Friday, June 30, 2006

EVill Films, 6/30/06: Superman Returns

Definitely liked it. It's worthy. I'm all-in for future installments.

Not sure I loved it, though. And I wanted to love it.

But we'll see--Maybe it just needs to sit with me a little longer. I'm certainly going back for seconds--So, take from that what you will.

To be sure, there was stuff that I loved in the movie... A lot, actually. Stuff that gave me goose bumps. Stuff that made my heart pound like when I was 9 and Mistah Wondahful was making his Big Comeback (TM) for the final showdown with Zod.

The Good:

  • The--awesome--opening and closing sequences. I'm a structure geek. It pissed me off that Brett Ratner dispensed with the opening voice-over of Singer's first two X-Men films in his P.O.S. sequel. It seemed petty and destructive (which was, apparently, the point of that whole film: to tear down the house that Bryan built). So I was happy to see that Singer did not, himself, make the same mistake by dispensing with the classic opening & closing sequences from the first two Superman films. This is just one of the ways the new film establishes a continuity between itself and its forebears: it's the next episode in the same series.

    I was disappointed that the Krypton sequence itself (which sort of mirrored its counterpart in the first film) was cut. (Can you say, "Special Edition DVD for Christmas," boys and girls?)

  • The John Williams themes (which, IMO, are among his best work)

  • The--thrilling--flashback to Young Clark discovering his powers

  • "I Spent the Night With Superman" counterpointed with "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman" (counterpointed with "Why The World Does Need Superman")

  • The. Fortress. of. Solitude. (Bitch.) Breathtaking.

  • The Adis Ababa Meteorite, source of Luthor's Kryptonite in the original--still in play

  • "When I was 5, what did my father say to me?" "'Get out!'" "Before that." (Awesome callback. Still, it worked better in the original.)

  • "The son becomes the father and the father, the son." Total goosebumps moment when he repeats his father's mantra to Jason--A stroke of genius, the single best idea in the film.

  • The decision to not recast Jor-El

  • Jason and the henchman playing "Chopsticks"

  • When Lois doesn't kiss him after the reprise of "Can You Read My Mind," about which I, generally, had mixed feelings. If she was that angry (and I can totally see why she would be), why would she consent to go flying with him in the first place? I wonder if it would've worked better to "do the opposite" (as George Costanza might say). Instead of staging a full-on, albeit inferior, reprise of the original's "First Flight" sequence, maybe they should've done a "First Fight" sequence, instead.

  • When Lois does kiss him, in the hospital. (Fine, I'm a big softie. I admit it. I'm pullin for those crazy kids.)

  • I loved that we don't hear her whisper her secret in Superman's ear, the secret that gave him something to live for. (And I wonder if she knew when she got involved with Richard who the baby's real father is--I assume the answer is "yes," but I suppose we'll have to wait a few years to find out.)

  • And I also loved that it was Lois who saved Superman in this movie. On a couple of levels, even. Nice twist there. I'd like to see more of that. If she reverts to Damsel in Distress at any point, I think my newfound interest in the character will die a quick death

The cast of characters is entirely reinvigorated. Singer, Harris and Dougherty infused just enough new blood (Richard, Jason) to spark the archetypes back to life. The Superman/Clark/Lois relationship(s) is(are) fresh and interesting now. I was moved when Lois couldn't admit to Richard that she was in love with You-Know-Who (no, not him).

And again when Richard (who, of course, knows the truth) tells her she should go be with Superman at the hospital.

We like Richard. Hey, maybe what Clark needs is a girlfriend. . . (The cast could use a supporting female. Maybe they'll bring back Lana Lang.)

Without this dramatic anchor--without being able to really invest in these characters, to accept them as three-dimensional versions of their four-color selves--the picture, frankly, would've been pure shite. Pretty, well made--but shite nonetheless. (Like a David Fincher film.)

The Bad:

  • New Krypton. I dunno. I was thrilled by this plotline when I read the script. Luthor returning to the Fortress of Solitude to salvage Kryptonian technology... The idea of using the crystals to propagate more Kryptonite, a New World Superman couldn't touch; ironically, built by his own people's technology.
    But, on screen, it was ugly and dirty-lookin'. Who would want to live there? Lex Luthor's latest real estate scheme comes off as actually more preposterous than his last one ("Otisburg? Otisburg?"). And I didn't think that was possible.

