“You don’t really love that guy you make it with now do you?” Despite a nice throwback credit sequence to kick things off, and several iconic images of the man in blue throughout, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns is, unfortunately, something of a disappointment. It’s by no means a travesty, like X3 — the FX are top-notch, and the movie does feel like some care went into it. Still, for most of its run, Superman Returns, while hearkening often to the 1978 original and its excellent 1980 sequel, never really reaches the heights of those first two films. Instead, this “requel” feels, for the most part, drab, leaden, and earthbound, and, at best, plays like a badly-paced bodice ripper (or perhaps a forgotten issue of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane.)
Like I said, Superman Returns starts off well, with a brief look at Krypton’s fate, kryptonite’s origins, and a whirlwind intergalactic tour of a credits sequence (all of which bodes well for a quality Silver Surfer or Darkseid v. Supes movie someday.) But, soon thereafter, trouble arises. We’re treated to a jokey Anna Nicole Smith-ish re-introduction to Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey, who never gets the tone quite right — he’s either too whimsical or too dark), some Americana flashbacks of Superman’s youth in — and return after five years to — the archetypal Midwest, Luthor’s visit to the Fortress of Solitude and subsequent experimentation with Kryptonian technology, and finally Clark Kent’s reemergence in Metropolis and the newsroom of the Daily Planet, still presided over by Perry White (Frank Langella) and staffed by Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) and Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington). Frankly, all of this section of the movie takes too long — it seems forever and a day before Superman (Brandon Routh, both better and less Rushmore-esque than I expected) is finally moved to action by a Space Shuttle incident (one involving, of course, Lois.)
I’d like to say the film then finds its momentum, then…but, sadly, it really doesn’t. For one, Luthor’s diabolical master plan — involving growing craggy Kryptonian real-estate that will submerge North America — doesn’t make a lick of sense. But, more problematically, the central questions driving Singer’s Superman, IMHO, just aren’t all that interesting. Will Lois rediscover her deeply-buried love for Superman, the “one that got away,” or will she stay true to her good-hearted current beau, Richard (James Marsden, a.k.a. Cyclops, here blessed with Superempathy)? Can Superman make peace with Lois’s new life (or, at the very least, will he stop superstalking her happy household?) And where does Lois’s doe-eyed child — yep, cute kid alert — fit into all this? (Take a guess.) Not to put too fine a point on it, but, in essence, what Singer has made here is a Superman mythos chick flick, and not a very good one at that.
This is not to say that I only wanted to see Superman crush things for two hours. As sappy and unrealistic as it is, the love triangle that dominates this film might’ve worked in another context (or with another character — This type of thing works better in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman series, but Spidey is generally a more angst-ridden superhero anyway.) But, as it stands, the Harlequin Romance nature of this enterprise, as well as the languid pacing and Luthor’s completely absurd stratagem, are like kryptonite here. Superman Returns looks good, and I’d be up to see Routh don the tights again for another outing. But, as a reboot of DC’s most famous franchise, the movie is passable at best (and it has nothing on Christopher Nolan’s much more enjoyable Batman Begins.)