...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, July 24, 2006

Day 2028: You'll Believe an Elephant Can Fly


Special Effect

Man on Strings

Today we went to see SUPERMAN RETURNS at the Cinema. In order to be fair, this time Daddy Alex bought tickets for ME and HIM and Daddy Richard had to hide in the bag of chocolates.

We thought that this was a FUN movie that was very respectful of the TRADITION of SUPERMAN and SUPERMAN II.

In fact, there are points when it goes BEYOND respectful and into SHOT-for-SHOT REMAKE!

  • Flying through space opening titles – check
  • Krypton from space – check
  • Crystal spaceship crashes in Martha Kent's back yard – check
  • Exploits of young Clark – check
  • Clark arrives at Daily Planet – check
  • Superman's first deed is to save Lois from a falling helicopter/aeroplane – check
  • String of super-rescues - check
  • Superman gives special interview to Lois Lane - check
  • Lex Luthor has a get mega-rich land deal plan – check
  • …and steals a meteorite of Kryptonite to get Supes out of the way (in fact it's the SAME meteorite) - check
  • Superman is almost killed by the Kryptonite and plunges into water – check
  • But is saved and defeats Lex's plan by tunnelling deep into the Earth and using his super-strength to lift a section of the Earth's crust - check

Sometimes this is VERY GOOD – bringing the excitement of twenty-first century effects to classic super-exploits; sometimes though you are left hoping for a bit more originality, in particular from the director who created such a RELEVANT modern fable from the sprawling X-MEN mythology.

The main NEW spin that they have added is that Superman has been AWAY for FIVE YEARS and so Lois is now MARRIED to Cyclops from the X-Men…

[R: Er, sort of. It's the same actor.]

…and they have a little boy. Although he looks quite BIG for a FOUR-YEAR OLD.

(It might have been better to say that Superman had been away for TEN years. Daddy Richard has a THEORY, though, that they chose five years because that would mean that Superman left in July 2001, or rather before SEPTEMBER 2001. But this makes him rather depressed.)

In Superman III – and I should point out that Daddy Alex likes Superman III as well; and who couldn't love a movie with ROBERT VAUGHN in it – but when they made that film, the makers made the decision to put a bit of EMOTIONAL DISTANCE between Superman and Lois. This was a fair decision at the time, because after SUPERMAN II it would have been difficult to take the Lois/Superman RELATIONSHIP anywhere else. But the new Superman movie sort of IGNORES that emotional shift, and more follows on from the CLOSE relationship from the first two.

This LURVE-TRIANGLE might be an interesting new thing to do with Superman – Mr Lois is a GOOD man, just not in Superman's league, and Superman could have been all noble, and Lois could have had difficulty reconciling her "ordinary" love with her love for the super-hero – but this plot does not really GO anywhere.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the Superman/Lois Lane love story is FRONT and CENTRE in this movie.

Which makes accusations of a GAY AGENDA all the more perplexing!

If anything, there is a heavily CHRISTIAN agenda in this movie – with Superman being portrayed several times in CHRIST-LIKE pose (check out in PARTICULAR the "crucified" look as he falls to Earth after hurling the Kryptonite infected rock into space); Lex explicitly refers to the Kryptonians as "gods" (so Superman is the son of…); at one point Superman hangs in heaven literally listening to the prayers of the desperate before swooping to Earth in answer. Oh, plus the whole being "dead" at the end and returning to life after… how many days was it? And then the nurse finds the empty tomb hospital room. What EXACTLY was that trying to say? Some play is made of the "Superman as saviour" idea, in particular when the question is posed "do we need a saviour?" The movie's answer appears to be a great big "yes".

Actually, that all give rise to one of the more WORRYING points, where Lex – vainly comparing himself to Prometheus – claims that "gods are selfish little beings in red capes who keep all their powers to themselves".

The worry is that Lex might have a point.

Daddy Alex had a similar problem with X-Men III: threatened with the "cure" for the gay gene, sorry, the Mutant-X gene Sir Ian Magneto says "Excuse me, but that's attempted genocide, and I for one say no BLOODY thank you!" The possibility that Mr Magneto deserves an answer to his case is quickly glossed over by having him threaten to kill lots of people. So he must be BAD so anything he says is automatically WRONG.

Similarly, here, Lex is a PSYCHOPATH who wants to make a fast buck even if it kills a few billion people.

