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Volume 71, Issue 147, Thursday, June 29, 2006


Welcome back, Superman!


METROPOLIS -- After all the anticipation, the hype and the estimated $250 million budget, Superman flies again ? with a more expensive price tag and the same effect that string and paper cutouts have on the imagination.

Bryan Singer blew off the opportunity to direct the third X-Men movie and moved on to his next epic project, Superman Returns. Much like Singer's work on the first two X-Men movies, Superman will leave diehard fans wanting more and fans with limited knowledge of the Man of Steel satisfied in their cozy seats. 

For an action film, the plot of Superman is strangely romantically centered. Superman (Brandon Routh) returns to Earth from searching the universe for the remains of his home planet and has found out that the world ? and perhaps Lois Lane ? have moved on without him.


After a five-year absence from Metropolis, Superman (Brandon Routh) arrives in time to save the world from another of Lex Luthor's (Kevin Spacey) plots. Superman Returns is the first theatrical release in 19 years featuring the DC Comics superhero.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

As his alter ego, Clark Kent, Superman returns to his old job at the Daily Planet, where he finds Lane (Kate Bosworth) with a 5-year-old son and a relationship with the paper's assistant editor, Richard White (James Mardsen).

If awkward moments with his former love weren't enough, Superman also faces the threat of one of his greatest foes: Lex Luthor. After escaping prison on a technicality and swindling a widow out of her fortune, Luthor (Kevin Spacey) returns to his old ways. This time, Luthor, who is surrounded by new henchmen and the feisty Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey), decides to "grow" his own continent that would kill millions ? no, billions ? of innocents. Indeed, this is a nefarious real-estate plan.

It's a movie, but the plot is recycled from the original: Superman chases Lane while trying to stop Luthor from conquering the world. Even Marlon Brando makes a cameo appearance at the Fortress of Solitude with the aid of special effects and stock footage.

There are, of course, lots of big-money action sequences that include Superman rescuing an airplane just before it slams into a baseball stadium and Luthor's new continent rising from the Atlantic Ocean ? it's nothing but spectacular.

But even with the staggering scenes, the film trips on its red cape and falls flat, mostly because of the questionable choices in casting. You can dress Routh in blue tights and a cape, but there is one truth that no amount of wardrobe and special effects can change: Routh is no Christopher Reeve.

Before he was Superman, Reeve was a classically trained actor, while Routh's résumé spans at least seven years' worth of TV appearances that include Undressed and One Life to Live. Reeve used his experience to add a sweet charm that Routh hardly delivered in the film. 

In the new Superman, only the villains have any presence. Spacey is on top of his game, delivering every line in a sadistic but humorous fashion. You have to chuckle a bit when you learn his grand plan to conquer the world includes crystals and ocean water.

Aside from the questionable casting, there are other flaws in this movie that can be forgiven: the cheesy love lines between Superman and Lois, the dragged-out, bittersweet ending and the family secret that will ruffle a few feathers among diehard fans. And then there's the thing that seems to constantly bombard the audience: the heavy Christ-like allegories. There are scenes that show Superman falling to Earth, arms spread wide; Superman being stabbed in the side with a shard of kryptonite; and many mentions of father-son relationships. I was expecting Superman Returns, not The Passion of Kal-El.

It's good to see classic heroes back on the screen for a new generation, but we must remember that not everybody needs a hero, just comic-book nerds. Besides, who wants a hero who has the capability of leaving you in awe, but fails to take off in flight?

Superman Returns

Rated: PG-13 for some intense action violence
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden and Parker Posey
Warner Bros.

Verdict: It's a bird! It's a plane! It's the same film with a glossier surface!

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