(The DVD)
Superman: The Complete History
by Les Daniels

. "Superman Returns"

If Superman is so super, what about the depth of his feelings? Are they super, too, or is he just about muscle and x-ray vision? That may suffice for the comics, but director Bryan Singer applies his best sense of character and story into revealing the truth about the heart that beats in his superhero's mighty chest. His story and superb casting moved me completely to his side by making me experience the deeper issues of a man from another planet who protects us and with whom we can relate because he lives within our perspective.

There are certain story difficulties inherited from the comic strip that are challenges to overcome, starting with the awkward relationship between Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) and Clark Kent (Brandon Routh). For one thing, the viewer must ignore the incredibility that a mere set of spectacles would camouflage Kent's real identity from a girl so enamored of his alter ego and so intimate with him physically.

But, all right, that comes with this territory. What I didn't think Singer overcame was Lois' treatment of her stumbly colleague. She shows him less regard than did the warmer and more empathetic Margo Kidder in the prior outing and Bosworth reveals fangs as an ice queen fending off Kent's obvious adoration. It's a superficial and more negative portrait than necessary, and does nothing to impart dimension nor sympathy for this babe. Big mistake.

The other story rough spot, for me, is the explantion for the strange silence from Superman when he left the planet after having made love to Lois, an event that resulted in a child, now 4-year old Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu), a quite critical (and marvelously underplayed) character here. When Lois asks Superman why he never said a word, just suddenly and silently abandoned her, he mumbles something about needing to get back to Krypton for a little R&R, or something to that effect. Not exactly an adequate explanation for her, nor for us.

The result of his 4-year hiatus is not so much that Lois was hurt, but that she's "moved on" by a deep involvement with Richard White (James Marsden), her Editor-In-Chief Perry White's (Frank Langella) nephew, who considers Jason his son. So, now, when the big "S" man returns, her emotions, which apparently weren't very sustainable, are dampened and confused. But, not altogether gone. What level of unrequited love turned into hate must have propelled her to write her Pulitzer Prized essay on "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman. The "B" word comes to mind for this demanding, uncompromising babe.

But it's just this complication of feelings that is the core of the emotional co-plot that works to strip away Superman's deeper side. He hasn't forgotten the earthwoman he loves, nor what she means to him.

Ah, but evil lurks, and it does so in the campy, colossal presence of Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey, his absurdly loyal concubine (Parker Posey in a role made for her particular gifts), and an assortment of murderous bodyguards. After much over-the-top tongue-biting display of comic invention, this reprobate from Krypton, who well knows Kryptonite's debilitating effect on his nemesis , Superman, puts his plans into operation to create a continent of his own to serve his purposes and replace most of North America, particularly the American part. For that scheme, he goes to the crystal palace of Superman's father, pretends to be the son by operating the crystal controls like an expert, and acquires the secrets that will effect the geological transformation he desires.

While the publicity photos and the ads gave me doubts about Brandon Routh as a purveyor of this planet's first superhero, his effect on the movie turns that around into considerable admiration. He's less of a muscle man than 10% of the guys at my health club, but his superhuman strength, so ably assisted with superb CGI effects, is convincing enough. In fact, it's interesting that Superman need not be of Schwarzenegger physical dimensions.

What Routh does bring to the portrayal is a firm belief in who he is--the square-jawed determination, the purity of his mission, and most expressively, the depth of his feeling. Singer uses these traits marvelously well in a late and critical sequence that I found emotionally rapturous for a comic book hero, when life and heritage are on the line. When you consider Singer's vision in casting Routh with just this in mind, you get an idea of what direction is all about.

It's apparent that the ensemble had in mind redoing all prior interpretations of their various roles. Spacey was not about to channel Gene Hackman, and he found much antic humor to do it with. A sight gag that I still chuckle over comes when he's found within the labyrinths of his yacht... brushing his teeth. Vintage Spacey, and it's a measure of success to the extent that audiences are willing to go from such comedic exaggeration into hatred for the merciless villain--a call by the actor for a considerable stretch of acceptance.

The visual effects are not only good, but the photography by Singer's regular cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel is flawless, making the most of the high-tech production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas and his art direction team. The most. Similarly, the Singer guidance shows up in an evocative score by John Ottman (who also edited). The screenplay was fashioned by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris ("X@: X-Men United").

After leaving the theatre and reflecting on what I had seen, I couldn't escape the notion that this action and character composition took inspiration from the deeper reflections and meanings in "Batman Returns." Perhaps Bryan Singer wouldn't have been so anxious to leave the "X-Men" franchise if the "Batman" predeccesor hadn't shown how to get to the essence of such high concept beings and what value there is in doing so. In any case, five bravos to Bryan Singer and his entire team for showing us that Superman's heart is commensurate with the power in his muscles. I'm all wrapped up in his cloak.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner
                                           Cinema Signals  

The Soundtrack Album

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written, perceptive
I've seen the movie and agree with the review
Site rating: 9

Thank you Bryan Singer!

                                                           ~~ P. Thompson 
Very well written
This review will influence me to get my local newspaper to hire this reviewer.
I've seen the movie and: I agree with the review
Site rating: 10

                                                           ~~ Alexander F. 

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