Superman Returns

Superman experiences a moment of clarity in a story DC would rather forget. The new movie, however, is worth a look.

Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris

Cast
Brandon Routh…Superman/Clark Kent
Kate Bosworth…Lois Lane
Kevin Spacey…Lex Luthor
James Marsden…Richard White

Parker Posey…Kitty
Frank Langella …Perry White
Sam Huntington…Jimmy Olsen
Eva Marie Saint…Martha Kent
Noel Neill…Gertrude Vanderworth

Premise:

Superman left the world five years ago to explore the Kryptonian system. He returns to learn that people have moved on and Lex Luthor has concocted an over-the-top evil plot.

High Points:

The scenes back in Smallville did what good filmmaking should: they conveyed their meaning—in this case, Superman’s backstory– in a few vivid images and a little effectively-delivered dialogue.

I really liked the way that other, ordinary characters also were given the opportunity to be heroes in this film.

Low Points

I have some trouble with the timeline. I don’t mean the fact that this is a sequel to films made in the 1970s, but it’s clearly set in 2006. That sort of temporal distortion goes with comic books. Superman spends years in the Arctic, establishes himself as Superman and Clark Kent, and then leaves the planet for five years. Lex Luthor spends five years in jail, Lois Lane raises her child. The actors playing Superman and Lois, however, are younger than their Smallville counterparts, and they look their age. They’re good actors, but problematically young.

Then there’s the matter of Superman’s dual identity. We must, by convention, accept that no one recognizes Clark Kent when he removes his glasses. However, add to the mix the fact that Clark Kent disappears for five years when Superman disappears for five years, and then again when Superman gets injured, and we’re dealing with a Plastic Man-level stretch to credibility—even for a comic-book movie.

The Scores:

Originality: 1/6 It’s very hard do to an original version of Superman, at least without offending fans. He’s been around too long and been featured in too many different media. This one doesn’t especially try. It draws heavily from the 1970s films, often directly quoting from and referencing them in ways that usually work. More impressive are the number of allusions to Superman’s complex history. The best of these are non-obtrusive; missing them doesn’t mar the film.

Effects: 6/6. This film features strong special effects and stunning visual imagery.

Story: 4/6. Singer and company have pace the film well, and the narrative carries viewers through the lengthy running time.

I did find myself wondering why Superman left his fortress unguarded, and why a genius supervillain would set his captive next to a fax machine, and a few other matters.

Acting: 4/6. Kevin Spacey finds a middle ground between the comic-book villain and Gene Hackman’s wisecracking dandy. I wish Luthor had been more complex, but Spacey has undeniable presence. Routh and Bosworth handle Superman/Clark and Lois well. I suspect fans of Smallville will still prefer tv’s current take on the characters, and readers of the comic may be wishing they’d given us something closer to the current incarnations.

I wasn’t overly impressed with Frank Langella’s version of Perry White. It’s not badly-acted; I just didn’t really take to the interpretation.

Production: 6/6.

Emotional Response: 5/6. This is an enjoyable film, and very much a tribute to the ’78 Superman

Overall: 4/6.

In total, Superman Returns receives 30/42

28 replies on “Superman Returns”

  1. hans says:

    Very nice
    I enjoyed the movie thoroughly. I really liked the opening credits, some great CG and just what I imagined the original was meant to be.

    Routh made a great Superman. I was completely convinced. He even sounded like Reeve sometimes, although he wasn’t just a Reeve-like guy, he was his own Superman.

    I too wished Lex was more complex, he was simply too one-dimensional. Spacey was a little too cuddly, not quite rough enough, but otherwise very good.

    I’ll take this Lois/Clark relationship over Smallville’s sorry excuses for relationships with Clark. Yeah, they look a little young, but so did Reeve in the originals compared to Welling now. Interestingly, Reeve’s Clark looked older than Routh’s, but Routh’s Superman looked older than Reeve’s.

