FROM PANELS TO FRAMES PER SECOND: Superman Returns

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I’m assuming like 75% of you (the other 25% of you are pure Zack Snyder haters. Fools.), I am mentally counting down the minutes until the release of MAN OF STEEL.

I have spent more time at work this last week than I’d care to openly discuss thinking about what day I’ll see it, what time (immediately after work, a 9am showing?), if I’m going to plunk down for the (personally useless) 3D so I can see it in Imax or not. (Thankfully, there is ONE–ONE!!!–showing per day that is non-3D at 12:30pm, but then I have to deal with a weekend audience. Annnnyyywwwwayyyyyy…) Things like that. Important things. World-changing questions sure to drive the next phase of my existence into the stratosphere of either a life-changing cinematic venture, or just sitting through what will be the sixth consecutive terrible SUPERMAN film to be released in the last 30 years. (To be truthful, I remember walking out of SUPERMAN 3 as a small boy more assured than ever I had just seen the pinnacle of filmmaking, and nothing would ever top seeing Clark Kent fight Superman in a junk yard and a lady turning into a robot to stop Richard Pryor…or whatever the hell happened in that film. Worry not loyal FPTFPS readers, I will be purchasing the collected Reeves SUPES films in the near future and reviewing those and slapping my inner-child within an inch of its life).

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So to prepare for the worst, I decided it was time to look back at the last time Supes blazed across the silver screen in 2006 with SUPERMAN RETURNS. (Full disclosure: I have not seen SUPERMAN RETURNS since its opening weekend after which I vowed to never sit through it again. Amazing what a non-paying second job as an internet-content provider will lead you to do…)

Like JONAH HEX, and a shite-ton of other future reviews, I found SR for a measly $1 a few weeks ago. Not only that, I got the 2-disk SUPER collection that features a making-of documentary that’s AN HOUR LONGER THAN THE MOVIE ITSELF!!! So, of course, I had to watch that first. If anything was going to tell me where this film imploded on itself, it would probably be buried within that doc. Well it took roughly five minutes of watching this puppy before I knew where the problem lay: We got BRYAN SINGER! We have NO SCRIPT! We have a budget and a release date! Filming starts in a year! GO! GO! GO! And with that, SUPERMAN RETURNS was off and flying (I love puns).

So let’s open with some kindness: What worked in SUPERMAN RETURNS. They designed the hell out of this movie. Its deco design of Metropolis is undeniably lush and gorgeous. Every penny they spent on practical shots or CG designs of this world is up on the screen. But maybe I’m totally biased because the 1920’s Art Deco aesthetic is easily my favorite art movement of the last century (have you seen Hoover Dam in person? AMAZING!!!).

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What else worked? BRANDON ROUTH! Granted his greatest on-screen role to date is in SCOTT PILGRIM vs THE WORLD, but for a film that what designed to pick up five years after the events SUPERMAN 2, Routh is the perfect fit to fill Chris Reeve’s tights. He looks like him. He acts like him. He was perfect for the role. Too bad the decision was to start the film here instead of a full-reboot, because guess what, most people don’t remember or care what happened in SUPERMAN 2. Unless you’re a hard-core fan who has seen the film in the last few years, you’d probably be at a loss to run down a plot synopsis for me. That said, Routh still sold his Clark/Kal-El performance 100%. Also, I found myself finding SAM HUNTINGTON as JIMMY OLSON as the only really fun and appealing character in the film. So kudos, Mr H. Too bad your career has all but stalled since SR. You deserve better, my friend.

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And….that’s about all the positive strokes I have to give to this film. Now, let’s nitpick this stinker:

Earth is in turmoil (or as I call it, our actual reality on a global scale), our ‘savior’ has been gone for half a decade the world (read: The end of the Clinton years and into Bush’s 9/11 hellhole), and the world has learned to move on without the Man Of Steel–including his beloved Lois Lane (in a lifeless performance by Kate Bosworth). Lois is so bitter with Supers she’s even won a Pulitzer for an editorial entitled “WHY THE WORLD DOESN’T NEED SUPERMAN”. She even has the plaque for her achievement on her desk, but in a terribly negligent bit of writing she hasn’t actually WON THE AWARD YET! I guess they give out plaques BEFORE the actual presentation? (Because attending the award ceremony becomes a later plot-point.) Whatever. Stupid. Just stupid. And this article puts a huge damper on Clark’s return to earth and the Daily Planet. Not to mention the fact she has a kid (roughly the age of when he schtuped her and erased her memory in S2), and CYCLOPS of the X-MEN is now her long-time fiancée. And how dumb is Cyclops in this movie? Did he start working for the PLANET the day after Superman left and bang Lois the next night? How does he not understand a normal human baby 9-month gestation period and how his involvement in that couldn’t be possible? Ok…ok…calm down….Moving on…

LEX LUTHOR has returned (ugh) as our villain. He’s out of prison, he’s wooed an old dying heiress out of her fortune(played by the first actress to play Lois Lane on-screen! Hey!!! Who care?!?! Nobody. I’m assuming her 30 second performance probably cost as much as the $70K train set. Singer knows how to spend money!), and is off to the Arctic with his hand-picked team of henchmen–including a grating Parker Posey, a literally, nearly dialogue-free Kal Penn (kids love the KUMAR! Get him!), a member of the Juggalos, and some other people who don’t matter. Why are they headed to the Artic? Because in five years behind bars Luthor has somehow—SOMEHOW!–(literally, no exposition or explanation on this pre-kerspolded Krypton-sized plot hole) Lex has figured out where Superman’s Fortress of Solitude is and he’s going to steal all its knowledge and crystals for his own nefarious means.

