Superman Returns

Superman (Brandon Routh) mysteriously disappeared from the face of the Earth five long years ago. Since then, crime and crisis has gripped the city of Metropolis and the world. Not only that, the notorious Lex Luthor is out of prison and has nefarious plans to increase his own personal wealth and power. The planet needs the Man of Steel more than ever and all hope to survive until “Superman Returns.”

Laura's Review: B+

A Kansas farmhouse and everything in it shakes, but the elderly woman inside, Martha Kent (Eva Marie Saint, "North by Northwest," "Because of Winn-Dixie"), is hoping that the flaming meteor which crash lands in her cornfield means that after five long years, her son Clark, "Superman Returns." At long last director Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects," "X-Men") has resuscitated the most iconic super hero of them all, Superman. With opening credits like an overture of planetary fireworks accompanied by John William's original score, Singer gets both fans of Richard Donner's 1978 version and a whole new generation pumped for what is to follow. After a reverie recalling a childhood spent developing his powers on the Kent farm, Clark (Iowan Brandon Routh) returns to his job at the Daily Planet and is greeted by an adoring Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington), a preoccupied Perry White (Frank Langella, "Good Luck, and Good Night") and single mom Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth, "Beyond the Sea") who has just won a Pulitzer for her cynical article 'Why the World Doesn't Need Superman' and who still hasn't wed long time boyfriend Richard White (James Marsden, "X-Men: The Last Stand"), Perry's nephew. No sooner has Clark returned after five years than the world is astonished to see Superman take the scene again after an unexplained disappearance. Of course, no one notices the coincidence, except, amusingly, Lois' asthmatic son Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu). Also on the scene again is Superman's arch enemy, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey, "Beyond the Sea"), a free man because of Superman's failure to appear in court. As Clark grapples with his lost love and Lois wavers between her loyalty to a human and to the superman who deserted her, Luther plots to use crystals from Superman's Fortress of Solitude to create a new continent and plummet most of the earth's current surfaces beneath the sea. Despite a couple of thrilling special effects sequences (Superman saves a plane from plunging into a baseball field, a super-yacht is speared in half from below) and some moments of wit (Luther's moll Kitty (Parker Posey, "A Mighty Wind") compares his nefarious scheme to sea monkeys; Luther's tattooed henchman Brutus (David Fabrizio) plays 'Heart and Soul' on his instrument of death), the earth-threatening plot is but a mere device to change Lois' cynical view towards the man she loves and his ultimate identity as the earth's savior. As written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris ("X2"), this super hero is the only son give to us by Jor-El (Marlon Brando, incorporated from archival footage) if not to suffer for our sins then to be out 'guiding light.' Mythological references to Prometheus and Icarus are also worked in. And there isn't a phone booth in sight. Brandon Routh, humorously aided by an overly perfect spit curl, gets at the squeaky geek of Clark, but brings a slightly brooding, innocent melancholia to the Man of Steel. His too blue eyes shine with love for Lois, but he's too much the hero to be a home wrecker. Bosworth could have used a good injection of those plucky broads from newspaper films of the 40's. Instead she comes across as one of those pale women too intent on their purpose to bother about the feathering of their lipstick, but she puts across Lois' romantic conundrum combined with overriding maternal concerns. Marsden's becoming the go-to actor for second best nice guy ("The Notebook"), but he does it well and shows his own, mortal brand of heroism. Support is somewhat lacking. Langella is solid and so is Spacey, but the villain of the piece should have been more fun. Spacey does most of his best work riffing off Posey, but she, alas, is left with the standard ditzy moll role and a bad perm to boot. Kal Penn does nothing but remind you how much fun he was in "Harold and Kumar," Eva Marie Saint is the plug-in veteran a la Spider-Man's Rosemary Harris. Watch for the original television series' Lois and Jimmy in cameos as Luther's benefactress and a bartender. Special effects are top notch, although production design of Luther's 'crystal' continent is a bit blah visually. Better is his experimental mockup, a basement model town complete with flying zeppelin. The new Superman costume looks a bit more robust than past iterations, without succumbing to the codpiece and nipple overload of a certain Batman suit. "Superman Returns" makes the common mistake of dragging out its denouement, but both the film and its star maintain continuity with the earlier films while having their own unique qualities. "Superman Returns" has an emotional depth that the earlier films did not. I look forward to a sequel.

