Brandon Routh as Superman in Superman Returns (2006)

Superman Returned and Departed

Maybe I was spoilt as a child because I got to experience "Superman" played by Christopher Reeve and those movies became a huge part of my childhood. But what that means is that after watching "Superman Returns" I was disappointed by the strange mix of trying to recapture what Reeve brought to the role but with the appeal of the more recent TV shows based on "Superman". Yes "Superman Returns" is mildly entertaining, and the special effects are for the most superior to those which featured in the "Superman" films of the 70s/80s, but for me those are the only positives I can pull from a movie which had so much promise but delivered so little.

Having returned to earth after a mysterious absence, Superman (Brandon Routh - Zack and Miri Make a Porno) is not only confronted by his arch nemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey - Edison) plotting to make his life a misery, but also the heart breaking truth that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth - Bee Season), the woman he secretly loves, has moved on with her life and now has a family of her own. With mass destruction threatening America and the realization that the woman he loves may no longer love him, Superman must once more fight to save the day.

Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor in Superman Returns (2006)

For me the biggest problem with "Superman Returns" lies in the characterization of Superman. Where as in the 70s/80's Superman was "The Man of Steel", reasonably good looking, pretty toned but also amusing in his clumsiness as his alter ego Clark Kent, this version comes across to me as a male model who lacks the power to truly play the man of steel and the clumsiness is so staged that it loses all desired impact. In many ways I can see what the production team attempted to do and that is to bridge the gap between the Superman of Christopher Reeve and the Superman which has appeared in recent TV shows. But for me it fails because as I said I grew up with Christopher Reeve playing what for me is still the definitive Superman. It also doesn't help that Lois Lane also seems to have gone through a complete character change and is no longer the really bossy career minded journalist wonderfully portrayed in the original 70s "Superman" by Margot Kidder.

It also doesn't help that the plot to "Superman Returns" is pretty dire and leaves so many questions unanswered that you are left wondering if they didn't just grab one of the episodes from a recent TV show and stretch it out to make a movie. In fact that is exactly what "Superman Returns" feels like, an episode from a TV show; it lacks any real lasting impact and doesn't really have any direction. Anyway back to the plot, well there isn't much to say, Superman returns after many years, having apparently returned to his home planet of Krypton, which from my memory had been destroyed. This doesn't bode well as straight away it leaves things floating and you are expected to take so much for granted that by the time you are half an hour into the movie you begin to wonder whether they actually employed a script writer or just shuffled some ideas and said that will do.

Of course you get the usual plot line featuring Superman's arch nemesis Lex Luthor plotting doom and destruction but again there is no real doom to it at all. Then to top it off we have the romance between Superman and Lois which has taken a turn for a worse since she has got married and has her own family, which again really fails to hold your attention. There is another key point about this latest Superman movie, it fails to hold your attention and you can skip a few minutes here and there and not really miss anything.

One of the elements of the 70s/80s "Superman" which I enjoyed was the humour, whether it be from Clark Kent's clumsiness or in the villains hired help being funny, especially in the case of Ned Beatty when he appeared as Luthor's right hand man. But the producers behind "Superman Returns" seem to have dispatched with this element all together. Yes there is a scene which sees Clark Kent being slightly clumsy but it just doesn't work; it feels like it has been thrown in just for the sake of it and doesn't even raise a smile.

The whole movie, whilst not being overly dark, seems to lack the lighter touches which made those I grew up with so enjoyable. I really can't understand the decision to do this as it really lets the movie down. In some ways the new special effects spoil the movie as well, as the cheesiness of the way Christopher Reeve flew through the air as Superman was as much a part of the fun of the movie as was the story and the humour. But in this latest outing, it is obvious that they have heavily relied on CGI to try and conjure up some of Superman's special abilities, which whilst for the most is much more refined spoils it for me. Plus some of the CGI effects are exceptionally fake looking, but not in a humorous way.

As already mentioned, I am pretty disappointed with the way the two main characters have been developed and this is not really helped by the casting of Brandon Routh in the role of Superman. Whilst there is no doubt that he can act he just doesn't seem to encompass everything I believe Superman should be. For starters he looks to much like a model and would expect him to be more at home in some American TV series such as the O.C., but it is not just that. His portrayal of the man of steel does not demonstrate this at all and at times he comes over as incredibly weak. The same sorts of issues concern me over the casting of Kate Bosworth as Lois, as she doesn't come across as a prize winning journalist. To be really honest Bosworth and Routh looked very much out of their depth at times and seemed to be struggling to make the powerful impact that these two memorable characters require.

If there is one redeeming element to "Superman Returns", it is the casting of Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. He is by no means as memorable as Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor but he puts in a performance which is head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, giving the movie just a smidgen of credibility. In what seems a rather strange piece of casting we get Kal Penn as one of Luthor's henchmen. I say strange as Penn has made his name for over the top teenage comedies but also for the life of me I can't remember him having one sentence of dialogue.

What this all boils down to is that I really wasn't impressed with "Superman Returns" and hope that they don't follow this up with another movie of the same lack lustre calibre. In some ways I can appreciate what they have attempted to do and that is to bring Superman back to the big screen for a new generation who only know the super hero from the TV shows and in some ways I believe they have succeeded as this reincarnation of Superman is more like one of these shows than the Superman I fondly remembered. But in doing so they have definitely alienated those who remember the Superman from the 70s/80s and for me the whole movie from plot, characters, special effects and acting disappointed especially as it goes on far too long.