  • The little old lady played by Noell Niell (totally recognizable as the original TV Lois all these decades later),bequeathing Luthor her estate. That was just silly. Did they really need to establish where Luthor gets his money (and, hence, resources) from? Can we not just assume that "the greatest criminal mastermind of our time" saves wisely?

  • The idea that Superman could cut out a Kryptonite-laced, subcontinent-sized chunk of the Earth, and haul it into space rivaled, for sheer ridiculousness, the original having him turn back time by reversing the rotation of the Earth.

  • And while Hackman's Lex is a charming curmudgeon, Spacey's is just a nasty, malevolent bastard. (Huh. Go figger.) His gang of henchmen lacked that Ned Beatty voice, which would've forced Lex into the role of straight man--an omission I dearly hope will be rectified for the next picture.

The Acting:

I admit it: as satisfactory as Frank Langella was, I couldn't help but see & hear Singer's first choice for Perry White--Hugh Laurie. (Damn--He woulda been so good.) Still, I am very, very happy with everyone, including Kate Bosworth, about whom I was quite nervous. She's young, yes, but that's a business reality: they were cast to age well for multiple sequels. (If they get to Superman Returns Part 7, we'll be thankful they were such babies here.)

As long as she can act, I can get past it--and she can act. I mean, she's not likely to be mistaken for Meryl Streep anytime soon, but, by the same token, this is not another Katie Holmes-type situation. *whew*

Brandon Routh is charming, and funny, and seems, at times, to be channeling Christopher Reeve. I quickly accepted him as both Superman and Clark.

I admit I do prefer Valerie Perrine as Luthor's moll. I kept waiting for Parker Posey's trademark snarkiness to emerge and take a big poop all over Lex... and I suppose I still am. But it never did. Though it probably will, eventually.

And that, for me, cuts to the heart of the matter: Superman Returns feels a lot like the first X-Men: very good, smart, beautifully made... but ultimately somewhat unsatisfying, because it was all set-up. It was a pilot.

On the other hand, I went nuts for X-Men 2 (which is still, in my mind, the best superhero film ever made) in large part because it paid off two films rather than just one, so I think there's a good chance that Singer's second Superman picture will be the instant classic I was hoping for here.


Anonymous oldlurker said...

Thanks for the review. I saw the trailers today at the movies. That, and more importantly, this review has convinced me to see this film.

7/2/06, 8:52 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Wow. Thanks, man (or, woman). That was a very nice thing to say. Let me know what you think.

7/3/06, 1:14 AM  
Blogger Chas. said...

I liked it ... though you will smack when I say there was a lot of stuff that could have been trimmed or shortened. The movie (to me) felt so damn long. Also found it interesting that the HUGE special effects sequence (Shuttle/Plane) was so early in the film and that the finale didn't even come close in the "Wow" factor. The old-school title rocked! All-in-all, a solid movie.

7/3/06, 9:35 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

I agree the plane sequence was much cooler, and from a story perspective, worked much, MUCH better than the finale, but it's a question of scale, isn't it? The big finish can't be Superman saving a plane-load of people, it has to be Superman saving the world. It's just... There is *so* much to nitpick about New Krypton, you almost don't even know where to start. e.g., an asteroid sized chunk of the Earth is removed from the ocean... and it just causes a few cracks in buildings? A gas fire or two? Come on: were are the tsunamis?

Maybe they should do Kandor next time... which would not only let them do Supergirl, but it would give them a villain--Brainiac--that Superman could actually fight, as opposed to a natural disaster he can try to help the world weather.

7/3/06, 1:04 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

And, Chas, I agree: it was too long. I can see why they wanted to keep stuff like the bank robbery sequence, and the out-of-control car sequence... They wanted to give us a sense that Superman was back on the job... but they could've cut both those sequences, kept the news reports, and saved--what?--fifteen minutes?

BTW, re: those news reports... I've read a couple of interviews with Harris & Dougherty where they say direct references to Bin Laden and 9/11 were cut. (I'm assuming they were at the top of the film, when Clark--having just returned to Kansas--is flipping channels, upset at how the world has reverted to a pre-Superman status-quo in his absence). Too bad--I wish they'd left that in.

7/3/06, 6:39 PM  
Blogger Pete said...

Thanks for the review, once again I am one of the few who haven't seen the flick, but then I hate crowded theatres. Your reivew was the most indepth I have read yet.

Are you a movie critic?

7/4/06, 12:31 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

no, but if anyone wants to actually pay me to do it, i'd be fuckin' thrilled. . .

7/4/06, 12:38 AM  

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