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June 27, 2006 > Superman Returns

Superman Returns

Directed by Bryan Singer

by Jeremy Inman

Don't be surprised when the neighborhood kids start tying bath towel capes around their necks and wearing their underwear outside their pants. Superman Returns premieres Wednesday, June 28, and it's going to be huge!

Fresh off his wildly successful run on the first two X-Men films, director Bryan Singer switched studios to direct Superman Returns, a dream of his since he saw the Christopher Reeve films as a child. Singer wanted to direct both X-Men and Superman Returns, but had to choose one over the other. He certainly chose wisely.

Chronologically, Singer's Superman story picks up five years after the original Superman II, ignoring the mediocre third and fourth films of the franchise. After defeating General Zod in Superman 2, the Man of Steel mysteriously disappears for five years. The new film begins, as the title suggests, with Superman's return to Metropolis, where he discovers that the city and the rest of the world have moved on without him. Among the many citizens who have adapted to a world without Superman is Lois Lane, who, to Superman's surprise, is now engaged and has a young child. Superman must deal with the sentiments of a city confused by his absence and subsequent return while balancing the everyday challenge of concealing his double life as Clark Kent. All the while, a nefarious plot is being concocted by Lex Luthor, Superman's ruthless arch-nemesis, who has come into possession of some very powerful alien technology.

As Superman Returns stagnated in a pre-production limbo before Singer's hiring, a number of high-profile names were tossed around in search of the best man to fill Superman's tights. Actors like Nicolas Cage, Brendan Fraser, and Ashton Kutcher were all under consideration until Singer took the reigns and cast a relative unknown, soap opera actor, Brandon Routh. According to Singer, it was important to cast an unknown, otherwise audiences wouldn't be seeing Superman on screen, they would be seeing Josh Hartnett in a red cape. As it turns out, Routh was a perfect pick, including his eerie resemblance to the late Christopher Reeve. Routh carries the roles of both Superman and Clark Kent throughout the film as easily as Superman carrying a Volkswagen over his head.

Luckily, the supporting cast was just as adept at projecting the traits of their iconic supporting characters. Kate Bosworth plays a jaded Lois Lane who slowly reconsiders the thesis of her Pulitzer-winning article "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." Sam Huntington's only fault as Superman's buddy and unofficial photographer, Jimmy Olsen, is having too little camera time. Most noteworthy of the supporting cast is Kevin Spacey's chilling portrayal of Superman's bald, super villain, the tyrannical Lex Luthor.

This may be the best super-hero movie ever made. Fans of earlier Superman productions will feel the same awe, grandeur, heroism, and magic in Superman Returns. Singer's goal was to build upon the legacy of all those predecessors. His film evokes memories of Supermen past while continuing the on-screen tale of earth's adopted protector extending as far back as the black and white George Reeves television series.

Images of a flying Man of Steel have come a long way since then. The cinematic technology required to display his mighty powers has made leaps and bounds over even the tallest building. In the days of George Reeves, filmmakers would shoot him suspended against a moving background. The Christopher Reeve era employed special lenses and camera tricks to project the illusion of flight. Today, animators can digitally create a true-to-life replication of actor Routh soaring through the air and all the way out in space in just one take. Movie goers are treated to breathtakingly wide shots of Superman cruising above the Metropolis skyline at night, arcing over the horizon in pursuit of the setting sun.

The true beauty of the film, though, is not necessarily the complexity of the digital effects, but Singer's expert use of the technology coupled with a keen eye for composition. We are there on the sidewalk watching Superman rushing overhead with little more sound than the wind fluttering his cape. This perspective effectively accentuates the fact that Superman is an alien - an outsider on our planet who may never truly feel at home.

The film is funny when it needs to be, suspenseful throughout, touching, awe-inspiring, and even downright brutal at times, but it never once loses sight of the foundational mythology so strongly ingrained in American culture. In short, Superman Returns is what every super hero movie should be. From the moment the film opens with a gorgeous digital recreation of the destruction of Superman's home planet, Krypton, followed by the John Williams-accompanied flying-through-space opening titles from the original film, your goose bumps won't reside until you've left the theatre - running with your arms out in front of you going, "chooooom!"

 
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