Lex Luthor glares into Lois Lane’s petrified eyes and, in a moment of clairvoyance, anticipates Lane’s next utterance. “What about…” Lois (Kate Bosworth) is hijacked mid-sentence by Luther (Kevin Spacey) “What about Superman?” Luthor blurts out.
Luthor knew what Lois was going to say next. So did the audience. The predictability of Lois and Luther’s exchange serves as a microcosm of why Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris’ “Superman Returns” lacks creativity and depth, and spends most of its time unfolding a story that we’ve seen again, and again, and again.
This time around, Superman (Brandon Routh) has returned from a five-year hiatus after searching for the remains of his home planet, Krypton. Lois, feeling abandoned, has moved on, and has a fiancé Richard White (James Marsden) and a son (Tristan Lake Leabu) to show for it.
Not so coincidentally, Clark Kent and Superman have returned at the same time, and Luthor has evaded his double-life sentence and has hatched a plan to bring the world to its knees. By stealing crystals from Krypton and harvesting its powers, Luthor’s plan is to build a new continent by taking pieces from others. The land mass will be worth a fortune as a result, and Luthor assumes the world will be lining up for prime real estate on his new country.
The plot is generic and boring, and, besides, in the end, all superhero movies are predictable. Bad guy attempts to rule Earth. Good guy stops him and the masses are saved at the end of the day. More and more, stories are reused, retold and recycled. And, truthfully speaking, Ive never minded that.
But the approach is what makes the difference. Superman Returns simply goes through the motions, dutifully fulfils its obligation of Superman saving the day, and does little else to add to the legend of Superman. It falls woefully short of other comic books, which have enjoyed brilliant movie adaptations.
The reason why Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) and Sam Raimi’s Spiderman (2002) enjoyed such success is because they explore the question “why?” Why would Bruce Wayne, prince of Gotham, dress like a bat and patrol the streets fighting crime in a customized automobile? Why would any sane human being (assuming that Peter Parker is actually sane) dress in a red and blue jumpsuit and be willing to defend justice so righteously?
The answers are given depth and cause in the Batman and Spiderman adaptations. The loss of loved ones in both movies is the driving factor, which is easily related to by the audience. Meanwhile Superman Returns answers none of these questions, and misses an opportunity to explore the tribulations and adversity of a super-being that must grapple with having to appear not-so-super at other times.
Somewhere along the line, Clark Kent must’ve struggled with his duel identity in the same way that Parker and Wayne struggled with theirs. After successfully developing his Spiderman alias, Parker’s personal life took a hit, as he saw his dear Mary Jane Watson end up with Harry Osborn. He nearly flunked out of school. He missed important dates with his grandmother.
Shortly after Wayne’s first test run as Batman, Alfred aptly notes, “Strange injuries and non-existent social life, these things beg the question as to what exactly does Bruce Wayne do with his time and his money?”
Meanwhile, Kent seems content with his surroundings. Kent takes a backseat to Superman, and seems to suffer no adverse affects. Instead, he longs for Lois from afar, despite knowing that Clark and Lois have a better chance of working out than Superman and Lois. The superhero and the dame can never be together – permanently, that is. Apparently, Lois and Superman spent the night at least once, and the child that Richard has raised so dutifully isn’t even his.
The child is weak and meager, until he hurls a piano across a room to protect Lois. Nothing else is developed with the son of Superman, which begs the question: Why was this character even introduced in the first place? Perhaps it is to show there was chemistry between Lois and Superman in the past in lue of showing it in the movie. Few sparks fly between Lois and Kent aside from a few awkward glances, and the romance between Superman and Lois onscreen are forced, at best, and lacking in background and development, at least.
Despite having virtually no character development, the movie lasts more than two and a half hours. Where did the time go? Most of it is devoted to scene after scene of applauding crowds, Superman flying into space, shaking glasses (signaling the beginning of an action sequence) and Luthor exploring the power of the crystals from Superman’s world (as if he, or the audience, didn’t know of the awesome power it would yield).
A final comparison to Batman and Spiderman — both movies used outstanding special effects, but the effects were not the draw of the movie. Rather, they were used to enhance it. In Superman, the special effects are the main draw. At least, that’s what I believe, since without it, we’re left with the same predictable story that we’ve seen again, and again, and again.
Rating: ** (out of five).