With Superman soaring back onto the big screen after a such a long sabbatical, there were always going to be a few fears. Would this new Supes fit easily into Christopher Reeve’s long-idle cape and outside-underwear? Would a new film ever be able to capture the spirit of the earlier incarnations? Is Superman still relevant to a cynical and disbelieving world?
Will we still believe a man can fly?
Well, fanboys and girls, don’t worry for a second, because Superman is back, bigger and more heroic than ever.
Picking up where the second Reeve film left off (and wisely disregarding the abysmal parts three and four), Superman Returns finds Superman (newcomer Brandon Routh) completing a long trek to the destroyed remains of his home planet. After five years, though it’s been a lot longer for those devoted Supes-fans, he has finally returned to his surrogate home of Earth, and is looking to fit back into his earlier lifestyle and regain his distanced relationship with the citizens of his second home. But both Clark Kent and Superman are almost forgotten, and Lex Luthor’s name no longer strikes fear into the hearts of Metropolitan civilians. Lois Lane has renounced her love of Superman and has moved on, shacking up with her five-year-old son and an ever-so-slightly jealous fiancée, Richard (X-Men’s James Marsden).
It doesn’t take long for the shit to hit the fan, as is often the way in a good Superman movie (or a bad one, come to that). Luthor is back on track with a new diabolical scheme to take over the world, Kevin Spacey bringing new life to the role vacated by Gene Hackman, revealing a darker, more ruthless Luthor that ever before. His Lex is menacing, relentlessly evil, and seeking revenge. That’s what five years in prison does to you.
But the big question is whether the new incarnations of Lois and Clark can bring the same amount of pizzazz and charm to their roles as their predecessors. The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Routh’s wide-eyed Superman is suitably jaded, with a slight hint of fragility and petulance after so many years away, and the dejected mien he creates in response to his former love-interest is nuanced and genuine. His Clark, however, leaves a little to be desired, providing more a sub-standard caricature of Reeve’s bumbling reporter than his own take on the character, but he is appropriately and stutteringly nervous. Kate Bosworth, as well, takes a fair stab at the Margot Kidder role, and her Lois leaves nothing in particular to be desired, though one does wonder how a woman that can’t be a day over twenty-five can have been a hard-hitting, seasoned reporter at least five years before the events of the film.
Minor characters, as well, shine here, with Parker Posey’s henchwoman and trophy babe getting her fair share of the best lines. Sam Huntington’s Jimmy Olsen is near-inspired, his breathless nerd captured perfectly. Perry White is slightly undercooked, though, his character only just sidling into the third dimension, but that's through no fault of the actor (Frank Langella), he is simply a casualty of the tightly packed two and half hours of story-telling, that causes some characters (Eva Marie Saint's Martha Kent, for example) to fall by the wayside. This is not a noticeable loss, happily, but a necessary sacrifice for the good of what is a brilliantly layered and emotional journey.
And then there’s the other major star of the film. Reportedly the most expensive film of all time, director Brian Singer and his co-conspirators have invested their money wisely, with utterly believable special-effects. From a roaring gas explosion to the languid gravity-less floating of a maroon cape, every moment feels mesmerisingly genuine, without detracting from the snappy script and delicate storytelling. Singer was the perfect choice, and his abandoning of the half-hearted X-Men 3 is entirely justifiable, when he presents us with such rich brilliance as this.
Hold onto your hats, folks. Because Superman is back!