Superman Returns (2006) – guest reviewer Greg Wright

This is a guest review by Greg Wright

Has anyone but me noticed that only one letter prevents Superman Returns from being an anagram for Superman Reruns? Dan Brown is to blame for doing this to my mind.

Before you think I’ve gone entirely off the deep end, though, consider this: The Da Vinci Code postulated that Jesus Christ was not the chaste, virginal young man we read about in The Children’s Bible. Yes, and Ron Howard’s film ratcheted up this daring expose, delivering hard, documented proof that the cinematic Sophie Neveu was indeed the direct descendant of a sexually active Messiah.

And what does all this have to do with Superman Returns? Well, I guess you’ll have to see the movie because I sure wouldn’t want to ruin the precious few surprises in Bryan Singer’s vision of the Man of Steel.

For all intents and purposes, Superman Returns is a paean to a paean. It picks up where Superman II left off, complete with a soundtrack based on John Williams’ score; title lettering inspired by Richard Donner’s Superman title sequence; a Man of Steel modeled on Christopher Reeve; set designs lifted almost wholesale (though digitally) from earlier efforts; and, of course, the same Marlon Brando Jor-El.

Superman’s been gone for five years checking out the old family digs on Krypton, and when the apocalyptic wrecking ball clears things out, he hitches a ride back to earth on the debris. And guess what? Planet Earth, and Metropolis in particular (because, of course, nobody but Americans seem to matter much), is still the same old crime-ridden, dangerous (and very White Male) place it always was. Only LCD panels and the occasional cell phone keep us from thinking that it’s 1983. Clark Kent gets his old job back, and so does Superman.

Lex Luthor gets out of prison, plots get foiled, Superman saves the day and — ahem — gets the girl. (You’ll understand later.)

But if it seems like we’ve seen much of this before, it’s because we have. And it’s because Superman Returns was designed to ensure that we have seen most of it before. Wow, do I feel respected. It’s always comforting, I guess, to know that my next $200 million Whopper will taste just like my last $200 million Whopper.

But seriously — if I want to see a film version of Superman that “gets it right,” I can watch the 1978 version, can’t I? If I want to see even more of the same, enthusiasts will tell me that Superman II does the trick, won’t they?

But why are Superman fans so pleased that Bryan Singer was also determined to “get it right”?

I, for one, am tired of the creative drought that “getting it right” apparently demands. So what if getting it right translates into boffo box office? That’s great for the studios, and apparently it’s enjoyable for overly-credulous aficionados and wannabes. But The Goblet of Fire never sold me on the idea that an entire school year had passed while my disbelief was suspended from my cup holder. The Chronicles of Narnia still managed to be an uninspired yawner. The only mystery in The Da Vinci Code was where all the riddle-solving went. X-Men live, X-Men die, and X-Men live again; so how can it possibly matter if they die? Sure, these blockbusters have all been entertaining in their own way, and they delivered what the fan base wanted.

But they were not particularly creative. They were certainly not challenging, either artistically or intellectually.

And I seriously question whether they are worth the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on making them, or the hundreds of millions more that we spend watching them. As a movie critic, I’m starting to find my chosen artistic milieu morally repugnant. Shouldn’t expensive art be great art? Well, at least inspired art, rather than a mere tribute to someone else’s art?

We all remember Bryan Singer’s low-budget sleeper knockout punch, don’t we? Didn’t we all get a thrill out of mimicking a death-rattle “Keyser Soze”? Didn’t Benicio Del Toro, Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, and especially Kevin Spacey just surprise the drawers off of us? Weren’t they anything BUT the usual suspects? Great art at a fifth of the cost.

Superman Returns doesn’t deliver five times the punch of that film. Dollar for thrill, it may not even deliver a fifth of the punch.

But fans will be happy. Critics will fawn, and other critics will gripe. The publicity wheels will turn. Sequels will be greenlit. Christians will be oh-so-pleased to champion the Only-Son Savior in Blue Tights who sacrificially brings Light to the World. Never mind that this Superman has an awful lot in common with Dan Brown’s Jesus.

Never mind. Superman returns and saves the day. Hurrah.

Next?

Directed by Bryan Singer; written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, based on a story by Mr. Singer, Mr. Dougherty and Mr. Harris from characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, published by DC Comics; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Elliot Graham and John Ottman; music by Mr. Ottman; production designer, Guy Hendrix Dyas; produced by Mr. Singer, Jon Peters and Gilbert Adler. Starring – Brandon Routh (Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman), Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane), James Marsden (Richard White), Frank Langella (Perry White), Eva Marie Saint (Martha Kent), Parker Posey (Kitty Kowalski), Sam Huntington (Jimmy Olsen), Kal Penn (Stanford) and Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor). Warner Brothers Pictures. 2 hours 37 minutes. Rated PG-13.
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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.


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