Thursday, July 06, 2006

Up, up, and...okay

"Sorry I've been away so long. I won't let you down again."

These are the last lines spoken by Superman at the end of Superman II.

And then, according to Bryan Singer, some scientists see remnants of Krypton and Kal-El immediately takes off into space, in search of his long-dead planet.

Ummm....didn't you just say that you wouldn't...ah, nevermind. Already, I can see the major holes in the plot for Superman Returns.

It looks gorgeous. But in the end, it was kind of a hollow movie. A beautiful love letter to the original movies with some nice spins...but there was no sense of closure, no new thrills.

Superman Returns is all homage and set-up without any real pay-off.

I wanted to like it more. I really enjoyed a lot of it, I thought the sets and special effects were fantastic, loved the cast...but the last 1/2 hour just really disappointed me.

And the central question of the movie - "does the world need Superman?" - was never actually answered!!

I'm just gonna bullet-point the highs and lows here.

Of course there are SPOILERS below!!!

First, the positive:

* The comforting embrace of nostalgia. Singer really creates a unifying sense of Superman's fim world. From the opening credits to the John Williams music to Brando's voice, this movie really explores and expands upon Donner's original vision and beautifully captures the majesty and epic scope of those first two films. And there's just something about those perfect notes and those triumphant horns....

* Singer truly created a unique Metropolis, with its own character and charm. In the movies, Metropolis was really just New York. Superman would often fly over the Statue of Liberty and the major battle of Superman II takes place, essentially, in Times Square. But here, Singer very subtley makes his mark on the franchise, giving us a Metropolis that's its own major metropolitan city. The Daily Planet building is straight out of the comic book, with it's giant globe piercing the Metropolis skyline. The bustling streets and the skyline have their own distinct traits. Singer keeps it in sync with the originals, but he develops it more. Sure, there's the Empire State Building along the skyline, but he also incorporates bridges and buildings that look like they could only belong to one place: Metropolis. Also, cute background mention of Gotham City in a tv news report. Always nice when they throw the geeks a bone.

* Noel Neil as the old dying lady, Gertrude, at the beginning. Excellent.

* Jack Larson as the bartender. Very classy. At one point, there's a shot of him and Jimmy together...I just thought that was sweet. One of the better movie cameos. Plus, I liked this Jimmy Olsen. There was a real sense of friendship and warmth between Jimmy and Clark. Very nice.

* Kevin Spacey. His Lex Luthor is a nice evolution of Hackman's original. A little more menacing, a little more hardened, but with that same sardonic glee and wicked humor.

* I have to give credit to young Brandon Routh. He made me believe that I can believe someone else can play Superman.

* The special effects were superb. And some beautiful shots of Superman lifting heavy things or blasting them with heat vision or cooling things off with cold breath...nice use of his powers and an excellent job all around. Super.

* The movie itself looked spectacular and it just exuded a tremendous love - love of this project, of the previous films, of the characters. A respectful and thoughtful tribute to what's come before.

*Nice nod to Action Comics #1, loved the Aquaman jammies, and all the other nice little flourishes. For the fanboys.

* The last shot was a nice touch.

The not so positive...

* The big climax is that Superman fights a giant slab of earth? Okay, it was cool that he's picking up a giant slab of the earth...but...the movie then goes on for another 1/2 an hour. I mean, the plane scene was the most action-packed, and that happened in the first third of the movie. When does he hit stuff?

* They made Superman so status quo. He just does his thing. Why does the world need Superman? Because he's there. I was waiting for Lois to sum up why the world DOES need a Superman. Or for Superman to inspire people. In Superman II, when the crowd thinks the evil Kryptonians have killed the Man of Steel, they are inspired to fight back in his honor. When Superman lay dying in a hosptial (don't get me started on THAT), where were the acts of heroism inspired by the Last Son of Krypton? Where was the impact he has on people shown? Yeah, they wanted him to get better, but...why couldn't we see how Superman inspired people to be better, to do better, to make the world better?

* He was kind of selfish. I mean, Superman II was all about the repurcussions of him acting in his own self-interest. And then, apparently, he didn't learn his lesson at all...

* The kid's his. From when he slept with Lois in Superman II. Okay. Fine. But let's look at the problems, starting with the two reasons why the kid couldn't have super powers.

