Movie Review: Superman Returns (2006)

Superman Returns (DVD)
Superman Returns (2006)

Starring Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Sam Huntington, Eva Marie Saint, Tristan Lake Leabu, Marlon Brando and Skeletor.

Directed by Bryan Singer.

If there’s one thing that bugged me about Brandon Routh as Superman, it was the forehead curl, that little spiral of hair that—along with the lack of glasses—completely differentiates Superman from Clark Kent. Over the past several months, I’ve heard my fellow movie geeks tear the new supersuit to shreds, declaring that the shade of red used in the boots and cape are too dark, the boots themselves appear to have been stolen from Wonder Woman, and the supersymbol on the chest is too three-dimensional. But I was fine with every aspect of the new Superman’s look except that forehead curl; the damn thing looked out of place on Routh, even in the very earliest images Warner Brothers released. On screen, it looks like a piece of black ribbon candy. Clearly, Superman is using some sort of Kryptonian pomade.

Hair aside, Routh is an excellent Man of Steel. When the Last Son of Krypton speaks, his voice is so reminiscent of Christopher Reeve in the same role that it’s enough to send chills down my spine. As Clark Kent, Routh doesn’t remind me of Reeve quite so much, but still gives a good performance; once it’s up, up and away time, however, he’s simply stunning.

Yes, Brandon Routh is Superman. Unfortunately, the plot of Superman Returns is Kryptonite. [WARNING: If spoilers are your Kryptonite, you may not want to read further.]

The quick and dirty summary of the plot is as follows: Superman returns to Earth after spending five years verifying that Krypton was really destroyed to find that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is engaged to Perry White’s nephew, Richard (James Marsden), and has a child, ((She’s also really, really bitter about Superman’s abrupt departure.)) Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is out of prison, and the Fortress of Solitude has been burgled.

Lex Luthor is, of course, the burglar. He plans to use Kryptonian crystals to create a new continent, destroying a good hunk of North America in the process. This is probably the single most ludicrious element of Superman Returns. Having seen just how the Kryptonian crystals grow (think very, very pointy), Luthor thinks he’s going to be able to sell “beachfront” property on his new continent. It’s the second most inhospitable environment imaginable! ((The first being that nasty asteroid in Armageddon.)) I thought Lex Luthor was supposed to be smart!

Casting further shadows on Luthor’s alleged genius is the presence of Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey). Granted, the Hackman-Luthor of movies past had his share of bumbling minions (Ned Beatty as Otis) and scatter-brained, traitorous female accomplices (Valerie Perrine as Miss Teschmacher), but Superman Returns is a different beast. This movie darker and grittier ((How dark and gritty? Well, there’s a cannibalistic dog, for starters. And one of Luthor’s henchmen is squished by a five-year-old boy.)) than its predecessors, and the comic interplay between L.L. and K.K. is a jarring and out of place.

Harebrained schemes and questionable compatriots aside, I thought Kevin Spacey fit pretty well into Lex Luthor’s skin, and he was given plenty of time to gobble scenes; in fact, I’d estimate that Luthor had two or three times as much dialogue as Superman did, and that’s another area where Superman Returns tripped over its own cape.

I’ve already mentioned that Brandon Routh was outstanding as Superman, but he wasn’t given a lot to do. Sure, Superman deflected bullets, caught a crashing jet, put out fires and was an all-around heroic guy, but that’s all special effects. Superman seemed the most real when Routh was able to give him a voice, but Bryan Singer was more concerned with the visceral effect of having a speeding bullet flatten against the Man of Steel’s eyeball than with making him a three-dimensional character.

Then there is the love story that drags the entire movie down into a plodding, melodramatic mire. Superman is surprised to find that Lois tried to move on with her life in his absence, and spends a good portion of the movie looking as though he’ll burst into tears under a constant barrage of reminders that his lady love is on the arm of another man. To make matters worse, I spent two-thirds of the movie hoping against all hope that young Jason White (Tristan Lake Leabu) was actually the product of Lois and Richard’s combined loins and not really the Last Grandson of Krypton, only to have my hopes dashed against the rocks like so many pianos against a henchman’s tattooed noggin.

That’s right, Singer and company trotted out the tired old “who’s your daddy” cliché, and it hurts. It hurts almost as much as the last ten minutes of the movie, wherein Superman lies comatose in a hospital bed while the world waits with bated breath to learn of his fate. Lois visits him there, of course, dragging Jason along with her. The audience can only wonder what she might have whispered in his ear before leaving the hospital room. ((“Don’t ever wake up,” she whispered. “Dream of a better movie than this.”)) Did her words rejuvenate him, or was it the kiss young Jason planted upon his cheek in a moment that would have made Norman Rockwell retch? Whatever it was, the Man of Steel disappeared from his room shortly thereafter, only to appear in Jason’s bedroom to whisper something about the son becoming the father.

I can only imagine the conversation leading up to filming the two big summer blockbuster superhero movies of 2006:

20TH CENTURY FOX: Hey, Bryan Singer, want to direct this X-Men movie so we don’t have to hire some other director who will almost certainly screw it up?

BRYAN SINGER: Sorry, Fox. Warner Brothers already hired me to screw up their Superman movie.

Oh, well, it wasn’t all bad. I liked the opening title sequence.

3 thoughts on “Movie Review: Superman Returns (2006)”

  1. I didn’t dislike it as much as you but the whole time I kept thinking, ” You let them ruin X-men 3 to make this?” I tried to watch this movie a second time but I couldn’t get through even half. I did like Kevin Spacey. I liked Routh. Really cool effects(but most movies have those).

    I think before I go see a movie I’m unsure about, I’m gonna check in and see if you’ve done review yet.

  2. I agree with you about the movie being horrible. It was an absolute disaster, beginning to end. You certainly pointed out some of the low points of the movie, and I agree with your general tone. The plot crawled, and is a good example of a director not understanding that special effects without a plot do not a good movie make. While a movie this bad has many bad elements, some of those not mentioned in your review were:

    -The fact that the movie is, pretty much, just a remake of the first Reeves movie, and goes out of its way to be more a tribute to Reeves than Superman.
    -Luthor was embarrassing, such as the pedestrian way he was swindling an old lady!? This is what Luther’s reduced to? You alluded to the poor characterization

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