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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Superman Returns

Finally. We have a Summer Blockbuster that deserves that title and delivers the goods. Superman Returns , now at the Essex Cinemas, is… well it’s just Super!

It’s hard to imagine any child of the 70s or later that has not been affected by the remarkable legacy of Richard Donner’s Superman and the definitive interpretation of the character by Christopher Reeve, who breathed life into the Man of Steel in a way no previous film or television incarnation had done before. Since then, of course, the tragedy that befell Reeve and redefined his life showed us all what a real-life Superman he could be, but it also silenced the big screen adventures of the world’s most famous superhero.

This practically killed me. Yes. I fell hard for Christopher Reeve. Or was it Superman? Being a recent college
graduate when the first movie came out, I had also just graduated from a string of hideous romances like most young women in their early 20s. I’d had my fill of losers, boozers, nitwits, and cads. I’d dated men who only wanted to get in my pants or my pocketbook or both. They were all beginning to seem like scheming weasels. And then Superman landed on Lois Lane’s balcony and spoke those golden words “I never lie” as he stared deeply into her soul with his shining baby blues. I was never the same. And neither was the seat in the theater I’m afraid, but let’s not go there.

For years then I held onto the dream of Superman. Of course, eventually I married my own real-life Superman, but more than twenty five years later that little flicker of excitement attached to just seeing the familiar red and gold shield still causes a tingle that batteries just can’t buy. There were grumblings in the past decade or so about a new Superman flick being made starring everyone from Nicholas Cage (who did get a pay-or-play deal and snagged a sweet $20 million dollars for never wearing the suit ~ Thank God!) to Ashton Kutcher to Josh Hartnett. With every new casting rumor the concept of the picture got harder to imagine for purists like myself. When the possibility of Tim Burton directing was made public I opened a vein, resigning myself to the death of a beloved childhood icon, envisioning Burton giving us a “re-visioning” of the Kryptonian Crusader as some Edward Scissorhands freak from another planet.

Fortunately, level heads eventually prevailed and Brian Singer took on the role of director. Singer, who breathed life into X-Men and X-Men 2: X-Men United, is more than a filmmaker. He is a fan, and once he
signed on, I felt a glimmer of hope for the first time ever. I should have felt more. I should have felt confidence, because he has done an incredible job.

Superman Returns will transport any viewer who remembers the original Superman and Superman 2 right back to their youth. The familiar opening strains of John Williams’ “Theme from ‘Superman'” coupled with the flying blue credits used by Donner in 1978 telegraph to the viewer that this may be a new Superman in a new century, but Singer and company have not forgotten their roots. Much of the film is peppered with phrases and scenes that echo back to the originals, yet none of Superman Returns feels rehashed. Here, we feel the familiarity of characters we’ve known our whole lives, but, like The Man of Steel, we are now in a position of playing catch-up since we’ve lost touch with them for a while.

Superman, you see, has disappeared for five years, shortly after Earth scientists
located the remnants of his dead home world. Kal-El, feeling alone in the universe as the only survivor of the planet Krypton was drawn away from Earth in search of his heritage. Now, resigned to being the last son of Krypton, he has come back to find that the world he left behind has also left him behind.

Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth; Beyond The Sea) has moved on and is now engaged to Richard White (James Marsden; X-Men 3: The Last Stand), Daily Planet editor Perry White’s nephew, and she is the mother of a five year old son, Jason (newcomer Trisan Lake Leabu). She has also won the Pulitzer Prize for her article called “Why The World Does Not Need Superman”, her own bitter testimonial to how wrong the world was to rely on one man to fill its’ every need. Of course, there is much more to her article that is left unsaid, as she has kept her personal feelings for Superman private ~ sort of. I mean,she does have that son out of wedlock, and he is five years old. Is it possible she has her own important reasons for feeling personally abandoned? Hmmm.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey; The Life of David Gale) is out of prison and up to his old tricks, thanks to a legal snafu caused by Superman’s long absence and his lack of testimony at one of Luthor’s many trials. The only one who seems not to have changed much is Clark Kent’s best friend, Jimmy Olsen (an adorable Sam Huntington; Home of Phobia), still as excited and happy to be working amongst the pros at the Daily Planet.

The standout is, of course, the title character himself, and Brandon Routh, a relative unknown outside of the soap opera world, is an outstanding choice to fill the dual role of Clark Kent and Superman. Not only does he bear an uncanny resemblance to the late Christopher Reeve, he captures many of the same mannerisms and voice quirks Reeve used, but he still makes the character(s) his own. Someday, after I die, I want my ashes strewn all over his body. Sorry, I digress as usual, but ~Yum!

This Superman is more serious than his predecessor, heavy with the knowledge of his losses both on and off Earth. He relays a certain sadness, a regret that he could never have the life of a “normal” man with Lois as he is reminded in archival footage of the late Marlon Brando as Jor-El, his birth father, tells him that he may look like a human being but will never be one of them. So is the crux of his dilemma.

This is not to say that there is a lack of action driving Superman Returns. While Superman may be emotionally challenged by his complicated relationship (or lack thereof) with Lois, he also has his hands full with Lex.

Luthor raids the Fortress of Solitude
while Superman is away and learns all of its’ secrets, especially the magic of the crystals that were key to Krypton's thriving culture. Now his plan is to meld the crystals that Jor-El sent to Earth in his son's spaceship with some of his own stolen Kryptonite to generate an entirely new continent. Yep, just like in the original Superman, Lex is still obsessed with land. Of course, his creating a new continent will easily destroy North America and cause untold damage to the rest of the world, killing billions in the process. For Luthor, it’s all about being the world’s biggest landlord. If half the world dies in the process, well c'est la morte! Fortunately, Kevin Spacey is absolutely delicious as the avaricious and cruel Lex. Unlike Gene Hackman’s comic turn in 1978, Spacey’s Luthor has now spent time in prison and has grown a lot tougher and more brutal. He may have his funny moments, especially with girlfriend Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey; For Your Consideration), but this Lex would just as soon kill you than not if you bother him or interfere with his plans.

Superman Returns is jammed with jaw-dropping moments. Superman must rescue a falling airliner, save a sinking ship, stop a machine gun-toting bank robber, prevent a refinery explosion, and salvage an out-of-control vehicle headed into a crowd of innocents. And this is just in his "spare time." He flies, uses his super hearing, super-breath, heat and x-ray vision, and definitely shows us his super strength and invulnerability. In other words, he does what he does best. He IS Superman.

Other than the potential shadow of Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest coming out on July 7th, this is definitely going to be cinema’s
Summer of Superman. I can’t urge you enough to fly on down to the Essex Cinemas and get reacquainted with our greatest American Idol. Superman has not just returned, he’s rocking as never before!

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