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Superman Returns Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/10/2006

The Synopsis:

Following the events in Superman II (parts III and IV were completely ignored), Kal-El, a.k.a. Superman (Brandon Routh), set off to look for his home planet of Krypton when he learned from astronomers that parts of it may still exist.  He took off to try to find it, but since it’s Red Sun caused a supernova shockwave to the planet, effectively destroying it, the search proved fruitless.  His search took five years, and in that time, many things had changed.  The love of his life, newspaper reporter Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has become bitter over the sudden disappearance of Superman.  She went as far as to write an article titled “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman,” which earned her a Pulitzer Prize.  In the article, she talks about how he not only abandoned her, but everyone else as well, and that we have been doing just fine without him.  Her attitude isn’t the only thing that is different though.  She has a son named Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu), who is…coincidentally…5 years old.  She is also engaged to Richard White (James Marsden), the nephew and assistant editor of Perry White (Frank Langella), the editor-in-chief of The Daily Planet (where both Lois and Richard work.)  Apparently, Lois met Richard not long after Superman took off, because it is assumed that he is Jason’s father.  Richard is a good guy who also happens to be a biplane pilot, but their engagement has been a long one.  Meanwhile, other people in Superman’s world have been busy.  Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), Superman’s archenemy, was jailed following the many crimes he committed in the first two movies, but since Superman wasn’t there to be a witness in his appeal, Lex was released from prison.  After being released, he seduced an old rich lady named Gertrude Vanderworth (Noel Neill, one of the women who played Lois in the ‘50s “The Adventures of Superman” TV series), and soon married her thereafter.  On her deathbed, she signed over her estate to Lex, because she felt sorry for him while he had been in prison.  Lex and his henchpeople…Stanford (Kal Penn), Brutus (David Fabrizio), Riley (Ian Roberts), and Grant (Vincent Stone), all men that Lex had met while in prison, and Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey), a woman who now replaces Eve Teschmacher from the first two movies…set up shop in the mansion.  They then go to the North Pole where Superman’s Fortress of Solitude is located.  When he gets there, he activates the Kryptonian crystals to view a holographic recording of Superman’s father Jor-El (Marlon Brando, with the help of computer-generated imagery and earlier footage that had been deleted from original Superman director Richard Donner’s attempt to helm Superman II himself.)  Lex wants to find out how to use the crystals, because he intends to use them to create a landmass that will cover most of North America, killing most of its citizens, so that the survivors will have to live on the new continent (where I’m assuming that the privilege of living there will be expensive.)  Back in Superman’s world, he crash-lands his space vehicle near the Kent farm in Smallville, where his mother Martha (Eva Marie Saint) has just said goodnight to her neighbor and boyfriend Ben Hubbard (James Karen.)  She helps her son clean up, and he tells her that the place where Krypton used to be is now just a vast space graveyard.  The next scene shows Superman, in his alter ego Clark Kent, getting his job back at the Planet from Perry…though it’s because another reporter named Norm Parker had died, which is why Perry needed Clark to replace Norm.  Clark finds out from photographer Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) about Lois and her son, which drives him to drink in Bo “Bibbo” Bibbowski’s (Jack Larson, the original Jimmy in the ‘50s “The Adventures of Superman” TV series) bar.  Clark and Jimmy watch news footage on the bar’s TV of a plane/space shuttle hybrid in trouble.  The space shuttle, piloted by Sir Richard Branson, was taking off on its maiden voyage, when a power surge knocks its electricity out.  The reason for the power surge was that Lex had used the crystals on a train set in the basement of the Vanderworth estate to test them out.  The blackout only lasts for a couple of minutes, but it was enough to make the controls fail.  Unfortunately, Lois was covering the shuttle’s maiden voyage along with the shuttle’s press agent Bobbie-Faye (Peta Wilson), so she was in trouble as well.  Clark runs out of the bar and saves the shuttle (in his Superman garb again, of course.)  The public realizes that Superman has returned, and Perry makes everyone scramble to cover every angle.  Lois wants to cover the blackout, but Perry makes her cover Superman, since she knows him the best.  When Lex realizes that Superman is back, he breaks into a museum to steal some Kyptonite in order to make a dagger in which to stop the Man of Steel from interfering with his plans.  As Lois gets to the truth of Lex’s evil plan, Superman tries to make amends with her while convincing her that Superman is still relevant in this world.  All the while, he finds out a little more about Lois’s asthmatic son, who seems to be more observant than the others around him are.

