In the prolog we learn that Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El had left to see the remains of his home world, Krypton. As the movie opens, he returns after a five year absence to find the world he had once fought to protect may have out grown him. Since his departed, Lois Lane has moved on with out him and had a son of her own (who's the dad? If you've seen Superman II... you know the answer.)
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor gets out of jail by sucking up to a rich woman and convinces her that he's turned his life around. As she dies, she makes Luthor the soul heir in her will, then Luthor uses her resources to plot his revenge against Superman. Also, he concocts this elaborate scheme to use Kryponian technology to corner the Real Estate market by obliterating much of the western world while creating a new continent.
As for the actual motion picture...
"Superman Returns" reminds me of why I love comic books and comic book movies, they dare reinvent to some extent of a character that everyone knows and loves, bring him to the height of heroism, dares to bring that character to the lowest of the low moments and despair then to have that character over come all of his hardships and triumph in the end.
It's as if real fans of the Comics and the Movies asked: "What's the absolute worst thing you can do to a character?" What horrible (and entertaining) things can do to one of the most beloved characters of all time? Steal from him? Use his resources, his history and heritage against him? Stab him in the back before throwing him off a cliff? Take a way the woman he loves and have her fall in love with someone else? Ruin his reputation?
Rack up every imaginable and unimaginable thing you can think of and throw at Superman. Go ahead. And then call it "Superman Returns" and set it lose upon the viewing audience. What the writers and directors do to Superman and what they make him go through is far beyond what we see most other characters endure. Superman is invincible? Not if you have a mere mortal and super-genius such as Lex Luthor with a entourage of other genuinely evil cohorts who are not afraid to attempt to beat a mother to death in front of a 5 year old boy and then attempt to drown a man who devoted his life to literally save the world time and again.
What surprised me the most about "Superman Returns" is that the makers of this film updated the characters and the situations to fit in with the modern and contemporary world while turned the clock back in regards to many of the sets that take place in Metropolis. Superman Returns has a very Film Noir feel to it at times, many of the Metropolis sets (such as The Daily Planet) have a definite Art Deco flavor to it. It's also "Film Noir" in the sense that you have a fine man trying to do good in a world growing ever darker. Even if you can fly faster then a speeding bullet and infinitely more powerful then a locomotive, what's the point when it seems at times the world either says it doesn't want or need you any more if it isn't outright against you? There are times when I felt that I was watching the kind of movie they only dared to make in the 1940's and early 1950's, one of the best ways to describe "Superman Returns" is to place "Casablanca" or "Key Largo" into the comic book universe. In essence, that's exactly what this is.
But that's not to say Superman doesn't have his alley's in this movie. Round up the usual suspects, Lois Lane (Bitter and the fulcrum of a bizarre love triangle, played by Kate Bosworth) Jimmy "Golly, Gee Wiz" Olson (Sam Huntington,) Daily Planet Editor-In-Chief Perry White (Frank Langella) and of course Martha Kent (Eva Marie Saint)... and some surprising new characters, .... Richard White (Perry White's nephew played by James Marsden) all of these characters that we've met before in other versions of "Superman" are here, slightly tweaked and updated for the 21st Century while at the same time the spirit of the characters remain the same.
"They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you... my only son..."
With all the criticism that's been handed out towards this movie (it's too long, Brandon Routh either plays the roll to much or not enough like Christopher Reeve... too much/not enough is spent connecting this movie to the first two...) This is one bit of criticism it might really deserve: "Superman Returns" does sort of play it's hand too well with it's messages. "Superman Returns" is essentially a comic book movie full of metaphors and commentary about our new era...
Superman Returns is a retelling of the story of Christ with Superman being the savior of the world, the only son of the scientist who predicted the end of his own world. Also, Luthor plays Satan seeking to control the world while at the same time get the adoration he believes he deserves.
Lois Lane writes a story which earns her the Pulitzer Prize: "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman..." an obvious metaphor for our cynical media who likes to poke and jab at our own heroes such as the men and women who serve in the military. Yes, we do need those 'Supermen' and women who serve... with out them the journalists wouldn't be free to write or voice their own opinions.
Lex Luther tries to exploit technology he doesn't understand for personal gain and are oblivious to the long-term reproductions and are insensitive to the plight of the people he's victimizing - Luther could be representing just about anyone through out the modern world who takes actions with out caring a bit about the circumstances.
But the biggest message in this movie is about the needs for heroes. In a post September 11th world, we need heroes. We need them now more then ever. Not just make-believe heroes with extraordinary powers, we need ordinary everyday men to step up to the plate and do extraordinary things to end evil. What are you doing with your own special abilities? How are you using your talents to make this world a better place and what extremes are you willing to take or go to accomplish something for good?"Superman Returns" is obviously the best "Superman" movie made since the second one, and is the best comic book movie in recent memory. Whether this is good enough to rejuvenate the "Superman" movie franchise is a different question. Sure, the world needs real heroes now more then ever, and this movie demonstrates how we need to step up to the plate and work to accomplish more then we could ever imagine in times of crisis, but with a sequel to this movie up in the air the question needs to be raised - does the world really WANT Superman? The success of the next one will determine the answer to that question shortly...
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More articles from Ren can be found here: The Rant Archive