Before seeing Superman Returns this past weekend, I decided to Netflix the original Superman movie last week (Special Edition, actually, with a few extended scenes). Despite the slow pacing of the original, and the primitive effects, I still thought it held up quite well. I was a huge fan of the movies (at least the first two) growing up, and I still got chills when the Superman logo filled the screen, with the John Williams score playing in the background. Christopher Reeve really was perfect in the dual role of Clark Kent and Superman. Every mannerism as the awkward Kent seemed to fit, down to the action of pushing his over-size glasses back up the bridge of his nose every time he bumped into something or fumbled. There was some surprisingly clever dialogue in the original movie, and some jokes I’m sure I never understood as a kid.
Something that really struck me about the original was how much it felt like another recent superhero movie: Spider-Man. Just enough attention paid to the origin story (almost too much with the Special Edition footage)… some scenes of self-discovery and awkward early years… clever writing and cover-ups of secret identities (common to most superhero stories and movies)… and of course the difficult romance, as well as themes of, “with great power comes great responsibility.” And like the first Spider-Man, there was a lot of time spent on developing the character, so the few big action scenes had all that much more payoff (it wasn’t until Superman II that we saw the big super-battles). Cheesey time-travel twist aside, I thought it was a great movie and remembered exactly why I loved it so much as a kid.
To complete the Superman frenzy, I went to a screening of Superman Returns yesterday. [Note: Possible minor spoilers ahead, although I try hard not to] The opening of the film, with the Brando voiceover, and the original blue-streaking credits in space and the John Williams theme was again enough to give me goosebumps. With the idea that Superman has been gone for 5 years and has now returned, his unveiling to the world needed to be big, and it sure was. After a slow build-up and character refresher, we’re given the first (and perhaps the movie’s best) big action scene. We catch a few glimpses of Superman speeding by, and then there he is in all his glory, saving the day, and revealed to the world, as well as the audience. I was surprised our theater didn’t burst out in applause because the scene really called for it. I’m sure some of the opening day showings with die-hard fans went crazy.
Unfortunately after that the movie kind of shifted gears. The pace slowed a bit, and though a lot of the action got bigger and bigger, it didn’t quite have the punch of those first minutes. Although I was still never disappointed. There were plenty of little homages to the original movie that were fun to catch, having just seen that recently: “Statistically speaking, flying is still the safest way to travel…”, Lois’ smoking habit, and Clark’s awkwardness in revolving doors, to name a few. Brandon Routh‘s Clark Kent never had the charisma that Reeve’s did, and Lois Lane wasn’t quite as neurotic as she was in the original. Gene Hackman‘s Lex Luthor is hard to beat, but Kevin Spacey came close. As a whole, the cast just seemed like muted impersonations of the originals. The only true standout performances in my opinion were Sam Huntington as Jimmy Olsen, and Parker Posey as Kitty Kowalski. Two minor comic relief characters shouldn’t steal the show all that easily from such big leading roles.
In the end, I still loved Superman Returns, in part because it hit all the right nostalgia points for me. Remembering some of the original plans for this movie (ie. Nicholas Cage as Superman), makes this version all that much better. Brian Singer knows how to do superheroes pretty darn well. Mostly I’m thrilled we didn’t get a giant screwup of a movie, and that one of the greatest superheroes received an impressive return.