    I was impressed with the first rescue. He genuinely seemed to be having a hard time and the doubt as to whether he would pull it off was well-conveyed (even if he should have been able to catch up quite a lot faster). Lex may have been one-dimensional, but Superman was not just "a boy scout with superpowers".


    I was pleased to see them not overuse the boy. After the piano they could have easily tried to make him all of a sudden be a plot device, but they didn’t. That was good.

    I liked it better than X3, if only because the pacing was excellent (I didn’t realize it was a long one, although I do tend to like long shows), where X3 was overpacked and underdeveloped.

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: Very nice
      I thought about the first rescue as a high point. As you say, he struggles with it.

      It alludes cleverly to the first Donner movie and Byrne’s Man of Steel.

    • obiwan says:

      Re: Very nice

      I’ll take this Lois/Clark relationship over Smallville’s sorry excuses for relationships with Clark.

      I dunno if I’ll get lynched for this, but I don’t care for Smallville much at all any more. It was kinda fun for a season or two, but nowadays it’s draggy, introduces too many characters (Lois working at a coffee shop in Smallville?), had too many really bad plotlines (Lana Lang as KUNG FU WITCH GIRL!!!), implausibility (Clark openly shows his powers to everyone he knows later on and they never suspect a thing?).

      I suspect the reason a lot of Superman fans keep watching Smallville is because it teases us with glimpses of "reinterpreted" mythology ("Zod? Does this episode have Zod? Oooh is that Perry White? HEY LOOK I THINK I JUST SAW A BIT OF RED CAPE"). But that gets tiring after a while.

      Bryan Singer has delivered what I’ve all been waiting to see again for years. Not the small-screen romantic comedy Superman of Lois and Clark. Not the Melrose Place with a superpowered idiot with pop-song-du-jour playing in the background of Smallville. I want epic Superman on the big screen, soaring the skies, with a grand orchestral score (John Williams’ music was very welcome) and fighting evil in a larger-than-life adventure.

      • Timeshredder says:

        Re: Very nice

        I’ll take this Lois/Clark relationship over Smallville’s sorry excuses for relationships with Clark.

        Personally, I’ve only been a sporadic watcher of Smallville, and I agree with most of your criticisms. However, I suspect that die-hard fans– especially of the Clark/Lex dynamic in that show– may see those as the genuine articles, and I know many fans of the current comic who would like to see exactly this movie’s large-scale adventure, but with ties to current incarnations of the character.

        The movie chose to follow the best movie version, and I think it works. It just won’t be everyone’s Superman.

        • Babbster says:

          Re: Very nice

          However, I suspect that die-hard fans– especially of the Clark/Lex dynamic in that show– may see those as the genuine articles, and I know many fans of the current comic who would like to see exactly this movie’s large-scale adventure, but with ties to current incarnations of the character.

          I could probably be called a "die-hard fan" of Smallville, and you’re right that the Clark/Lex friendship/rivalry/conflict is, to my mind, an excellent take on the more classic [pre-Byrne] Superman from the comics. It’s also why I keep coming back.

          The magical Lana storyline is another bit from classic Superman stories – which, interestingly, John Byrne took to an extreme level in Generations, his Elseworlds interpretation of the [pre-Byrne] Superman and Batman mythos. Unfortunately, the thing was just handled poorly in Smallville. They went to a darker than necessary place with it, made a weird connection to the "Kryptonians were on earth long ago" subplot, and introduced extra characters (Jason and his mother) who never seemed to fit right in the series.

          Overall, I think if one ignores that particular storyline (like I tend to ignore the "Adam" storyline from BTVS season 4), there are few huge problems with Smallville. Even the will they/won’t they between Clark and Lana has been redeemed pretty nicely with the more recent Lois/Lex[/Zod] relationship.

          As for Superman Returns, while I wish they could have turned Smallville into a Superman movie franchise, I’m excited about seeing it (won’t have a decent chance until Friday). From what folks are saying it sounds like a fun film, and that’s really my only requirement of a comic book movie…well, that and a little geek service.

