Monday, July 03, 2006

Passion of the Superman

Forget Mel Gibson. In need of that old-time religion at the local cineplex? Superman has returned, and he is here to die for your sins.

The Superman-as-Jesus motif is ladled on thick 'n creamy in Superman Returns, the comeback for the movie franchise in which the late Christopher Reeve starred as the Man of Steel. While there is plenty to admire in this retooled $204 million flick -- particularly some jaw-dropping special effects -- this revival bears little of the gee-whiz wonder and virtually none of the humor that distinguished the 1978 Richard Donner motion picture and its 1980 sequel directed by Richard Lester. And, hell, I wanted to like it. Really. Director Bryan Singer, after all, is a gay Jew. If that isn't someone worth rooting for, who is?

Bear in mind, however, that my disappointment is likely a minority opinion (I tend to have them these days). When I saw Superman Returns at an advance screening, I sat between two friends and fellow movie fans. One loved it. The other loathed it. I fell somewhere in between, although I was certainly underwhelmed. As my pro-Superman pal noted, it was as if we had seen different movies.

The polarizing views of critics and fans alike are fascinating, really -- and perhaps, ultimately, a testament to the willingness of its makers to take creative risks in a summer blockbuster. While most reviews have been positive, there have been some noted raspberries from the likes of Roger Ebert, The New York Times' Manohla Dargis and The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan.

My complaints with the film stem from its fake sentiment. Superman, lonely and alienated, yearns for the humanity as exemplified by Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), and yet she is just kind of a whiney dishrag of a character. More irritating is a father-son theme that is more said than shown, the failings of a pedestrian script that believes it can wring pathos simply by presenting us with a kid who may or may not be spawn of Superman. "In the end, sadly, this script is shown as comprised of gossamer threads tying together moments and characters," concludes Creative Screenwriting magazine. "Superman Returns could have been one for the ages, but the Man of Steel was grounded by a shallow story. The writers took easy, sometimes illogical choices, and hobble what should have been one of the year's, and maybe even the decade's, greatest films."

Perhaps my biggest gripe with the film is its grim tone. Such ambivalence and darkness worked beautifully in Batman Begins, in which the filmmakers grounded that particular superhero legend with a sense of grittiness and plausibility.

But, hey, the Superman myth is a different breed of cat. When a guy's disguise is dependent solely on eyeglasses, it seems to me that the story calls for anything but joyless reverence. There are some terrific moments in Superman Returns, but only fleetingly -- such as the sequence in which farmboy Clark Kent discovers his superpowers -- does the movie soar with wonder.

For me, David Edelstein hits the nail on the head in his review for New York magazine: "It’s not that the movie is 157 minutes; it’s that it feels like 157 minutes."


At 6:55 PM, Anonymous OKdoughboy said...

Truth, justice...
Why did the film leave out "and the American way"?

At 11:26 PM, Blogger LiteraryTech said...


I totally agree, Chase. It could have been so great. Instead it was dark and poorly written. And as much as I want to root for family (the gay jew), I'm really concerned about the editing. We get all these almost moments and almost plot notes. Like Superman's mother. She shows up twice and to absolutely no effect. And since when is five years such an enormously long time? And what about the big trip to Krypton? They could have really done something with that. And what is up with this version of Lois. She's a loser. BIG L branded on forehead.

The new Superman actor is HOT, and I love all the floating we have with this one, but I may need more than five years to get over this one.

At 1:49 PM, Blogger Larry Mondello said...

Agree, Chase. What's with the new vertical flying and landing in the shape of a cross? S-Man has a messiah complex? Although, the super hero competition scene gets a whole new dimension. Who would win in a fight: Spiderman or Jesus?

Only good thing about the movie: the casting of Superman TV series' actors Jack Larson and Noel Neil.
Nice touch, Mr. gay Jew.

At 3:20 PM, Blogger Chase McInerney said...

Who did Jack Larson play? I knew that Neil was Lex Luther's old broad in the beginning...

At 5:46 PM, Blogger Dash Riprock said...

Larson was the bartender serving up Clark's consolation booze after Jimmy told him about the Offspring o' Lois.

At 8:59 AM, Anonymous turtleboi said...

Chase, I knew you were taco, but I didn't know you were THIS taco!


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