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Anyway, Superman has returned. Have I mentioned that? So in a move that’s unexplained in whether he’s just trying to clean up the mess he left behind or to re-impress Lois, Supes goes about the task of stopping every crime he can world-wide. Not that he’s toppling despot governments or anything IMPORTANT (totally ignoring the fact there is a blatant Kent Farm scene of Clark watching on the TV how the world has boiled into the Cheney/Rumy quagmire since his absence, which,  yes, I suppose aside from Lois, re-inspires him to put on the purple and green tights!), he’s just showing up randomly to save the day, including an out-of control, brake-less car being ‘driven’ by Parker Posey as a distraction while Lex steals some Kryptonite from a Metropolis museum as a part of his ‘master plan’. Bum-bum-bum!!!

Also, SUPERMAN starts stalking Lois both at work and at home. What a hero! …But that was always the joke of this film. And to me it says a lot about Singer and Co.’s general directionlessness when it came to “writing” this film.

Blah, blah, blah, yackity-schmakity: Lois and her son get trapped aboard Lex’s boat the night she’s supposed to win the Pulitzer she’s already won and Lex’s plan is revealed in full: He’s going to destroy most of planet using Supes crystals to build new continents that will destroy most of the known world killing millions-NO! Billions!!! …Screw you, Bryan Singer-so he can turn around and sell land to the survivors, because who wouldn’t want to live on a big chunk of lifeless crystals that, for all we know, can’t sustain crops or anything valuable to human existence. Like I said before: Ugh.

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Like I said, this film so stinks of not having a well thought-out script. (On a side note, during the 3.5 hour MAKING OF doc—YES! I watched the whole thing!—Kevin Spacey goes on and on about how he only did this film because of how much he trusts Bryan Singer. The truth is Spacey was lobbying to play Luthor and/or Brainiac and/or whoever is the villain would be since they first started toying with a SUPERMAN reboot in the late 90’s. Also, Spacey comes off as a total prick in the behind the scene footage. Just sayin’.)

There’s a big back and forth chase as Lex starts his plan in International Waters outside Metropolis to build this “New Krypton” (as it’s referred to in some deleted scenes) as Superman races to stop Lex, then races back to Metropolis to stop the damage the new continent is causing, then races back to New Krypton to confront Lex. Also, Lois has sent a fax from the boat to the Daily Planet (ahh, the 90’s… Wait!…this was 2006! Fuck this shit!) that gets Jimmy’s attention and sends Cyclops flying after her in his sea-plane. (Which is also a ridiculous back-and forth segment as Supes saves the Cyclops/Lane family, sends them back to Metropolis on the sea-plane, and then they come back to New Krypton to save Superman. PICK AN IDEA AND STICK WITH IT!!! Terrible, terrible writing. Have I mentioned that point yet?)

Anyway…do I really need to get into this further? The point is Superman is powerless on this New Krypton continent (cause it’s laced with Kryptonite. Der.), Parkey Posey’s character has a change of heart because Superman saved her once and she spent 3 months on-set with Kevin Spacey and realized what prick he…err…Lex really is, Superman is stabbed with a Kryptonite shiv by Lex that Lois later pulls out, and then somehow Supes is able to lift and entire continent made of Kryptonite into space saving the world.

Huzzah!

Oh, right. And Lois’ five year old kid is revealed to really be Superman’s kid. Ugh, again.

I’m sure there were BIG PLANS for many a Routh-starring sequel after SR that would continue this storyline, but that, for obvious reasons, never panned out. As my WAYNE GALE VARIETY HOUR co-host MATT RISNES wisely pointed out recently, “you can’t have a Superman movie where he doesn’t fight anyone”. And he SOOOO he didn’t fight a soul in this film. Except that one time the guy shot him in the eye. Which was a neat sequence, but HE’S THE MAN OF STEEL! YOU DO NOT NEED TO REMIND US HE IS INDESTRUCTIBLE TO HUMAN CONTRAPTIONS 90 MINUTES INTO THE FILM!!! Ugh #4.

If there is any scene I take away from this film as magical and beautiful and personally touching, it’s after Lois removed the Kryptonite shiv and Supes flies up to the heavens and has a 20 second, beautifully CG rendered shot of him absorbing the sun. As a sufferer of S.A.D. I can totally relate. But this film, or ANY Superman film for that matter, should be appealing to mass audience in every moment of screen time, not just to depressed schlubs like me in one forgettable bit out of a 154 minute slog.

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At the end, after once again stalking his son/the Lane/Cyclops family, Superman promises Lois he’ll always be around. In my heart Superman has ALWAYS been around (since the 1930’s, for sure, and in my life personally since the 1970’s) and always will be. This was just not the Superman I wanted to be around. Ever. Let’s all just pray Snyder’s reboot finally fills that niche and we can FINALLY look forward to seeing more of the MAN OF STEEL on the big screen for years to come.

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*Danno Klonowski is a cartoonist and co-host of the Wayne Gale Variety Hour podcast. Both of which you can see/find links to at his site*

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