      • babasyzygy says:

        Re: Very nice

        (Lana Lang as KUNG FU WITCH GIRL!!!),

        Yeah, really. Everyone knows that Lana Lang is the Insect Queen!

  2. obiwan says:

    Scenes deleted
    I noticed a few scenes missing, like Ben Hubbard. Weren’t we supposed to see him again? Also some bits in the trailer "the world could use more good reporters". Anyone else notice this?

  3. vanyel says:

    A pretty good 1:45 movie…
    I was surprised to see compliments about pacing, as I thought it dragged a lot. Effects were good; as I commented to a friend after, "they could have made a good independent film with the budget for the opening credits." I agree with the high points, and would add that I like them finally showing things breaking up when he tries to apply super strength to them. They didn’t as much as they would in real life, but at least they try to get as realistic as they can and still allow him to do the feats. The ripples through the plane were a nice touch. Similarly, I like the fact that they played on the fact that his disguise isn’t much of a disguise — again, they went about as far as they could and still stay within the story.

    Too bad about James Marsden’s luck this year: first Jean Gray (not to mention getting killed off!), and now losing Lois (I think it’s clear he knows who Lois really loves). Just not a good year for him…

  4. babasyzygy says:

    Too long
    They really should have shaved a lot of time off of some of the longer scenes. The "lois goes flying" scene particularly dragged – it seemed to me that they were trying too hard to make a parallel with the first movie. It simply didn’t work because the chemistry is now different from the first flight, circumstances are really different – I was uncomfortable with the energy. Almost shades of My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

    I think that they did an incredible job of keeping continuity with the first movie, down to the excellent use of Marlon Brando and this Lex Luthor’s obsession with real estate – much of this this movie simply flows logically from the first, and that’s a nice change for a sequel (especially one so long in coming). On the other hand, they might have spent too much time doing so – from the very opening credits onwards this movie didn’t do enough to create its own visual style and its own feeling. Adding a kid to the mix just doesn’t do the trick.

    I’m afraid that Spacey is a bit wasted on this Lex – hopefully he’ll come back later with a little more of a hunger for plywood and MDF.

    Personally, I’m hoping that Lois never returns to Supes – he intentionally left the pregnant Lois for five years without saying a word? That’s simply unforgivable. (He didn’t know? Well maybe he would have if he had said he was leaving). Lois deserves someone more human, and Richard is plenty heroic. Let’s leave Supes lurking about as the inhuman repentant deadbeat dad.

    • J_W_W says:

      Re: Too long

      Personally, I’m hoping that Lois never returns to Supes – he intentionally left the pregnant Lois for five years without saying a word? That’s simply unforgivable. (He didn’t know? Well maybe he would have if he had said he was leaving). Lois deserves someone more human, and Richard is plenty heroic. Let’s leave Supes lurking about as the inhuman repentant deadbeat dad.

      Geez, maybe you should have tried spoiler tags??!!

      • babasyzygy says:

        Re: Too long

        Geez, maybe you should have tried spoiler tags??!!

        Absolutely not. Spoiler tags in full reviews drive me crazy – it’s simply silly to read discussion about a released movie if you don’t want to be spoiled.

        They only make sense for discussing things that haven’t reached wide release yet.

  5. fiziko says:

    My low point
    My low point is loaded with spoilers: I can accept that Lois thought Richard was Jason’s father; after all, her memory was wiped, so she would have no recollection of sleeping with Clark/Superman back in Superman II. She may have even become involved with Richard quickly enough on the rebound that she didn’t notice that she was already pregnant. Now that she does know what Jason can do, why the HELL isn’t she asking Superman how and when he got her pregnant? End spoiler.

    • Timeshredder says:

      had to be said
      Well, she does know he’s faster than a speeding bullet.

      Hey! Stop throwing things at me!

    • hans says:

      Re: My low point

      My low point is loaded with spoilers: I can accept that Lois thought Richard was Jason’s father; after all, her memory was wiped, so she would have no recollection of sleeping with Clark/Superman back in Superman II. She may have even become involved with Richard quickly enough on the rebound that she didn’t notice that she was already pregnant. Now that she does know what Jason can do, why the HELL isn’t she asking Superman how and when he got her pregnant? End spoiler.


