Okay, first of all, I'm feeling a little crappish right now. I'm still reeling from the mother of all allergy attacks this weekend. Massive headache, brutal sinus pressure/congestion which led to serious post-nasal drip and all manner of throaty ick. I actually ran a slight fever on Saturday, it was so bad. I thought it might have been a cold, but it didn't really act like colds usually act in my body. Bleh. Once we're able to replace our internal systems with machines, I'm doing my respiratory system first.
In happier and less gross news, I got Amorlia back from my friend Carolyn this weekend, and it is chock full of very helpful notes. Mostly grammar and stuff like that, with a couple of insghtful narrative critiques. She loved the story, though, so I continue to be encouraged. I planned on jumping right in with the edits, but was derailed by the aforementioned respiratory ick.
So, I have seen Superman Returns twice at this point. I liked it. I really did. However, I also think it is a very flawed movie, and I'll tell you why. There may be some spoilers in this review, so stop reading if you don't want the movie ruined for you.
Okay. First flaw: It is too dark. Dark works just fine with Batman and X-Men and (to a lesser degree) Spiderman, but Superman is not dark. He just isn't. He is the opposite of dark. Hell, they even have a clip of Marlon Brando in the movie calling him "the light to show them the way". The movie is thematically dark and visually dark. Visually, it is almost always cloudy or nighttime when Superman is outside. Even when it is sunny, the sun is muted. The blues, reds and yellows of his cotume are also darker shades of those colors.
Thematically, the darkness is even more apparent. There is a scene toward the end where Lex Luthor has lured Superman to a place that is essentially lined with Kryptonite. This strips Superman's powers and incapacitates him. Luthor and his goons then spend a good 5-10 minutes brutally beating the crap out of Superman. He gets punched in the chest, thrown into sharp rocks, kicked in the ribs/stomach, kicked in the face, stomped on and nearly drowned. Then Luthor drags him up and stabs him in the back with a sharp piece of Kryptonite, even going so far as to twist it before tossing him into the ocean. The first time I saw the movie, I brought my daughter. She had already been scared out of the theater before this scene (my wife came to pick her up) so she was spared having to watch it. But there were other kids there, and every one of them was crying during this scene. This also happened the second time I saw it. I'm sorry, call me old-fashioned, but I don't really think children should CRY at a Superman movie. Hell, I'm 35 and I wanted to cry during that scene.
Lois Lane also gets knocked around. While she and her son are held hostage by Lex Luthor, one of his goons catches her trying to call for help and starts beating her up in front of her 5-year-old son. He slaps her, punches her, even smashes her face into the edge of a desk. The goon is about to bludgeon her to death with a big decorative rock when he gets hit with a piano (more on that later).
There is a scene involving two dogs that have been abandoned at a mansion Lex Luthor swindles an old woman out of. It is made PAINFULLY obvious that, in the course of their time alone in the mansion, one of the dogs has eaten the other one. You actually see one sitting in a pile of the other's fur, gnawing on one of its bones. It's disgusting, it's gratuitous and it is wholly inappropriate for a movie about a guy who flies around with his underwear on the outside of his pants and shoots lasers out of his eyes.
Next flaw: Poor storytelling. The basic plot is good, but the narrative is shoddy. First of all, this movie isn't so much a rebooting of the franchise, but a sequel to the first two Christopher Reeve movies. The basic gist is, shortly after Superman 2 (they're ignoring 3 and 4 - for good reason), astronomers discover a planet they think is Krypton. Superman, momentarily forgetting how light travels, decides to go and see if the planet is still there, despite the fact that he once had a piece of it chained around his neck. He doesn't tell anyone (including Lois) that he's leaving, except for his mother. So, as of the beginning of this movie, Superman has been gone for 5 years and Lois has moved on. She's living with another guy, and pretty much thinks Superman is a grade-A dick. So, a big part of the movie is Superman coming to grips with the fact that, "Hey, my girlfriend didn't wait for me, even though I've been gone for five years and never told her I was leaving or if I'd ever be back". What a shocker. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor has managed an early parole, thanks to the aforementioned rich old lady, and has looted the Fortress of Solitude. He plans to use the crystals from the Fortress to create a brand new continent, flooding the rest of the world. That way, when the survivors of this environmental catastrophe need a place to live, he'll have all the available real estate. He incorporates Kryptonite into the continent once Superman comes back.
