Superman Returns-Is a Cover as good as the Original
By Jake Hill
Have you ever gone to a really good cover band concert? Not just a band playing a set of the Beatles greatest hits, I’m talking about a band that dresses like the E Street Band and plays every track of a concert from a particular date in 1995. That’s Superman Returns. It’s a cover band; the costumes are based on another movie’s costumes, the music, the performances, all harken back to Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner.
Of course, Reeve and Donner are not involved. This Superman is played very ably by Brandon Routh, and the film is directed by Bryan Singer, of X-Men fame. The movie has a bad reputation, but is it really that bad?
Basically. Though most of the component parts are competent, there’s an ephemeral aspect missing. Routh is good casting for Superman and for Clark Kent, and he does a great job, but he never feels natural, or himself. He feels like a guy doing an impersonation. Kevin Spacey is probably the best idea for an actor playing Lex Luthor ever, but a weak and rehashed script prevent him from achieving the great heights that he’s capable of. The dude went on to make House of Cards, lord knows he can act, but the real estate scheme hidden in an ecological disaster has been done before.
There are new things added, but those are some of the worst parts of the movie. This film acknowledges the earlier Superman movies (at least the first few), which makes it all the more peculiar that the characters are going through the exact same motions they did in the 70s. The Superman as a deadbeat dad stuff is weak at best, mostly uncomfortable, and poorly realized on the screen. James Marsden is really good in this, but he’s got too much douchebag baggage from playing Cyclops for so many years. And the super-baby? The less said about him, the better.
Oh, Kate Bosworth is in this too? She plays Lois Lane. She’s completely inoffensive, but is given practically nothing to work with. Despite an adequate performance, she comes across as no fun at all, probably because the script wanted nothing to do with her. And Kal Penn is in this? We love Kal Penn! He went on to work in Obama’s White House. This movie is probably not going to be mentioned in his obituary. That’s the thing, no one in this movie is bad per se, but no one is likely to call this their proudest work.
Honestly, it’s sort of dull. The plane rescue is the big action set piece, and it is cool; very well directed! But we’ve seen it all before in the helicopter rescue from Superman in 1978! Are you noticing the pattern here? Anything this movie can do well has already been done before, and better, by the earlier movie.
Still, the movie has its high points. The John Williams soundtrack is perfect, it’s always been perfect, it will never stop being perfect. The performances are mostly really good! Routh should be a real movie star; he’s got the goofy charisma and good looks and talent of Ryan Reynolds, and we gave that guy fifty second chances.
But Superman Returns is a cover show. It tries to play the hits of an earlier performance we already loved, and it gets there. But a cover is never the same as an original, and ultimately, it doesn’t surpass the Donner movies. Maybe it was never supposed to.