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Rewind Redemption: Superman Returns

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First impressions count for a lot in Hollywood. Your opinion on a vast majority of films is fully formed after your first viewing; after that you know whether you like it, or whether you don’t. Expand this idea to the whole movie-watching population and it becomes clear that a motion picture has just one shot to become beloved, or sadly condemned. This strikes me as a tad unfair though. Time makes fools of us all, lest we forget, and given how an individual’s personal taste is constantly evolving, how can you say without question that you still loathe a film you saw once, years ago? So, on a crusade to deal box office bombs a second chance, I will revisit those films branded ‘painful to the eyes’ and see whether or not time has healed their faults…      

First Impression:

Unlike his pal Batman, Superman has had something of a rocky time on the big screen. True, the first couple of Christopher Reeve films are good fun and hold a place in many people’s hearts, but since then it’s been pretty downhill for Kal-El. Even this summer’s Man of Steel has left a lot of people divided in opinions.

However, back in 2006, Warner Brothers looked to break the curse and release a film that would cement Superman as king of the superhero genre; a film they unimaginatively called Superman Returns.

Things looked promising: they’d secured Bryan Singer to direct (who had already proved his superhero skills on the X-Men films), they had CGI on their side and even the first couple of trailers looked pretty good.

Then the film was released, and the critics descended…

“For all the mountains of kryptonite ranged against him, you never fear for Superman or Lois Lane, never experience anything more intense than the fret of mild peril.”  – Film4

“Picture my disappointment as I realized that, for all the pizzazz of Superman Returns, its global weapon of choice would not be terrorism, or nuclear piracy, or dirty bombs. It would be real estate.” – The New Yorker

“This is a glum, lacklustre movie in which even the big effects sequences seem dutiful instead of exhilarating.”  – Roger Ebert

As well as the critics, audiences also seemed unimpressed. The film made less than expected at the box-office, prompting Warner Brothers to shelve plans for a 2009 sequel. As we now know, they instead wrote off Superman Returns and decided to completely reboot the franchise with Man of Steel.

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2nd Chance:

It is 7 year later, and we’ve now had a decent (enough) reboot. So before it is condemned and forgotten forever, it’s time to rewind Superman Returns…

Normally the use of dead actors in films and advertisements unsettles me. However, the technical team here has done such a great job of bringing Marlon Brando’s archive footage into the 21st century, that it really doesn’t bother me. Plus it’s great to see him as Jor-El once again.

Combining that with the wonderful Superman theme has made for an exciting opening 5 minutes. Let’s hope it continues.

We’ve been immediately introduced to Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor. A great bit of casting this, as Spacey has great experience when it comes to dry and crafty villains. Luthor is such a good charcter, but it is dangerous territory for an actor, as there’s always the worry of slipping into ‘panto baddie’ mode.

30 minutes in and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. In terms of the cast, Spacey is in danger of running away with the film. Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth lack any real likability or charm so far. That could all change of course, but you can usually make your mind up about a performance pretty quickly. The plot’s not been terrible either, with some really interesting ground covered about Clark returning to find Lois settled down. Also seeing Lex break into The Fortress of Solitude was great fun. All in all it’s going fine.

Up to the 60 minute mark now, and I find myself feeling sorry for James Marsden. Not the character he’s playing, the actor himself. Imagine having the specific typecast of “the perfectly nice and likable guy who falls for the girl who’s in love with the hero”. Think about it, how many times has his characters been screwed over by a girl through no fault of his own? Superman Returns, X-Men, Enchanted, and The Notebook are all clear examples of this occurrence. Poor guy.

90 minutes and I’m starting to get a bad feeling that this film may have peaked with its mediocre beginning. All the good work Kevin Spacey’s been doing for the past hour and a half has been undone by one of the worst evil plans in cinematic history. We’re supposed to believe that he’s been running around most of the film, picking up Kryptonian crystals and working out how to use Kryptonite, not because he wants world domination, but because he wants to reshape the USA so he can sell more beach-side real estate. WHAT!? That has got to be one of the most convoluted and pointless plans ever.

And the plan isn’t even the worst news: I’ve just noticed that there’s still an hour left. Surely that can’t be right.

It was right, and I’m now drearily at the 2 hour mark. It’s not all been bad though; the scenes were Supes gets the boots put to him were quite interesting. Notice I say interesting not worrying or harrowing. It’s impossible to worry about Routh’s Superman here because, well, it’s impossible to care about him. We’re 2 hours into the film and I really don’t care about any of the characters. It’s not all Routh’s fault, part of it is down to the squeaky-clean-if-a-little-dull image of the character, but the actor just doesn’t bring the charm to the role that Reeve did (a charm Henry Cavill had in moments of Man of Steel).

154 minutes later, and it’s all over. Superman saves the day, James Marsden gets screwed over and all is right with the world. Oh yeah, and Lex’s lady pal, Kitty, who has a change of heart and takes action to save billions of lives gets her reward: she gets marooned on a desert island with Lex Luthor. Hmmm.

Verdict:

This is a tricky one to be honest. The film has many, many flaws (more than most given its bloated run time), but there are redeemable features here. Parts of the story are really inventive, and perhaps should be considered by Zack Snyder for the Man of Steel sequel. The whole theme about whether or not Earth really needs Superman can make for some really interesting cinema.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid the cons outweigh the pros in Superman Returns. The film is far too long, Lex’s plan is far too silly and the rest of the cast seem to be on autopilot. So I’m afraid there will be no redemption here today. However, I will say this much: it isn’t as bad as Superman IV: The quest for Peace.

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Check out the previous Rewind Redemption Reviews

NEXT WEEK’S REWIND REDEMPTION: Super Mario Bros.

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