Superman Returns First Report

By Neal Bailey

This is my first "Superman Returns" review. This is my surface review. For those of you who follow my work reviewing "Smallville", you know that I take notes, examine something in a pretty in-depth manner, and then give pros and cons before a rating. I like that style, it really lets me dig in and hit the subject matter hard.

For "Superman Returns", I had no notebook, I had no desire to waste my first viewing scribbling furiously or doing anything other than being immersed, and so I decided to do two reports. The first, initial, oh-wow first impressions, and then the scholar's look, which will come probably Monday after about three more viewings and extensive notes.

With that in mind, please know that what I say here is off-the-cuff, straight from a first impression, written not an hour after leaving the theater and hocked up from standing in line for about 9 hours.

I can think of no better subject for my 400th article for this site, and I'm proud to give you my thoughts on "Superman Returns"...

Problem is, that's incredibly hard. Why? Because I'm still soaking it in, even now.

I'm going to do this gonzo style, without a thesis, musing, so bear with me.

Is this a Superman movie? Yes. It is a GOOD Superman movie? Yes. Is it an EXCELLENT Superman movie? Yes.

Is this a Superman movie that gives me, Neal Bailey, everything I want? No.

Is that the appropriate lens for a reviewer? I guess it's the best.

Here's a more appropriate question. Does it give me what I expect and desire from a Superman movie? Yes.

I'll elaborate a bit.

Kevin Spacey's Luthor is incredible. Spot-on. He bashes Superman about with a villainy the likes of which I've never seen. He's diabolical. He doesn't care how many people he slaughters. His acting is spot-on character and he holds the audience captivated with every word he speaks when on-screen. His callous beating of Superman brought tears to my eyes.

At the same time, all the same, this is essentially the Gene Hackman Luthor with a beating scene thrown in. A little wittier on the dialogue, but a few shorter on the one-liners even so.

Parker Posey as Kitty is funny, strong, quirky, and not the anchor I expected her to be. She is where she needs to be in the show, she plays the foible for Luthor.

At the same time, all the same, this is essentially Miss Tessmacher with a few more lines thrown in.

Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane never plays for me. I don't buy her as the character. Half because of her age, the other half because she's just not a very good actress. She has one emotion, blank look, and honestly, as calloused as this seems, it's hard to relate to her in any way. Her character has made decisions that put her life into a certain position, and she actively makes choices to sabotage herself. She has a child despite knowing that it's Superman's kid and Superman is nowhere to be found. She tries to stabilize this with Richard, all the while knowing Superman's return would break things up or shuffle them around. In the end, she fails to capitulate even to this fact, leaving a son with likely confused father issues, two guys being strung along, and no real, strong, feminist icon character per what I see with Lois Lane.

At the same time, all the same, this is essentially the Lois Lane from the first movie with a bit more fleshing out.

Brandon Routh as Superman is everything I would have hoped him to be. He fills the suit and the persona better than I could have hoped. He flies in incredible ways. He performs feats that blow me away. He OWNS Superman. He's not Reeve, but no one is Reeve. He's just fantastic as Superman. He's his own. No all the same. This is a new Superman for movies, an improved Superman, and a strong one. I celebrate it.

This movie is, but for bit, pretty much an homage of the first Superman movie that borders on such repetition that it almost damages the piece. In jokes, per the new Star Wars movie, pepper the film. The dilemma is essentially the same. Lex Luthor comes up with a way to decimate the United States and make a profit through real estate. Superman doesn't like this, so he goes to confront Luthor, Luthor trumps him with Kryptonite from Addis Ababa, leaves him for dead, and Superman somehow escapes and stops the wild plan. Miss Tessmacher, or Kitty, stops Lex from being able to bring his plan to fruition by ridding him of the crystals. It begins with blue credits and a trip through space. It ends with Superman floating above Earth and smiling to us, taking care of everything.

The only things original to this draft are the fact that Lois had a kid out of wedlock (er?), Lex ends up stranded on an island as opposed to in prison (okay, I'll take that), and the fact that everything, every single shot, is pound for pound breakthrough and breathtaking in terms of scope, execution, and beauty. The special effects just killed me. The opening trip through space. The plane catch. The city and the buildings. The Daily Planet globe catch. The Action Comics #1 homage. The trip into the sky with Lois. The recharge. The hoisting of the land mass. EVERYTHING visual was incredible.

So let's draw that all around. It would seem my criticisms are that this movie is very much like the first movie in all ways. The characters are all spot-on and live their roles besides Lois (which, many would argue, is true of the first movie Lois, who was very shrewish compared to her capable, assertive comic counterpart). It improves a bit on Luthor. The visuals are astounding.

That makes it sound like a good movie. An incredible movie.

