A Review by Noah Antwiler
It's time to pick a fight with you, not because I want your respect, not because I'm trying to provoke a response, but because I'm going to tell it to you straight and you're not going to like it. I never liked Superman. I've always felt that from the beginning, he was one of the flattest, most overrated, blandest no-personality white-bread characters to ever despoil the cover of comics. I'll even go one better: there has never been a story told or product made about the Man of Steel that was worth a crap. Not the comics, not the television shows, not the cartoons, not the video games, not even the movies. Any of them. In fact, same of the worst examples we can name in most entertainment media feature the big blue boy scout. Superfriends? The Jimmy Olsen: Superman's Friend comic? The Superman 64 video game for the N64? Smallville? Trash. Superman Returns isn't a good movie, and if you want to hear the truth, none of Superman films ever were.
Oh yeah, I went there. Superman was, is, and ever shall be a boring, overblown bombastic deus ex machina in red panties that can, quite literally, do anything and is so inseparable from his messianic symbolism that when you see him, you're quite literally seeing God walk the earth. Watching his films is about as interesting as playing DOOM with every cheat code running. He's indestructible, can move faster than light, has unlimited strength, and is so sickeningly perfect that any time he encounters a crisis the writer can simply invent a new super-power that lets him get around it. Why? Because he's Superman! There are no credible opponents for the last son of Krypton, nobody who can even lay a hand on him unless it's holding a chunk of kryptonite. For a guy with one weakness, it's astounding how often Superman is caught off-guard when villains brandish that green rock at him. Wouldn't you think that if Lex Luthor were trying to hatch an evil plan, the first thing he'd do is come up with a contingency plan to deal with the one man likely to stop him? And since you have only one weakness, you don't need to be Brainiac to figure out what El Baldo Loco has in store. News flash, Supes: Luthor wouldn't jaywalk without a pocketful of kryptonite in case you were watching. Yet every time he walks forward and acts stunned, stunned that Lex planned for him in advance. The whole movie could have been resolved quickly and quietly if he just flew overhead, burned Lex's kneecaps off with his heat vision from orbit and dragged his limbless carcass back to jail.
Superman Retcons-- er, I mean Superman Returns: The Apology makes the wise decision to disavow any knowledge of Superman III and IV, two movies that even diehard fanboys consider abominations against good taste. This movie takes it a step further to pretend they don't even exist in the same way many people claim that there were never any Highlander sequels. It just hurts too much! The premise is that Kal-El left the Earth without warning when astrologists discovered the remains of his home planet of Krypton and has been gone for five years. So much for the end of Superman II when Blue Boy tells the president "I won't let you down again," huh? His return is again meteoric, crashing near the old Kent farm in a fiery rock-vessel after he finds there's nothing left worth stealing back on Krypton. So it takes a guy who can fly so fast he can spin the world backwards and reverse time five years to travel to Krypton and back? Did he have to pull over to sleep on other planets? Did he bring five years' worth of food with him? Does Superman need to eat? I have so many questions! Why does Superman fly with both fists stretched over his head? Is it strictly necessary or does he do it just to showcase his massive arms? I think he does it so he can signal his turns so he doesn't get rear-ended by Green Lantern (though I hear he might enjoy that...).
Oh I kid. Superman's objet d'amore is (as always) plucky reporter Lois Lane, who has actually managed to get younger in the five years since he left. She's played by Kate Bosworth, a woman with an ass so flat it curves inward. I doubt the woman actually ingests solid food, but rather just spends her lunch hour sucking on a saltine cracker. Her performance is about as painful to watch as falling butt-first on a salt-covered Punji stick. She has all the acting range of a traffic light and less meat on her bones than a Slim Jim. Her only two expressions are "shrewy bitch" and "overwhelmed," and she switches between the two with an audible *whirr-clunk* that issues from her brain like a student driver's first time operating a stickshift. Anyone who criticized Margot Kidder's performance before must be eating steaming platefuls of crow right now as they watch the chick from Blue Crush destroy this movie before their very eyes.
Lois didn't take Superman's departure well, considering he knocked her up, so she won a Pulitzer Prize-winning article entitled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." This in itself is laughable considering she's 23 and she thinks the word 'catastrophic' is spelled with the letter F. Thankfully, writer/director Bryan Singer seems to hate Lois as much as I do, and spends much of the movie kicking her bony butt all over the place. She gets bounced around inside a crashing 777 like a pinball, punched in the head by Lex Luthor's henchman, and jacked in the head with a solid steel door so hard it should have split her skull open to the creme filling. How she survives this movie without being confined to Captain Pike's wheelchair is beyond me.