      Yeah, this was one of my lowpoints too. Would the world really realize superman had left after just a few days or even a week or two, if he didn’t say goodbye? Is it really feasible that she got with Richard soon enough to think the kid was his? Maybe they thought he was premature and that’s part of the weakness paradigm they have. And she really should be curious about how superman is the father.

      Poor cyclops is having a rough year.

      As for Smallville, I enjoy the show. I like Clark, Lex, Lionel, Chloe, Martha and Jonathan (before he kicked the bucket), Milton Fine. Lois can be amusing sometimes. The Lana drama is the one part I hate, but at least it’s finally moved on from the endless do-see-do. I enjoyed this superman for a movie, where you don’t have time to explore a lot of little things in depth. I like Smallville’s Clark for a series, where you do.

      • Timeshredder says:

        Nonsensical post
        When I write the cast list with the imdb links, I type over the cast from the last film I reviewed, column by column, starting with the characters. As a result, I end up with a strange alternate cast before I type the final column.

        I saved the one for Superman Returns (with the cast still in place from X-Men: The Final Stand). Try to imagine any of the movie’s scenes with the resulting alternate cast:

        Hugh Jackman…Superman/Clark Kent
        Halle Berry…Lois Lane
        Ian McKellen…Lex Luthor
        Famke Janssen…Richard White
        Kelsey Grammer…Kitty
        Patrick Stewart…Perry White
        Rebecca Romijn…Jason White
        Ellen Page…Jimmy Olsen
        Anna Paquin…Martha Kent
        James Marsden…Gertrude Vanderworth

        • Eldhrin says:

          Re: Nonsensical post
          Well, that would mean… Lois doesn’t care about Superman anymore because she’s realised she’s a lesbian, and is naturally attracted to the gorgeous Rachel ‘Richard’ White, who is also a lesbian but likes to dress as a man, which makes Lois feel more comfortable with their relationship. Curiously for an investigative reporter of her supposed intelligence, she believes she was impregnated by using an insufficiently-sanitised public toilet, and has since taken to keeping a Porta-Potti in the back of her SUV for emergencies. Her daughter has grown up at a remarkable rate, but Lois is too occupied with ‘Richard’ to notice, leaving Jason (because why should girls not have boy names?) to make her own way in the world.

          While away from Earth, Superman aged somewhat, and Perry White’s daughter’s escapades with Lois have caused all his hair to turn white and fall out from the stress. Rather than wear a dodgy wig, he has instead chosen to polish his skull and display it to its full advantage. To complete the image change, he attended elocution lessons and developed a precise, warm English accent.

          Questions arise in Smallville when Clark returns and the residents realise that he’s significantly older than his mother, who they thought was a pensioner. Suspicions arise that she’s an imposter and the sheriff is called, but she’s shot by one of her own deputies who later falls foul of Superman’s insufficiently analytical mind.

          Lex Luthor spends his time sitting in his rooftop garden in Manhatten, and leaves Superman to solve his personal problems himself.

          • Timeshredder says:

            Re: Nonsensical post
            Excellent work.

            Hmmm…. I note that this version of the movie means that, once again, James Marsden gets screwed over.

            • Eldhrin says:

              Re: Nonsensical post

              Excellent work.

              Hmmm…. I note that this version of the movie means that, once again, James Marsden gets screwed over.

              Well I did try to follow what I believe is the plot. I’ve not seen the film myself yet, but that’s because it’s not out for another few weeks here.

    • joshwilson3 says:

      Re: My low point

      My low point is loaded with spoilers: I can accept that Lois thought Richard was Jason’s father; after all, her memory was wiped, so she would have no recollection of sleeping with Clark/Superman back in Superman II. She may have even become involved with Richard quickly enough on the rebound that she didn’t notice that she was already pregnant. Now that she does know what Jason can do, why the HELL isn’t she asking Superman how and when he got her pregnant? End spoiler.

