Sunday, July 02, 2006

Why The World Doesn't Need (This) Superman


Wow. The blood does a dance at the mere mention of the name doesn't it? Since 1938, Jerry & Joe's creation has kept us entertained in various incarnations along the way - comic books, radio, comic strips, cartoons, serials, television shows, TV cartoons and yes the movies. Each one a different Superman, yet still that iconic character that stands for truth, justice and the American way. He's been a symbol for many things, and each one speaks to that generation about these simple heartfelt values.

I think that because of that, I was expecting a Superman movie that speaks to this generation. A movie that takes that iconic character and does something new with it.

This is not that movie. At all.

*********** SPOILERS AHEAD **********

Oh sure there's a couple of new things in there. Some flashes of brilliance here and there, but when they are lost in the mire that is this movie you simply find yourself hard-pressed to want to dig them out.

You see, every bit of this movie I have seen before, when it was produced in 1978. So this is going to be that kind of rant-review. I'm not going to go into the plot, because if you've seen Superman I, II you've seen the plot elements necessary to understand this movie. I'm going to take some pot shots here, and let you guys sort it out in the comments. To do otherwise would be to hash old , old ground.

The Opening:

A simple black & white title card comes up saying that Superman has left the earth when astronomers discover Krypton. We get pretty shots of space and planets and the destroyed birthworld of Superman. When Krypton explodes the Kryptonite flies through space and we see the opening credits of the movie, "Homaged" to look just like the credits of the 1978 movie, with the whooshing titles flying by in space. All performed to the John Williams score from 1978.


Then we go to a scene where Noell Neill (Tv's Lois Lane) is an old woman who Lex Luthor married so he could bilk her out of her millions. He had been in prison and she got him out. He's up to something this Lex, because he takes their cruise ship to anarctica to Superman's fortress of solitude. Where he walks in...

Tagging along is Miss Tessmacher, excuse me Miss Kitty, played by Parker Posey for comedy relief and "homage."

Meanwhile, Superman crash lands his spaceship in Kansas on his return trip. Navigates across galaxies this one and can't EVER manage to land his spaceship... all done as an "homage" to his origin.

Lex Luthor meanwhile walks up to the crystals in the fortress of solitude and begins asking questions of Jor-el (played by footage we've seen before of Marlon Brando).

Clark Kent is in several scenes (or should I say Brandon Routh, who's playing Christopher Reeve playing Clark Kent?) at the Kent farm talking with Eva Marie Saint (**edit**) about what happened on his trip. She tells him that he'll never be alone and sets up a major plot point and metaphor for the rest of the movie - alienation, belonging, connection.
Kate Bosworth is okay as Lois Lane and I can see why she was cast. In this version of the movie she has moved on with her life and has a fiancee' and a kid. She has settled into her life as a reporter and a mom. Everything's perfect, only it's not because she has recently won the pulitzer for an article titled, "Why the world doesn't need Superman."
When we first meet her, Lois is on a 747 that is ferrying a shuttle test. Something goes wrong when Lex Luthor, learning the secret of Superman's crystals accidentally sets off an blackout of all power sources in the area. The shuttle and the 747 are going down and its Superman to the rescue in his first in-costume appearance in the movie.
Clark races into the alleyway, he rip open his shirt and...
Nothing. The frameline was off and we couldn't see the "S" symbol underneath his shirt!
(try to do an "homage" to the earlier movie and you can't get it right. Not only are you bad for ripping off somone, but you can't do it properly... sad.)
Superman saves the day in a spectacular scene that shows you how powerful he is, and how resourceful Lois Lane is. If she had superpowers watch out, Kal-el.
Superman is back.
Superman spies on Lois in her new life, sees her and Richard (played by James Marsden in a very nice guy role) and their son Jason. Only Jason is not their son, but Lois's.
In the meantime, Lex Luthor has plans - big plans - involving bombs and land deals (doesn't this sound familiar kids?) and uses one of the crystals to create a new continent. This brings a tear to Kitty's eye in another "homage" to Valerie Perrine.
Lois manages to get onto Luthor's boat with Jason while following some clues. Every bit of danger is edged with sarcastic comedy (Lex, Kitty). Luthor creates a new continent of kryptonite to keep Superman away.
This is going on and on and I don't want to give away anything else other than to say that:
-- There was a brilliant moment where Luthor and his gang attack a de-powered Superman prison-yard style and shiv him in the back. It was real and honest and you really felt Luthor was a bad guy instead of an over-the-top actor.
-- Superman tries to seduce Lois into forgiving him for leaving by taking her on a flying excursion. Been there done that.
--We learn that Jason is Superman's son and in a metaphor for single parenthood (and yes, gay parenthood) Jason lives with his mom and her boyfriend while his Dad flies around, and visits occasionally.
This was a movie that was directed by Richard Donner many years ago. Now it has been re-directed by Richard Donner's son, Bryan Singer.
We don't need this movie. We have seen it already.


Scott the Reader said...

I love Superman, but he just comes with a lot of baggage. A good storyline has to address the fact that his powers really are huge, and come up with credible challenges for him to overcome.

Never got this here.

I can't believe that in all the annals of Superman comics, there hasn't been a really good Superman storyline they can grab and adapt, in which he really did have an interesting, difficult run-in with a credible villain.

All they need is a solid good vs. evil storyline, and everything else can be hung on it. But here even the evil plot is stupid.

