Thursday, January 04, 2007

On Being Way Behind
Finally saw Superman Returns. Liked it. Didn't love it. If I were a reviewer in a newspaper I would probably give it three stars, although in all honesty it would just barely eke over my personal two and a half star mark. Why?

To me, the producers main failing was in, to put it in cliched terms, trying to have their cake and eat it too. In making this film, Brian Singer could have started over with an origin film - indeed I expect that's what most expected. But he liked the first two films and wanted to honor them by not starting over from scratch, as the Batman Begins creators did. He wanted to continue the story they started, in a way (while skipping over the universally-deemed wretched Superman III and Superman IV). And I not only respect that, I love it. I think it was a great idea and the right way to proceed with the franchise.

But he (or, most likely more accurately, Warner Bros.) also wanted to build a franchise that could go on for a while, for many years to come. So they cast young actors in the leads. And with that simple move the whole thing starts to crumble. Because Kate Bosworth is not believable as the same character started by Margot Kidder. Acting talents aside, she's too young. She doesn't look like a seasoned, scrappy reporter, but like an intern. And Superman, similarly, comes across as the Superman who, just weeks ago, was Superboy - as Superman first starting to become Superman. Not as an experienced Superman who has been away for five years. It seems simple, but throughout the entire film I couldn't stop thinking of Superman as Lois as too young - as kids playing Superman and Lois, and not as Superman and Lois.

On top of that, the script did Bosworth no favors by writing Lois as blandly as possible. What makes Lois an interesting character is her obnoxiousness, her moxie, her spirit, her wit. Not that she's pretty. This is why Margot Kidder was so good in the role - she was pretty, but not like Bosworth is. Posters of Bosworth are probably hanging up in college dorms all over the country as I type. In the late 70s, I doubt such was the case for Margot Kidder. And that's (partly) why she was so right for the role. She has a character actress-look, not an ingenue look. But more importantly than the casting was the writing. Lois had no spark, no idiosyncrasies, not character. She was just the smart, pretty brunette. Bleh. Even Clark wasn't as specific and character-based as he was in the earlier movies. The difference between Clark and Superman was there, but much shorter than it was for Christopher Reeve. And, again, I (mostly) fault the script, not the actors.

As for the plot - it had some nice elements, but yet another prison escape/maniacal, destructive land grab by Luthor felt very much like overkill. I liked the "Superman's been gone" bit, and the stuff with Superman and Lois' kid was done well, but the same-old feel to the threat of the villain and the whole "jealousy of Lois' fiance bit felt very stale and lazy. And some bits were just laughably stale -moldy in fact. Luthor seducing an old lady, Producers style, to regain a fortune to wreak havoc with? And starting the film with that hoary bit of business? And Parker Posy's character felt like a complete retread. A Luthor mistress is moved to from villainy to compassion by Superman's inate goodness. Yawn.

So why the overall positive grade? It sounds silly, but it's the effects and production. And for a superhero movie - especially a Superman movie - this is no small facet. Stuff I've always wanted to see was there and executed gorgeously. The mid-air rescue, the speed of flight, the catching of immense objects, the out-flying fire, the hovering-in-space-stuff, the heat vision, the x-ray vision, even the foiled bank robbery all had me feeling like a kid again. And in some ways, this was the most important part to get right. After all, a better script can be written for the sequel, with better characterization and plot, and Bosworth and Routh are only going to get older and more seasoned. But the visual world they've created, the visual way they show Superman in action, can't be swapped out so easily or seamlessly. So, as much as the little fantasy world in my head keeps telling me what a wonderful Lois Lauren Graham would make, I am very much optimistic about how whatever they call the sequel will turn out.
Until Whenever

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