Rating: 1.5 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
Superman Returns is like when someone decides to make a new black-and-white movie or silent film, deliberately choosing an outdated method of storytelling for some artistic effect. Except this is not an art house movie, it was budgeted at over $200 million, and the bygone era it’s trying to evoke was never really that great to begin with. From the beginning, when the old transparent credits zoom up and then at you, you know you’re in for a real bizarre experiment in modern filmmaking. What if someone made a sequel to the Christover Reeve Superman films (except only the first two because they arbitrarily—at least, from an audience perspective—decided the other two didn’t count)?
Five years ago Superman learned the location of Krypton and decided to travel there by unspecified means (he seems to return to Earth in the same pod he arrived in as an infant so I guess he squeezed his bulky frame into that thing and propelled it back to Krypton somehow?) just to double-check that it really blew up for real. Clark Kent, in a funny coincidence, decided to spend five years travelling the world and went completely radio silent and no, sorry, he didn’t bring you back anything. Anyway, it turns out Krypton was totally destroyed, so Superman came back, and also Clark is back and he got his job back and nothing has changed.
Except everything has changed! Lois has a kid now, and she has a fiancé—and it’s very deliberate that the filmmakers gave her a fiancé and not a husband, so it would be less creepy when Superman tries to seduce her away from him. Didn’t work! Still creepy! We first learn about the family when Clark finds a picture of them on Lois’s desk and breaks the frame in his surprise. This is symbolic of the way he tries break up her family later on. Yes, this is a big-budget four-quadrant Superman movie where our hero stalks an ex-girlfriend who has moved on (literally floats outside her house eavesdropping on her), and then attempts to seduce her away from her incredibly decent fiancé, who is also, as far as Superman knows, the father of her child.
Oh, and Lex Luthor is back and he has a totally stupid real estate scheme again that would kill millions again because that’s what he did in 1978. It’s a total yawn of a plot-line and is barely there except it takes up tons of space and oh did I mention this movie is more than 2-and-a-half-hours long?
In a better world Brandon Routh could have been a great Superman, and we’d have had six-to-eight years of fun Routh-starring films.
I even think Kevin Spacey could have been a good Lex Luthor, but that’s more Pollyanna-thinking than based on anything actually on the screen.
Superman rescuing the plane is a pretty exciting action sequence, though I kept wondering how Lois Lane wasn’t dead or at least seriously injured with all the flying around and smashing into walls she does. And oh boy when Superman repeats the “statistically speaking” line from the 1978 original—one of the best lines of dialogue from that film—it came off almost desperate. Like: “Hey guys! Remember??” I’m not a fan of sequels that just copy things people liked in the first one and hope they like them again.
The thug with a clown tattooed on the back of his head earnestly sitting down at the piano to play a song with Superman Jr. was my favorite scene in the movie. The only moment that felt wholly original and unexpected.
Seeing Martha Kent in the audience outside the hospital where Superman is in a coma, stricken with worry but unable to go inside or even explain to anyone why she’s there, was genuinely moving.
Superman actually takes the time when Metropolis is being hit with an earthquake to try to help people and prevent them from coming to harm, so that’s nice.
Clark: “Thanks for giving me my job back!”
Perry: “Don’t thank me. Thank Norm Parker for dying!”
Jimmy: “It was his time.”
Lex: “Kitty, what did my father used to say to me?”
Kitty: “You’re losing your hair.”
Lex: “Before that.”
Kitty: “Get out.”
The following plot details are mutually exclusive and cannot coexist:
1) Lois Lane does not know that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person.
2) Lois Lane remembers having sex with Superman and knows he’s the father of her son.
What the hell is this movie trying to say with this entire plot? The entire emotional through-line of the movie? In Superman II Lois finds out Superman is really Clark, they have sex, and then he erases her memory. That’s a messed up thing to do, sure. And now it turns out she got pregnant (PSA: it only takes one time, kids, so use protection) and Superman left her holding the bag. To summarize: the hero of this movie, and the figure considered one of the most morally-upstanding and virtuous heroes in all of popular culture, had sex with a woman, got her pregnant, erased her memory of the act, and then left town for five years while she raised the baby.
Because there is not one hint—and I looked—in the text of this film that Lois remembers Clark is Superman and is just playing along. Until her son Jason kills that guy with the piano (and yes somewhere lost in the whole “Does Superman kill?” debate of the last few years is the “Does Superman’s four-year-old son kill?” question because apparently he definitely, definitely does) she doesn’t seem to have any idea that Superman is actually his father. Which leads to a more uncomfortable question of timing and when exactly she slept with Richard White to conclude that he must be actually be the dad, but listen I am not here to slut shame Lois Lane—she can get hers all day long with anyone she wants—and ultimately that’s her business.
And then even when she figures it out—though I can’t imagine how she thinks this all happened if she doesn’t remember the sex—she tells Superman about his son and then… that’s it. There’s no indication that he’ll be an active part of the kid’s life or that anyone will ever tell Richard exactly what the hell is going on. Forget that Richard is actually the moral center of this movie and the only unambiguously good character, and I don’t even think for a second he wouldn’t still be willing to act as the kid’s father if he knew the truth, but they don’t (and won’t) give him that option.
Anyway, Kate Bosworth is terribly miscast. Kal Penn is prominent enough in this movie to be in the opening credits but has no dialogue. The logo on the costume is too small. Lois calls Kitty a hooker at one point (out of pure jealousy!). Perry White doesn’t give a damn about actual journalism or informing the public, only about sensationalism and selling papers. Superman lifts an entire island of Kryptonite, which a few minutes ago made him too weak to win a fist fight with Lex Luthor, over his head and throws it into space.
“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.”
The above line is said at the beginning by Jor-El addressing Superman, and then said again at the end by Superman to his own son. I’m trying to give it the benefit of the doubt—maybe because I don’t have kids?—but I’ve thought about this line a lot and I feel like it’s gibberish.