Is it a pirate? Is it a squid? No! It's a proper film!
Maaaaan, you know how it is. You get news that some tragic even has befallen your home planet, you disappear for, what, five years? You get back feeling a bit pissed off that your old home has been exploded, and you discover that in the interim some fella has nicked your bird and your job may no longer be yours. The cheek of it! And yet this is the circumstance of poor old Clark Kent (Brandon Routh), known to most as a mild-mannered, somewhat oafish reporter for the Daily Planet, but to a select few as Superman; defender of the defenceless, righter of wrongs and generally the kind of guy most hetero males would gladly buy a pint down the pub. And quite a few non-hetero ones as well, probably. Yes, the tight blue spandex is still there, the geekish everyday persona intact, and the muscles very much in operation for this resurrection of one of the most iconic superheroes of cinema.
Long before Batman ever hit the silver screen (cheesey TV spin-offs aside), Superman was kicking all kinds of ass, albeit in a less angst-ridden fashion. Quite a few people have pointed to this lack of inner turmoil as a weakness of the character. "Batman is a tortured soul!" they wail. "Superman's so boring!". Well, when was the last time Batman shot lasers out of his eyes, or ripped the wing off a plane accidentally? Aye. That's right. So do one. I have never had trouble with a superhero who isn't constantly bemoaning his lot, and it's actually quite refreshing that inbetween acts of selfless heroism Clark Kent can be, well, just a nice bloke. Clearly director Bryan Singer thinks so too, since he turned down lensing a third X-Men installment to bring the man who wears his pants on the outside back to our big screens where he rightly belongs
The action here is intended to pick up where Superman II left off in 1980, before the nonsensical coked-up antics of Richard Pryor in III and the sham, pathetic "message of peace" that was IV. Hailed by Singer as a "re-quel" it is as that name suggests not only a sequel, but also a kind of remake. There are those who insist this covers all the same ground as the first movies, but very little here is reflected in earlier efforts as far as I can remember. Focusing more on Kent's relationship (or lack thereof) with fellow reporter Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) and her ironic continuing infatuation with his alter ego, Singer seems keen to keep the spectacle very much at bay in favour of the whole "family affairs" motif. Yes, some of this was covered in I and II, but not so much that anyone has any business complaining about it. Key to the quandary is Lois' son who, at five years old, is of undefined fathering, leaving the question of wether he is the son of Kent or Lane's new squeeze Richard White (James Marsden), nephew of Daily Planet editor Perry (Frank Langella), hanging nicely over a good majority of the narrative.
Of course all that Emmerdale soap opera guff don't mean a thang without those superpowers coming into play, and while the core of the movie remains the relationship aspect, old foe Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has typical designs on throwing a spanner in the works. Having discovered Supes' Fortress of Solitude, Luthor uses the crystals within alongside some Kryptonite found in a meteor from the destroyed planet to grow his own continent out at sea. In a plan that puts the current UK "buy to rent" debacle firmly in perspective, Luthor will create a landmass that will provide space for those fleeing from rising waters created by... the emergence of his continent! Billions will die in the process, but who's counting? Spacey hams it up for all he's worth which is initially a good thing, since he immediately proves a highlight. There is something of a problem in this though since having dangled the carrot of a stupid yet strangely appropriate and entertaining performance, Singer and writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris see fit to limit Luthor's screen time to, in a 2? film, essentially an extended cameo.
It's not the only criticism to be fairly levelled either, that runtime being the prime niggle. With only a handful of setpiece action sequences to hand, the remaining 2 hours or so don't actually provide that much exposition or resolution to the Kent/Lane/Supes/White love quadrangle. Still, I will say in Singer's defence that compared to Pirates 2, Superman Returns may lack the overall boom-wow, but it still proves far more value for money and represents far more assured direction and production in all departments. On the sidenote of action quotient, I have heard quite a few people and read a few reviews that say "nothing much happens". Nothing much happens?!?!. A man lifts a continent on his shoulders and chucks it into space! What more spectacle could you desire?! Some people are never happy...
As I write this Pirates 2 is still number one at the box office both here in the UK and also the US despite having been out for an additional week in both territories. The talk about our blue spandex man is already of "underperforming". Let me tell you something; Superman Returns is far from perfect, could use a little more excitement and is arguably thirty minutes too long for it's own good. Compare that to Johnny Depp and co. however who are veritably choking under the weight of dull wished-it-were spectacle, don't have a script or director anywhere near the quality of this movie's, and clock out at least an hour beyond their welcome. It is YOU, the public, who are underperforming. Get some taste and stop handing over your six quid just because "Johnny Depp is so funny". Pirates 2 is wank. Superman Returns is not. You're making me angry.
Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane)
Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor)