In an era of Batman Begins, Sin City, Spiderman, and 300, it's easy to forget that there was a time when a movie based on a comic book wasn't a sure thing. For an example of a spectacular misfire, Spawn comes to mind; the movie was so obsessed with making the film look like a comic book that it actually FELT like you were watching a comic book, complete with isolated panels, minimal movement, and jarring transitions between scenes. One moment Spawn's threatening some guy and the next he's standing on some building with his really fabulous cloak whipping in the wind.
Similarly, Superman is a visually beautiful movie that has nowhere to go. The iconic scenes of Superman basking in the sun's rays, or hovering about the Earth listening for crime, or when he's actually doing something heroic (which happens far too infrequently) fail to cover up the complete lack of a coherent plot. For example:
Superman's been gone for years…one assumes that whatever he discovered on his long journey would have something to do with the plot. Nope.
Lex Luthor has discovered Superman's Fortress of Solitude and plans to create an entire continent out of a hybridized Kryptonite. Surely that means Superman won't even be able to get NEAR the place, right? Nope.
Once said "continent" shows up, it's clear that the whole thing is patently uninhabitable. This is Lex's big plan, to create a rock formation and play cards while he waits for…people to call him and offer him money or something? Surely he must have more up his sleeve? Nope.
Heck, the world's changed a lot since Superman's been gone, right? Wouldn't it make sense to really pound home how different Earth is, with it's global warming, crazy politics, and pop starlets? Nope. Instead, the crazy new world is supposed to be summed up with a kid taking a picture of Superman with his cell phone-that's right, the kid scooped the Daily Planet with just his camera phone! ISN'T THAT WACKY?
Superman Returns is very much a movie in love with the original and, while visually faithful, it's a very poor imitation. Yes, Brandon Routh looks like a spitting image of Christopher Reeves, but he has no real acting chops to display since he barely speaks. Kate Bosworth is far too young and whiny as Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) still wears a bowtie for some reason, and the rest of the cast is too caught up in being iconic comic book characters to be memorable. Even the amazing Kevin Spacey can only be a marginally cartoonish Lex Luthor, jarringly transforming into a murderous thug at the movie's climax.
The pacing is all wrong. Superman saving Lois from a plane crash is great. Superman fighting criminals with belt-fed chain guns is excellent. Superman drowning, Superman moping, Superman frustrated over Lois Lane, Superman convalescing in a friggin' hospital? NOT GREAT.
Superman Returns has its moments, and if you squint your eyes it almost feels like the magic from the first movie has been captured. But then it's gone and the movie drags, and drags, and drags. Superman has been co-opted to be a Christ-like father-son parable and on the way Bryan Singer forgot what made the first Superman movie so great: it was FUN!
I could have made a better movie with my camera phone.