Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Superman Returns

[from June 28, 2006]

Even though I'm not the biggest fan of Superman in general, I simply had to go to the 10:00 screening last night and see this with my nerds.

I have my issues with Superman as a hero and as a franchise. To own the truth, I find Superman kind of boring and goody-goody. His big weakness is something he should only be faced with in a bizarre situation that seems to come up more often than it really should. And how the hell can people NOT TELL that Clark Kent is Superman?!?!?! Spiderman and Batman have masks to hide their faces, but Superman is able to bamboozle people with a pair of glasses? Are you kidding me?!

I have issues with this movie as well. I understand that some time had to have passed, but it's rather laughable that no one seems to notice that Clark Kent and Superman disappeared at the same time and then reappeared at the same time five years later. The ridiculousness of this is further amplified by a little scene where Lois Lane and her not-quite-husband think "Could Clark and Superman be the same person?" for a second before laughing it off. But hey, if it only takes a pair of glasses to pull the wool over people's eyes, I suppose their sense of logic wouldn't be sophisticated enough to make a connection between Kent's return and Superman's return.

Having said all of that, though, I couldn't NOT love this movie. It completely won me over, despite my issues with the franchise and even with this specific story.

It started with the opening credits. Well, no. It actually started with the Warner Bros. logo and the little musical theme that accompanied it. Music which ended with a faint whisper of John Williams' Superman theme. After a few more logos from a few more studios (dude, it really takes a village - several villages, in fact - to build a movie) the opening credits begin. Nothing too fancy, and not a part of the film itself, thank goodness (One of my cinema pet peeves is when a movie's credits play over the first part of the movie itself. I mean, does that part of the movie not matter as much? If so, why is it in the movie? What do you want me to look at, the names or your movie? [/rant]). But the best part of the credits is that the movie uses Williams' original Superman theme. That majestic, perfect superhero theme. A theme that brings us right back to the Donner movies, and which permeates the entire film, despite John Ottman's still-impressive score.

Because this isn't a reinvention of the franchise, like Batman Begins. This film wants you to remember the Donner movies. It wants you to remember Christopher Reeve (which is, I suppose, part of the reason Brandon Routh was cast - he looks alarmingly like Reeve). The director, Bryan Singer (yes, this is the same guy who's the executive producer of House, M.D.) even uses archival footage of Marlon Brando as Jor-El from the first movie.

And I think that's ultimately what makes the movie work. I think a lot of people, if not most, find Spiderman a more satisfying, relatable, "better" superhero. In fact, it amused me to note that the teaser trailer for Spiderman 3 which preceded this film got more cheers and applause than anything in Superman. But Superman is the superhero. He's the first one people generally think of when they think of superheroes. He's almost generic. So you can't really mess with that and reinvent it. Get different actors to play the parts, sure, but the essence is the same.

Consistency is Superman's strength, I think - in a meta sense, that is. People need to believe in something greater than themselves, because the world is often too much for we mere mortals to handle, so there'd better be someone somewhere who can handle it. Superman has a fascinating mythology, and he is - more so than any other superhero, in my observation - the most like an anthropomorphic god. Because he is like a man, but is clearly much more than a man. And you can't really mess with that.

There are more interesting superheroes out there, to be sure (and Spidey is probably my favorite), but Superman Returns reminds us of why we love Superman.

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