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By special guest sen
ior analyst
Sarah "You Like Everyone" Garwood




 


SUPERMAN Returns (2006)  

Nothing endures quite like the tradition of our iconic heroes – and Siegel & Schuster’s Superman might just be the most vital of the pack. One could imagine that a child born and raised on a deserted island would instantaneously recognize Superman if the hero rocketed past, red cape whipping the wind in his sonic wake. As if Superman were an inherent part of the universe, birthed at creation on the fifth day with all other flying creatures, taught in the womb and then erased by an angel’s touch below and beneath the nostrils. For Superman could not possibly be a man made character drawn up in the 1930’s, but was surely the boyhood hero of Napoleon, the daydream of Socrates, the muse of Homer…and in many ways he was, wasn’t he…

This is why Bryan Singer’s addition to the mythology stands out not only for the pop culture relevance this summer (though nothing tops 1989 and Batman in that department), but, more importantly, from a sociological perspective: How is the 2006 Superman, as it reflects our definitions different than prior incarnations? With certain popular epics throughout history, the retelling in each generation reveals more about the society telling the tale than the characters within.

With this Superman, the first lesson is that those inheriting the adult world are painfully nostalgic for the simpler, more innocent times. With war, terrorism, raging storms, ticking clocks, dark horizons, and mortality looming, we can’t help but drift back to almost thirty years ago when we were young, hopeful, smiling, and mystified with glee at the spectacle of glorious Christopher Reeve in blue tights and the effervescence of John Williams score. I mean if “You’ve got me, who’s got you?” wasn’t just the most fantastically witty line a five year old ever was privileged to hear spoken.

Recently I’ve forced myself to sit through both predecessors to this film, Superman and Superman II. Although both films have their somber elements (Krypton’s fate, Lois being suffocated to death, a sense that Jon Cryer’s Lenny was lurking), the overarching mood is levity and an almost pathological inanity. Audiences today would never stand for the 1978 cure all – racing around the planet in reverse at hyper-speeds to turn back the clock. There is an entire sequence in Superman II where General Zod and cronies simply blow things on a Metropolis street – and the scene goes on endlessly replete with comedic setups (a man continues to talk on a payphone as he blows horizontally down the street). Today we like our comic based cinema dark and serious – perhaps to justify that we are spending our time and money watching what is essentially kid stuff. We deem ourselves sophisticated filmgoers not impressed in the slightest by blue screens, not interested in witnessing the innocent civilian emerging safely from the flipped vehicle. Let grandma die when a laser beam zaps her station wagon, because she would die in real life.  

The frightening reality of course being that the 2020 Superman will make our 2006 update look like a relic from a saccharine, all too tame past (when the project was Kevin Smith’s, a rejected script called for Superman’s death).

Somewhat surprisingly, Singer hedges his bets and while he does give us a Superman picture to satisfy our craving for the morbid, he tempers the experience with throwback elements, a nod to a time when Christopher Reeve was a strapping, dimpled Adonis. In Brandon Routh as Kent/Man one may almost forget temporarily that our generation’s Man of Steel died in mid-age in a decimated physical body. The performance by Routh appears purposefully a tribute to Reeve down to the bone structure, mannerisms, and the controlled sonar of a voice.

A questionable choice for Lois Lane in Kate Bosworth certainly caters to our unprecedented obsession with and deference to youth and babeliciousness over all other attributes in our actresses. But again, Singer keeps it copasetic by not once allowing Bosworth to be hot – no rescues on the beach, no x-ray vision underwear revelations – just conservative and refined reporter outfits. How confused we are.
 

Kevin Spacey takes on Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor and delivers a wild, pitch-perfect and diabolical performance. While Hackman’s Luthor may have strung a chunk of glowing green Kryptonite around Superman’s neck and laughingly tossed him in a shallow swimming pool, in 2006 Luthor has our hero beaten senseless, stabbed viciously with a dagger of Kryptonite (breaking the handle and leaving the poison embedded), and pushes our hero into the raging, unforgiving deep. The difference between the handling of the villains is jarring but at the same time, as a 2006 filmgoer, I appreciated it.

The film also provides the requisite 2006 version of action – stirring, graceful, and beautifully choreographed – although an action film this is not. Because this is the new millennium, while mindless action films exist, they are mostly made by mistake as opposed to thirty years ago when audiences had a much higher tolerance for machine gun spray and red flamed fire balls ascending.

What Singer’s Superman Returns intends to be is twofold and soaringly succeeds at both. It is principally the first installment of an intended series and therefore merely a vehicle to acclimate audiences to a new look and feel and familiarize the unfamiliar. And on its own, it is a work about heroes, both in a global context and more acutely in our own lives and relationships. In a time where the youth of this nation are fighting and dying to defend this country, the film argues that each one of us can be super under the right circumstance. How appropriate it is then that in the 2006 version of the legend, the most astounding display of heroism comes from a mere mortal named Richard.

Reviews by Jordan Hiller

Superman Returns

Strangers with Candy

Only Human

When Do We Eat?

Oscars 2006

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We Were So Beloved

Munich

Best of 2005 1995

Proof

Brokeback Mountain

Walk the Line

Match Point

Broken Flowers

The Constant Gardener

Crash

Protocols of Zion

Good Night and Good Luck

Everything is Illuminated

Wall

Red Eye

The Goebbels Experiment

The Island

Hustle & Flow

Cronicas

Batman Begins

House of "D"

Le Grand Role

The Ballad of Jack and Rose

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Million Dollar Baby

Assault on Precinct 13 (AP13)

A love song for Bobby Long

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Beyond the Sea

Hotel Rwanda

Spanglish

Sideways

Surviving Christmas

The Grudge

Vanity Fair

Door in the Floor

Before Sunset

Spider-Man 2

White Chicks


The Day After Tomorrow

Super Size Me

Godsend

Never Die Alone

Eternal Sunshine 

The Passion  

ALILA

Hiding and Seeking:  Faith and Tolerance after the 
Holocaust

Decryptage

The Ten Best Films of 1993 

The Statement

Big Fish

Hebrew Hammer

Forget Baghdad

The Missing

Master and Commander

Kill Bill

Trembling Before G-d

Girlhood

Veronica Guerin

Pieces of April

Wonderland

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Casa De Los Babys

Dummy

American Splendor

Gigli

The Holy Land

Return from India

The Shape of Things

City of Ghosts

Anger Management

Levity

The Guys

Assassination Tango

Gaudi Afternoon

Spun

Nowhere in Africa

Foreign Sister

Spider

L’chayim, Comrade Stalin
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Divine Intervention

The Pianist

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Signs


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The Kid Stays in the Picture

MIB II

Minority Report

Insomnia

Spider-Man

Spring Movie Preview 2002

Panic Room

The Oscar Preview 2002

Royal Tenenbaums

Harry Potter

The Man who Wasn't There

From Hell

Training Day

Hearts in Atlantis

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

the others

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Jurassic Park III

A.I.

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The Mummy Returns

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15 Minutes

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The Mexican

Down to Earth

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SPECIAL EDITION:
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SPECIAL EDITION:
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Film Reviews:

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The United States of Leland


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Daily Coverage: HERE

Photo Gallery HERE


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Persona Non Grata



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