Review: Superman Returns (IMAX 3D)

This is going to be a rough review to write... I think there will be two opposing views concerning Superman Returns and I'm extremely curious to see how this film does box office-wise after the first week. On the one hand we'll have people who are HUGE fans of the first Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve film and will absolutely love how Bryan Singer's version seems to be almost an unabashed tribute to that film. On the other hand there will be people who've been waiting for this film for years and will be disappointed by the fact that it doesn't really bring anything new or fresh to the mythos.

In regards to the 3D version: The 3D scenes in the film were fantastic! Well worth the drive to get to an IMAX theater. The technology has come so far that it's really impressive and does not seem forced or overly done at all. The 3D kicked in during most of the big action scenes and it really added some serious mojo to those scenes. There are only about 20 minutes of 3D in the film, but if you haven't seen any 3D recently you'll be amazed at the quality and you should definitely check it out. The only way I can describe it is it's like Hi-Def on steriods. :-P After the couple of seconds it takes to adjust, it's crystal clear, not exaggerated and makes you feel like you're in the scene. (Important note: Not all IMAX showings are in 3D. Verify that when you're purchasing tickets.) I may have to agree with Jim Cameron that 3D is the wave of the future.

Right off the bat you;ll be able to tell that Singer takes the first Superman film very seriously as he does an updated version of the credits and music from the first film. Even the opening credits make the effects in the original film seem quaint by comparison. Amazing what a difference almost 30 years makes. :-)

The film opens showing us just how Lex Luthor reaquired his fortunen after leaving prison. There's a cameo by Noel Neill in a fairly creepy scene. Next we go to the Kent farm, with Martha by herself when suddenly everything starts shaking. Soon thereafter what appears to be a meteor lands in the ole' Kent field, and of course it's Superman. Martha goes out to get him and we're treated to a scene of Clark as a young teen apparently having recently discovered his ability to leap large distances. It's very well done and we are able to share in his exuberance at his abilities. It's during this scene that he discovers that not only can he "leap tall buildings in a single bound", but that he can actually hover in mid-air. I hate to be nitpicky but one thing that struck me in this scene was the fact that Clark was wearing glasses, which I thought was odd since as an adult he only wears them as a disguise and back then he did not have an alternate identity.

When he talks to his mother he explains where he was for the past 5 years, visiting the remains of Krypton which were discovered by astronomers just before he left. He found virtually nothing there ("a barren world") so I was also kind of confused as to where he got the spaceship that he arrived in.

Next we see him he is at the Daily Planet, right back on the job after a five year absence. His easy re-hire after being gone for five years is explained by Perry White (played by a very effective Frank Langella) as happening because a staff reporter just died. It's here that we also meet Jimmy Olsen, played by an exuberant and fun to watch Sam Huntington. This is where Clark learns that Lois has a child and is engaged to Richard White, nephew of Daily Planet editor Perry White. Richard is played by James Marsden, who played Cyclops in the X-Men films. He is used to much greater effect here and does an outstanding job. Seems like he was really wasted in the X-Men films in comparison. He comes across as a really nice guy that it's impossible to hate despite the fact he is with Lois.

Of course what we've really been waiting for is to see the big blue boy scout in action again and we get the chance not too far into the film with Superman saving a plane-load of passengers. I watched it in 3D, but I have no doubt that the scene is almost as impressive on a regular screen. I thought this sequence alone was worth the price of admission, and it's a definite re-play over and over on DVD.

Of course this is a high profile rescue and the world sees that Superman is back, and everyone celebrates. Everyone except Lois, of course, who is very peeved at him for leaving five years ago without saying goodbye. This relationship is the core of the film and works pretty well up until the the third act of the film when the pace really starts to drag a bit. I think the movie could have had about 15 minutes trimmed from it and would have been the better for it. This really felt like the "extended edition" of the movie and not the standard theatrical release.

The crux of what Lex wants to do is based once again on real estate. He quotes his father again as Gene Hackman did in the first film, and I have to say that it was almost an eye-roller moment. As in "real estate as huge crime motivator? Again?"

Now that's an awful lot of complaining above, but don't think that this is a negative review of the film. As a superhero film it's really extremely impressive, probably higher in quality than even the first X-Men film and right up there with the Spiderman films. Singer spent a considerable amount of time making the characters real and making us care about them. So much so that I'd look forward to seeing them all come back in the next film. Well, almost all... although Kevin Spacey did a great job as Lex Luthor, I'd like to see Superman go up against someone OTHER than Luthor.

The effects were excellent and the flying scenes were really impressive. They were really shot well and the way he shot past the camera and the way the camera panned around him as he flew really gives the sense of flight and incredible speed. We got to see Superman be "super" with some amazing feats as well.

I also have to say that I have to eat my words and admit I was wrong about this film. If you read back over my past articles during the production of this film you'll note a fairly cynical tone. I was concerned about Routh pulling off Superman, the look of the costume in regards to the smallness of the S-sheild and the short boots, but I have to say that on the big screen it all worked really well. Routh seemed to possess the spirit of Christopher Reeve as both Clark and Superman, and he looked buff enough to pull off wearing the suit.

Again, the big stuff worked... the only nitpicks I have are pretty minor as I've mentioned above, and of course the fact that no one puts together the arrival of both Superman and Clark at the same time, having been gone for the same amount of time. That and the length of the film. Another thing that influenced my viewing was the fact that I was so pumped up for this after such a long wait, and I know that affected my perception of what I was watching. Repeated viewings will give me a more objective view of it.

Superman Returns is well worth seeing, and even if you're of the camp that wanted something new and exciting, this movie sets a hell of a foundation for a killer sequel.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5 (Good)
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