(Incidental note to authors: check that population of North America ACTUALLY in billions before suggesting that its destruction will result in billions of deaths. Daddy Alex is muttering about knock on tidal waves going round the world, but I do not think that the producers were really thinking about that.)

When Lex dares to QUESTION by what right Superman holds such huge (practically limitless) powers, Lex is also quickly shown to be EVIL.

This is a shame, because in many ways, the actions of Superman in this movie NEED to be questioned. Often they are just as arbitrary and petty and selfish as Lex's.

The very first thing he does is to blast off back to Krypton without telling anybody about it. It may be incredibly important to HIM, but that's no excuse for just DUMPING Lois, or indeed the rest of the planet that so obviously depends upon him.

At the same time, he's left all the incredibly advanced alien technology of his Fortress of Solitude lying around for Lex to break into and steal!

The Greeks and Romans thought of their gods as CAPRICIOUS – they might intend good, but you couldn't count on them and shouldn't cross them. And Superman is very like that: he will try to do good, but it's often the first good thing that he thinks of, or he'll go out of his way to make sure that his friends are safe first. In the scene I mentioned earlier, when he listens to the cries for help – the first thing he goes to deal with is a bank robbery. Rather than the war in the Congo, say. There is a scene, later on, when the Man of Steel is flying to save Lois but sees an earthquake headed for Metropolis and turns back to help the city – which LOOKS like him seeing the bigger picture. But how many OTHER cities are also being shaken to bits by the effects of Lex's "new continent"?

How someone with ALL THAT POWER makes their decisions about how to use it really NEEDS questioning. And not by someone who can be dismissed as "the villain".

Still, Mr Kevin Spacey – who must REALLY have enjoyed playing DOCTOR EVIL in the opening minutes of AUSTIN POWERS 3 – makes a terrifically good job of finding interesting and scary things to do with the character of Lex Luthor, ranging from suave and funny to thuggish. Also, he is not afraid to be BALD for most of the movie (Gene Hackman I'm looking at YOU). The main problem is that Lex (in the movies) is such a boring and petty villain. When he works well, it is because he is rich and powerful and RESPECTABLE – and therefore ABOVE the law: Superman might suspect him, but cannot pin anything on him because he keeps the bad stuff at arms length. I think that this is because the movies do not have enough TIME to develop Lex and must cut quickly to a HUGE DIABOLICAL SCHEME. Often with Land Value Tax implications.

Superman was played very nicely by new star Brandon Routh, doing a very passable impersonation of a young CHRISTOPHER REEVE. It is not very fair of people who have called his performance wooden, as I think he conveyed a lot of Superman's emotions very well – particularly his confused feelings about Lois. For me and most people, though, Mr Reeve will remain the DEFINITIVE Superman, because of an ability to play the Man of Steel with humour and naivety together with some indefinable personal charisma that made him perfect for the role.

In the end, the fact is that the most exciting sequence is the aeroplane rescue early on. The big confrontation at the end somehow lacks the dramatic punch that it needs: there isn't any exciting action sequence (like the missile chase bits in 1978's Superman) to ramp up the excitement; Superman just goes from nearly being killed to saving everyone even though it nearly kills him again.

And the extended will he live or die coda of the movie kind of tails off too.

As Morticia would say: "Oh. He lives."

You are left glad that he survived but wishing he could have got on and done it a bit QUICKER!

Overall, a lovingly made way to celebrate of the original Superman Movies: not so much "Superman Returns" as "Superman Revered!" Will no doubt make a nice "trilogy" DVD box set one day.


Rob F said...

I'm thinking of seeing this at the IMAX - I'll make a special effort to look out for Superman wearing an old style Houses of Parliament visitor pass...

Will said...

I've not seen this, but the crucifixion imagery was one of the things that turned me off Spiderman 2.

I agree about Magneto - you can't help having sympathy for his position, but it's not really dealt with properly. That said, X-Men 3 may be my favourite of the trilogy.

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

The Lex Luthor in the (post-Crisis) comics is much more interesting than the one in any of the films - basically it is the Smallville Lex 20 years down the line.

I love the first 2 films, but I wish they hadn't ignored everything that has happened since. The John Byrne take in particular was excellent.

Millennium Dome said...

Mr Rob!

That is MY special badge!

It has a "V" on it which stands for "V.I.P" which stands for "Very Important Pachyderm"