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PCR # 327  (Vol. 7, No. 26)  This edition is for the week of June 26--July 2, 2006.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"Superman Returns"

Movie review by:
Nolan B. Canova
Four stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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"Superman Returns"  by Mike Smith
"Superman Retuns"  by Nolan B. Canova
"The Times", They Are A'Changin'  by Lisa Zubek
Coming Soon....Letters....What's 2 Foot Tall and 35 Years Old?...It's Official....Passing On....My Favorite Films, Part 26: "Pulp Fiction"  by Mike Smith
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Warner Brothers     
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Eva Marie-Saint, Kevin Spacey, Tristan Lake Leabu, Parker Posey, Sam Huntington, James Marsden, and Frank Langella (cameos by Jack Larson and Noel Neill)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, and Dan Harris
Rated: PG 13
Running Time: 2 hours 37 mins

Where do I begin? Without trying to sound like one of those grizzled old cops in the movies who sound so incredibly old as they address their young charges, I should state for the record I have been a fan Superman for over 40 years. I mean, like, a number one fan. This includes starting with the '50s TV show The Adventures of Superman (starring the inimitable George Reeves), syndicated reruns of which played all during my childhood years. Combined with the DC comic books, this forged my entry into what we now called fandom.

Ignoring the Broadway musical I never saw, the next major incarnation of Superman would occur in the late '70s as an up-and-coming soap opera star named Christopher Reeve (no relation to George Reeves) donned the tights and cape and became, for all intents and purposes, the definitive Superman for the next generation. Truly deserving of all the praise he got for his portrayal, Christopher Reeve's bigger contribution, in my opinion, was the fleshing out of the character of Clark Kent, Superman's more "mild-mannered" alter-ego. For the first time, I believed someone could live as two different personas so that even his friends might not recognize him (a perennial sore spot for Super-fans). Whoever took over this role in some future installment had some mighty big shoes to fill.

In this newest version/sequel of Superman, director Bryan Singer has taken the reigns and faithfully recreated the universe created by Richard Donner (director of Superman: The Movie) in the '70s. To this end, he hired another talented up-and-comer, 26-year-old Brandon Routh, to inhabit the costume and become a virtual recreation of not only Superman, but Christopher Reeve's Superman. The resemblance is not only physical, but aural: close your eyes and it doesn't take much to imagine your hearing Christopher Reeve. I wonder how this impacts Routh's ego, as the comparisons to Reeve will be compulsory and unavoidable. I'm sure he also wants to be seen as his own man (an appearance on a recent Regis & Kelly episode showed him to be extremely likable, personable and humbled by the attention) ---but I digress...

This is a very dark take on Superman with surprisingly adult themes. The muted colors (including those of his costume) reflect the brooding nature of our returned hero. It has been five years since the world has seen Superman (the director wisely decided to ignore the events of the abysmal Superman III & IV). After learning that some astronomers have found remnants of the exploded planet Krypton, our boy, Kal-El, decides to fly back in the rocketship that brought him to earth and investigate if there is anything left. Apparently not, as he tells his mom (played by Eva Marie-Saint) upon his return, "it's a graveyard out there. I'm the only one left." In a later scene on the Kent farm, daydreaming, Clark flashes back to childhood scenes of his growing awareness of his super-powers. (These look like they could've come straight out of the Donner version if he'd've had this kind of technology then.)

In Metropolis, the reunion at The Daily Planet is a bittersweet one as Clark discovers Lois Lane has moved on. She has written a Pulitzer-prize winning article called "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman". When Jimmy tells Clark Lois "is a mommy now" Clark accidentally breaks the framed family portrait he is holding of Lois, her son, Jason, and the boy's father, Richard White, Planet editor Perry White's son. Or is he the father? The boy is about 5 years old. Hmmm.

Lex Luthor, meanwhile, is still hung up on huge real estate deals. His plan is to use stolen alien technology (i.e., Kryptonian) to create a new continent in the Atlantic. The fact that it will displace about half of the United States and kill billions of people worldwide with, you know, tidal waves and stuff, doesn't phase him. All he knows is he will possess prime land of incalculable value (a throwback to the Gene Hackman Luthor who was obsessed with same).

While Superman is dealing with his feelings for Lois and her new family, he relishes his rediscovered role as the world's hero. These scenes not only recall the Reeve version, but update the heroics with betters special effects as well. Nevertheless, you never shake the feeling he is always thinking of how to win Lois back, despite the fact she's engaged. The producers tread many fine lines here with the love triangle, but it's all handled very well.

When an insaner and darker Lex Luthor nearly kills the Man of Steel, Lois's loyalties are put to the test and Richard White must deal with her previous relationship with Superman so a madman's plan can be thwarted.

This is a terrific story and a worthy sequel. I only had minor objections to a few things, basically personal taste issues, nothing worth docking Superman Returns any stars over.

The following bullet points contain zero-to-very minor spoilers. Proceed carefully.

