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SUPERMAN RETURNS
U.S. Release Date: June 28, 2006
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Bryan Singer
Writer: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Producer: Gilbert Adler, Scott Mednick (executive), Jon Peters, Bryan Singer, Thomas Tull (executive)
Composer: John Ottman, John Williams (original themes)
Cast: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Kal Penn
Running Time: 2 hours and 34 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (some intense action violence)

New Superman Has Feet of Clay
by Scott Holleran

Not terrible, not terrific, Superman Returns lacks power. Newcomer Brandon Routh as the strapping, handsome hero is not the problem. Most everyone pretty much does their job, but director Bryan Singer's revival is one long slog through a movie we have seen before.

Taking a half hour to get its bearings, the cherry-picked story apparently takes place after Superman: The Movie and Superman II, when Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane and Superman finally had sex. An exciting flight rescue offers a glimpse of Superman's supreme confidence and puts us squarely in present-day Metropolis.

It also introduces Lois, miraculously younger than she was 26 years ago—and the age difference impairs her character's ability to get swept up by Supe. At the low end of twentysomething, Lois (Kate Bosworth) now drives a luxury car, has a child out of wedlock, lives in a mansion with her boss (James Marsden), to whom she is not married—sleeping with Perry White's (Frank Langella) nephew hasn't helped her afford a haircut or a sitter for the kid—and, by the way, she has a Pulitzer.

Nothing against Kate Bosworth, in stringy black hair, but Lois is too preoccupied being superwoman to pine convincingly for Superman, who has a vague role as the world's savior. Margot Kidder's tenacious reporter had yet to achieve her career highs and she was a bit of a mess, and the contrast with clean-cut Superman added a deeper dimension to the bond. Kidder and Christopher Reeve were magnetic.

Routh's Man of Steel lacks purpose. He returns to earth after trying to find his home planet Krypton. Barely speaking to his adoptive mother (Eva Marie Saint, looking lost), he randomly flashes back to boyhood (and teases his dog in a way that seems cruel) and he eventually shows up at the Daily Planet building as Clark Kent after an absence of years. When he tries to reconnect his relationship with Lois, she snaps: "what relationship?"

Lois is neither the best nor the brightest, leaving her son stranded, taking him on assignment, dragging the child along as she trespasses and delivering him into the company of a serial killer. How can Lois be the world's greatest reporter at 23 and as street savvy as a supermodel? Welcome to the strange new world of Superman, where the tongue is nowhere near the cheek.

With Lois and child in imminent danger at the hands of Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), who plans to set up a new continent of jagged rocks with a band of speechless thugs and Parker Posey—go figure—Superman springs into high gear. In his finest moment, he rises from the earth to literally bask in the sun.

But there's precious little of Superman, the exalted, and too much of Superman as Christ, arms outstretched, looking down, suffering and depending on others to save him. That last bit is an overwhelmed subplot about reciprocity and the reality of truly super men and it might have worked, thanks to good scenes between Routh and Marsden.

Like his core principles, described here as truth, justice and something other than the American way, the Man of Steel is ultimately reduced to near-mortal status. Director Bryan Singer tried to have it every which way—soap opera, epic, modern relevance—and ended up with too much movie and not much to say. That Superman is downsized comes with today's cultural territory: he aches and he broods, the hero with hospitalized feet of clay—this is Superman, right?—and, when he does take flight, he's a speck on the horizon; humbled, insignificant and noticeably smaller than life.


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