Superman: You will be different, sometimes you’ll feel like an outcast, but you’ll never be alone. You will make my strength your own. You will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
With Superman III and IV turning out to be utter embarrassments to the Man of Steel, director Bryan Singer attempted to remedy the legacy by making a movie in 2006 that ignored the events of both those movies. And while it certainly is a step up from the last two, it can’t really earn a spot next to the titans that were the first two movies.
The story involves Superman (Brandon Routh) who returns to Earth after a five-year absence having gone to outer space to investigate what was believed to be an intact Krypton. Upon his return however he discovers things have changed: Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has moved on with her life being engaged to Richard White, the son of the Daily Planet’s editor in chief Perry White and society has overall learned to survive without his help. Thus Superman must reconnect with his love and find his place in a world that has gone so long without him. Meanwhile the nefarious Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) conducts a plan to get rid of his Kryptonian foe once and for all.
The movie definitely has respect for the original movie. Right off the bat the movie cleverly incorporates the iconic Superman theme into the opening logo and you can really sense how Singer wanted to mirror what made the original Superman movies so iconic. The movie throws multiple acknowledgements to many of the charming and iconic moments of the first two movies (and the Donner Cut by extension) but it does so very much to a fault. These moments feel more like a teaching of these moments rather than an experience of reinventing and playing with these moments. A lot of the movie in terms of themes, scenes, and plot elements are mostly on repeat with a visual upgrade such as Superman saving Lois from an airplane or Lex Luthor planning a real estate scam. Even the opening text describing Superman’s origins is redundant, as it doesn’t do anything for the film or Superman’s character overall.
When it comes to the performances they are a mixed bag. Brandon Routh as shown in Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow can display some impressive and charismatic acting and to his credit he does look like Christopher Reeve. He portrayed the clumsy but charming nature of Clark Kent quite well in similar form of Reeve but much like the movie’s structure he does so to a fault. Routh tries to capture the spirit so much that there’s not much originality in it. There’s nothing new or creative in his performance and he looked a tad too young to be playing the all-powerful Man of Steel. Kate Botsworth as Lois Lane was also disappointing. Much like Routh, she felt a tad too young and didn’t have the same level of sophistication that Kidder had. She seemed a tad too bitter and it didn’t help that Routh and Botsworth’s chemistry was rather bland. These two on screen just felt like actors trying to be these characters rather than the actual characters. Then there’s Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. His portrayal does give quite a dark and scary vibe that for as better as Gene Hackman was, lacked. But while he does have a genuine motivation it feels more like an afterthought and doesn’t have much development.
With all this being said there are some bright spots among the movie. The production design is brilliant visually capturing the appearance of Donner’s original movies in a beautiful and non-distracting way. The incorporation of modern technology in spreading the influence of Superman all across the globe and bringing people closer together kind of works in what Superman is supposed to be in being an aspiration to what mankind can be with him being the light to show them the way. Singer also continued to develop the idea of a religious metaphor in Superman in a way that continues the story and doesn’t feel like a rehash.
Superman Returns is a movie that definitely has respect for the greatness of the first two movies. However in trying to be a loving tribute to the first movie it really lacks in energy. It’s just such a small movie for such a powerful character. It has good intentions and is watchable for anyone looking to remedy the bad taste of the last two films that preceded it as it has effort to prevent it from being just a pale imitation. But I do not believe a man can fly with this movie.