I dislike putting spoilers in a movie review, but it's impossible to explain what's really wrong with "Super"man without going through some of the worse plot points.
I'm a Batman man. Supey never earned his powers, he didn't train with the martial arts masters of the world, learn assassination from the greatest hit men, learn detective work, earn back enough money to afford gadgets, or study Science!(tm) to build said gadgets. No, Superman woke up with infinite strength, instantaneous speed, and superhuman hearing that lets him identify problems anywhere on Earth. So there's that.
Then there's the fact that the conflict here is nonexistent. Superman 2 had 3 Kryptonians battling it out with Ol' Red Underwear in central Metropolis, reflecting eyebeams off mirrors and tossing cars at each other, it was cool. But This Sman only faces Lex Luthor and the world's most common element: Kryptonite. Nor does Supy conquer anyone with anything other than flight and the Movie Laws of Physics(tm), which state that a tiny bar of Kryptonite reduces Superman to Cripple status (see also: horseback riding accident...too soon?), whereas an ENTIRE ISLAND with the K rock jutting out from everywhere can't stop Mr. Man from flying the California-sized Krypto-night island into space.
P, a friend of mine, has the theory that "The Man of Steel" ("Stalin" in Russian), with his red cape and nonmonetary agenda represents Socialism, while Lex Luthor Capitalism. Anyone else note that when Perry White says "Find out if he still stands for Truth, Justice...and all that," he DOESN'T say "and the American Way" like the quote is SUPPOSED to go?
eSe's a boring character in general, but he doesn't have to be. All the comic book parodies of the Bulletproof One are far more compelling than the original: DC's self-serving Booster Gold, who uses a robot from the future to tell him where to be to save people in order to cash in on sponsorships and merchandising; Marvel's Sentry, whose computer Cloc tells him where to go to eliminate the guilt of not being able to save everyone; and Marvel's Hyperion of the Squadron Supreme, a tool of the US government who plots to overthrow the world and install himself as ruler. As stated in a Nightwing (DC) comic once, the real superpower of Sman isn't flight or invulnerability, it's the fact that with all he could do he never acts selfishly. A throwaway line by Lex Luthor: "With all you've done for this world, don't you deserve some compensation? Money? Women?" with Superman then flashing back to a picture of Lois Lane, even if he then rejects the temptation out of hand, would have done leagues to add some real conflict into an otherwise suspenseless 3 hours. But no, we're still in the 1950's black-and-white Superman plot line (singular) of having Big Blue brought low by Kryptonite, then rescued by Jimmy or Lois who puts the Kryptonite in a lead box, then Supes taking out the bad guys without incident. 50 years and no one's topped THAT? Then there's the pacing: to quote the season 5 (4) finale episode of Family Guy, "it INSISTS upon itself." We're really supposed to go "Is Superman alive? Oh I hope he's alive!" for 45 solid minutes while NOTHING happens? No real danger, no real pathos, and the director still thinks he's earned the right to punch up the melodrama like that? The Godfather never earned that level of melodrama. Hell, the only movie I've ever seen that earned even 15 minutes of melodrama was the cutscenes from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Superman is hardly a MGS3.
But the absolute worst part of the movie is the fact that Superman obviously had premarital sex...but worse, he was willing to get intimate without ever telling Ms. Lane about his real identity...but worst of all he abandons his illegitimate child. Great. The Republican symbol of 1950s values is somebody's baby's daddy. It's not that I care about the character, but movies are reflections of a society's values, and the idea that the world's most perfect human gets to sew wild oats with no consequences is disgusting. And it's not like it's presented in a way that makes it seem like something he regrets, his one humanlike vulnerability, it's not his one failing, no, no he's all Proud Papa while ducking child support payments. Meanwhile, Lois is forcing her innocent husband to take care of a child he falsely thinks is his own. Plus, no one ever addresses the Chasing Amy(is it? well, one of the Kevin Smith movies) problem that any human mother of Kal El's baby would be ripped apart during labor, if not earlier. Thanks, scriptwriter, for violating 70+ years of comic book continuity.
I will say that Kevin Spacey does a great job as Lex Luthor, and there's a certain charming 1960s mentality to the Jimmy Olsen-Clark Kent conversations. It's also better that Superman Returns doesn't try to be an origin story, as there was nothing wrong with the Christopher Reeves one (which was actually much much better than this except for that time travel bit). The best part of the movie is where S steps down and allows Lois to stay with Rich White (get it?), preserving a family while denying the only thing he ever wanted for himself, seeing as how that's the only real conflict in the whole 2.5 hours. But it's not enough to save a boring movie that pretends to be an epic and succeeds only in shoving the Caped Crusader's name through the philandering mud. And not like I even have to say it, but this mess doesn't hold a candle to Batman Begins.
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