SUPERMAN RETURNS
 

Directed by Bryan Singer. USA. 2006.


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Is it a one-off? Is it a sequel? Is it a re-imagining? Or is it another attempt to get a foothold of a franchise.  Either way the superhero who wears his heart on his sleeve and his underwear on the outside of his trousers is back on Earth and heading for Metropolis.   

Many people have been asking whether we need another Superman movie in this current cultural and political climate.  But in terms of entertainment value there is always the need for him, and if there are any sceptics in the audience when I saw it the criticism starts to wash away once the opening bars of John Williams' famous score begin. 

Singer along with his screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, take the film as five years after the end of Superman II.  Superman has left Earth to attempt to find fragments of his lost home planet of Krypton.  He returns to Earth and as Clark Kent goes back to the Daily Planet to find Lois Lane now has a child, is engaged to Richard White (the editor's nephew) and she is to win a Pulitzer Prize for an article entitled, 'Why the world doesn't need Superman?'  The film loses some of the screwball romance of the original Richard Donner film of 1978 and instead becomes a love triangle with a child. 

An early criticism I have is that it fails to focus on the Clark Kent character and more on Kal-El. The filmmakers have missed an opportunity to comment on the immigrant living in America - Superman is an illegal alien remember.  And it paints Clark as nothing more than the real costume that Kal-El wears while the cape is his home.  From what I remember the bumbling Clark - played by the late Christopher Reeve - and the laughs gained from it was one of the enjoying parts of Donner's film. 

Now this may sound like I am having a criticism of Brandon Routh, the unknown actor who has taken up the baton to play the Man of Steel.  But whether he was good or not Routh was on to a hiding to nothing.  The legacy left by Reeve and the work done by Tom Welling on the television series 'Smallville', means that too many people and too many generations have a recognition and expectation of what Superman should be like.  (A bit like the problem Christian Bale encountered last year as Batman; people still think of Batman as Adam West or Michael Keaton.)  But it must be said that due to his physical presence and the amount of set-pieces in the film Routh does achieve his one aim, we do believe he can fly. 

The film though I think has got caught in the current problem facing would-be franchises; the need to show that the film can be entertaining in terms of set pieces yet can also have legs in terms of caring about the characters. There are in this instance too many set pieces. These lengthy scenes allow Routh the luxury to not worry so much about acting or talking dialogue but look good in front of a bluescreen.  You might think that the film gets bogged down in poor characterisation and at times it does but why should it when we know these characters too well.  This is a shame as the few scenes that Routh has with Kate Bosworth (as Lois Lane) are filled with an intensity and chemistry that sometimes is missing.  Bosworth (a much criticised casting) is wonderful as Lois, feisty, cagey but intelligent.  The other down side of these set pieces is that you get the feeling that Kevin Spacey is underused in the film even though his presence cannot be missed and his double act with Parker Posey (might get more exposure now) provides the comic relief in the film. 

This may sound like a negative review but it is only negative in the sense that the filmmakers have missed a few tricks and concentrated on the spectacle rather than the subtext.  This is a shame from Singer considering it was the excellent work on the two X-Men films, juggling style and substance that gave him this job. 

All the actors do the roles know disservice refusing to give into winking at the camera and believing in the character, while all the same being overcome by what else is going on in the frame.  The door has naturally been left open for a sequel hopefully providing a far better resolution than we get here.  And after two and a half hours of frequent action the ending is somewhat sudden but signposted at the same time. 

A chance missed or were they just watching men in the sky. 

***

I attended a preview screening of SUPERMAN RETURNS at the bfi IMAX cinema in Waterloo to witness the film in its 3D form.  This incorporated watching the film in 2D but with four scenes amounting to 20 minutes in 3D footage.  Viewers watch the film and then when given a signal on the bottom of the screen put on the 3D glasses to enjoy the effect.  The scenes that have the effect are the same as in the film, but it is quite an amazing thing to watch in the flesh.  The IMAX cinema is the only screen in the country that will have these scenes in 3D and Superman Returns in 3D will open on 14 July.

Ticket prices are Adults £12.00, Children (up to and including 14) £8.00, Concessions £9.75.  The reduced rate for groups of 10 people or more is Adults £11.00, Children £7.00 and concessions £8.75.

For information and showtimes call 0870 787 2525 or visit:

www.bfi.org.uk/imax
 

Jamie Garwood
 
 
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