The only character I really cared about was Richard, Lois' fiancé played by James Marsden. Richard's a genuinely nice guy who stuck around to raise his kid, unlike Superman who (as we all know) is a complete dick [www.superdickery.com]. He actually showed bravery, was in real danger when he flew off alone to save Lois. With Superman there's never any tension, never any fear that he'll fail. How am I supposed to fear for a guy who can't be hurt? Even if he dies you know he'll get better for no better reason than he's Superman. Richard had everything to lose, a trait that makes his deeds in the movie much more heroic than Superman's. But instead of Richard (the responsible father), the guy who inspires the world to better themselves is supposed to be a pandering, egomaniacal schmuck of a deadbeat dad ? Maybe he really is the defender of the American way. It's really great to know that he was off playing on Krypton while planes were crashing into buildings. Fascinating to note that he wastes his time stopping bank robberies when he could be finding terrorists with his x-ray vision, or doing something about the genocide in Africa. If this is the way Superman acts, maybe the world really doesn't need him.
I'd rip on Brandon Routh's performance as the Man of Steel if he actually gave one. How am I supposed to critique a guy who wasn't allowed to act, but rather spend the entire movie doing his best Christopher Reeve impression. Does he pull it off? Yeah, I guess, but it's all so soulless and fake that I'm not watching a man, I'm watching a plastic action figure. What really gets to me is how unoriginal Superman Returns is and how it's gone from hackery to nostalgia to an outright remake of the first movie. It's no secret that this movie has spent an inordinate amount of time in pre-production hell being passed around like the fat chick at a frat mixer. It's seen at least five directors, from McG to Kevin Smith, to Tim Burton, back to McG, and then to Singer. The list reads like Howard Cosell doing a play-by-play, "McG hands off to Smith! Smith to Burton, thrown back to McG! Singer! Yes!!" Now, I'm not saying that I would have rather seen Jon Peters' original vision of a "non-faggy-suited" Superman battling Brainiac's giant spider without flying...actually, you know what? I am. I would have rather seen the giant spider. At least that would have been new, instead of the retread that Singer wrote.
Although thinking back on it, maybe I should be grateful for what I got. Can you imagine what would have happened if they'd kept Nicolas Cage in the tights and slapped a toupee on him? All you have to do is look at the trailers online for Ghost Rider for enough nightmare fuel to keep you screaming for months. And as much as I gripe about what Singer did, I don't think I could have handled Kevin Smith's Superman vs. Bluntman & Chronic, or what Tim Burton would have done to the series. Not without losing the slender grip I have on my sanity. But all this sordid history goes to show you how troubled this production has been since the beginning. If you only know how many times this movie was torn down and rebuilt, you'd find it miraculous that this movie got made at all. It's just a shame that after this many iterations of rejected scripts that this is what they blew so much money on.
For the fourth time in the series, Superman's nemesis is Lex Luthor, played this time by a cashing-in Kevin Spacey. And again, Luthor's plan is to cause a major geological catastrophe in order to corner the real-estate market on a brand-new landmass. Only instead of blowing up the San Andreas Fault, he raids the abandoned Fortress of Solitude for some Kryptonian Krystals that when pitched into water erupt into giant crystalline islands. "Yes, I'll raise a gigantic new continent made of alien crystal where you can't grow crops, and covered with sharp spires jutting around in every conceivable angle so that there's no level ground to build anything larger than a Starbucks!" Is it that hard to find a villain other than Lex Luthor? Brainiac? Bizarro? Doomsday? Darkseid? Hell, I'd have taken Solomon Grundy tag-teaming with Lobo over this.
It's sad that the most entertaining parts of the movie (the cool intro sequence, the elements lifted from John William's classic score) are just the old things they took from the first movie. It's so stuck on nostalgia that it brings nothing new to the table. If I want to hear the classic overture, I'll watch the first movie. If I want to see Christopher Reeve's performance, I'll watch the real guy, not a poser. If I want to see Lex Luthor working a real estate scheme, I'll watch Hackman do it. I can't recommend this drab, dreary, derivative, and flat-out boring pretender to the cape. You want my advice? Wait for the 3,196-disc re-release of all the movies on DVD and throw out everything but Richard Donner's cut of Superman II. Don't watch anything paid for by Jon Peters. If you want to be entertained, kneel before Zod.