1. Kal-El sleeps with Lois after he gives up his powers, when he's simply a mortal man.

2. "...the lights were on out here, while he was there..." Even if his Kryptonian DNA were passed on, when Superman reverses the molecule chamber stripping the evil Kryptonians of their powers, Lois was also outside. Carrying their child, apparently. Who would have been exposed to the rays and thereby made mortal. So, there ya go.

Also, the first time he uses his powers, the kid kills a guy. Great. And it happens half way through the movie. We get the big revelation and then...that's it. If you're gonna do that, tease it a little more. Make the ending have a little more impact. Instead, the last 1/2 hour just tells us what we already know. Because you already TOLD us.

Other problems with the kid, and here's the big one:

LOIS HAS NO IDEA SHE EVER SLEPT WITH SUPERMAN! HE ERASED HER MEMORY WITH A KISS TO RELIEVE HER OF THE BURDEN OF HAVING TO SHARE HIS SECRET. So, if she got pregnant, she wouldn't know it was his. Basically, she'd just wake up pregnant one day. Aaaaaand, if Superman left, and Richard White could possibly be the dad (so she says)...she sure did get over him pretty damn fast. She would have had to sleep with him within days of Superman's disappearance (unless Superman took off for space, like, immediately after saying he would never leave again - like, THAT DAY - and if so, then he's really a dick) AND she would have to be pretty careless with the whole safe sex thing.

AND Superman never really tells her that "yeah, it could be mine, because we slept together but then I made you forget everything with my super kiss" ... WHICH MAKES THE WHOLE THING EXTRA CREEPY.

* um, the story? Where was it?

* I guess I expected a little more chemistry between Brandon and Kate.

* The script? It's overly sentimental with a lot of heavy-handed symbolism and an almost slavish devotion to the originals. Hey, I loved the first two movies. But I've seen them. I didn't need to hear all the best lines over again. And all the best lines in THIS movie were just rehashed lines from the original! I was hoping for some new material, not a poor man's imitation of the first movie...I didn't want to see Superman Redux. The script is, in the words of General Zod, "Scruffy. So morbid. A sentimental replica of a planet long since vanished."

* The criminals were never brought to justice. I never saw Superman get back at those thugs for kicking the crap out of him. Kumar and crew just get crushed by rock. Randomly. Superman never even goes after Luthor to bring him to justice?! What?! Lex and Parker Posey stranded on a desert island? How is that justice? Poetic justice, fine. But Superman's whole schtick is fighting for "Truth, JUSTICE, and the American Way." He fights for JUSTICE! He wouldn't leave it up to irony to punish Lex. I would have been fine with that scene if Lex turned around and Superman was just hovering there. "Looks like you made a bad real estate investment, Luthor." Something. HE NEVER PUNISHES LEX LUTHOR!!! No closure. And no justice.

* The Daily Planet staff is really stupid. "Hi, Clark. Haven't seen you in years. Welcome ba- Oh! Superman's back on the same day! I'm sure there's no correlation!" Sloppy.

* The whole Jesus thing? I got it. But his whole line about "every day I hear them calling out" for a savior? Eh. There's more to it than that. He's a beacon, a light to lead the way...he's not supposed to be THE WAY. Dig?

* Um, as soon as Clark hears about Lex Luthor being out of jail, wouldn't he maybe, um, try to track him down?

* The end was just a let-down. There was no "F*@% YEAH!" moment. In Superman and in Superman II, we were treated to several "F*@% YEAH" moments. Superman II alone has enough "F*@% YEAH" moments for its own movie. "General, care to step outside?" Superman kneeling before Zod, then crushing his hand and lifting him over his head as the music swells. Going back to the diner for some payback. "Oh, I've been...working out." This movie had none of that. It definitely would have benefited from a little more "ooomph" in the ending. And really, its lackluster ending made me walk out of the theater feeling kind of let down instead of jazzed up.

In conclusion: it's disappointing. There's a lot of great things in it, but it never really comes together to make it a great movie. And after seeing it, it just made me want to watch the first two movies even more. So, maybe that's the power of this movie: to make you feel really excited about seeing the old Superman movies again.

But it did look cool.