Superman Returns After 20 Years

“See you in twenty.”

And that was one of the last lines in the final Superman movie (Superman: The Quest for Peace) for Christopher Reeve. Who would have known that those words would have been prophetic. Twenty years later, The world is again lining up to watch the movie Superman Returns. It was a long journey for the latest Superman movie: The project passed so many directorial hands and different stories were conceptualized. In the end the project landed in the hands of Bryan Singer and the role of superman was given to a not so known actor Brandon Routh.

I watched the film twice. A few weeks ago my nephew told me he was not interested in watching the said film. And the reason was that he was a Batman fan. So I bought a a rather expensive ticket and decided to watch the film at Gateway Cinema 10, the cinema house filled with laz-y boy chairs and served bottomless popcorn and soda. The film was more than two hours long and I wanted to watch the film in a very comfortable position, semi-reclined on a laz-y boy with popcorn in hand. There was of course the Imax option and get the chance to watch select scenes in 3d but I opted for comfort. The day after I watched the movie my nephews approached me and asked when will we watch the movie. It turns out my other nephew was a Superman fan and so of we went to watch the movie again at the Cinema 5 at Gateway. So I ended watching the movie twice.

So was the twenty years wait worth it?

Superman and Batman is probably one of the two most popular icons that have come out the world of DC Comics. Both have effectively migrated to television series (Along with Wonder Woman) and movies (Unfortunately, Wonder Woman exsistance remains in TV land). Everybody knows who Superman and Batman is. The two have achieved the status of pop icons.

In the DC universe Superman and Batman are allies. But there have been times that they have become enemies. Although heroes and orphans both, the circumstances surrounding their lives are vastly different. Batman saw his parents killed before his eyes while Superman was spared the sight of the destruction of his planet and was adopted by the Kents, a childless couple living in Smallville. A product of their environments: Batman is a city boy while Superman is a country boy … a farm boy. Another interesting dissimalirity between the two is that Batman’s true identity is Bruce Wayne while Clark Kent’s true identity is Superman.

Sometime during the zenith of my comic collecting days a topic came up about god-like aspect of Superman. In that discussion it came out that Superman is for all intents and purposes was a god (If you think about it in the Greek sense nearly all heroes are gods and goddesses. Similar to Phobus, Superman was a sun god, The Sun is his source of power, our sun anyway. And because of this power “he is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” and nearly indestructible. except against kryptonite - the remaining pieces of Krypton -  Superman’s planet twice or thrice or several times destroyed on the silver screen and comic book pages. But like the Greek Gods, Superman displays also human traits. And he lives among us and vulnerable to emotions of humans around him and his own feelings

The movie tells the tale of a world bereft of Superman for five years. In his absence the world moved on.Lois Lane has a child and a partner. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor has been out on the loose and  doing dastardly deeds and concocting evil plans. To complicate things more, Superman while tackling this and doing good deeds on a daily basis has to come to terms with his role in the world significantly changed since he left. How does a hero gifted with extraordinary powers tackle with the problems of the world, amoral men, and a disenchanted ex- girl friend. Singer and company show us how.

Crafting the film using the template of the first two Superman movies Singer and company creates a movie that is a worthwhile ride for everyone - to those who watched Christopher Reeve play Superman more than twenty years ago, for those familiar with the myth of Superman, and for those stepping into the cinema to watch the Man of Steel for the first time. The film starts with the new interpretation of the destruction of Krypton, uses the voice of Marlon Brando, even the fonts used seem to have been taken from the first two movies. And the continuity pushes on with the adaptation of John William’s score and the orchestral rendition of the Can You Read My Mind song, weaved in between the score and making its presence slowly felt. What is different this time is the visual tapestry that Singer weaves around the story the manner by which Superman flies is now done with more finesse and his use of his special powers are more subtlely shown. One can really spot the difference in technology in between twenty years. I particularly enjoy the Singer’s salute to those who tackled the Superman myth before aside from adapting the trappings of the first two Superman movies and comics. Note the scene where Superman lifts a run-away car and look back at the first appearance of Superman on a comic cover this is the exact shot. And if you are familiar with the old Superman TV series from the 1950s you will note two familiar faces in the movie try to spot Noel Neill and Jack Larson who played Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Take note also of the pictures on the Kent Farm you will see a picture of Glen Ford, who played Jonathan Kent - the foster father of Clark. And if this were not enough Singer enhances the tale with visual canvass that is crisp and bright from the Kent’s Farmhouse to Metropolis. And my personal favourite scenes in the film is elevator scene (which featured a whimsical use of Cuando Cuando) and the impromptu piano recital on board Luthor’s yacht.

The cast also fit the story like spandex (in this movie’s case Milliskin was used) … well almost. Routh as Superman was the correct choice a virtual unknown being cast into the role of the Man of Steel does not bring any baggage and expectations from previous works. Although not as finely featured as Christopher Reeves Mr Routh was efectively able to transfer the mild manner demeanor and klutzy nature of Clark Kent and almost naive idealism of Superman. Spacey was near perfect rendition of Lex Luthor (based on the pompous narcissitic criminal genius previously played by Gene Hackman). However, if Hackman’s Luthor had delusions of grandeur Spacey’s Luthor is a  sociopathic genius. Hackman’s Luthor may be so full of himself but then again at a certain level he remains affable on the other hand Spacey’s Luthor would put fear into one’s vein.  Both Luthor’s share the same desire for land. As usual Spacey gives a top notch performance as the land-obssessed criminal genius. Not as good as Hackman’s portrayal of Luthor nor Nicholson’s take on the Joker but frightengly good enough. Kate Bosworth though seemed to have been cast  to demonstrate the frustration of Lois Lane against Superman and that is it. Otherwise her movie persona does not really out-shines or approach Margot Kidders portrayal of a streetwise and determined news reporter. The rest of cast are great in their role of defining movie. And most of the actors do have lineage with other Super Heroes. The Editor in Chief of the Daily Planet is played Frank Lagella (AKA Skeletor in the film adaptation of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe) or his nephew/partner of Lois is played by James Marden (AKA Cyclops). And his enemy Luthor is played by the man also known as Keyser Soza.

Singer and company does deliver and what we see is a sequel painstakingly and reverently produced in the mold of the first Superman movies. There is enough here to satisfy the die-hard Superman fans and the new fans of Superman. And it does have all the requisite explosive action scenes, interaction with Lois Lane, cliff hangers, and jaw-dropping scenes made realistically possible through special effects, and there is much more. Aside from the conventional obstacles this Superman has to face inner demons of an outsider and the call to be altruistic: to dance into the flame to save humanity. Yet in the end he has to decide what is there to live for and what is his purpose in life.  Something all of us are familiar with. So yes, to the question. This movie is worth the long wait.

Superman Returns
Directed by Bryan Singer. Sreenplay written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris. Story by Bryan Singer,Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris. Characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Cast: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Sam Huntington, Eva Marie Saint, Marlon Brando, Kal Penn, David Fabrizio, Ian Roberts, Vincent Stone, Jack Larson, and Noel Neill

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