      Where did you hear that Lois had her memory wiped? I saw the film and there was no mention of this.

      I did find it weird how everyone is calling this movie a sequel to Superman II, but yet Lois doesn’t recognize that Clark Kent is Superman.

      I even got the impression a few times in the film that Clark wanted to tell Lois that he was Superman. Remember when Lois dropped her purse and Clark dropped his glasses? While Lois was looking at the ground, there was a pause before Clark put his glasses back on.

      For that fact alone, it doesn’t seem that Superman Returns is a true sequel to Superman II, as Lois WOULD know that Clark Kent is Superman.

      • octa says:

        Re: My low point
        It’s been stated by the writer and director it’s a direct sequel to part 2.

        At the end of part 2 Superman uses his "super telepathy" or whatever that crappy plot device was to erase Lois’ memory of him being Superman. Also, Lex knew the location of the fortress in this movie because he had already been there in part 2.

    • joshwilson3 says:

      Re: My low point

      My low point is loaded with spoilers: I can accept that Lois thought Richard was Jason’s father; after all, her memory was wiped, so she would have no recollection of sleeping with Clark/Superman back in Superman II. She may have even become involved with Richard quickly enough on the rebound that she didn’t notice that she was already pregnant. Now that she does know what Jason can do, why the HELL isn’t she asking Superman how and when he got her pregnant? End spoiler.

      Where did you hear that Lois had her memory wiped? I saw the film and there was no mention of this.

      I did find it weird how everyone is calling this movie a sequel to Superman II, but yet Lois doesn’t recognize that Clark Kent is Superman.

      I even got the impression a few times in the film that Clark wanted to tell Lois that he was Superman. Remember when Lois dropped her purse and Clark dropped his glasses? While Lois was looking at the ground, there was a pause before Clark put his glasses back on.

      For that fact alone, it doesn’t seem that Superman Returns is a true sequel to Superman II, as Lois WOULD know that Clark Kent is Superman.

      • Timeshredder says:

        Re: My low point

        For that fact alone, it doesn’t seem that Superman Returns is a true sequel to Superman II, as Lois WOULD know that Clark Kent is Superman.

        In Superman II Lois learns that Clark Kent is Superman, and then has her memory erased through some mysterious means at the end. This movie assumes those events happened.

        • joshwilson3 says:

          Re: My low point

          For that fact alone, it doesn’t seem that Superman Returns is a true sequel to Superman II, as Lois WOULD know that Clark Kent is Superman.

          In Superman II Lois learns that Clark Kent is Superman, and then has her memory erased through some mysterious means at the end. This movie assumes those events happened.

          I guess I’ll have to watch it again. I don’t remember that part.

  6. GrimSean says:


    I wanted to like it.

    I really, really wanted to like it.

    Unfortunately, I hated it. Brandon Routh was good choice for his role, as was Kevin Spacey, I just wish that they’d been given more to work with.

    Here we have a movie about a guy who is supposed to be able to anything, and the big crisis is an entire new continent made out of his only weakness, and yet he somehow manages to throw into space before it almost kills him.

    The kid irritated me – one of my friends said "he needs a haircut" and I replied "they can’t cut his hair" "why not?" "He’s SUPERMAN’S KID". I almost thought that they were going to get something going with Lex with the whole Prometheus monologue, but they ruined it with the "I’ll get my cut" line at the end, reducing him to a one dimensional figure of a character that can be given a lot more depth and conflict (can anyone here see the Lex in Smallville doing something like this? I sure can’t – I don’t even think Gene Hackman’s version would).

    Jimmy Olsen was pathetic – his only reason to be in the movie was to go "That’s Lois’ handwriting!"

    Plus I think I’m getting tired of seeing James Marsden get the short end of the stick in every damn superhero movie he’s in post X-Men 1.

    • Alexius says:

      Re: …

      I wanted to like it.

      I really, really wanted to like it.

      So Did I, But I Had The Same Sort Of Problems.

