Wednesday, July 26, 2006

You'll Believe a Superman Film Can Suck. Badly.


It's boggling that Superman Returns sucks so badly considering it was brought to us by the team that made X-Men 2, easily the best of the franchise to date. But SR, after some pretty pictures during the title sequence, sucks and then proceeds to suck at quite an alarming speed.

For some reason SR is a sequel to Superman 2, made before most of the audience (and some of the cast) were born. Superman has gone to the stars for five years on the off-chance that his father was just ripped to the tits when he'd sent his son to earth because of the imminent destruction of their homeworld, Krypton. On his return Superman finds out:
a) his adopted father has died.
b) Lois Lane has had a baby.
c) Lex Luthor is out of prison.

Sucks to be Supes. On returning to Metropolis Clark Kent has absolutely no problem getting his job back at the Daily Planet, only to find out that Lois is seeing his editor's nephew, Richard White who, much to my surprise, is actually a good guy and not a dick. Lois is initially not too pleased with the return of either Clark and Superman (quite why she doesn't put two and two together on this point is avoided) while Lex is planning to use technology stolen from Superman's Arctic Fortress of Solitude to create a new island in the middle of the Atlantic, destroying the United States in the process.

Why is this a sequel to an old film? That had two sequels which were rubbish and one of which involved Richard Pryor if I remember correctly? Why not kick the franchise off fresh? Brandon Routh pulls off a fairly good Clark Kent/Superman, following the Christopher Reeve model rather than that of the TV Series. Kate Bosworth fails to charm on pretty much every level, coming across as petulant rather than justifiably pissed-off at the big guy in tights. Where things really go astray is that Routh is 27 and looks 24, Bosworth 23 going on 18. For the first film in a franchise that wouldn't matter, for a story where, by the time Clark arrives Lois is an established reporter, they have adventures for a few years then Superman leaves for five, the characters should be in their mid-thirties, thirty at the very least. As it is this casting makes it look like Superman did the super-dirty with Lois when they were in school.

James Marsden seems happier on this film than the X-franchise, or perhaps it's just he gets to play someone who can smile. As I said above, a pleasant surprise is that he's not a wanker that Lois has inexplicably gone off with because she can't have Superman, he's a brave principled guy and if he sticks around Clark will find it hard to beat him to Lois' favour without just revealing he's the Man. Despite some extremely badly-delivered lines (and if you've seen the trailer then you've seen the worst of them) Kevin Spacey isn't too bad as Lex Luthor, though he lacks charisma. Quite why he has Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey) hanging around with him for all the film is never explained, neither of them seem to like the other, she's rather stupid and there's no indication that he likes touching her, let alone doing the naughty.

The main flaw with this film is the one that affected Fantastic Four. In that the good guys were in the dark until practically the end that there was a bad guy, let alone that he had a nefarious plan, and then they fought. The rest of the film up to that point was spent dealing with less interesting touchy-feely, stuff which is difficult to deal with convincingly in the world of spandex-fetishists. SR's Lois has none of the bite of Terri Hatcher's character from Lois and Clark and although Routh is good, his Clark Kent doesn't seem to do much except walk around Metropolis with a goofy grin on his face. We never actually see him do a lick of reporting, he might not be the equal of Batman but he's not supposed to be a moron either. Luckily he gets his job back because there's a vacancy on the staff, Perry White (a wasted Frank Langella) doesn't seem to be concerned as to whether he's still got any ability.

Possibly some good stuff has been cut out. In his first scene Lex Luthor has whiled his way in to the affections of some old lady who has helped him to regain his freedom then obligingly signed over her millions to him. After she croaks he leaves her room to find her relatives standing outside. He dumps a wig on a little girl and walks away, only we haven't seen him directly yet, so the wig seems rather unnecessary. Kitty is dressed as a maid but unless that's just Luthor's own fetish coming in to play that's also not explained on screen.

Luthor's grand scheme is to grow an island with crystals stolen from the Fortress of Solitude. When Lois tells him the other nations of the world won't stand for it, he insists that the island will be bristling with advanced Kryptonian technology. We see none of this when the island actually appears, perhaps that's on the other side of the island that we don't see, or maybe Lex means he has, on other crystals, information on how to build them using the zero natural resources on the island.

The special effects are pretty good, although it would seem 'making people appear to be flying' effects have plateaud out since L&C. Lex's island creation causes a tidal wave to hit Metropolis and, while it's not anything that has not been seen before, Superman dealing with this chaos is nicely done. The best moment is probably the rescue of the plane at the start, which signifies to the world that Superman is back in business. (Incidentally, Lois hits her head so many times during this that if I liked the rest of the film more I'd be inclined to write off her behaviour in the rest of the film as 'serious brain trauma'.)

Part of this 'seen it all before' problem is with Superman's powers. In the early 1980s the comics depowered Superman, making him really really strong, rather than someone who could juggle planets for kicks. The films, TV series and cartoons have tended to have the original pre-80s version. The problem with this is that they have all tended to rely on the same thing to even the odds: Kryptonite. Yes, Lex gets his hands on the green stuff and makes sure to have plenty on hand when he and Superman finally confront each other towards the end of the film. Superman goes all gooey, Lex and his henchmen beat him up and, rather than sensibly killing him on the spot, toss him into the sea to drown so that Lois, Dick and Short Round can save him. I don't even watch Smallville and I'm sick of how often Kryptonite turns up. In the comics it tended to be a rare thing, in other media it seems to be the only show in town. Some originality would have been nice. Or, failing that, some Kryptonian battle armour that I'm sure Lex could have found out how to make. However, during the tediously long 'Superman throws the island into space' sequence, he is surrounded by Kryptonite which has no effect on him whatsoever.

So, in the end a humdrum and disappointing waste of a few hours. And already we know there will be a sequel.


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