the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Superman Returns

I write film and TV reviews at Here are synopsis' and links to those reviews.

There’s an incredible scene in Superman Returns where the Man of Steel has caught a gigantic globe--the Daily Planet, as a matter of fact--which only moments before had been falling from atop a skyscraper to a populated street below. As he lowers it gently to the ground, he takes on the iconic pose of Atlas, the Greek god who was tasked with keeping the world balanced upon his shoulders. In many ways, Superman had a similar task; one many felt he forfeited when he left Earth for five years in search of his obliterated home-world. Things got very bad in his absence.

To use a phrase made famous by Ayn Rand, Atlas shrugged.

But this film didn’t.

Superman Returns, while flawed, does not disgrace the mythology. Far from it. It is a bombastic, rousing, explosive burst of summer fun and fantasy, enriched by its predecessors and rejuvenated by the new blood and slavish religious devotion of director Bryan Singer.

I do not fully understand those who have felt the need to tear this film to pieces. Yes, certain characters, even main characters, fail to fully inspire emotionally. Yes, Kate Bosworth, though a fine actress, is totally miscast here. Yes, Spacey, while having his moments, does not come close to the gleeful wickedness of Gene Hackman. Yes, Luthor’s land-grab plot is, well, ridiculous.

But does anyone seriously believe that this film is worse than, shall we say, Superman III or IV? Worse than the film that would have been made with Nicholas Cage in the tights?

I defy anyone who says they did not get chills when John William’s score opened with the classic credits sequence or Marlon Brando’s voice wafted over the speakers or Superman recycled his line about the safety record of flying.

I am the first to slather the praise on Christopher Reeve. He was and still is the definitive Superman. When Reeve fell from that horse years ago, I was physically sickened. One of my heroes, an unfellable one at that, was felled. But Reeve is gone, and while that is a tragedy, we must judge this film on its own merits.

And it has more than enough merits to go around. There’s no other way to say it--this is a awe-inspiring film.

There are moments of immense and breathtaking beauty. Superman has never been more believable in flight. He moves with a grace and elegance we’ve never seen before. He is majesty in motion. When he is not soaring through the cosmos, he floats in it. There is a scene where, with Lois Lane draped in his arms, he drifts past the massive, aforementioned Daily Planet sphere that is, quite simply, poetry in motion. His home is the sky and when he rests, if he rests, it is hovering high over the globe, basking in the sunlight, listening to the world below him.

The special effects are jaw-dropping. Jumbo jets plummet from the sky, a young Clark Kent discovers his powers, a luxury yacht comes to a titanic end, continents shift and earthquakes threaten to tear Metropolis apart. One very minor effect--Superman lowering a runaway car safely to the ground--is an iconic image taken directly from the early comics.

Although Brandon Routh, who is 26--the same age as Reeves when he first put on the cape--appears young, perhaps just too young for the part, he mimics Reeve’s mannerisms and voice with astonishing panache--particularly as Clark Kent. That a no-name actor would be chosen to helm the biggest movie of last summer is a daring choice on Singer’s part. But it was the right choice. By the end of the film, Routh is Superman. (Sadly, the same cannot be said for Bosworth who is simply too young to inspire the necessary gravitas for her role).

Superman returns, although now he stands for “Truth, Justice...all that stuff” instead of “The American Way”--the result of the necessity for movie marketing overseas we’re told. The plot--about Lex Luthor’s attempt to grow an entirely new continental land mass from the same crystals that produced Superman’s Fortress of Solitude--is silly, I grant you, but, in many ways, operates more like a sub-plot. The dominant emotional thread of this movie is far more Superman’s disappearance and what that means to humanity. And, of course, what it means to Lois Lane who has a young child who may not be the son of her current boyfriend as he’s been told. A grand piano will answer that question nicely.

This is a film primarily about fathers and sons--both how much we inherit from our fathers and our fathers’ desire that we grow to eclipse even them. If past films emphasized Superman’s humanity, this one plays off of his divinity, going so far at one point as to refer to him as a god, and underscores the lonely gulf that must necessarily exist between the god and the people he loves and protects. Most superheroes are humans who have undergone some sort of transformation to make them into the supernatural beings that they are. Superman is unique in that his super powers are part of his very foundational nature; they define him.

Superman is also something else among summer movies: old-fashioned. I’m not just talking about the reuniting of characters first developed over 70 years ago, but of the manner in which the film was made. While very serious things occur, the violence rarely moves out of the realm of a cartoon. In fact, you can count the number of people who die in this film on one hand, and aside from one who passes from natural causes, all of them are bad guys. I don’t say this in some sort of smug, prudish, family-friendly rant, but as an acknowledgment of a film that, at its heart is playful, fun and harkens back to a time of simpler filmmaking--all without losing its very contemporary veneer.

To read the full review, click here.


Anonymous nate said...

"A luxury yacht that comes to a titanic end."

Ha. Only now do I recognize your unadulterated brilliance.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...


9:47 AM  

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