      Also, Since When Is Superman Such A Stalker? That Really Weirded Me Out.

      • GrimSean says:

        Re: …

        Also, Since When Is Superman Such A Stalker? That Really Weirded Me Out.

        Yeah, that didn’t strike me as something the boy raised by Pa Kent would do.

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: …

      the big crisis is an entire new continent made out of his only weakness, and yet he somehow manages to throw into space before it almost killshim.

      We talked about this one after we saw the movie. The continent had "aspects" of kryptonite, but was not entirely kryptonite, and I assumed he had dug out a significant portion of the ocean floor beneath it (which is no more far-fetched than any number of other things he does). This provided a barrier, and would also explain those kryptonite crystals growing through and just reaching him before he tossed it.

      At the very least, it’s less annoying than the "earth spinning back" (I know, supposedly that was originally supposed to be Superman flying back in time, but even that is too much) that mars the entertaining ’78 movie.

  7. Kaki says:

    Super-stalker-man Returns
    (spoilers and stuff)

    Apparently those long years in space alone messed with Superman’s head a bit. Turing him into Super Stalker. The Superman, Lois, Clark thing has always been a bit of a love triangle, but the introduction of Richard throws the whole thing from comical mistaken identity to "Superman is a freaking jerk".

    Seriously, are we supposed to identify with Clark (who is an empty suit–more in a minute on that–) or Superman ("I know you are attached but come fly with me for a minute to see if I can stir up some old feelings") in this love quadrangle? I suppose girls might be able to identify with Lois, who (as mentioned by others) should be rather confused and probably angry about how she bore Superman’s child. As a human male I identify with Richard, as does every guy that I’ve talked to about this, and this movie fills me with sympathy for poor Richard who is getting super-ripped-off. He does everything right, even acting like getting ripped-off doesn’t bother him much, and still Lois can’t stop being ambiguous and giving him second billing.

    Superman seems to have no politeness at all. How long does it take for him to write a note for Lois before leaving the planet? Really, like microseconds right? Or a note of thanks for the people at the hospital who cared for him? Coming into the bedroom of a child at night without asking permission from the parent/guardians? Sum this stuff up and it all equals "Jerk".

    As for Clark. Why does he even do this anymore? In the old days I suppose a newspaper was a good place to be for gathering info and a cover for asking questions and investigating stuff. But now he could just get an appartment with an internet connection and cable. Or since he just does that super-hearing thing, he doesn’t need even that. Furthermore, Clark was given that power outage story, which would have been a wonderful lead taking him right to Lex, but nope. He doesn’t even do that. So there goes the pretense of why Superman works at a newspaper. Any other reason? Yeap. Stalking Lois. Which is insane cause he wins more of her heart in the blue suit. Clark is just some way he punishs himself (and neglects lots of crime for 8 hours a day).

    Ok, now for Lex’s grand plan which was absurd. Did that new land look like anything that people would pay for? Dangerous precipices and harsh terrain? The real estate value would be closer to Death Valley prices than Manhattan. Heck without soil and vegitation taking over Kansas would have been a better plan. And just because the Kryptonite can stop Superman, that doesn’t stop the Marines or the ICBM’s. I’m quite sure the pentagon would see the earthquakes and growing of a new island off the coast as a clear act of war. Lex, buddy, a word of advice; first you grow the weapons, then you grow the land. Forget Lex being in the next movie, he would get a bullet in the skull from some SEALS crawling up that beach before the next dawn.

    Oh and shouldn’t Superman take some self defence classes for when he is near Kryptonite? Maybe bring a handgun to meetings with Lex? Super-lame, super-stupid.

    I liked the action bits and the homage to the previous movies. And this movie did pretty much everything that a Superman movie is "supposed" to do. But the lack of originality inherent to that, and the twisted, bitter taste of their original elements (Richard the ripped-off, most of all) make this movie worse and worse for me the more I think about it (which is why I stopped after a couple of minutes–all it took to come up with the above–). Oh, and Lex was well acted.

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