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FILM: Superman Returns


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#1 Elmo Lewis

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 05:50 PM

40 minutes into the movie, Lois Lane introduces two of the main central characters by saying, "Clark, this is Richard White. He's a chief editor here. He's a pilot and he also likes horror movies. Richard, this is Clark. He's... Clark".

Nothing could sum up this film's main problem more concisely.

If Bryan Singer decided to make a character-driven story out of Superman's return after decades of absence, he certainly forgot about the characters. The plot is so convoluted and the movie is so busy looking pretty, these familiar character existing in a new world get minimum development. They stare into each other's eyes longingly and they look at the distance with a sad face, but we are never told what the thoughts or the emotions are behind those moments.

Clark Kent is indeed just... Clark Kent. A buffoon, comic relief. This is a waste, as he's the most relatable side of a modern god that can do everything. Even more iconic that Superman's heroics, more so that Kryptonite and heat vision, is the image of this mumbling mortal transforming into a superhuman creature to save the day just in time. Donner made Clark Kent a man who could get never the woman he loves. A pretty simplistic approach for a character with so many possibilities, but at least it succeeded in making Superman's actions more heroic.

Superman works better as a symbol than as a character. He's more Hulk than Batman -- an unstoppable super human that just shows up to save the day and do spectacular things. It's hard to develop that. But if you are going to try, and you are going to make a whole movie about him being in love, you at least better establish who and what Superman is (although how you can do this without Clark is beyond me) and then throw the fact that he's in love to the mix. Superman, orphaned alien, is also in love. Instead, we get Superman, nonentity, in love for some reason and suffering from a pain we are never shown. Can it get any less gripping?

Enter Lois Lane. We've seen her as a street-wise, unintellectual reporter in the original movies. Teri Hatcher popularized the Bob Woodward in skirts incarnation. Here we get a gal whose main character trait is being a mom and who spends most of her screentime talking about her past. At no point do we see her reporting skills (beyond talking on her cellphone as she gets dressed), or that savoir faire that made Supes fall for her. Let alone get an insight of her conflicted feelings, which the most benevolent viewer is left to surmise. Somehow, this doesn't stop the whole movie from revolving around her after the airplane sequence.

And this is all a shame. Singer had a pretty cool concept -- strip Superman's mythological status quo (as Umberto Eco put it) and see how he feels in a world where he doesn't belong. And yet this is never explored. It is shyly used as an excuse to explain to the audience how things have changed, but we never see Superman not being Superman because of it. If his alienation challenges him, if he ever hurts because of it, it must happen off-screen. He passively ponders and waits for the plot to unfold to find an answer. Thus, even though the son would have been a good resolution, it just feels like a cop-out. Character study indeed.

However, this being a blockbuster, it could still work if it got the thrills right. But even here there are plenty of flaws:

The movie is proudly set in surprisingly clean and orderly Metropolis that doesn't seem to belong to the 1970s nor our current time. It never feels real. Not the streets, not its inhabitants, not the danger they are repeatedly in. It's hard to get into the setpieces that way.

And then Singer decides to forget what he knows about visual narrative. He prefers to employ eight shots to tell what he could in two. And he seems to like zooming out of small, often inconsequential details, to panoramic views of the aforementioned sterile setting. If he was trying to make a detail-driven story look epic, he failed. It feels like a text without any punctuation.

He also wanted to be so reverential to Donner, he forgot to look for his film's soul. The whole thing reeks of "let's throw iconic imagery in CinemaScope and go by the numbers of the first film and see what happens". The outcome is not unlike what having sex with a corpse must feel like.

There is a good movie, maybe the best Superman movie ever, buried in these flaws. It's just a dozen screenplay drafts away.



Other thoughts:

·Somebody in the production department must have decided that instead of having elaborate action setpieces like the airplane rescue, it would be cooler to have a thousand mini-set-pieces instead. Oh no, Lois is trapped on a boat. Oh no, the boat is cut in half. Oh no, the boat is sinking. Oh yes, Superman is rescuing them. Oh no, the aircraft they are in is about to crash against a rock. Oh yes, they escaped it just in time. This just makes the action scenes drag and saturates the audience to a point where they just don't care anymore.

