"I forgot how warm you are…"
Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane to Brandon Routh's
Superman at a pre-flight prep smooch.
had the good fortune to belong to a select group of men
and women in the late seventies and early eighties who lined
up for G&Ts and tasty nibbles late at night twice a
week. Handed glossy synopses and, if you were lucky, black
and white stills, we all huddled together in a darkened
auditorium to pass judgement on the latest releases before
their official openings. I remember sitting with a friend
in the fourth row watching a Merchant-Ivory movie (sorry,
'film') entitled The Bostonians. In it,
a tall actor is featured and called upon to play his role
with an accent that was truly, uh... memorable.
time this actor opened his mouth, my friend and I were on
our knees, tears pouring out uncontrollably. Not only was
this southern lawyer's accent appallingly delivered, it
was allowed to be appallingly delivered and to this day
I do not know what possessed James Ivory and Ishmael Merchant
to let those mangled vowels and tortured consonants emanate
from their leading man and therefore their film. I have
deliberately not seen The Bostonians since
that fateful night over twenty years ago just in case it
robs me of such a sweet memory. Christopher Reeve may have
been oh, so miscast as handsome lawyer Basil Ransome, but
as Superman - oh boy, did that guy fly. I remember the original
1978 Superman with great fondness (my father
and I attended an open day at Pinewood Studios and visited
the Fortress of Solitude set... "It's all polystyrene!"
my father wailed as if film sets were actually supposed
to be real. It entranced me well enough). It seems as if
I wasn't the only one.
Singer, the commercially gifted director of a few franchises,
one which has just bowed out (it is an ‘X-Franchise'
you might say) and one just beginning (take a bow, the returned
Superman), has completed a terrific piece of work with Superman
Returns. His chosen company name - "Bad Hat
Harry Productions" - clearly states his love of the
benchmark in seventies' cinema. Jaws fans,
rejoice. He has brought to bear the most cutting edge technology
that Hollywood can pay for and added a personal dollop of
fondly remembered thrills and all that lavish attention
he has spilled on to, in essence, a love letter. His tribute
to Richard Donner's 1978 original Superman,
is so steeped in Donner homage, Donner respect, Donner re-invention
(add awful pun on Turkish food here) that you get the impression
that Singer dived into a bowl of Donner soup and has yet
to surface for air. John Williams' main theme is intact
as is the style of the main titles. There is something almost
anti-art about re-making a movie just so you can shoot it
in colour and call it a modern film (who will ever remember
Gus van Sant's Psycho?) but what Singer
has done is create a sequel to a film (we are dismissing Supermans II, III and IV, I see), a film which he gleefully quotes
from visually and word-for-wordily very often. He has made
his 'we are not worthy' movie as a superb piece of Hollywood
kitsch. I had always thought Singer would provide the kitsch
and sink (sorry but some word-play is irresistible) but
his Superman flies and in a way that is
both celebratory and a wonder to behold. There is a large
thorn in the movie's side but all in good time.
plot is a mere crystal trifle. Superman returns from his
holidays (he had to see for himself his shattered home world)
and finds that not only has his adopted world gone to hell,
but Lois has shacked up with another man, had a baby and
won a Pulitzer for writing an editorial on why the world
does not need Superman. Not only that but arch nemesis Lex
Luthor is out of prison and rich (Supes did not appear as
an appeal witness so Lex walked, a free man) and he's snooping
about in Superman's Fortress of Solitude. He finds alien
crystals and decides to create continents (as you do) for
personal gain. Superman has to come to terms with his feelings
for Lois and defeat Lex whose new continents boast DNA of
pure Kryptonite. So in Lex-land, Superman is merely a man,
weakened enough to truly have the Kryp kicked out of him.
is a word that Richard Donner had the cast and crew learn
on the set of his first and only crack at the man of steel.
The word was 'verisimilitude' - six snappy syllables meaning
simply 'the appearance of being true or real'. His cast
and crew duly went about their task creating a world in
which the existence of Superman is gradually woven into
society and accepted in the Donner-world as being 'real'.
For some unimaginable reason, Donner then let his Lex Luthor
(Gene Hackman) ham it up so much that no scenery was safe
from his incisors and I swear he had trotters on the ends
of his legs. To work that hard to usher in a super-strong
alien into the world of the late 70s and make it real (except
for that teenager running shot which has always looked utterly
stupid) and then ruin it all by making the villain more
arch than arch nemesis was such an odd creative decision.