The Review:

It has been 19 years since the last Superman movie (1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which I didn’t hate as much as others had), and in the meantime, we have had to settle for the Man of Steel only on TV.  “Superboy” ran from 1988-1992 in syndication and starred John Haymes Newton (1988-1989) and Gerard Christopher (1989-1992) in the title role.  His next appearance was in ABC’s “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” starring Dean Cain (and future “Desperate Housewives” star Terri Hatcher), and it ran from 1993-1997.  In 2001, the WB brought us “Smallville,” starring Tom Welling, which will be starting its sixth season this fall on the CW.  In addition, there’s been several animated series that have either starred or featured Superman as well (with former “Wings” star Tim Daly voicing many of the portrayals)…so it’s not like the Man has been out of our lives all that much.  We’ve wanted a new Superman on the big screen though, and Superman Returns was the right way to bring him back.

It took X-Men director Bryan Singer to bring him to the screen, after a laborious process.  I’m not going to go into the entire nightmarish process, but let’s say that…at various times…Nicolas Cage (as Superman), Anthony Hopkins (as Jor-El), Tim Burton, my boy Kevin Smith, Joseph “McG” McGinty Nichol, and Brett Ratner were all involved in the past.  In fact, $60 million of the estimated $260+ million that it cost to make this movie went to pay-or-play contracts, three confirmed directors, and nine screenwriters.  Singer finally completed it, using a script written by himself and his X-Men co-writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris.  He had passed on directing X-Men: The Last Stand to make the movie (ironically, that movie ended up being directed by Ratner.)  While it sucks that he couldn’t have directed both, I’m glad he chose to do Returns.

Singer was also responsible for making some decent casting decisions.  He brought in Spacey, the star of his 1995 breakout hit The Usual Suspects, to play Lex.  I am apparently the only one who thought that Spacey made a better Lex than Gene Hackman from 1978’s Superman: The Movie (yes…there will be several comparisons between Superman and Returns in this review.  Heck…it would be odd if I didn’t.)  Hackman was always too goofy for me, and even though Spacey’s portrayal had its comedic elements, he was a darker and more evil Lex than Hackman.  For my money though, Michael Rosenbaum, Luthor on “Smallville,” has played the best Luthor of any media ever.  It’s too bad that the 34-year-old actor is far too young to play him in the movies (yet.)  Spacey in turn brought in Bosworth, his co-star in the 2004 Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea, to play Lois.  I’m also in the minority in that I thought she was a better Lois than Margot Kidder (both Kidder and Bosworth’s characters smoke, but only Kidder has always looked like she smokes three packs a day.  No other Lois has looked like that…though “Smallville’s” Erica Durance comes close.)  Bosworth may be a little young to play a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter mother of a 5-year-old (she was 22 when the movie was filmed), but she played her part better than Kidder did (in my own opinion.)  Singer then turned his attention to casting the Man himself.  Unlike the previous directors, he wanted to cast a relative unknown.  Routh, whose previous credits included MTV’s “Undressed” and the daytime soap opera “One Life to Live,” was cast as Superman, partially because he looked similar to Superman’s Christopher Reeve (the two actors were both 26 when their movies premiered), and because he accidentally spilled a drink on Singer when they first met.  Singer thought that he fit perfectly in both the Clark Kent and Superman role because of that (since Clark is generally thought of as a clumsy goofball.)  Routh did a fantastic job nailing the part.

The special effects were very cool.  The most impressive scene was, of course, the space shuttle rescue scene.  Even though it has been used several times since 1999’s The Matrix, the “bullet-time” scene…where a thief attempts to shoot Superman in the eye, only to have it bounce off…was impressive.

The movie does have its faults though.  For one thing…Luthor’s plan is kind of stupid.  Wouldn’t it be better for him to just conquer the country like a modern-day Hitler instead hatching a plan to kill most of the people in it and set up shop with a new landmass?  More people alive would mean more money…right?  Also, I didn’t like how Superman just sort-of floated instead of flying.  I mean, he did fly…but then he occasionally just floated on air…allowing for a “Can You Read My Mind” scene with Lois again (albeit not as cheesy.)

As of this writing, Superman Returns has brought in an estimated $196,977,353 domestically and $181 million internationally, taking in about $377,977,353 to date worldwide.  Apparently, Warner Brothers wants the movie to gross at least $200 million domestically before they will greenlight a sequel…and it is currently about $3 million away from reaching that goal.  Warner president Alan Horn told The Los Angeles Times that he was planning a sequel for the summer of 2009, so there may be some hope.  There are so many questions left unanswered, mostly revolving the possible development of Jason’s powers, so I think that the sequel could possibly be better than Returns.  Either way, at least Mallrats’ Brodie Bruce can finally find the answer to whether or not Superman can father a child.  Superman indeed!


Get the soundtrack score composed by John Ottman, using elements of John Williams’ score from the 1978 movie:

Get the Superman: The Movie / Superman II 2-Disc Ultimate Collection:

Get the documentary "Look, Up in the Sky!: The Amazing Story of Superman," which chronicles the history of Superman from the character's creation through Superman Returns:

Get the Electronic Arts video game in six formats:


Game Boy Advance:




Xbox 360:

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Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

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Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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