One of the latest trends in Hollywood is the re-imagining of
tentpole franchises. For the last several years, Warner Bros. has been               
attempting to jumpstart the Superman movies. Several screenwriters
and directors have taken a crack at the Man of Steel with various
projects in development but none actually being greenlit. The
superhero movies have proven to be a mixed bag at the box office.
For every success like the
X-MEN, there's been the flop of something
like
DAREDEVIL and its equally disappointing spin-off ELECTRA. So
the studios have decided to tinker with the ideal and start afresh.
Christopher Nolan was able to re-energize the flagging Batman series
by going back to the origins in
BATMAN BEGINS. Reportedly, MGM is
doing something similar with James Bond by casting Daniel Craig and
using the first novel
CASINO ROYALE as its source. The back to basics
approach may have served the Man of Steel as well, but instead,
director Bryan Singer (who left the
X-Men franchise) decided to create
a hybrid movie. Instead of a rehash of the origins story which was
handled so well in Richard Donner's
SUPERMAN, he and his
screenwriters, Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris, have concocted a
story that tries to breathe new life into the franchise.

 In this new tale, Superman (played by former soap actor Brandon
Routh) has been away from Earth for five years searching for the
remnants of his home planet Krypton when he finally comes back
home. First stop is Kansas and a visit with his aging mom (Eva Marie
Saint) before he heads to Metropolis under his alter ego, Clark Kent,
to resume his life as a journalist at the
Daily Planet. What he
discovers is that a lot can happen while one is away. The love of
his life, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is now a mother and happily
involved with Richard White (James Marsden), the nephew of
editor Perry White (Frank Langella).

 Running parallel to this tale is the story of archvillain Lex
Luthor (Kevin Spacey), who was released from prison on a technicality
and went on to marry and bilk a fortune from an elderly benefactress
(the 50s TV series Lois Lane, Noel Neill in a cameo). With his sidekick
Kitty (Parker Posey) and a band of band of goons, the woman's
fortune allows them to head to the Arctic where Luthor discovers
Superman's hideaway, the Fortress of Solitude. This allows Singer
to use some archival footage of the late Marlon Brando as Jor-El,
Superman's dad, in a shameless attempt to connect this film with
Donner's 1978 version.

 The plot revolves around Luthor's determination to create a
new land mass that will end up flooding the existing continents.
He's also savvy enough to know about Superman's weakness where
Kryptonite is concerned and he plans accordingly.

 As I watched this version of the story, I was actually somewhat
bored and, while I know I'm supposed to critique the present version, I             
could not but help flashing back to the 1978 version. In every way,
SUPERMAN RETURNS is a pale copy of Donner's film (which in itself
was entertaining but flawed).

 Nothing in the screenplay really connects. Lois Lane has
written a piece called "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman" and
that applies to this film version. If one is hoping to make a film
that will excite the fanboys and bring in new audiences, then
it needs a strong story. This version expects viewers to be somewhat
familiar with the earlier films (and to a lesser extent with the TV
series
SMALLVILLE) but it was bland and uninvolving. The actors
all flailed about trying to bring some gravitas or interest to the
plot but I really couldn't care about the characters. Routh was okay
as Superman but he lacks the comic brilliance that Christopher Reeve
brought to the part. Spacey was an embarrassment as Lex Luthor.
Early in his career, the actor delivered a brilliant and memorable
performance as a sadistic, drug-addicted villain in a story arc on the
television series
WISEGUY. I had hoped he might bring even a tiny
spark of that kind of craziness to Luthor, but instead, it is as if he
has calcified as an actor. He did absolutely nothing that was remotely
terrifying or scary. When he makes threats, they are like a petulant
child claiming he's going to hold his breath rather than the ravings
of a meglomaniac. The less said about Bosworth's Lois Lane, the
better.

 
SUPERMAN RETURNS was a profoundly disappointing experience.
The screenplay was so ludicrous it seemed the performers decided not
even to try. Perhaps Bryan Singer made a bad decision in tackling
this project over taking on
the final installment of the X-Men trilogy.
His presence on that film was missed. This one should be skipped.


         Rating:                D
         MPAA Rating:        PG-13 for some intense action violence
         Running time:       154 mins.
Superman Returns
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.