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28 June 2006 @ 11:22 am
Superman Returns  

Yeah, so I know I'm severely slacking on the update front with my paid-for LJ, but I've had other things occupying my time, and this is all for my own fun anyway.  

That said, last night I saw a 10PM early showing of Superman Returns (which opens wide today), and wanted to post my initial, non-spoilery quasi "review" here.  I'll place it under a cut, since it is rather long-ish (and quite gushing, so haters be forewarned):


I am honestly not sure where to begin putting into words my experience seeing Superman Returns.  I won't get too spoilery in this post, and I may ramble for a bit, so if the length offends, you - my apologies. Keep in mind this is all just one person's drivel of opinion, and that I will declare from the onset that I'm admittedly biased with a Superman-worship going into this.  In some ways that makes me a prime target for this film, but also a member of the demographic that could possibly be more difficult to please.  All I can really say upon my first viewing (of many to come), is that I don't know if there is such a thing as a "perfect" comic-book film, but this one gets just about as close to such as possible, and does so with a stylistically different take than any superhero film to come out in the last 6-8 years, with the exception of the seriousness found in Batman Begins.

First off, I can without doubt say that the visuals throughout the film are breathtaking and - literally, for me - jaw-dropping.  More than a handful of moments/scenes had me riveted and almost giddy with glee over seeing things play out on screen that I had only imagined from my years of pouring over comic book panels. 

ALL of the "what-if"s I've imagined over the years, regarding the potential for showcasing Superman's abilities using modern filmmaking technologies - all of them - were supremely addressed and perfectly played out in so many instances.  The flight is stunning.  Not just the "up and away" moments or the cruising into space scenes, but the smaller visuals - the hovering up and down, the levitation without pretense - it all just flows seamlessly, and I'll be damned if the actual "effects" barely crossed my conscious observation - I truly believed Clark could do everything I was seeing.  The impact is astounding. 

Another very pleasant bonus on the powers/abilities angle is how their uses/needs are written into the action.  They aren't there for just the specatacle/grandeur (though they do have that effect) in the sense of "he can FLY; he shoots HEAT from his eyes; he has super BREATH; he's FAST - look how cool it all is!" No - the abilities are shown practically, as tools in this hero's arsenal to be a protector and force for good, and hits home the idea that there is NO ONE ELSE who could do what he does - especially for the selfless, greater-good mentality he exhibits.  Without being spoilery, some of the heat-vision scenes are just plain BAD. ASS. And the showcase of his strength is climaxed toward the last half-hour in a god-like feat that just gave me chills.  Just another friggin' awesome, indellible visual in a film that is so beautifully shot, with such reverence for the icons, that it literally made me misty.

What I noticed this film does well as a contrast to recent "event" hero films - like X-Men, X2, X3, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Daredevil, etc - is in allowing the action sequences time to get established, with longer shots and less frequent cuts.  Other reviewers have described it as giving the developments room to "breathe", and I agree.  There is less of a frenetic pacing to the 'wham-bam' moments that keep your adrenaline up, which in turn gives the scope of what unfolds more of an epic/grand feeling.  We get a little more time to appreciate the "heroics", which lends a little more realism and situational gravitas to the feats we see happening.  Ironically, this somewhat slower pacing may be what younger audience members dislike in comparison to the previous comic blockbusters, but I think the older fans who appreciate the weight of the history behind Superman as a character will value this style more.

And for all the greatness in the action moments we get, the literal 'heart' of the story lies in the emotional toll found in Clark's/Superman's alienation - pun not intended.  Singer and his screenwriters, Harris and Dougherty, manage to infuse a powerful sense of lonliness in Clark that has seldom been touched upon as effectively, without saccharine camp.  And the feeling evoked isn't overly angst-filled or tortured, like those associated with Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne, because that isn't who Superman is.  It just left me with a feeling of intense sadness in the [audience's] realization that Clark is a pretty solitary figure. The last of his civilization, apparently not too missed by those from his former personal life and the world as a whole.  And he returns to find that these emotional ties/foundations have shifted while he was away, and the world has maintained its way without him.

Of course, the fact that his reappearance to the world occurs in just the nick of time (literally) is a slick way to start the emotional shift that Clark will find himself facing by the story's end.  His necessity to the world in general is once again demonstrated, and there are huge developments that fundamentally change the course of his existence as a Kryptonian on Earth.  There is a big reveal about two-thirds of the way through that answers the biggest plot/character question posed from the onset, and is something that has never been done in any form of Superman canon before. It's an intriguing turn to the mythos, for sure, and there will no doubt be much debate over the relative positives and negatives this may have on the franchise in general.  For me, it is handled pretty well, and sets up one of the final scenes for Clark (as Superman) where Routh emotionally sucker-punched me (in a good way).  If the film's outcast/alienation theme has had any resonance with the viewer at all by this point, then this scene will pack a wallop.  It did for me.

Which leads me to Routh's 'debut' as an actor.  I must say, as a whole, that he does a damn fine job.  There are certain limitations to any actor's 'perfomance' in this role, bound by the mythos and canon of who Clark is.  And as many a reviewer has noted, there are certain uncanny resemblances to Chris Reeve's portrayal, especially as Clark - but Routh has done well to make this character his own.  There is less tongue-in-cheek humor, because this Superman has much more baggage.  And there is an underlying confidence - in spite of the emotional uncertainty - in the blue-and-red persona that made me believe this was my hero. The facial expressions and look in the eyes do a great job in selling the jumble of emotions Clark seems to go through, while still demonstrating his steadfast determination at the same time.

For the other two leads, I was also impressed.  As I expected and hoped, Spacey delivers a layered Lex that has moments of both cunning wit and sociopathic obsession with anything to destroy Superman. The dark humor is still there in some aspects, too, but Lex's single-minded drive makes him more sinister this time around.  And Bosworth actually bettered my expectations, and sold me on the hardened, somewhat bitter Lois, who has moved on with her life after Superman's disappearance. She effectively maintains the investigative side to the reporter - making her a professional first and foremost, while learning to be the best mother she can (to son Jason), and torn between the love she has for two good men in her life.  The 'other' man - fiancee Richard White, played by James Marsden - was another pleasant surprise to the character development, as he becomes a very sympathetic, relatable character.  He really loves his family with Lois and Jason, is noble and brave, too.  Clark's observation of this bond, and seeing the kind of person Richard is, only makes the emotional tension and struggle that much more heartbreaking.

The actual science and overall "believability" of the plot and character motivations may have some holes, but as is the case with any comic-to-screen adaptation, and to nitpick on certain elements would be to miss the point of the film entirely.  Richard Donner's 1978 film is easily seen as the template for which this new interpretation is based - there are several instances that are taken in direct homage to the former film - and some critics see this as a drawback, holding back the originality of Singer's work.  But I actually see it as a "love-letter" of sorts to all the fans of this icon, both in print and on screen.  IMO, if you enjoyed the original film, you'll have a blast with this one.  There are still laugh-out-loud moments that will keep a smile on your face while you prepare for the next heart-thumping crescendo of action.  And there are more than a few visual moments that directly refence classic comic images over the last 68 years - most notably, the cover of Action Comics #1.  Small details like that give me a profound respect for where Singer's vision has taken us into a re-launch of the franchise, and it makes me more than pleased that my hero's film-future - if well-received this time around by the masses (my theater was almost sold-out last night, and everyone applauded at the end) - seems to be in more than capable hands.