So, yeah, the plot itself is a neat idea, and I can see why they wanted to skip doing another origin movie. I mean, there are people living in the jungle who've never seen a television, and they know who Superman is. Everyone knows his origin by now, so doing the movie as a continuation of the others makes a certain amount of sense. In theory. In practice, it just feels like you're coming in at the middle of the story, rather than the beginning, which creates a certain distance with the audience. The end is also structured terribly, and is very obviously setting up a sequel, so this movie that has no beginning also has no proper ending. It's like going to the theater to see Lord of the Rings, but only seeing The Two Towers.
Okay, now for the stuff I liked:
All the scenes of Superman doing Superman stuff. There are three scenes like this, and each one of them totally rocks. They are awesome. They are exactly what I wanted from this movie, and I wish there were twice as many.
Kate Bosworth. She is my favorite Lois Lane of all the actresses who have ever played her. She totally nails the character, and is beautiful enough that you believe she'd catch Superman's eye.
Lois Lane's new family. Her son Jason is adorable, and I love the fact that he ends up actually being Superman's kid (he's the one who throws the piano). Obviously, one of the writers of this movie has a young child, because this is one of the most natural child characters I've seen in a movie in a long time. Lois' boyfriend Richard, who's been doing the actual work of helping Lois raise this kid the whole time, is a fantastic character. He's played by James Marsden (Cyclops from the X-Men movies) and by the end, I wanted Lois to stay with him rather than go with Superman. While he's very obviously jealous when Superman shows up, he's in no way a dick about it, and it is very clear that he is completely devoted to Lois and Jason. He even has a couple of nice scenes with Superman. So, again, great character.
Brandon Routh. Look, by now, Christopher Reeve has reached God-like status in the minds of most people. Brandon Routh seriously had his work cut out for him and I thought he did a great job. He doesn't actually get many lines as Superman, and most of the time the suit is doing the work in those scenes. Except the scene where he gets his ass kicked. He does almost too good a job of that. Looks like the dude's had practice. Poor guy. His Clark Kent is actually better than Reeve's. He plays him more "mild-mannered" and less "nerd-dexter". It's a more subdued performance, and it works.
Jimmy Olsen. He's played by Sam Huntington in this movie, and it is clear he knows that he is the comic relief. He has a bunch of funny lines and he delivers them well. He's also the only one who genuinely seems to like Clark. He's certainly the only one who's actually glad Clark is back.
There's other stuff I like too. Kevin Spacey is great as Lex Luthor, Parker Posey does a good arm-candy-with-a-conscience and Frank Langella plays a remarkably nuanced Perry White. There are little shots and bits of dialog that are homages to the earlier films, some nods to the comics and they even have Noel Neill and Jack Larson (both from the old "Adventures of Superman" TV show) in cameos.
So yeah, while I did go on a bit more about its flaws than its virtues, I really did enjoy the movie. The problem is, I wanted so desperately to love it unconditionally, and I couldn't.
The major problem I have with the movie is the same problem I've been having with mainstream superhero comics for a while now. Like the comics, this movie seemed to be aimed squarely at me: the Aging Fanboy. While I'm flattered by the attention, they shouldn't be aiming this movie at me, they should be aiming it at my kid. They already have me. I'll throw down money for anything with an "S" shield on it by now, so there's no need to court me.
The thing of it is, I'm the fan that I am because I fell in love with this character as a kid. I saw the first Christopher Reeve movie at 7 years old, and I've been hooked on Superman ever since. If they want anyone to give a crap about these characters after I and my fellow fanboys die, they need to do a better job of hooking the younger generation.
A good way to start would be a Superman movie that doesn't make them cry.