Bill Cunningham said...

Not only is it stupid, but we've seen it before...which makes it incredibly stupid.

John Donald Carlucci said...

Thanks for summing up my feelings EXACTLY. The movie made me sad that Superman was a superstalker now that just waited until the boyfriend left to flex his muscles for the girl. The only thing they did really right for me was the love triangle did not take the typical turn where the third wheel does something bad/cowardly that allows the hero to take what is his back. White was a VERY decent guy.
I just watched the original again tonight and it felt good. Reeves was a Superman who cares and seemed to enjoy the tights. Routh just never felt like he REALLY cared. He felt alien and not in a good way. He was distant and aloof. The same hollowness I felt in the Xmen I felt here. There are always moments, but no homerun.

Jesus, you have a mad scientist/criminal and he keeps shooting for land?!!

Truth, Justice, and the American way. I find it a bit sickening that everyone involved felt the need to eliminate this element from Superman.

Plus, they could have cut the last half hour too.


RogerRmjet said...

Excellent take, Bill. Spot on (except that Eva Marie Saint wasn't in any of the Chris Reeve Superman films), especially about crashing that damn space ship. **** SPOILERS DISCUSSED ****

I enjoyed the movie while watching it (seen it twice so far, once in IMAX 3D), but every time I stop to think about it afterwards, there's an endless number of things about it that bother me. You hit the nail on the head with this being the 1978 Superman -- Superman has changed so much since then. I wanted to see today's Superman. Lois knows who he is. Lex Luthor is a billionaire industrialist. And I'd like Supes to be more muscular. And not wearing a rubber suit with a rubber, burgundy cape.

The plane crash sequence was amazingly cool, but the animated series did it better. In that one, the plane went a few blocks and took out a park before Superman managed to stop it. I like my Superman to not be able to lift a whole continent. Makes for more drama. When the wings snapped off, that was great. But being able to lift the whole plane? Anticlimactic.

While I liked the basic idea of doing homages to the Donner films (a tribute to just how great a job Donner did and how fantastic the John Williams score is), I felt it was just a bit too slavish, but also inconsistent. If the child is from Lois and Supes' "get-together" in Superman II, what about when Superman erased Lois' memory with that stupid hypnotic kiss, so then she doesn't remember sleeping with Superman. And if she thinks the kid is Richard's (this was never really clear), shouldn't she have been sleeping with Richard at the same time she was sleeping with Superman? And if so, then why was she so torn up about him leaving? And why doesn't Clark know who Richard is? And if she wasn't pregnant when Superman left, shouldn't the kid be more like four years old instead of five, since pregnancy is nine months? And what about when Supes told the President at the end of "Superman II," "I won't let you down again." So, he makes a promise to the President, and then disappears for five years? All these questions make me feel like Singer, Harris, and Dougherty didn't really think things through. Furthermore, there's so many conversations that they characters should have had, but didn't -- most importantly, after Supes finds out that he's the father of Lois' child. That sort of thing usually results in a lot of discussion, not just flying off as Super-Absentee-Father (especially for a guy why just spent the last five years searching for his own origins).

I especially agree with Scott the Reader that they should have taken a great Superman story from the comics (like Spider-Man and X-Men) and adapted it. That was actually the plan at one point when had a script using the "Death of Superman" storyline (I believe that was the great Kevin Smith script, "Superman Lives," that Tim Burton tossed out). With 68 years of comic books, you'd think they could have found a better story to use. The whole thing with the kid is a just a dead-end story. It's a shark jumping plot device, and I'm stunned that Singer didn't recognize this. It would have been far better to do a complete reboot like they did with Batman.

With the story they did choose, though, I think they had enough material for three films instead of one. Even with the 2.5 hour running time, much of it gets shortchanged. I would have preferred them to start with Superman learning about Krypton's remains being found and wrestling with the decision to actually leave Earth. Part II could have begun with his return and ended with Superman falling from the sky (a part I really liked -- reminded me of the "Panic in the Sky" episode from AOS) and the "is he dead?" question, and then wrapping things up from there in Part III. I would also have preferred a colorful supporting cast instead of a bunch of people who just stand around and stare straight ahead. Discord in the Luthor ranks would have been good, too. Best friends don't get along as well as these criminals do. And it would have been really nice to get a female character who wasn't a complete copy of Miss Teschmacher. More female characters would have also been a plus, especially if they'd let Noel Neill's character live and just had her sit by in her wheelchair "Baby Jane"-like, watching Lex use her fortune for evil while she's powerless to do anything about it.

While I'm glad to see Superman back on the big screen and look forward to the next installment (hoping it improves), so much of this one adds up to a whole lot of missed opportunities.

Bill Cunningham said...

You're right. I was confusing Eva Marie Saint with Phyllis Thaxter.

There are many stories to adapt in the comics canon, so it's a little distrurbing they decided to "go their own way."

And what is with the maroon capes and boots anyway? What's wrong with the scarlet?

I would have liked to see Luthor with no jokes whatsoever. No sarcasm, just pure "business." Luthor is a guy who is a businessman and that means that crime, arms, drugs, prostitution, etc.. is "business." If Luthor had been that guy who shivved Superman -- throughout the whole movie -- we would have had something.

Oh well.

Fun Joel said...

Thanks. I feel like you've confirmed what I suspected would be the case with this film.

Johnny said...

my two cents: