Superman Returns was another movie I couldn’t get really excited about. I went more out of a sense of completeness (and wanting to see if I could forgive Brian Singer for bailing on X-Men: The Last Stand) than because I really wanted to see it. But in the end, I enjoyed it much more than I expected.
I liked Brandon Routh’s Superman: he wasn’t quite Christopher Reeve, but he was good. I’m not so sure about his Clark Kent, but then the film wasn’t really about Clark. Actually, I never liked Christopher Reeve’s Clark – not because of the acting (which was phenomenal in the scene in Superman where he transforms from Clark to Superman and then back again in front of the audience) but because the way Clark is written I just find painfully embarrassing to watch.
[Digression. One of the things I liked about the series Lois and Clark was that it was more about Clark than about Superman. I think Dean Cain is a more limited actor than either Brandon Routh or Christopher Reeve, but I think a Clark story is more interesting than a Superman story. At one point in Lois and Clark he says "Superman is what I can do. Clark is who I am." But in the movies, it is Superman who is the real person and Clark who is an act. (I don't remember the earlier TV series well enough to know which character it was about, and I've never actually read the Superman comics). In some ways having Superman as the real person works symbolically - many superheroes put on a mask to distinguish themselves from their secret identity, but Clark takes off a mask (his glasses) when he's becoming Superman - but in the end I think Clark has more potential as a central character. End of digression.]
It’s not the popular opinion, but in many ways I thought Kate Bosworth was excellent as Lois. I thought she really got across the idea that she had been badly hurt, and wasn’t going to let it happen again: that she was determined not to feel anything for Superman, and if she did, she wasn’t going to admit it, either to herself or to anyone else. If only Kate Bosworth had been ten years older. Because she’s only about 23 – and looks it – which makes it just absurd that she has a five year old son, born after she has established a reputation as a hard-hitting journalist.
Actually, I liked all the actors. Kevin Spacey made a great Lex Luthor, I loved Parker Posey (and the Pomeranian), and I though James Marsden was really good. I even liked the kid.
Warning: Spoilers follow
The movie had a lot of little references to the earlier movies, some of which I liked (“I hope this hasn’t put you off of flying. Statistically speaking, it’s still the safest way to travel”), some of which I hated (Lois fainting) and all of which I would have been oblivious to had I not seen the original on DVD a week earlier.
All the publicity, and much of the content, made it clear that this movie is a direct sequel to Superman and Superman II. As a result, I was actually a bit puzzled about the scene with young Clark running/leaping/flying across the cornfields, and then (in a manner reminiscent of Spider-Man) realising that he doesn’t need his glasses any more. Presumably the implication is meant to be that this was the first time he had used his super-powers – or even realised he had them – and until this moment, he actually did need to wear glasses. But this doesn’t fit with the absolutely iconic image from the first film of Supertoddler picking up the Kents’ truck. Because I was so slow on the uptake with this, it also meant that I didn’t understand – mega spoiler: stop reading here if you haven’t seen the film – why Jason wasn’t displaying super-powers. I even speculated (completely and utterly wrongly) that maybe his asthma medication was somehow spiked with Kryptonite. But this would mean that it was probably Lois doing it, presumably to protect him or something, and this really messed with my head. It wasn’t until much later that I worked out he really was asthmatic – right up until the time he used his powers to shove the piano.
Another random thought I had while watching the movie was around the scene where Lois drops a pile of papers and Clark’s glasses fall of as he helps pick them up. Apparently this was a reference to Superman II, which I didn’t get as I hadn’t re-watched it in preparation. But the thing I really noticed was that as well as the papers, she dropped her phone, and it was still lying on the ground as Clark put his glasses back on. Given that most phones now have cameras – and this was actually part of the plot – I was absolutely certain that it had been bumped at just the crucial point, and snapped a photo of Clark-without-glasses, which she would come across later in the film. But she didn’t. So maybe I was reading something that wasn’t there. Or maybe they’re saving it for the sequel.
But I think the thing that really made the film for me was the relationship between Superman, Lois and Richard. So often in this kind of romantic triangle, the other man is either a bit of a nonentity (Spider-Man 2) or (more often) actively repellent. But in this case, Richard was not only a nice person, he was also genuinely heroic. And in absolutely every way that matters, except biologically, he was Jason’s father – a fact that I think was very deliberately emphasised when Jason drew the picture of all four of them. So rather than be a standard, clichÃ©d triangle, it was much more akin to the Casablanca situation, which made it a much more emotionally powerful story than I had been expecting.
The only thing that worries me is what they are going to do if there is a sequel. Because it would be like having a sequel to Casablanca. Lois ultimately ending up with Superman would just completely undercut this film. But there’s also the point that (unlike in Casablanca) sooner or later Richard is going to realise that Jason has superpowers, and know that he must be Superman’s son. The abolutely only way I can think of to get a satisfactory ending – one which wouldn’t devalue the first film – would be to kill Richard off. And even this would need to be handled very carefully, so that it didn’t just seem too convenient for everyone. Maybe there’s some other solution that I haven’t thought of. But if there is a sequel, I just hope that it doesn’t retrospectively spoil this one.