever since. X-Men, Superman, Spider-man, Rom, Micronauts...and numerous others, right into my 20's.

Then, in December of 1978, Superman: The Movie was released. If there was any other way to have an 11-year-old comic book nut experience Nirvana, I don't know it. Upon its release to video tape, I watched it until the tape was worn out. I could recite the movie from start to finish.

When Superman II was released, I was an even happier child. More superpowers on the screen, with Lois Lane finally putting the pieces together and realizing Clark Kent was the Man of Steel. Huzzah!

By the time Superman III was released, even I, at that age, could see that Warner Brothers was trying to rake in as much of their cash cow as they could. You could clearly see the recycled footage edited in, and I found the entire experience silly.

Personally, I don't know what I was thinking when I managed to buy into Superman IV, but I went to see it. Maybe it was the lure of the return of Lex Luthor to the plot. Maybe it was the promise of a supervillain. Whatever it was, I vowed that if there was a Superman V, it would have to go on without me ever seeing it. The franchise had been killed.

Skip ahead to June of 2006 and the release of Superman Returns. Bryan Singer, director of the first two X-Men movies was on the case, and I expected grand things. I was unfamiliar with Kate Bosworth and Brandon Routh, but Kevin Spacey was sure to include another incredible performance, this time as the brilliant, sarcastic, and diabolical Lex Luthor. I'm not one to rush off to the movies, but we were talking about the renewal of my old comic book addiction. Thus, on its release date, I was sure to catch a matinee.

By the time the end credits started to roll, I'd come to realize Superman hadn't returned...he died years ago, and it seemed numerous people were plotting to make sure he stayed dead.

Allow me to start with Lois Lane, who proves to be so overbearing that it's disturbing. I understand that Clark is supposed to be a "Nervous Nelly," but even the 1978 movie had Clark being semi-assertive when it came to manners. How many times did Kate Bosworth run over Routh's lines? It was as though every scene they had together was designed for him to start speaking and for her to interrupt him! As a result, every time she started to speak, I wanted to reach into the screen, smack her, and shout, "Let the man talk for a minute!"

Investigative reporter Lois Lane can track down an electro-magnetic pulse right down to the residential address where it started, but can't look at Clark and say, "Wait a minute! Superman just showed up, and now you're suddenly here, so...YOU MUST BE SUPERMAN!" I'm willing to suspend my disbelief and let the glasses slide, but not connecting the absence of Superman and Clark? Now you're pushing it.

I know farmland can stretch for miles, but a large ball of fire from the sky has a habit of being seen easily at night. Apparently all witnesses though, "Oh, it's the Kent place. Weird things happen there all the time." Then they dismissed it.

So the next morning, Martha looks out the window and Clark says, "Don't worry. I buried it this morning." That's GREAT, Clark! Did you also manage to clean up everything your returning craft charred when it crashed? And about that large hole in the wheat crop? Were you able to use Kryptonian technology to regrow them? And if you did that, why not help your mom out by growing the crops faster so she sell more and buy a truck that isn't older than fossilize bone? At least give her some money to call a mechanic!

Another thing about this scene was the shot before it. It's what's called an establishing shot. The purpose of this is to let us know where we are. You see them all the time. Perhaps a film will open with a shot of New York, which immediately lets us know what city the movie is in. So here we are, a mailbox with the Kent name on it...and we needed that, because the film will be

Talk about nitpicking...I wanna know why Clark wore glasses as a kid. He didn't wear them when he was in high school for the 1978 movie. Did he have a bout of super-myopia as a child? Did it clear up only when he defied gravity? I ask because he seemed rather stunned that he could see after they fell off in the barn.

Oh...And a big "Thank you" to Brian Singer for giving us that wasted bit of film about Clark's childhood. It did NOTHING to forward the story, and left me wondering what the neighbors thought of the Kent kid leaping half a mile above the crops. Three minutes and 14 seconds of uselessness...that's all it was.

We finally have the answer to the mystery, "What if you shot Superman in the eye?" Oh, we knew the answer. But we always wanted to see it, and Singer gave it to us. Man of Steel...Eyes of Steel...Hair of Steel...Etc. So I have to wonder...When the second wing comes off the plane earlier in the movie, and Superman impresses us by smashing through it...Why does he duck his head? Is it because everything but the tip of his nose is invulnerable?

And about those detached wings...It's nice to know Superman is unconcerned where they fall, and that saving Lois remains paramount.

The plane in the ball park...Is Superman too good for cleaning up his messes? Get the people off the plane and then move it to the nearest air force base for forensics analysis. Talk about being super-lazy!

What exactly is it that Supe's did with his heat vision during the shuttle incident? He fired the beams at the MECHANICAL locks and they...just worked suddenly? He didn't cut through them, because the speed with which he did it would just make a straight line with some kind of melting effect. Instead, they detach as they were designed to do.

How is it that Lois's hair was fine after getting battered around the plane like a rubber ball, while everyone else who was locked into their seats looked like victims of such a disaster? (Ladies, you might want to find out what hair spray she's using, because obviously it HOLDS!)

