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SUPERMAN RETURNS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Eva Marie Saint, Parker Posey, Kal Penn, Sam Huntington, Kevin Spacey
Director: Bryan Singer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 154 Minutes
Release Date: November 28, 2006

“Come on, let me hear you say it, just once.”

“You’re insane.”

“NO! NO, not that, the other thing. Come on, I know it’s on the tip of your tongue.”

“Superman will never…”

“WRONG!!!!!”

Film ***1/2

With last year’s Batman Begins thankfully recreating a superhero movie franchise that sorely needed it, this year saw the rebirth of not only another franchise, but perhaps the most beloved and iconic comic book superhero of all time. Superman had been away from the screen for nearly twenty years, and in light of the lackluster third and fourth installments of the original movie series, the Man of Steel has been given a bold cinematic reincarnation in the form of Superman Returns.

And just as Batman Begins was supplied the perfect director to return some dignity to the saga, Christopher Nolan, the Superman series has received the same invigorating treatment courtesy of Bryan Singer. The director of first two X-Men movies, Singer left the directing duties of the third X-Men installment to Brett Ratner, in order to fulfill a personal dream; one that so many directors from Kevin Smith to Brett Ratner himself weren’t able to get off the ground.

And Singer’s vision is the prime factor that breathes amazing life back into the adventures of the Planet Krypton’s lone survivor. Singer, along with the same technical crew that assisted him on the X-Men movies have painstakingly crafted a marvelous looking production loaded with standout special effects and a superb story that serves the Superman series just right. One thing’s clear, Bruce Wayne isn’t the only one who’s made a larger than life comeback.

In a smart move, Singer credits the story to taking place after the events in Superman II. For the past five years, Superman has left his responsibilities on Earth. But on one quiet night in the town of Smallville, he makes a surprising return. It takes some time for Clark Kent (Brandon Routh) to recuperate from his crash landing back on earth, but after remembering the joy of discovering his powers in his youth, he makes a decision to return to his life in Metropolis.

And his return couldn’t have come at a better time. His arch nemesis, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has stumbled onto what could be his most horrifically ingenious plan yet. After conning his way into a fortune, Lex uses the money to place in his possession crystals from the Fortress of Solitude. It is with these crystals that Lex plans to shift the landscape of the planet, resulting in many natural disasters.

Meanwhile, as Clark makes his return to Metropolis, he is welcomed back with open arms by everyone, except of course for his stern boss, Perry White (Frank Langella). At his side once again is enthusiastic photographer Jimmy Olson (Sam Huntington). But the one thing catching Clark’s attention of course is Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth).

The romance between Lois and Superman is the heart of the story. During Superman’s absence, Lois wrote a piece entitled “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman”. Obviously heartbroken, Lois moved on with her love life, not only having a serious relationship with the boss’ son, Richard White (James Marsden), but also giving birth to a boy. Clark is devastated…but then his alter ego is soon called into action.

What I most anticipated about Superman Returns, of course, were the action scenes. I remember seeing the original film as a child and just being blown away by the sheer sight of Superman flying from disaster to disaster and saving everyone and everything. But for this film, the action sequences are every bit as remarkable and breathtaking as I expected.

The first big scene is when Superman flies in to rescue an airline carrying a space shuttle. I don’t want to give a hint of the scene away in terms of what you’ll see visually, but if your going to open a movie like this with nearly a half hour of story setup followed by a big action scene, this is how you want it to be.

And it doesn’t end there. Before long, the Man of Steel is placed in a jeopardizing position as he and Lex Luthor are brought face to face. Plus, I shouldn’t forget a lengthy and involving scene where Superman rescues a sinking ship vessel.

Plus, let me just say for the record…the shot of the bullet bouncing off of Superman’s left eye, which you may have seen in the trailer…is absolutely priceless.

So the big question posed by Superman Returns is how does newcomer Brandon Routh fair as the Man of Steel? For my money, he fits the role just right. Much was made about Routh’s clear channeling of Christopher Reeve in his performance. In my opinion…nothing wrong with that. First of all, the late Mr. Reeve will always be remembered in the hearts of all moviegoers as Superman, and to have a newcomer do nothing short of paying homage to that presence is quite fitting. But Routh does make his presence felt in the role as well. He and Ms. Bosworth have a nice level of chemistry that matches the same delivered by Reeve and Margot Kidder.

For my money, this is Kevin Spacey’s show. No other actor was better suited to bring a mix of menace and  over the top audacity to the role of Lex Luthor. Spacey brings his usual charisma to the role and throws in lots of humor along the way. It’s a marvelous piece of scenery chewing, and Mr. Spacey should be commended thoroughly for it.

So it goes without saying that just like The Dark Knight, another beloved comic book superhero has been given another life on screen, and is here to stay in light of the results. Superman Returns is a purely outstanding superhero epic, with a rich story and marvelous visuals to boot. Credit Bryan Singer and his talented crew for making us believe, once again, that a man can fly!

Video ****

For lack of a better word, the anamorphic transfer from Warner Bros. is SUPERRIFIC! Right from the beginning, the picture excels in sharp, crisp image quality and amazing use of colors. So many colors are used in different scenes, and they all turn up in fantastic form. No matter how dark or light the scene is, the quality is always at a hundred percent!

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix is the real showstopper here, and the absolute best sound format you will associate the Man of Steel with. The classic John Williams music score, along with John Ottman’s original material, play off grandly through the channels. And its in the action scenes where you’re senses will be rocked! When that airliner makes it’s landing during that first big scene, have your ears prepared! Dialogue delivery is terrifically clear as well, making this one of the most fantastic audio presentations of the year!

Features ****

First off, make sure you pick up this Two Disc Special Edition, because otherwise you’ll be deprived of the awesome features included.

Disc 2 includes the extras, starting with a five part, nearly 3 hour documentary titled “Making Superman Returns: From Script to Screen”, which has got my vote for best behind the scenes documentary of the year! Also featured are additional documentaries titled “Designing Superman: From Art and Costume Design to Set Construction”, “The Joy of Lex: Behind the Scenes with Kevin Spacey” and a look at how the filmmakers recreated the character of Jor-El, using Marlon Brando’s voice no less! Lastly, there are 10 additional scenes and a trailer gallery.

Summary:

If you were awaiting a monumental return of Superman, then Superman Returns has delivered that return that was so much worth the wait. Both the film and the Two Disc Special Edition are high-flying and worth your time! What an entertaining adventure!

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