Superman Returns (2006) Review

Superman Returns (2006) Director: Bryan Singer

“You will be different, sometimes you’ll feel like an outcast, but you’ll never be alone.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

After Superman IV bombed both critically and financially, the Superman franchise remained mostly quiet for some 19 years while Tim Burton continued to pursue a Superman Lives film starring Nicholas Cage, until X-Men director Bryan Singer was brought in to revive the Christopher Reeve universe in a new film –complete with John Williams’s signature score– only this time Brandon Routh plays a fairly run of the mill Superman, and Kate Bosworth plays a somewhat underwhelming Lois Lane (she actually won a Razzie for her performance). James Marsden plays Lois Lane’s cocky fiancé Richard White, Frank Langella plays Daily Planet editor Perry White, and Kevin Spacey plays Lex Luthor. In addition, Marlon Brando’s famous soliloquys as Superman’s father, Jor-El, are peppered throughout the film.  

This version of Superman is not necessarily a bad portrayal, as in the case of Superman III or Superman IV, however it is just a bit milquetoast, bland, and slightly forgettable. In Superman Returns, Superman has been conspicuously absent from earth for some five years while locating the remnants of his home planet of Krypton. In that time, Lex Luthor has escaped from prison and finagled his way into a wealthy widow’s estate. Luthor has also discovered the Fortress of Solitude wherein he confiscates powerful Kryptonian crystals, which are used to cause a vast power outage along the East Coast. Upon return, Superman rescues Lois from the inaugural flight of the Genesis space shuttle, which has been damaged by Luthor’s crystalline shenanigans. By now, Lois Lane is engaged to Richard White (Perry White’s nephew) and she has a five-year-old son named Jason who has asthma. Lois has also penned an article entitled “Why The World Doesn’t Need Superman” (winner of a Pulitzer Prize).

At this point Superman wonders: has the world moved on from Superman? Is he still needed? It would seem the answer is yes because Lex Luthor causes mayhem when robbing a chunk of Krytopnite (“radioactive pieces of Superman’s homeworld”) from a museum in Metropolis. If the Kryptonite is combined with a crystal from Krypton, Luthor is able to construct an entirely new continent in the Atlantic Ocean which will destroy Metropolis in a massive seawall. Why? The new landmass is another one of Luthor’s land schemes which will kill billions of people while enriching Lex Luthor. Lois investigates the situation but she is soon captured aboard Luthor’s yacht where she fights with one of Luthor’s henchman, until her young son Jason comes to her rescues by launching a grand piano across the room –thus revealing that he is, in fact, the son of Superman.

After a difficult battle, one which nearly kills him, Superman is saved by Lois, Richard, and James in time to lift the nascent continent out of the ocean and launch it from earth into outer space. In the end, after making a full recovery in the hospital, Superman speaks the same words as Jor-El to his son James, and Lois types up a new headline story “Why The World Needs Superman.” Lex Luthor and his accomplice Kitty wind up stranded on a desert island.

There is some nice light comedy in Superman Returns and, overall, this film is a delightful homage to Richard Donner’s original Superman film, however it is also a hefty film that is dragged out at points and is slightly unsatisfying. The chemistry between Superman and Lois is virtually non-existent, the special effects are a bit stilted at points, and the box office numbers spoke for themselves, thus Warner Bros decided to cancel future plans for a sequel, instead favoring a reboot of reboot the whole franchise. Despite being somewhat downbeat and glacially-paced for a superhero movie, I appreciate what Bryan Singer hoped to accomplish with this movie –even if both Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey have since been exposed for brazenly illicit behavior.      

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