I can only think of it being the equivalent of making a
ship super-buoyant at the front and drilling a massive hole
in the hull at the rear.
then Hackman had one of the best all-time lines of fantasy
cinema history: "We all have out faults. Mine's in
California." referring to the San Andreas fault that
will, by the explosion of a nuclear missile, tip the whole
west coast of America in to the ocean. Take a bow, Mario
Puzo. As a sub-textual tour de force, that line beats "My
father made him an offer he couldn't refuse," hands
down. But then the latter was probably Coppola adapting
Puzo's Godfather novel.
has been wise to be as earnest in his film-making as Donner
was (almost) in his verisimilitude. Yes, Luthor is still
something of a pantomime hiss-receiver but played by Kevin
Spacey, he's entertainingly evil and thoroughly enjoying
himself. On newcomer Brandon Routh; I'd seen stills and
a few clips and I was willing to suspend my disbelief at
his potential. Not only is Routh marvellous in the role,
he does two things which I hitherto thought nigh on impossible.
He inherits the role from Reeve and simultaneously he re-creates
Reeve's performance. But the fact that this is a good thing
makes his achievement all the more remarkable. Yes, he's
not in your face but then Superman, by definition, has to
be somewhat reserved. I mean, once you've saved a wingless,
stricken airplane and gently landed it in the middle of
a packed baseball stadium amidst huge roars of approval,
you have to have a little humility - and extraordinarily,
Routh pulls it off.
two and a half hours fly (ahem) by and you care about what
super-snooping Superman sees with those X-ray peepers of
his in the Lane household. Lois has shacked up with Cyclops
(James Marsden of X-Men fame) and is trying
her very best to put Superman behind her, so to speak. So
now we enter into the 'hero has a rival for romantic attention'
territory and here is where the movie scores so highly.
The usual Hollywood schtick is that the boyfriend/husband
of the heroine is a well meaning but ultimately replaceable
romantic partner. Not only does Marsden hold his own in
the love triangle, he's also a tortured hero because he
knows he cannot compete with Superman. But the fact that
Superman accepts this and lets his rival stay with Lois
is a real triumph of adult behaviour in a summer blockbuster.
It is to the film makers' credit that they didn't just push
Marsden away and let Superman have his super-way. In a sense,
Marsden's character is the Lois common denominator and he
grounds the movie in a way a man who can fly cannot.
here's the rub. In 1978, Lois Lane was an unconventionally
attractive woman with high ambition and a heart of steel.
To get under her defences, you needed a crowbar and the
strength of a rhino. Margot Kidder was perfect - just attractive
enough, iconoclastic almost and it seemed that she shouldn't
have been cast because in a big summer movie, she should
have been more... uh... conventionally attractive. Kidder
ran with it, gave it her all and proved worthy of the attention
of the world's most eligible pyjama-clad god. Now I am about
to stray into gender politics so forgive me if the PC waters
seem a little choppy. Lois Lane, as played by Kate Bosworth,
belongs in another movie. I do not know if her performance
is the result of her being cast and directed by a gay man
(does one's sexuality affect casting decisions? Of course!
You cast whom you find attractive hoping the audiences agree
with you) but Bosworth gives us an independent movie performance
which sticks out like a 747 in a baseball stadium. She's
tortured but exhibits low energy. She's broody but not all
there. She's not worthy of anyone's rabid attention and
shrugs off life threatening experiences that would put normal
mortals on the counsellor's couch for six months. She's
Teflon and Lois Lane needs to be the woman for whom Superman
turns back time for. In Superman Returns,
she's a mousy career woman with all the presence of an animated
set decoration. If actors were words, then Bosworth is Rachel
Weisz in italics. She just never seemed, ironically, to
be on the page.
a small gripe in a big movie. If I had another small gripe,
it would be in the whole cast not realising with (ahem)
crystal clarity that the bumbling oaf in the Daily Planet's
office is, in fact, Superman (by any other name but Clark
Kent will do for now). The movie flirts with this obvious
non-recognition flaw (and with the gleeful pop-art abandon
that Russell T. Davies had making the stair-bound Dalek
fly; "Elevate!") but it didn't get in the way
too much of a summer blockbuster that deserves a sequel.
The door is left ajar (as summer blockbusters' doors are,
given the franchise potential) with the mysterious identity
of the film's moppet character, Lois' son. Is he really
Superman's progeny? The way that grand piano despatched
a villain suggests this, as does Routh's touching soliloquy
to the boy he knows is his offspring. All we need now is
the dog. With a cape.
we end with Lex stuck on a desert island (not the best fate
for a man with such global dominance ambitions) and despite
the running time I expected a final showdown between Superman
and Luthor. It never materialised but I had spent a good
two and a half hours caring enough for these characters
that the ending wasn't such a downer. Many have commented
upon the religious iconography. To that I say, stuff it.
This is Superman, not Jesus. Allegorise all you want. Superman
doesn't need to be nailed to a tree to be heroic. He's Superman...