·I thought most scenes at the Daily Planet were fairly reasonable. Its destruction was the highlight of the movie. It's also where the characters meet and where the "operatic feeling" shines the most. If you can call that shine.

·Notice, also, how the newsroom has been promoted from gritty, All The President's Men-like barebones workplace to sporting a Neo-classical, city's History museum vibe. I think that symbolizes the difference between this movie and the original it's trying to recreate. But oh, how I wish I worked in such a beautiful newsroom.

·The movie pulls out all the stops. When it's shiny, it's ultra shiny. When it gets dark (as Superman is stabbed), it's ultra dark. Does this make it better? Nope. It just looks more incoherent.

·The technique of secondary-characters-moving-ultra-slowly-just-before-an-action-setpiece was very popular and successful in the 1990's. Why it was brought back for this film and employed time and time again is a mystery to me.

·The music. How I would have hated to be John Ottman in this. He is forever blamed for being uninspiring because of the joke he made on a documentary about he was too tired after editing a scene to score it. I don't think the score feels like a tired effort. It just sounds untalented. Like Ottman not being sure of how to sound and just exploiting a few musical ideas. The Superman march worked wonders in the airplane rescue, though. After that, the movie was cursed with using it but it simply didn't work.

·What happened to Metropolis? It was always fun and instructive to see Superman interact with the city he is protecting. In this movie, it has been cut to make time for the main characters looking away at things.


Two stars out of four. One of them is for its good intentions and an impossible amount of iconic imagery that's hard to hate.
"We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had."

#2 Jay

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 06:00 PM

Well said, Elmo. A huge wasted opportunity of a film. I still can't believe that Singer followed up two excelletn X-Men films with this. He's been downhill ever since.

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#3 Taikomochi

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 07:12 PM

I saw it once in the theater. Didn't think it was great, but it was a vast improvement over the last two Superman sequels, which are largely unwatchable. The child character was bothersome.

Why don't we put this on the JWFan worst movie list, since we are putting every single movie that ever disappointed someone, no matter how inappropriate it's being considered a possible worst movie of all time? It would fit right in.

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#4 Stefancos

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 09:46 PM

My main problem is that it's such a joyless film. Donner's film, and the 3 sequels all had a giddy charm to it, or at least attempted to have one.

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#5 MSM

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 11:21 PM

My main problems with this movie:
- No story that is worth telling
- Superman is weak and has no charisma
- Lois is weak and has no charisma
- The kid is just such a bad idea.
- Singer tries hard to put psychology in this movie but fails miserably. The scene where the kid doesn't just help his mom push the door but says 'I'm sorry'? No insight in human psychology whatsoever.
What is good:
- The intro credits
- The plane sequence
- John Williams' Superman March

#6 Elmo Lewis

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 11:38 PM

Superman returns in a big way, with an airplane rescue that is shown in every television and which makes the cover of every newspaper. The film very clearly states so.

Why did the bank robbers still think that the day after was the best time to pull their big-ass bank job?
"We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had."

#7 Joey

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Posted 27 July 2011 - 11:52 PM

Superman returns in a big way, with an airplane rescue that is shown in every television and which makes the cover of every newspaper. The film very clearly states so.

Why did the bank robbers still think that the day after was the best time to pull their big-ass bank job?

because Superman cannot be everywhere, everyplace at everytime.

Well said, Elmo. A huge wasted opportunity of a film. I still can't believe that Singer followed up two excelletn X-Men films with this. He's been downhill ever since.

He's made one theatrical film since and that was Valkyrie which is a damned good movie. That's not going downhill.
If it isn't high concept the it's not worth watching believed the pseudo superior one.

#8 Richard

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 03:35 PM

A very good effort, but it's waaaaaaaay too long. Where is Stuart Baird when you need him?

#9 Alexcremers

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Posted 27 October 2011 - 03:04 PM

Did you know Supes Returns was not shot on film?
"The film that really struck me was Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner.' That was a film I watched many, many times and found endlessly fascinating in its density. But I think the density of that film is primarily visual density and atmospheric and sound density, more so than narrative density. But, yeah, I think for a lot of filmmakers particularly, there will be a film like that in their past that they've really become a little obsessed with and seen too many times, or more times than seems healthy." - Christopher Nolan

#10 crocodile

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Posted 27 October 2011 - 03:22 PM

Yes, why?

