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Saturday, 23 October 2010

Superman Returns (Bryan Singer, 2006)

Superman is one of the strongest, fastest and most invulnerable fictional characters ever, and to make a boring story about him is in itself a superhuman feat. Nonetheless this is exactly what director Bryan Singer and friends have done with "Superman Returns", a sequel/remake/reboot soup made from stock of Richards Donner and Lester's originals, twenty years before.

Beginning with Superman's return to Earth after a five-year space absence, any hopes that the film will attempt to deal with the notion of a world without its god-like boy scout protector are jettisoned instantly, not even mentioned, the film preferring to plough straight on with ineffectual love pentagons between clothes-model leads, and Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey, mildly entertaining) embarking on a seemingly factory-generated evil plot. Who'd have thought it?

Strangely, Superman seldom appears in his own film, almost as if the writers didn't know what to do with him, apart from a few brief rescues and some awkward dialogue with Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth not a patch on Margot Kidder's ferocious newshound.) Only the bravura aeroplane rescue scene early on strikes the right note, with a verve, involvement and satisfying internal logic the rest of the film singularly fails to match.

Regardless it soldiers on, insisting the audience be intermittently awed and thrilled; celestial choirs ooh and aah, pianos plink and plonk and we gawp on cue at vast computer-generated vistas, but there's something missing; heart, passion, whatever it is.

The pedestrian direction seldom helps. Too often the viewer is just looking at something thrown up on screen, the sense of simple, spine-tingling wonder that should pour from a Superman movie has been replaced by pastel-shaded simpering. It's no fun at all, with its drab, muted colour schemes and sneery ironic little jabs. And while the music takes its main theme from the famous, brilliant John Williams piece, the rest of the soundtrack rambles and falls over, repeatedly.

Superman Returns is a film of far too many endings, including a nauseating hospital scene, which surely only managed to avoid the "body covered by bedsheets" cliche by some sort of cosmic coincidence.

And at the very very very end, nothing whatsoever has changed, the relationships so belovedly waffled over remain exactly where they were at the start. The twist isn't very twisty, and at a stultifying two and a half hours in length, an hour of which could have been chopped out easily, it's an extremely unrewarding end, both emotionally and intellectually.

It's far more likely to inspire boredom, apathy and resentment in audiences than truth, justice and the American way, and proves you need more than polygons and refried Marlon Brando to make a good superhero film.

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