Monday, October 25, 2010

Superman Returns: A Formal Request for Reconsideration

I have a tangible fear that Superman Returns will soon be less than a blip in the fanboy radar – undeservedly so.

I can still remember the experience of watching the film’s theatrical trailer for the first time. It was at Comic-Con San Diego. I was waiting to hear Kevin Smith lecture on something(s) crude and hilarious. Although I had never been recognized by others or recognized myself as being an earnest fan of Superman, I was certainly a fan of motion pictures – really, just coming into a sort of “film buff” persona. Despite being involved in a persistent battle with my own inclinations toward film snobbery, I remember watching the trailer for Superman Returns and being stunned… impressed. The desperation to watch the trailer for a second time was surpassed only by my deep-seeded longing to not be let down once the finish product came to theaters. Luckily, I wasn’t let down. Unluckily, the rest of the world seemed to be.

As much as I know how praised and revered the Richard Donner Superman films are, it pains me to think that their cult statuses have put an end to all considerations for different takes on the beloved superhero. I point to the James Bond franchise as a form of evidence. The character of Bond has seen a variety of different faces over the years, but each has managed to stake some sort of a claim in the “sacred land.” The most recent Bond films should serve as even more concrete examples of my point. Although I respect what the likes of Roger Moore and Sean Connery did for the Bond character, Daniel Craig has starred in the two best Bond films to date. To my surprise and contentment, both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace stood tall as movies, not strictly vehicles for a cult character. The same, I feel, goes for Superman Returns and its title character. Disagree if you wish, but I regard this latest Superman picture to contain all the “makings” of a successful Hollywood picture.

Personally, I love the work Bryan Singer did with the picture. He brought a creative and directorial flare, not dissimilar to the impact he had on the two X-Men pictures. I also love the idiosyncratically sophisticated performance from Brandon Routh. If he took any misstep, it was simply not being Christopher Reeve. The comparison is unfair to Routh, a splendid and charming actor in his own right, but also unnecessary considering the inflated perceptions of Reeves’ work in the Donner films. You may choose to call me unappreciative of the original franchise or the work of the late Christopher Reeves, but I genuinely consider Brandon Routh to be a better Superman – the best the screen has yet seen. The timidity and vulnerability he contributed to the Clark Kent alias, along with the methodical and tormented characteristics he gave Superman, combined for a stellar performance. One that I consider to be one of the most popularly underrated in recent memory.

Superman Returns is a movie that stands tall by its own merits. Not only are the “standard” Superman components present, they thrive under modern filmmaking technologies. Although I have been critical of modern Hollywood’s obsession with CGI, Superman Returns managed the remarkable feat of implementing heavy amounts of CGI in a sophisticated and entertaining package. Although the film’s storyline is admittedly convoluted, the premise is well explained and lends itself well to the emotional turmoil the main characters undergo. Kate Bosworth has delightful chemistry with Routh, specifically in the plutonic relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent. And, although I know specific individuals who will disagree, Kevin Spacey was an effective as Lex Luthor, especially refreshing when compared to the absurd contributions of Gene Hackman to the beloved villain.

Superman Returns is a dead film. Its cast and creative team lost momentum long ago. With another Superman picture already in the works, this film is destined for no place other than the lost and underappreciated pantheon of Hollywood action films. Nevertheless, I implore all you superhero appreciators to reconsider Superman Returns. It is a wonderfully crafted film, and (in the opinion of this author) a worthy homage to a beloved and respected character.

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