Superman Returns (Warner Bros., PG-13)

This is generally a good, satisfying piece of summer blockbuster, the rare kind that doesn't insult the audience's intelligence.

 

There are two reasons movies inspired by comic books have been so successful in the past five or ten years: people like Bryan Singer and people like me. People like Bryan Singer are bringing their return and success because they are actually tried, talented directors turning out good films (Sam Raimi and Christopher Nolan also fit into this category), and people like me are bringing their return because we are expanding the fanbase. I could give a shit about comic books or comic book characters (even when I went through a comic book phase when I was in my early teens, I didn't really read superhero comics), but I am not opposed to seeing a film about them, so long as the film is good, which they generally have been lately.

And of the comic book movies to come out during this fertile period of them, Singer's Superman Returns is about the best. To put that statement in context, quality-wise, it falls in the range of the two Spider-Man movies and Batman Begins, and above the two X-Men movies. (It's probably worth mentioning that I don't particularly care for the original Superman movies.) Returns picks up when Clark Kent/Superman (Brandon Routh) returns to Earth after a stint checking out the remains of Krypton, but when he comes back, he finds that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is married and has a kid, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has spent Superman's time gone becoming more powerful (thanks in part to Superman not being able to testify against him in court), and everything is generally worse than when he left. And while the title is as much a function of the film's plot as it is a reference to the fact that we've gone a long time without a Superman movie, one of my biggest problems (though no fault of the film's, to be sure) was I couldn't kick my head out of Batman Begins mode, and kept on having to remind myself that Returns is not an origin story but rather a true sequel.

There are some other problems with the film, but none of them are enough to substantially bring it down. For one, Superman Returns has a 157-minute running time. Generally I have no problem with movies that are longer than the 90- to 135-minute standard, but Superman suffers because of it, as there is a total of about 20 minutes total worth of crap at the beginning and end that could obviously be excised. Also, while I feel like the casting is great-Routh is quite a find for the role, I've always liked the Bowie-eyed Bosworth, it's nice to see Parker Posey (who plays Luthor lackey Kitty) in something that's not a fucking Pepsi commercial with fucking Jimmy Fallon, and I've been a Spacey fan since his first collaboration with Singer, The Usual Suspects-the youth of both Routh and Bosworth wasn't helping me forget that Returns comes late in the Superman chronology rather than early.

But really, these things are just quibbles with what is generally a good, satisfying piece of summer blockbuster, and the rare kind that doesn't insult the audience's intelligence, instead deserving to make the buckets and buckets of money that it will undoubtedly make. Although The Usual Suspects ranks among my favorite films of all time (and is the film that made me want to pursue film criticism in the first place), I would have no objection at this point if Singer makes nothing but superhero movies for the rest of his career, so long as they are all of the caliber of Superman Returns.

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