So I finally went and saw Superman Returns. I'm still not sure that I can forgive Bryan Singer for dumping the X-Men to court the Last Son of Krypton, but I must admit they do make a pretty cute couple.
My issues over Singer's abandoning the X-Men movies have a lot to do with the hookup X-Men fell into on the rebound. I may rant on that at some other time, although the venom right now has gone a little flat. (Yeah, that's right -- I had effervescent venom over X-Men: The Last Stand; shake it up and it'll probably still fizz a little.) So, setting aside for the moment the consequences of Singer's moving to Metropolis, let's look at how he gets on with the Man of Steel.
Superman Returns has that odd relationship to its predecessors that's marked recent revivals/reimaginings/reboots of other franchises, like Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who. It kinda sorta acknowledges that something went before, but only deals with those aspects that it feels like dealing with. So you have some not-so-sly references to the "original" Christopher Reeve Superman and (kinda sorta) Superman II sharing space with elements that freely ignore the history that the movie just references only moments before. I've been thinking about this phenomenon for a while now, but I don't have any real cogent insights or opinions about it. I do bring it up, though, if only to note that Superman Returns is in this respect distinct from something like Batman Begins. Hell, the titles alone ought to tell you that.
And I guess the other consideration that comes from this referencing relationship with its predecessors it that it leaves the new movie in the dubious position of asking to be taking on its own terms in spite of itself. I'm trying to accomodate it in that, although there are times when the film itself makes that difficult.
The while-you-were-off-looking-for-Krypton germ of the plot serves the movie well. It creates a tension with Lois, it gives Lex a chance to be out and about plotting evil, and it sets things up for -- SPOILER ALERT -- the question of the parentage of Lois' son. Yeah, like it's really much of a question once the possibility becomes evident.
Effects are, as is to be expected, stunning. No question about believing a man can fly here. True is, I've begun to take visual effects spectacle for granted. I don't really care how good the effect is; what matters is how it's used. The big set pices here are, for the most part, well put together. (Generally better than the big action scenes in The Last Stand, but I digress.)
As Clark/Kal-El/Supes, Brandon Routh is rather good. With not quite classic good looks that fall somewhere between Tom Cruise and Jason Schwartzman, he has a define charm. There are moments when, I suspect, he was cribbing directly from Chris Reeve, but the feeling is one of respect rather than rip-off.
Less impressive to me was Kate Bosworth as Lois. Not sure what I expected -- not the perky spunk of Terri Hatcher and certainly not the strung out fidgiting of Margot Kidder -- but I didn't feel like I found much of anything distinct.
Sam Huntington's puppyish Jimmy is a hoot, and Frank Langella is impressive (wasted, but impressive) as Perry White. Also underused is Eva Marie Saint as a luminous Martha Kent.
Kevin Spacey is having fun as Lex, but he's not breaking any new ground. I guess that's my feeling for the film in general. It's not the brave and self assured departure that Batman Begins was. Wisely not attempting the mythic scope of Richard Donner's Superman, Singer's film isn't sure how epic to be. What's the Big Threat here? As my friend Rob put it, it's all about Lex's undiminished obsession with waterfront property. The real umph behind the story is personal, and when it's working well on that level the film succeeds.