Superman Returns
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Superman Returns

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Mythology is important to almost every culture; in fact it helps define the society of the myth tellers. The political Greeks and Romans had a Parthenon of gods who held court in the sky. The fierce Norsemen had warrior gods always ready for battle. One of the most important myths in the American culture is without any doubt, Superman. This strange visitor from another star stood for all the qualities that Americans hold dear, truth, justice and the American way. There has been an almost uninterrupted proliferation of stories concerning this super hero since he first appears on the scene in the late 1930s. While several incarnations Superman have made it to the big screen none were as well know as the Christopher Reeve. The first film in 1978 was a wonder to behold. The second was interesting albeit marred by studio politics. After that the franchise went downhill real fast with Superman III being bad and Superman IV almost unwatchable. Now some 19 years later the franchise has been resurrected with a new lease on life.

Since there has been almost a generation since the last picture some flashbacks are in order. Basically, the film follows the events of the second film of the previous series and thankfully ignores the third and forth film. This is alright as most of the fans of the franchise have tried for years to erase those flicks from out collective consciousness. Superman (Brandon Routh) learned of the location of his home world, Krypton. For the last five years he has been exploring the area in hopes of finding some remains of its society. He returns to earth crashing his crystalline space ship into the Kent farm. The ship is discovered by Martha Kent (Eva Marie Saint) and he collapses in his mother’s arms. Clark recovers from his journey and returns to Metropolis to resume his job at the Daily Planet. A lot has happened in the intervening five years. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is now a single mother having given birth to her son, Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu), ostensibly the son of her fiancé, Richard White (James Marsden). He is the nephew of the still blustery editor in chief of the Daily Planet, Perry White (Frank Langella). Lois has been the poster girl for a growing anti-Superman movement after winning a Pulitzer Prize for her editorial, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman". Clark is barely settled into the job when word is received that the space shuttle is in peril. Superman rushes to the scene and through fire and debris manages to bring the craft to safety in the middle of a crowded stadium. Lois is naturally bitter and holds a super size grudge against the man of steel. After all we should expect more out of our superheroes that a night of passion followed by a five year absence.

Superman is not the only one returning to pick up where he left off. Arch villain Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is back to his old tricks. ‘What are we doing tonight Lex? What we do every night; plan to take over the world.’ Luthor was let out of prison due to a technicality and immediately marries an older woman, Gertrude Vanderworth (played by one of the original actresses to play Lois Lane, Noel Neill). Before she dies she signs over her vast wealth to Lex who now has the financial means to implement his latest dastardly scheme. Lex became aware of Kryptonian technology during his little adventure in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Luthor plans to use that technology to find the Fortress and use the crystals there to build his own empire. Luthor discovers that Kryptonian crystals can grow just about any structure and he plans to make is own continent smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. A small test in his newly acquired mansion works but the side effect is it drains power for hundreds of mile around. It was this test that nearly destroyed the space shuttle. Creating his new land mass will take out most of North America but Lex sees that as a minor price to pay. Lex is accompanied by his new girlfriend, Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey). As the story continues Lois, Richard and Jason are kidnapped by Lex. Superman has to save them although it almost kills him. He gets better, saves the world. Finally, Lois writes a new story, "Why the World Needs Superman".

This film cost enough to support a moderate country yet a good portion of those funds went to pay off contracts of people who were fired or left the production. With such upheavals in the production the final product is flawed but surprisingly comes off better than many anticipated. The bar for comic book films has been set very high with movies like Spider-Man and the X-Men. Now audiences expect more emotional content instead of a plot that fills the time between action shots. This film does deliver in this aspect. Lois is now longer the love struck school girl when she is around Superman. She is disappointed that the man that can save the world can not make time for the woman that he obviously loves. One of the biggest human changes is with the Clark/Superman character. In almost every previous incarnation of the story there was a duality between the clumsy Clark Kent and the self assured Superman. Here there are three sides to this persona. We still have the bumbling Clark and the Man of Steel but they are both played as masks, neither one of the personalities is the real man. It is only when Clark is back at home with his mother that the real person gets a chance to show. Here is a man that knows he has the power and therefore the responsibility to help other but the price that he has to pay is his own chance at happiness. There are many references to Superman as an allegory to Jesus Christ. Joel-El even states that he has sent his only son to save the world. This savior aspect is a recurring theme here. It takes the American way portion of the Superman creed out of the equation and makes him into a world wide hero. Bryan Singer has made a career out of creating films that challenge the usual genres. From his ‘Usual Suspects’ to the first two X-Men movies he has demonstrated that he knows how to keep an audience interested. Here he manages to pull together many sub plots, infuse a touch of human conflict and still have room for incredible special effects.

For the most part the cast here is exceptional. It is nice that Singer gives a nod to some of the television actors who made the franchise such a hit by casting Noel Neill and Jack Larson. New comer Brandon Routh does very well as the latest Superman. He does bear a striking resemblance to the late Christopher Reeve but here he plays the role on his own merits. He looks like a corn feed mid western boy and uses that to sell the dedication Superman has to his destiny. Not being human it is understandable why Superman is still so young but the same can’t be said about the character of Lois. Kate Bosworth is an able and talented actress but she is just two young to be the mother of a five year old. With that said Ms Bosworth does a good job playing the most famous female report or all time. She portrays Lois as driven, using her career to cover the emotional turmoil that seethes within her. Her relationship with Richard is real in the sense that she loves him but the feelings for Superman will always be there. The villains are the real treat here. Kevin Spacey takes the role originated by Gene Hackman and takes it up a few notches. His natural comic talents come through here has he combines pure evil and a dark sense of humor. He is nothing short of a joy to watch. The perfect counterpoint to Spacey’s performance is found with Parker Posey. The one time Indy queen has found a niche with quirky roles like this. As Kitty she is the foil to Lex. Kitty is able to speak her mind to Lex often putting him down.

Warner Brothers has given us a new DVD to show off our home theaters. The technical specifications of this release are near perfect. There is a full screen version available but forget it, you need to seen every little detail of each frame. The anamorphic 2.40:1 video is crisp and clear with no hint of flaws. The color balance is brilliant, the colors jumping off the screen. The Dolby 5.1 audio is amazing. The front speakers provide a better than usual channel separation. The rear speakers not only give a natural ambience but echo the dark musical score. The sub woofers boom to life with the many special effects scenes. Besides the two basic versions of the DVD there is a special edition. Since it will run you about $5 more the investment is well worth it. You get a few fun extras on the second disc. There is a featurette about how this film was made and another concerning the redesign of the world famous costume. There is also a little featurette about how the clips of Marlon Brando were integrated into the film. Kevin Spacey gets to show off a bit with a featurette about is presentation of Lex Luthor. This is not a perfect film, certainly not up to the standard currently set by Spider-Man 2 but it is a worth while and must have addition to your collection. Fortunately, a sequel is in the works which should be able to build on the ground work laid here.

Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you... my only son.

Posted 11/9/06

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