Thursday, June 29, 2006

For Jor-el so loved the world that he gave....

So I saw Superman Returns last night.

I thought it was a terrific entertainment, a wonderful time, and I loved it. Seriously: this movie felt like a warm, fuzzy blanket for the eight-year-old geek who lives inside me. But wow, it could have been utterly great. In the film's zeal to recreate the magic of the 1978 Richard Donner film, it missed a number of opportunities. But it was so damned cheerful in missing those opportunities that most of me is saying, "Meh, who cares? They can do all that next time."

(Spoilers follow, by the way. I make no effort to pussyfoot around stuff, so if you're trying to preserve a "virgin" Superman experience, don't read this post.)

OK. Spoiler time, in "grab-bag" bullet-point style:

:: This is twice in a week that I've seen a movie that took its sweet time telling its story. (Cars was the first. I'll post about that one in a day or two.) And you know what? I found it really refreshing. Superman Returns involved me in its world, pulled me in, and held me there for a while. So many times I get the feeling that movies want to shake me up a bit and then toss me out into the street, like a really fun roller coaster for which you wait ninety minutes in line for a ride that lasts two minutes.

I'm probably the ideal person for whom this movie was made: for me, the 1978 Superman film sets the icon of Superman in stone. That's how I view the character, it's how I envision Krypton and Smallville and Lex Luthor and all the rest of it. This movie goes to occasionally astonishing lengths to recapture that "world", instead of just coming up with a totally new retelling of the Superman story. I liked that, a lot. In terms of influence on my love of the fantastic, Superman: The Movie is very close to Star Wars with me, so much so that I'm more interested in that movie than the character of Superman in general. When DC Comics relaunched the character in the late 80s with John Byrne's Man of Steel series, my basic reaction was, "Well, OK" -- even though it postulated a Clark Kent who'd actually been allowed to play high school football.

So if you can take or leave Superman: The Movie, you may not get what Superman Returns is attempting.

:: Brandon Routh was perfectly fine as Superman. I would have liked to have seen less of "Clark Kent, bumbling buttoned-down nerd", though.

:: Lex Luthor's plot makes absolutely no sense, of course. But I liked that he's still obsessed with real estate. (In the 1978 film, did he really think that if he'd succeeded in knocking California into the Pacific, the US Government wouldn't have seized all that land he'd just bought under eminent domain? That's the kind of stuff you're not supposed to think about in a Superman movie.)

:: In the Batman movies, it's always blatantly clear that Gotham doesn't exist anywhere. It's a totally fanciful creation. (I haven't seen Batman Begins in its entirety, so I can't vouch for Gotham in that film.) But Metropolis is different, isn't it? In the first four Superman films, Metropolis is clearly New York City. Superman and Lois Lane fly over the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty; there are aerial shots of Manhattan; one sequence takes place in Grand Central Station; and so on.

But in Superman Returns, the "Metropolis as NYC" angle is no longer there. It took me a while to realize it, but that isn't Manhattan in this movie. In fact, it isn't any city. It's a pure digital creation, and it looks totally real, for the most part.

I wonder if director Bryan Singer made it this way in order to visually deflect the inevitable question of whether 9-11 happened while Superman was away.

:: The Kid didn't bother me. He did pretty well, actually, and I am supremely grateful that the script didn't give the kid a "Wesley saves the Enterprise" moment, except for the single moment when he kills a baddie with a piano. Still, I hope that The Kid isn't a centerpiece for the plots of future Superman movies.

The way Superman echoes to his son the last things that Jor-El said to him, as a baby on Krypton before being launched into space, was a wonderful moment.

:: Still on the Kid: the manner in which he ends up captive along with Lois Lane may well rank among the top five stupidest things I've ever seen a movie character do. Jee-bus, Lois, get a friggin' clue.

:: Loose threads department: so, did Superman push the Growing Hunk o' Kryptonite into the sun, or is that thing now in the Solar System too? Is it still growing? Will its orbit bring it periodically close enough to Earth to disrupt Superman's powers? Will that thing be a plot point in future movies?

:: Frank Langella was terrific. And he also appears to have really long fingers. (The things you notice!)

:: When Superman first arrives on the scene again, after the plane rescue, he stands there and basks in the glory. Heavens, he seems to enjoy it. What happened to the "Don't thank me, we're all part of the same team!" guy? And what was up with the scene in which he's pretty much of a Super Stalker, spying on Lois's family? The subtext there was pretty creepy, if you ask me.

:: OK, here's the thing. Lots of made of how hurt Lois Lane was that Superman went away for five years, but what about the world? Wouldn't people be resentful? They've just awarded Lois Lane a Pulitzer for telling the world that they don't need Superman, after all.

And how did he leave, anyway? Did he make an announcement to the world, or did he just up and go, leaving everyone to figure out that he'd gone when the crime rate in Metropolis suddenly went up? There's a whole interesting tale to be told not in Superman's return, but in his absence. None of that is here.

:: Finally, how much of the continuity from the original films are in play? It's pretty clear that the events of Superman II happened, so are General Zod and friends still around?

:: Over on the FSM boards, lots of people are burning the score for this film in effigy, but I rather enjoyed it. I liked hearing the "Growing Up" theme from the first film, especially since it's one of John Williams's most gorgeous melodies and it only occurs in one scene of one movie. I also loved how John Ottman scored this film's "Superman and Lois flying" sequence -- since Lois is now resisting her attraction to Superman, it made perfect sense to me that the music for this sequence kept referencing the classic "Can You Read My Mind" love theme without coming out and giving it a full-throated statement.

I'm strangely conflicted about Superman Returns. Part of me sees lots of problems with it, while another part was just so damned satisfied with it! Strange.

Now, if we can just get that Wonder Woman movie....

(Oh, and I saw a trailer for Spiderman 3. It pisses me off that apparently they have enough footage to make a trailer that good, and still we have to wait until next May for the damn movie. Yeesh.)

1 comment:

Call me Paul said...

You're another person who absolutely gushes over the first Superman movie. I can't see it. As far as I'm concerned, it was a mediocre film at best.