Superman Returns

The flood of positive reviews that surfaced on the Internet few weeks before the release of Superman Returns (along with its killer trailers) heightened my already lofty expectations for the film. I mean, let's face it, with praises from Ain't It Cool News, Variety, Hollywood Reporter and many other well-known sources, how bad can this film be?

In addition to tracking the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, friends of mine, one after another, had nothing negative to say about it. But after seeing this film at last, I had to concede that many of the reviews I've read were probably parts of a collossal marketing campaign, come on, how the hell can anyone suggest that Sam Huntington, who played Jimmy Olsen, should be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor award when the dude appeared only two or three times in the film without leaving that much of an impression? (Unfortunately, I couldn't find that particular review that made this suggestion)

Firstly, yes, Superman Returns IS a visually stunning film filled with breathtaking imagery and given an emotional depth similar to the likes of Spider-man movies and Batman Begins. Superman is humanized in this film, his yearning for Lois Lane becomes more heartbreaking than any of its previous film adaptations. This is a loose sequel of the old Superman films starring the late Christopher Reeves (just the first two, the existences of the last two are completely disregarded), but it is as much as a sequel to the old Superman 2 as Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever is to Tim Burton's Batman Returns (vague references to past events are made, but it's still pretty much a standalone film). And since I can barely remember the old Superman films, I am not overwhelmed by nostalgia, and I shall judge the film alone for what it is.

After returning from a five-year absence, Clark Kent/ Superman (Brandon Routh) finds out that the world has changed and that his beloved Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has moved on without him, having both a kid and a live-in fiance (James Marsden, who plays Cyclops in the X-men films). Meanwhile, his long-time nemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) continues to come up with evil schemes to destroy the world and further his own ends. Can Supes reclaim the love of Lois? Does the world still need Superman?

Yes, there is much to love about this film, it is occasionally poetic and emotional, it is exhilarating and romantic, with solid performances from the main cast. Kevin Spacey hasn't been that impressive since winning his Oscar, Brandon Routh is a worthy Superman (and the bumbling Clark Kent), Kate Bosworth, while possibly too young for the role, seems worthy enough to be the Man of Steel's object of desire, James Marsden's role in this film is much meatier than Cyclops in all three X-men films. But despite all these strengths, it just didn't hit me as hard as I've expected.

To me, the Spider-man movies and Batman Begins (my review here) were great not only because they make me cheer for the heroic feats of the superheroes, I also care about the people underneath the mask. Peter Parker's heartbreak and Bruce Wayne's angst can be identified with, it isn't about watching them save the world anymore, I don't care that much about whether they can beat the villains or not, I just want to know what will happen to them as normal human beings. Will they find peace despite saving the world? Or will they remain villified despite all they've done to save everyone else?

Like what Bill in Kill Bill vol. 2 said, Superman is different from Batman and Spidey because the latter two are normal human beings dressed up as superheroes, yet Superman is a superhero pretending to be a normal human being. Clark Kent is the mask, and Superman is who he actually is. And that lies the problem for myself, I find myself rather interested in the bumbling nerdy Clark Kent, and not Superman. Yet in this film, we see more Superman than Clark Kent. But Superman is a godlike figure, a mythological being who has the universal love of everyone in the world, while the problems he deal with are humanly (not being able to get the woman he loves), he is still too flawless and perfect to be as interesting as flawed heroes like Batman and Spidey.

Bryan Singer is to be applauded for his mastery in weaving all those beautiful scenes together in this film, it's definitely the most gorgeous superhero film I've ever seen. Given a budget that was denied of him when he was doing the X-Men films, he had crafted a film that far surpasses X-Men 3 (my review here) in terms of dramatic elements and emotion, but ultimately, I have to agree with Dawn Yang's comment here that it lacks the overall punch of Spidey 2 or Batman Begins.

Perhaps if the two films had never existed, my mind would've been more blown away. Superman Returns is a very good film, but not great or superb.

Watch the Superman Returns trailer:

Superman-related articles worth checking out:Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex by Larry Niven
The Myth of Superman by Neil Gaiman

Other reviews of Superman Returns:
Laksa Diaries | Mossism | Stories From Sonobe | Daniel Franklin | Satkuru | Why Me? Because | GRIO | James Rocchi (Cinematical) | Scott Weinberg (Cinematical)

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