"You’ll believe a man can fly, but you might want him to do a little more."
Director Bryan Singer (“X-Men”) is clearly enamored with Richard Donner’s 1978 “Superman.” He borrows the rousing John Williams theme music and even recycles the previous movie’s footage of Marlon Brando as Superman’s father. Singer and writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris also come up with a few nifty ideas of their own. While Donner’s take on the Man of Steel is probably definitive, it’s a shame that Singer isn’t able to forge a Superman that’s all his own.The new adventure features Superman (Brandon Routh) returning to Earth after trying to find something left of his home planet Krypton. Arriving back at his mother’s house in Smallville, Kans., he discovers that he’s still needed to correct problems in his adopted home.
Criminal mastermind Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is free to wreak havoc in part because Superman was out looking for his roots when he should have been testifying against the villain. To make matters worse, Luthor has discovered how technology back on Krypton worked and is eager to use it for his own ends.
If that weren’t enough to make Superman sweat, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), his former flame, is now engaged to editor Perry White’s (Frank Langella) nephew Richard (former X-Man James Marsden).
The main strength of Singer’s interpretation of the X-Men saga was his ability to effortlessly juggle spectacle and character development. Singer delivers the former beautifully here in scenes where Superman rediscovers his powers or saves a space shuttle and a jet liner from crashing to the ground.
At my screening, I had the pleasure of catching some of the action scenes in a 3D IMAX format. The election of which scenes to project in 3D seems arbitrary (one of Superman’s more spectacular rescues is presented in mere 2D), so it begs the question of why the whole film wasn’t shown in the same format.
As with the X-Men movies he’s helmed, Singer imbues “Superman Returns” with an implied retro look that recalls the early comics. Unfortunately, little of the movie’s storytelling is quite as creative.
If you’ve seen “Superman” or “Superman II,” you’ll notice dialogue and quips that are lifted or slightly reworked for the new film. This borrow gets old quickly.
It even rubs off on the acting. Spacey proves disappointing as Luthor because he settles for merely aping the way Gene Hackman played the villain in the earlier movies.
Routh has the unenviable task of following in Christopher Reeve’s flight path, but he holds his own. Bosworth thankfully turns in a refreshingly smart and determined take on Lois.
Singer and the screenwriters come up with several interesting directions for “Superman Returns” but never develop them to their potential. For example, it might have been more satisfying to know what motivated Superman’s pilgrimage to the ruins of Krypton and how the journey really affected him. Sadly, Singer and the writers drop many of these ideas almost as quickly as they present them.
As a result, the ending seems empty despite all the 3D mayhem that Singer dishes out.It’s great to know that Superman can still fly, but it’s more fun when we know what he’s thinking and feeling as well.