Now say it like a fanboy.

The movie is a flat ripoff of the first movie instead of original material. The characters are spot-on, but they're archetypes, and Lois fails. Spacey is better than Hackman, but it's also not viscious. And special effects do not a movie make.

Neither are entirely fair or appropriate for how I feel. But both are right now in my head.

I went to the Star Wars movies a devoted Star Wars fan. I went in, sat down, and enjoyed the movies, even right after I watched them, so much it made me shake leaving the theater.

Later, I came to the realization that Phantom Menace stank, Attack of the Clones was semi-passable, and I shook after leaving Sith for a good reason.

Given my devotion to Superman which is far and above many times greater than that of Star Wars, it would be simple to make me leave the theater shaking and out of my mind.

I shook with the opening, which was incredible. I nearly cried when Luthor pounded the bejesus out of Superman. I was touched unbelievably when Superman told his son what Jor-El told him.

When I left the theater, however, I was not shaken to the core...I was asking questions. What does having a bastard child offer the Superman story? What does repeating the same story offer?

But then I say to myself, Return of the Jedi had a second Death Star. Same darned story, with a little more resolution. Still awesome.

I say to myself, most people will be incredibly touched and enjoy this movie. I was incredibly touched, and I enjoyed this movie.

Does this move Superman forward? No. There is nothing resolved, really, in this film, beyond the arbitrary plot dilemma of the land mass. Superman stops it. Luthor is still free. The kid is still without a father identity. Lois is still with a man she doesn't love. Superman doesn't get Lois.

I think that, above all, is what got me. In Spider-Man, Gobby is dead, Mary Jane and Peter break up (even if you know they're getting right back together), Harry wants revenge.

Another factor is the fact that we see Superman do EVERYTHING we want to see Superman do with his powers (more, even, than in the original film, which notably lacked heat vision, super-breath, telescopic vision, and more than a cursory use of x-ray vision). However, it occurs to me, he never really CUTS LOOSE. There's no real FIGHT. It's just the unstoppable force moving the seemingly unmovable object, to paraphrase Morrison and a few others of note.

The reason I preferred Superman II to Superman: The Movie as a kid is because Superman CUTS LOOSE. He has to drop Zod, and Zod is merciless, like Luthor.

When Superman backed off the cliff and Luthor just let him, I knew that Superman wouldn't be cutting loose. He'd be saved by deus ex machina. And that, with my desire for a Luthor fix, somewhat cheated me.

I fear I give the impression that I don't like this movie, or that I didn't enjoy it. Don't believe that, for a second. This was a GOOD movie. This was an EXCELLENT movie. An excellent SUPERMAN movie.

Is it more than I'd hoped for? No. Is it perfect in every way? No. The biggest problems are the somewhat arbitrary plot, a lack of characterization (or at least moving character forward, the characterizations is at times beautiful, if a bit ripped from the first movie), and the fact that there is little, if any, resolution.

The best parts are the incredible effects, Routh as Superman, which he now, to my mind, owns, the RESPECT, the incredible respect payed to precedent (almost too much), the acting on the part of all beyond Bosworth, and the fact that in the end, as a Superman tale, it stands out as what will undoubtedly be a classic.

Batman Begins moved the hero genre forward. It gave a new angle on a classic hero that everyone knows. It may not have been classic in every way. The suit changed. The city changed. Gordon and Batman have a differing banter. The main villains are not classic. But, on the other hand, it added a new depth of spirit and heart to Batman and to Gordon and to Alfred and to all of the characters involved. Visually, it didn't do that much to wow you, beyond proving that the incredibly clunky Batsuit (at least in the light) could be well-done in the proper lighting.

Superman Returns did not move the hero genre forward. It stuck with a classic, well-loved angle on a classic hero everyone knows. It was classic in EVERY way. The suit changed. The city changed. Superman and Luthor have a similar banter. The main villain is classic. But it didn't add a new depth of spirit and heart to Superman and to Lois and to Perry and to all of the characters involved. Visually, it was stunning. Probably one of the more beautiful movies I've ever seen. The suit, even the suit that was so maligned by even dedicated fans, worked at all times and at every angle for me.

Neither are failures. Neither hurt the hero movie. Both will inspire, move people to love these characters, and push Superman into a whole new generation of fans.

I can't rate this movie. That's not possible for me right now. A few more viewings, I'll be more impartial, I'll be more fair, I'll get a chance to interact with you guys in the comments and figure out where my head is here.

Tell me I'm crazy. Tell me I'm right on. Tell me what you thought.

And then you'll get article 401, which frankly, is gonna be a long one, because the devil, my friends, is in the details, of which there are many, and of which I will take note.

Best.

Neal.