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#11 Alexcremers

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Posted 27 October 2011 - 03:31 PM

I didn't realize it as I was watching.
"The film that really struck me was Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner.' That was a film I watched many, many times and found endlessly fascinating in its density. But I think the density of that film is primarily visual density and atmospheric and sound density, more so than narrative density. But, yeah, I think for a lot of filmmakers particularly, there will be a film like that in their past that they've really become a little obsessed with and seen too many times, or more times than seems healthy." - Christopher Nolan

#12 crocodile

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Posted 27 October 2011 - 03:42 PM

Apparently they made a lot of effort to make it look as classic as possible but with the use of digital cameras. Doesn't look bad actually.

Karol
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"Modern, serious music has become embroiled in an intellectual discussion that has no place in music. Certainly, the great composer of the past were geniuses and used their intellect, but only to serve their emotions and guide their craft. Not to dictate to them what they should or shouldn't write" - Michael Kamen, 1995

#13 Stefancos

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Posted 28 October 2011 - 07:10 PM

It looks a bit dark and maudlin, but that's the colorgrading, not because it was shot digitally.

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#14 Alexcremers

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Posted 29 October 2011 - 05:56 AM

It propably has no grain unless it was put there artificially.
"The film that really struck me was Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner.' That was a film I watched many, many times and found endlessly fascinating in its density. But I think the density of that film is primarily visual density and atmospheric and sound density, more so than narrative density. But, yeah, I think for a lot of filmmakers particularly, there will be a film like that in their past that they've really become a little obsessed with and seen too many times, or more times than seems healthy." - Christopher Nolan

#15 Alejandro

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 08:16 AM

The film lacked a sense of fun. There weren't enough shots of Superman doing cool stuff. It made Superman flying look a bit boring, and I can't believe that the fly around the Earth finale looks more fake than the 1978 original! I thought Ottmans score was wonderful, though. I think the motifs found in the airplane sequence should have been the new themes. The plot with the crystals was boring. The Cut Smallville scenes were great.

#16 Stefancos

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 08:25 PM

The film is playing now.

I'm not sure if it really looks very good. The colorgrading makes everything looks like it has the same color, and it is very soft looking somehow.

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#17 Delorean90

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 11:05 PM

He should have shot on film if he wanted that classic look. The softness here is unnatural, and I often get a TV-movie aftertaste.

#18 Stefancos

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Posted 30 December 2011 - 12:37 PM

I still can't believe that Singer followed up two excelletn X-Men films with this. He's been downhill ever since.


He's done one film after. that's hardly a fair assesment.

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#19 Alexcremers

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Posted 30 December 2011 - 01:56 PM


I still can't believe that Singer followed up two excelletn X-Men films with this. He's been downhill ever since.


He's done one film after. that's hardly a fair assesment.


He did that Nazi movie with Tom Cruise too. Singer is a has-been.
"The film that really struck me was Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner.' That was a film I watched many, many times and found endlessly fascinating in its density. But I think the density of that film is primarily visual density and atmospheric and sound density, more so than narrative density. But, yeah, I think for a lot of filmmakers particularly, there will be a film like that in their past that they've really become a little obsessed with and seen too many times, or more times than seems healthy." - Christopher Nolan

#20 Stefancos

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Posted 30 December 2011 - 03:24 PM

thatw as the one movie he did after superman returns, right?


·The music. How I would have hated to be John Ottman in this. He is forever blamed for being uninspiring because of the joke he made on a documentary about he was too tired after editing a scene to score it. I don't think the score feels like a tired effort. It just sounds untalented. Like Ottman not being sure of how to sound and just exploiting a few musical ideas. The Superman march worked wonders in the airplane rescue, though. After that, the movie was cursed with using it but it simply didn't work.


The main problem is that Ottman never manages to makes John Williams' themes work together properly with his own music.Simplifying the harmonies simply did not help. You don't go from Superman's March or The Love Theme to something composed by Ottman himself without really feeling the transition.

Alexander Courage did that nearly perfect for his Superman 4 score. Ken Thorne also did a good job in Superman III. Ottman never made it fly.

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