  • The movie runs a little long. The humungous and slow-moving effects scenes dealing with the impending catastrophe Luthor has orchestrated could've been curtailed a little bit. I'm sure Singer was trying to build a sense of scale (admittedly a challenge with this plot), but we got the message earlier.
  • The boy cast as Lois's son Jason, Tristan Lake Leabu, is a little non-descript, perhaps on purpose. Jason is sickly and shy and suffers from asthma. Initially unimpressive, his role and importance grow in the plot. Nearer the end, he seems a good choice after all. Still, I wonder how a Haley Joel Osment-type would've fared in the role at the same age.
  • I kept having a nagging problem with some not-so-subtle changes made to Superman's costume. The reds are very subdued, more like a brick color, and the sky blue parts are a much deeper, almost Navy blue. The "S" chest emblem, arguably the most radical change, has a sculpted, embossed design, and appears glued on instead of the traditional seamless sewed-in appearance. It is also a little smaller than in past versions. His belt buckle repeats the "S" motif, and this has never been done before EXCEPT for Super-insiders who recall that the very first designs for Christopher Reeve's costume contained the "S" on the belt buckle---but was abandoned in favor of the traditional disk buckle. One more fairly radical change is Superman's cape has no reprise of the "S" emblem on it at all. It is just a cape, one solid color (albeit a cape that flows quite cinematically, haha). The entire costume looks like it is made of the same stuff you make beach rafts out of. A super close-up of his chest emblem reveals the "S" is embedded with millions of other tiny "S"s. The turn-off for me is it doesn't look like anything Ma Kent made for him (the traditional approach) but makes him look like he was a molded action-figure in a previous life.
  • When the movie was a little fresher in my mind, I seem to recall tiny plot devices and introduced characters that didn't go anywhere. Evidently, not important enough that I remember them now.
  • There has not been a particularly compelling Jimmy Olsen since the '50s TV show when Jack Larson created the definitive characterization. That continues in Superman Returns -- they just never know quite what to do with him. The obvious showdowns with Perry White are never developed.

    That concludes my minor objections. Now on to some highlights or other notable points.

  • I think Kate Bosworth makes a terrific Lois Lane. I know there is much division over this, but, to me, her non-resemblance to any previous Lois Lane is irrelevant. I believed she could be a tough-as-nails crime reporter, but with a very feminine, sensitive and intelligent side that would turn Superman on (something I never quite got with Margot Kidder, and without the obvious in-your-face-magazine-model-babe appeal of TV's Terri Hatcher). Her disappointment over Kal-El's disappearance and conflict over his reappearance are tremendously convincing.
  • There are a few touching reprises of the '78 movie. The balcony scene with, "You really shouldn't be smoking Miss Lane," comes to mind as one.
  • It is wonderful seeing Marlon Brando again as Superman's father, Jor-El, via archival footage as a hologram in the Fortress of Solitude. The Brando voice-overs that pepper the movie tie it in to the Donner Superman universe even more tightly.
  • Casting Frank Langella as Perry White is like killing a fly with an anvil (OK, sloppy analogy). He's an incredible world-class actor they only have in a few scenes. He's awesome whenever he appears, I could've used much more of him.
  • Thank GOD there was no Otis or similar character.
  • There is, however, a "Miss Teschmacher": Kitty Kowalski played with an over-the-top relish by Parker Posey. This counts as a borderline objection because her character is so retro-cartoony as to take us out of the movie when she appears, at least initially. Later, she shows more range when she seems to finally appreciate Luthor's true diabolical nature. Overheard at my local bijou: "Ya know they should've switched them two women (i.e., Bosworth and Posey), Kitty looks more like Lois Lane." Hmm....true. But again, irrelevant.
  • We never really know how Luthor got so incredibly rich, to afford giant yachts and big machines and such. We are left to assume he's a brilliant swindler or something. (In the comics he started as a corrupt businessman, something like The Kingpin.)
  • The flying scenes with Superman are incredible. But this should come as no surprise considering the investment.
  • Jack Larson and Noel Neill, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane from the '50s TV show, have cameos. (Larson refused to appear in the '78 Superman due to conflicts with the Salkinds. Neill appears briefly as a train passenger in that version.)
  • The original John Williams score is used throughout. It is appropriately heroic and the familiarity puts one at ease almost immediately.
  • Amusingly, even though only 5 years have passed between the events of Superman 2 and Superman Returns, everything is totally updated for the times: people have cellphones, text messaging and laptops. The Clark Kent who walked out of 1982 and into 2006 doesn't seem all that surprised at how technology jumped in those 5 years. Haha.

    Keep in mind that this is a dark, brooding, and pretty violent movie. No profane language or extremely bloody scenes, but it's rated PG-13 for a reason, mostly for adult themes, like paternity and suggested infidelity. The louder, more violent scenes could scare young'uns. Use discretion in taking very small children.

    All that notwithstanding, this is the movie event of the summer and one of the top movies of the year.

    On the sheer strength of Brandon Routh's portrayal, Bryan Singer's loyalty to the original movie, the epic scale, and the chemistry between Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth, on a scale of zero to four stars, I give "Superman Returns"   Four stars

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    This week's movie review of "Superman Returns" is ©2006 by Nolan B. Canova.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2006, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2006 by Nolan B. Canova.