Robin's Review: B+

Director Bryan Singer came to fame with his Oscar winning film, “The Usual Suspects,” but the vast majority of moviegoers know him best for launching the lucrative “X-Men” franchise. After years of wallowing in studio indecision – even Tim Burton, with Nicolas Cage as the S-Man, was on board some years back – Singer was able to get this big-budget, F/X-laden epic the green light and, with a story by the helmer, Michael Dougherty and Dan Haris, really does reinvent the Man of Steel. Superman, when we last saw him, had disappeared without a word from the Earth. He journeyed back to his home planet, Krypton, only to find it a graveyard strewn throughout the cosmos. With nowhere else to go, he returns to the haven of Kent farm and his surrogate mother, Martha (Eva Marie Saint). It’s there that he realizes, with her wise advice, that, though he may be the last of his people, he is not alone. Clark/Superman, once again, sees that the people of Earth need him to protect them and bring back truth, justice and all that’s right. (Remember back to the 50’s, George Reeves “Superman” TV series when it was truth, justice and the AMERICAN WAY.” Kind of telling, isn’t it?) He resumes his life as mild mannered Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet, and learns that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is now a mother and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her article, Why the World Does’t Need Superman, and the fiancée to the Planet owner’s (Frank Langella) nephew, Richard White (James Marsden). But, it’s not long before the villainous Lex Luthor unleashes his foul plan to take over the earth with the help of the crystals he stole from Superman’s Arctic lair. The Man of Steel must face his greatest, and most dangerous, challenge if he is to save Lois, her son, Jason (Tristan Leabu), and billions more from Luthor’s deadly scheme. The cast of “Superman Returns” is quite ably centered by newcomer Brandon Routh as the title character. Bearing a striking resemblance to the 70’s Uberman, Christopher Reeve, Routh makes the role his own, putting a resigned spin on the character when he realizes that the one person he can love is no longer his. Kate Bosworth plays Lois as a more hardened, cynical character than the juvenile performance by Margot Kidder as Lois in the previous franchise. (I say previous because this new Superman is going to be huge and will spawn its own set of sequels.) The rest of the supporting cast is full dimensioned and more realistic-seeming than those in the previous films. James Marsden holds his own as the intelligent, brave and fearless fiancée, Richard. He may not be a man of steel but there’s metal in his backbone. Frank Langella plays his Perry White with much less cartoon quality than Jackie Cooper gave to the role before. Eva Marie Saint is solid as Clark’s earthly mother and best friend. Kevin Spacey has a great good time chewing the scenery as the arrogant super-criminal, Lex. Parker Posey, as his moll, Kitty Kowalski, plays a scatterbrain-with-a-heart to good effect. As one would expect with “Superman Returns,” special F/X are first rate with Superman’s flight gracefully handled, almost like a ballet. Production design, by Guy Hendrix Dyas, and costuming, by Louise Mingenbach, are up to the grandness of the story. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, utilizing state of the art Genesis cameras developed by Sony and Panavision, keeps the action crisp and fast. Superman Returns” is a really good movie but not a great one. It’s too long by 20 minutes and uses some silly writing to push forth the action. In one exciting sequence, with the next generation of space shuttle about to be launched from a reporter-filled jet plane, Lex launches his first phase of terror. The planes goes out of control and Lois, instead of staying buckled in her seat, jumps up for some strange reason, only to be tossed around like a rag doll. It looks good but doesn’t make sense from a logic standpoint. But, I can forgive the flaws because of the craftsmanship that went into the film’s making. With a Wednesday opener, “Superman Returns” stands to have a record breaking 4th of July opening weekend. I won’t be going near the theaters by I can wager that millions of others will.