By Cornelius A. Fortune
Some hard core fans of the original Christopher Reeves film are going to want to call it a simple rehash updated with special effects (and a new star), but “Superman Returns” isn’t a rehash – it’s a film that dares to filter all the Superman mythos in our collective consciousness down to its basic constructs, and as such, has become a movie that is firmly planted in the new millennium, yet faithful to the nearly 70-year-old character.
Director Bryan Singer (“X-Men”, “Usual Suspects”) has taken great pains to connect his Superman to the Richard Donner films (“Superman: The Movie” and “Superman II”). He breaks new ground while treading the old and replaces a few things along the way. He has given us a big budget art flick that just so happens to star the Man of Steel.
In Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns,” Superman (Brandon Routh) returns after a five-year absence in which everyone has moved on without him – even Lois (Kate Bosworth), who has a fiancee and a son and has even received a Pulitzer for writing “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” Superman’s world is effectively turned upside down.
Superman’s arch nemesis, Lex Luther (Kevin Spacey), is bitter after five years in prison. He swindles an old heiress (played by Noel Neill who played the 1950s TV series Lois Lane) out of her fortune, and uses the money to implement his most diabolical scheme yet: using Kryptonian crystal technology (developed on Superman’s home world of Krypton), to create a new continent that will replace and ultimately destroy North America. Unfortunately for Luther, Superman returns, and there’s a showdown of “mind over muscle.”
Spacey gives a knockout performance as the “criminal mastermind.” For Luther, Superman just isn’t an annoying obstacle – a fly he waves away, again and again. Luther literally hates him, and that’s something I’ve never seen portrayed outside of the comics or animated series. Lex wants to kill Superman and through Spacey’s portrayal you understand why on some level, however twisted those reasons might be.
In the May issue of The Advocate the cover story “How Gay is Superman?” brought out a number of talking heads on cable television, Superman purists, and others to discuss the gayness of Superman. Singer (an openly gay man) later released a statement saying that Superman “is probably the most heterosexual character in any movie I’ve ever made. I don’t think he’s ever been gay.”
Granted, the whole superhero “closeted-secret-identity,” which is a staple of superhero comics and movies, parallels the lives of many homosexuals living in a world that doesn’t fully accept them – like Superman, many feel alienated. It is an irony that Singer, the man credited with single-handedly revitalizing the comic book movie franchise, is a gay man who wasn’t a comic book geek at all. So perhaps there is a connection, but we’re looking in the wrong place for it.
The character of Superman is so mythic and universal that he can be all things to all people: white, black, rich, poor, gay or straight. Superman is about finding “greatness” within ourselves, “our capacity for good.” Brandon Routh fills the boots of the character and walks into a history that will last long after he’s gone.
Two and a half hours of movie time might seem a bit tedious, but Singer’s “Superman Returns” is startling, realistic and grounded, yet thrilling beyond belief. The movie packs an emotional punch that may have “supermen” – and “superwomen” – weeping in their seats, and eagerly awaiting a sequel.
Superman appeals to the kid in all of us (the flight sequences are a thing of beauty to behold – hands down, the most visually evocative of any of Singer’s films, where 1940s imagery meets digital cinema).
If this is what 21st century comic book films are going to look like, the future looks bright indeed.