“Superman Returns” Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

SUPERMAN RETURNS: Yet Another Spoiler Free Review (or "I Spent the Morning with Superman")

By Barry Freiman

This is a brief and intended-to-be-spoiler-free review of "Superman Returns". It's difficult to discuss the movie without some description so if you really want to go into the movie without knowing anything at all, stop reading and go take a walk.

So how was it?

Of course I loved the movie. I'm an editor and writer for the Superman Homepage for goodness sake. I even found things to love about "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" back in 1987. But what will probably surprise people is that I actually found things in the movie that I think are deserving of review and perhaps critique.

The movie delivers on its title - Superman returns and the return to super-heroing is a huge highlight of the movie. The special effects are as good as they get - making "Superman" and "Superman II" look like student films in comparison. There are moments in the film that will blow your mind - I can't imagine what these scenes will look like in IMAX 3-D and can't wait to find out.

The casting is perfect. Brandon Routh is Superman. He seems more like Chris Reeve when he's Clark than when he's Superman but he definitely makes both roles his own.

I wish there had been more Clark time. There are moments where you see a real guy beneath the surface of Clark Kent - sort of in between the Clark of the first two movies and the more human Clark of "Superman III". But they are few and far between. Clark's definitely all-disguise for Superman when he's at the Planet (unlike, say, Dean Cain's Clark Kent). However, even with Routh playing Clark as a guy who sticks to the background, it strains credulity that not one hot-shot Planet reporter questions the simultaneous return of Clark Kent and Superman on the very same day.

Kate Bosworth captures the spirit of Lois Lane. She's a spunky reporter, one of the hottest chicks in Metropolis, and a bit of an emotional mess when it comes to men. What more could anyone ask?

Frank Langella and Sam Huntington both seem as if they walked off the comic book page. By far, they are the most authentic Perry White and Jimmy Olsen in all the live-action movies and shows.

Kevin Spacey walks a line between humor and evil that some may find problematic. I think he's great - very funny and very menacing. To me, the character of Lex Luthor works best when there are layers of humor and fun mixed in with the egomaniacal cackling bad guy routine. But Spacey's role seemed the least well developed of the leads except for Clark.

I definitely wish Spacey and Routh spent more face-time together.

Parker Posey had very little to do, Kal Penn even less. This team of hench-people may be more believable than Ms. Teschmacher and Otis but they're not nearly as much fun.

If you watched Singer's video blogs, or read the Superman Homepage with any regularity over the past six months, you'll notice Singer's extensive cuts to the final film and pine for the eventual DVD release which will hopefully add back certain key deleted scenes. The cuts are made to more than just the deletion of a huge scene at the beginning of the movie. Singer also seemed to cut out much of the dialogue intensive B plots. Knowing what some of these subplots were supposed to be about, unless the acting was horrendous or someone left a microphone visible in the scene, their inclusion would have added quality, not just quantity, to the final product. Maybe Singer felt intimidated by the reviews of his buddy Peter Jackson's film, "King Kong", some of which complained about its three-hour length.

The opening credits differ from what was promised by the video blogs - though they do largely use the style and fanfare of the first film's blue neon crawl.

One of the film's biggest problems seems to be editor and composer John Ottman's dual responsibilities. Ultimately I blame Singer for hiring Ottman to play both editor and composer. On a "Superman" movie, both editing and musical scoring are of immense importance. They are two of the key strengths of the 1978 movie. And they are also at the core of a lot of the problems that arose in the subsequent sequels. Singer should have hired one editor and another composer and not just stuck with his usual suspects.

The pacing feels a bit off at times (especially in the beginning) and that's the editor's job. The music is bold and remarkable when he integrates the original Williams themes and he finds many creative ways to do that with not just the Superman theme but also the Krypton theme and the "Leaving Home" music. But when he tries to fly sans Williams, his music is good just not super.

If you think you know the movie because you read the novelization by Marv Wolfman, by the way, you don't. There are some big differences between the two - including several key plot points that Wolfman either wasn't privy to or agreed not to chronicle in the book.

Finally, I expect audiences and fans will be split over the ending - both where we leave Luthor and where we leave Lois and Clark.

Superman is back and better than ever. This movie has the potential to do "Spider-Man" business. There were moments where I was all-smiles and literally on the edge of my seat. There are scenes in this movie I'll want to watch over and over again - like the helicopter scene of the first movie or the Metropolis battle scene in "II". And there's about a zillion times more emotion and character in this film than in Episodes I-III of Star Wars combined. This movie's greatest asset is its tremendous cast especially Brandon Routh who is at least as right for the lead as Reeve was back in the day.

It's Superman reborn and, to me, it was worth the 19 year wait to end up with a movie that understands these characters and (more or less) accurately reflects who they are. I'll have more to say -- with spoilers -- after the official release date.