Perry White wonders aloud to his reporters, "Does he still stand for truth, justice...all that stuff." Hey, Brian! As a man that's open about his homosexuality, did you feel a sudden and specific need to be politically correct? "Truth, justice, AND THE AMERICAN WAY" has been a staple of the Superman character for decades. As long as you're beating tradition over the head until it's unconscious, did you want to check its pockets for money, too?

Best use of superpowers ever: to summon a cab. 'Nuff said.

Oh no! Runaway car! No breaks! People will die! Ah, but Superman is there to save the day! And we learn about a NEW power he has. When he picks up a runaway car, its engine automatically shuts off! Is there nothing this man can't do?

Super-abduction: Later in the movie, Superman saves a guy in Metropolis that's falling and puts him gently on the ground. But in Germany, when a news clip shows him rescuing someone, Superman is apparently allowed to fly off with the occasional falling person. My guess is that he's going to add the guy's head to the collection in his private, walk-in freezer in the Fortress of Solitude. It is, after all, a little-known fact that Superman's also a super-psychopath.

Lex Luthor proves to be more than a schemer in this movie. I mean, it seems being a career criminal isn't working out so well for him, so I think he has a great future as a graphic artist making maps!

Ah, little Jason. Cute kid. From what I can tell, he only has superpowers when he's having an asthma attack. Thus, Albuterol proves to be an effective treatment for both respiratory difficulties and superhuman strength. This explains why he couldn't open a door just minutes later. It's his Kryptonite! (Damned inhalers!)

Skill needed to be an especially villainous flunky: piano playing. Remember this if you decide that evil is your desired path. (I have to say, though, I got a kick out of that tattoo on the back of his head.)

The elevator shaft scene...I confess that I loved it. It was better than the blurred thing they did in the 1978 movie when Clark falls out the window and changes clothes. HOWEVER...What we miss is the results of his actions. Like the fact that he has to smash his way out of the elevator AND the building. This destroys the moorings of the elevator, sending it crashing into the building basement. We'll see you in court for damages, Superman.

Something I liked: catching the globe. I loved that Superman took the most direct path - a straight line - to get where he needed to be, smashing his way through a building to get there. Of course, the moment is ruined when the unoriginal line, "Great Caesar's ghost" followed it.

There is one truly cool moment that is unspoiled. Lois, Richard, and little Jason are all trapped inside the pantry of a yacht that has broken in half and has sunk. Lois is unconscious. Richard is gasping for air as the room is mostly filled with water. And then, just in time, a pair of red boots appears on the pantry door's small window, and Superman proceeds to lift the broken boat out by a crossbeam. (I was particularly pleased that he held it by a crossbeam and not something like a piece of wall paneling.) Holding the wreckage aloft with one hand, Superman rips the door off with the other and tells Richard to take his hand. Richard does, and our hero asks if he has Lois and the boy. After a nod from Richard, Superman lets go with the other hand, and you have the visual of him hovering in the air, family rescued, as the half-boat slams into the water again.

Lex Luthor has created a massive island with Kryptonite as one of its main components. When Superman arrives, the island weakens him, and Lex turns into a sociopath. The charm and wit Gene Hackman gave the character decades ago vanishes in an act of violent thuggery and religious symbolism. It was sad to see the death of the character's character like that.

You see, one of the themes throughout this movie that is forced down our throats is that Jor El sent his only son to Earth to be its savior. It's a point handed to us by rehashing lines from the original 1978 movie. The comic book geeks out there know that Jor El sent his son to Earth because his planet was about to blow up, and Earth was the most suitable environment. He didn't send us a savior. Since Bryan Singer has a writing credit on this movie, and since he was the director, I can only assume that he was in on this nonsense. With that information, I highly recommend you keep him away from the New Testament, as he would rewrite it so that Jesus was sent to Earth by G-d because Heaven was about to explode. But to top off what seemed to be merely a verbal message, Lex then stabs Superman in the side with a shard of Kryptonite and snaps the point off inside our hero. "Spear in the Messiah, anyone?"

As "comic book history" has shown, the smallest bit of Kryptonite is deadly to Superman, and we see these effects until he is rescued and gets above the clouds. As rumored, Earth's yellow sun gives him his powers. He charges his "batteries," and then returns to...lift an entire......island? Made of Krptonite?!? Without the use of lead protection?!?!? Now you're not even TRYING to pull the wool over our eyes.

It's bad enough when you can't believe a lie. When you can't believe a fantasy, it's horrific.

The grand climax is over, and the island is tossed into space. It then drags on for another 14 minutes to the end credits, as Superman falls to Earth, seems to die, enters a coma, vanishes from the hospital, breaks into Lois's house, uses lines from the original movie - much can you recycle a 28-year-old film? - while the boy sleeps, and ends with Superman flying toward the global horizon.

In the end, I can't understand what many people saw in this film. Some of the critics said it was at the very least, "good fun." Sorry, but it was "bad fun" at best, and I cannot, to this day, explain how I ended up with a copy of the movie. Maybe it was the hope that it would improve with multiple screenings. Alas, it hasn't. Rumor has it they intend to come out with yet another Superman movie come 2012. If I last that long, I can only hope it will be better than this tripe.

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