The Apathy and the Ecsatsy: Superman Returns
With every tidbit I heard about this movie, a little more of my interest in it waned. Brandon Routh seemed bland and cast on his resemblance to Christopher Reeve, if you squinted a bit. Let's not even talk about the news of Kate Bosworth's casting. Even the things others could get excited about left me feeling "meh" at best---Kevin Spacey as Luthor, for example, given that Mr. Spacey has never lit my world on fire as he has everyone else's. When the trailers came out, they didn't do a lot to alleviate my not caring very much.
Don't get me wrong, there was never any doubt I'd see it. It's a superhero movie. I saw Fantastic Four in the theater, and I represent 50% of the North American population that liked Hulk. And it's not like it had Cameron Diaz in it or anything like that. So, I was totally there, I just wasn't, you know, showing up in costume for the first midnight showing or anything. Not that I've ever done that. Well, ok, not in costume. I think.
But then the positive previews started rolling in. The critics seemed to love it. (Not Ebert, my sourpussed, brain damaged man. It wasn't directed by Joel Schumacher, you see.) Early audiences seemed to love it. Weird. But my early reservations were too strong and too comprehensive to be altered substantially by the buzz. I went in with more or less zero expectations and my innate inclination to like to like things. And from that perspective, it was at least 32% better than I was expecting it to be (that puts it 15% behind Troy according to the adorable darling angeltiger scale).
Brandon Routh, at least as Superman, was nowhere near as lackluster as I was anticipating. He still isn't a patch on Christopher Reeve as far as charisma goes, but he has more going for him than a superficial resemblance to The Man himself. In fact, I feel like some of the pains they took to play up the resemblance (e.g., the uberfake blue contacts and . . . whatever it was they did to his skin and the suit [it looked nauseatingly like they'd injected all of his skin with a layer of fake butter or something]) did him a disservice. His portrayl of Superman wasn't perfect. He seemed less mature and more self-absorbed than Reeve's Superman, but that's a fault of the script (and casting) more than a fault with Routh.
As for Routh's Clark Kent? Well, I wasn't wild about it. They never seemed to commit to the reality that Clark is a spazz the way they did in the '78 version---giving Routh horrible, horrible slimy hair, but completely chic glasses was half-assed. But the bigger flaw, again, is in the script: The best of Clark Kent is his relationship with the folks at the Planet, especially Lois. But somehow, in a film exceeding 2.5 hours, they managed to skip nearly all the charm of the newsroom. Still, given that I expected Routh to be a disaster, I'm calling him a net positive.
As for Spacey, well, I'm still waiting for him to wow me, but he was also neutral to positive in my opinion. Yeah, he's playing Hackman playing Luthor, but that appears to be what Singer wanted. I might argue with that decision on Singer's part, given the fact that Hackman was a giant dick about playing Luthor, but Spacey seems to have had a ball tackling the role from that angle. And you've got to love all the incarnations of his beautiful rock hair.
Although I was relieved to find that Routh was not a complete trainwreck, my most pleasant surprise in the movie has to have been James Marsden. My only exposure to him is in the X-Men trilogy, and in the immortal words of Joss Whedon, via Wolverine: He's a dick. And, let's face it, the majority of the scripts for the three X-Men movies are meant to bury any acting ability in a trough 6 feet deep, unless you're Hugh Jackman. So I was delighted to find Marsden quite personable as The Other Man.
Furthermore, given that they seem to have felt it absolutely necessary to saddle Lois with a kid and a significant other during Superman's little walkabout, I was relieved to find that they did not go in the most cliched direction possible. I liked that Richard was not a Dick. I liked that he got to be the ordinary everyday hero to the boy who he may or may not know is not his son. I liked that he seemed to trust and respect Lois, rather than being a macho poseur or a desperate stalker in the making.
Parker Posey was another plus in the supporting cast. I loved her outrageous costumes and her over-the-top freak outs. (Although I was glad that they explained that Lex had gone for extra authenticity by REALLY cutting her breaks [ETA: That's BRAKES, of course. I M so smart. S M R T], because I was annoyed by what seemed to be gratuitous girly screams during the car scene.) There were times, though, when it seemed like she didn't get the memo to Lex's entourage that they should, under no circumstances, act. I'm not knocking her---watching the minute when she drinks the Superman Kool-Aid (uh, that sounds disgusting, doesn't it?) gave me a little shiver, and she made you see not only the moment when she changes sides, but the why behind it---but the relentless dull surprise of the rest of the henchmen made her performance somewhat jarring.
I've also got to give a shout out to Sam Huntington as Jimmy Olsen. The boy was born to play the role, and he didn't squander the opportunity to do so. As M pointed out, the biggest strength of a performance that could easily have been a complete throwaway was the fact that this was Jimmy Olsen growed up just a little bit. He was still fundamentally the kid who keeps Clark from being the biggest nerd on the newsdesk, but he was just that much more comfortable in his skin, aware that he was the insider relative to Clark, and not enough in awe of the big kids that he wouldn't play that up, just a bit.
If you've got Frank Langella, it's a shame not to give him more to do. Also, I like a little more Kolchak in my Perry White, and I couldn't help being a great girl's blouse about the fact that Hugh Laurie didn't get to play the role. But he was fine. Not a huge positive, but not a drain either.
And, really, even Kate Bosworth wasn't . . . actively . . . a drain. She was just glaringly not Lois Lane. I don't say that out of loyalty to Margot Kidder. (If anything, Dana Delaney is probably my definitive Lois.) I think Kidder was a very strange casting choice indeed for Lois Lane, but there were certain fundamental things about Lois that she "got." She had the edge and the disregard for social niceties that make talking to Lois akin to being hit in the head by a 2x4. Bosworth had none of that. I'm not sure what it was that Bosworth did have, other than the body to fill out a truly divine dress (even though neither she nor anyone but Lex knows how to pronounce "Pulitzer").
But, again, the nice thing about no expectations (other than the fact that Nanci Griffith and the Blue Moon Orchestra do a kick-ass cover of it) is the fact that one can be satisfied with the Lois Lane from the Neutral Planet. Probably Bosworth should be detailing Jessica Alba's car every weekend for bringing us, as a nation, to a lower place with regard to our expectations for heroines in superhero movies.
I have a masochistic desire to see what the script looked like, because I'm still stunned that the movie was 2.5 hours. I kept saying to M, "Um, not much actually happened. How could it have been 2.5 hours?" I mean, I understand that a lot did happen in terms of racking up the homages to the original movie. That's probably a good move on Singer's part (and no doubt in large part responsible for the rave reviews from folks who are still mourning Christopher and now Dana Reeve), but as I'm neutral-to-meh on the original, it didn't exactly have me glued to my seat.
Aside from the length, there were a number of goofy things that wouldn't have irked me if I'd been more engaged. For example, it's tremendously difficult to worry about whether or not Superman is breathing when I've just seen him in space. Likewise, I felt like telling the bank robbers with their crane and ultramodern gatling gun (yes, I know it's some modern hoity toity military thing that actually exists) that they were probably looking for the set of the Bond film, two sound stages over.
Still, all in all, I had the luxury of being pleasantly surprized by the movie, which is not a bad place to be. The Avengers? Now that's a bad place to be.