Monday, July 03, 2006

Why the world doesn’t need a “Superman Returns”

With all the unnecessary wars and the WMDs, the failed peace conventions and the abused treaties, the Bushs and the Saddams, the Blairs and the Ladens, racial discrimination and honor killings, the hate crimes and the child exploitation, the gender bias and the economic divide, the world still survives. And that is why we don’t need a Superman. We are fine without him.

With hundreds of remakes churned out every year in the name of revamped makeover for the new generation, entertainment pasted shamelessly in the face of ‘inspired’ tunes, robbed lyrics and creativity-starved albums, and the millions blown up in the superhero and spy – franchise in the hopeless attempt of combining dazzling special effects and daring stunts with the so-called ‘human’ side to their characters, the world still remains happily ‘entertained’. And that’s why we don’t need a “Superman Returns”. We are fine without it.

After a 19-year absence, the unquestionably most-popular superhero, the invincible (except for the stone Krypton and its numerous isotopes, smartly invented by the comic book authors for sheer lack of challenges for the superhero to beat) Superman makes a comeback in this strongly marketed and suitably product-placed version of the legend’s story that inspired generations of superheroes, back when it was released in 1938. But disappointingly, the comeback is all dazzle, no real body, all SFX, no real drama.

By now, everyone must know the story, so ubiquitous is the reach of this touted summer blockbuster – Superman (tailor made-to-Superman-size Brandon Routh) returns to the earth, after an absence of 5 years, during which he had been exploring the possibility of his home-planet Krypton being alive. But settling back into his ‘Daily Planet’ routine isn’t easy since a lot has changed, especially since the love of his life Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is engaged and has a kid (the ‘Anne Geddes’ cute Tristan Lake Leabu), with fiancé Richard White (James Mardsen) and has won a Pulitzer for her editorial “Why the world doesn’t need a Superman”, obviously venting out her frustration and hurt for Superman having left her without explanation. Gist of the tale: Life has moved on, Superman has to try hard to fit in or so it seems like, at first.

But nothing is impossible for the ‘Man of Steel’ and as soon as he lands, the world with its penchant for getting into troubles from which only superheroes could save them, witnesses a crashing plane, predictably with ‘fearless’ reporter Lois Lane onboard (the only one to be tossed around in the plane unceremoniously, yet managing to retain her flawless make-up and well-set hair, when the scene ends) making it doubly, supremely important for our superhero to employ all his super-strengths to rescue this one and he does it in such style that I must say, what a comeback, dude!!!

Superman’s arch nemesis, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has by then, secured Kryptonites and has an ambitious real-estate plan that involves submerging the present continents and raising sea floor to float new ones. What will happen in the end, is as predictable as bread falling down the buttered side, but the 2 and 1/2 hour duration needs us to meander through the usual labyrinth of scenes involving the hero (yawn) saving his lady and her family, the heroine risking it all (her kid too) to rescue her love, the ‘other’ man in her life assisting her, the baddies succeeding at first and then failing miserably, rest of them dying leaving the main Lex guy and his catty counterpart (Parker Posey)alive and marooned etc. etc. The only exceptional and slightly surprising thing being the feat of strength that masquerades as paternity test, which also gives a little twist to the otherwise predictable plot.

The best thing about this movie is the star – Brandon Routh, who brings earnestness and old world charm to the most beloved of all superheroes. With spell – binding good looks and the right amount of sensibility needed to balance the geeky Clark Kent and the stud superhero, Brandon creates quite an impression. In contrast, Kate Bosworth pales as Lois Lane and doesn’t seem more believable than a college girl who has a crush on Superman, definitely much lesser as a single mom facing emotional turmoil as a result of a super (literally) blast from the past coming into her life again, and even less as a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter dedicated to her job. Kevin Spacey alternates between darkly menacing and unintentionally hilarious, trying hard to send shivers down your spine while you smirk at his tom-foolery, especially in the scene where he reveals his new world-building plans to Lois and the rest of his team. It seems like he wanted to give the character a hint of ‘psychotic’, gleeful, deliciously sadist feel but somewhere lost his conviction during the making. As the result the character looks strangely demented, suffering from the ‘split personality’ syndrome instead of being acutely calculative and painfully egocentric.

The rest of the casting is ho-hum, nothing great except for the few spurts of liveliness brought in by Sam Huntington as assistant photographer Jimmy Olsen. The special effects in one word are – AWESOME, all the capitals justified. The plane crash scene was fantastic; only it need not have ended in a thundering applause for what seemed like a publicity craving, photo savvy Superman. They should have had the baseball audience be left too dumbstruck by the entire spectacle of Superman saving the plane to even whisper so that the real movie audience would have filled in with their applause, for so laudable a scene. Anyways, apart from the self- congratulatory scene, the other that sets the movie apart is the surreal, stunningly magical Superman – Lois rendezvous on the roof scene, which is so classically shot and beautifully choreographed that it is bound to take your breath away just like Lois’s. The cinematography is superb and the visuals breathtaking. In the later half of the movie, director Bryan Singer tries to pull off a James Cameron, while showing the ship being wrecked but even with all the SFX magic, it is unable to bring the heightened sense of emergency and impending danger that was such an emotional hell raiser in the unforgettable Titanic. However the visual realization of the ‘Fortress of Solitude’ and the clever usage of the archive footage of Marlon Brandon (Jor – El, Superman’s Dad) stand as a superb testimony to the love of labor of the SFX guys.

Director Bryan Singer has a decent storyline but it lacks soul. With high production values, a suitable cast, mind blowing SFX, this is a decent movie, but not as great as it aspires to be. Last year we had Batman returning to the silver screen, again in a polished product that lacked the necessary depth, especially since that particular superhero is known for his gray shades. Next year, we will have Spiderman back again, superbly reined by Sam Raimi so far. Apart from that we have the Fantastic Fours, Dare Devils, the Electras and also the super spies, no less than superheroes themselves. Besides them, we have had Neos, Vampire superheroes (aka Blade), a certain intriguing ‘V’, Star War super galactic fighters, Wonder Women, Catwomen, Ninja warriors, Harry Potters, Asian tigers and dragons and so many others, each grabbing our mind space while Superman was gone. So we have had it all: the dare – devilry, the stunts, the effects, the UQ (Unbelievability quotients), the budgets, the stars, the Flo-Mos, the bullet freezing, the gravity-defying leaps and of course the gadgetry.

So the question really is with all these superheroes and their summer blockbuster machinations, do we really need “Superman Returns”? And that too in a plot that doesn’t quite bring out what this alien crusader is completely capable of?

Whatever we choose to believe, Superman is back but he has not quite returned.

P.S I still can’t understand how he manages to hide his thick, leather red cloak inside his normal, office wear ???


Joshua Victor said...

I think your post should be aptly called "Why Brandon Routh is so hot". It is but obvious that you totally dig this guy. People don't even have to read between the lines.

You could've just written an poem on Brandon and saved us all a lot of trouble of reading the whole review with the hope of extracting a sensible perspective on Superman.

Then again, the review is justifiable and does reflect truly on how shallow some movies can be. The directors attempt to get the audience relate to the super heroes on the emotional level falls flat, if not handled properly.

Your 'arch' nemesis,

Gayatri Shenoy said...

I certainly dont want Superman Returns to return, ever ;-)
That was a neat mincemeat you made of that movie :-)
You Go Girl!!!

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