Superman! - John C. Kirk
Jul. 28th, 2006
11:34 pm - Superman!
This afternoon I went off to the cinema to watch Superman Returns. I'd heard mixed reviews of this: bazzalisk advised people not to see it, while billyabbott liked it. Actually, the main things that got me excited about the film were a couple of enthusiastic PvP strips (here and here). Also, the Christopher Reeve films were my favourite films when I was a kid (my bedroom was covered in Superman wallpaper/curtains/bedspread, and I had Superman pyjamas), so I wanted to give the new one a shot, to see what it was like.
Anyway, I enjoyed it. It was flawed in some ways, but I sat there with a big grin on my face for a lot of it. There were also some quiet scenes that were quite beautiful/moving, and gripping scenes that had me on the edge of my seat.
After some of my recent frustrations, I decided to avoid the local cinema, and I went off to watch it at the IMAX instead. It is a bit more expensive, but any benefits to the cinema experience should apply even more so there (with better screen/sound), and I hoped that the audience would be better behaved, which did turn out to be the case.
Part of the publicity for the IMAX version involved the 3D aspect - this covers four scenes in the film, rather than the entire thing, and they have a flashing logo at the bottom of the screen to tell you when you should put on/remove the glasses. They're also using polarised lenses (A level Physics comes in useful, huzzah!), i.e. both of them are slightly tinted grey, rather than having one red and one green. Anyway, the technology certainly works, but I didn't think that it really helped the film. That may be partly because it's unfamiliar, so it made me more aware that I was in the audience (breaking the "immersive experience" a bit), and I think it's also because those scenes tended to involve some rapid movement, so it was a bit harder to track what was going on. That said, it did work well for Space Station 3D (which I saw a few years ago), and it may also be good for Walking on the moon 3D, since they're both documentaries, and have a more relaxed pace. Still, it was good to see the film on a big screen, as well as hearing the John Williams music in surround sound.
Incidentally, the IMAX have a promotion going at the moment: if you buy two tickets to Superman Returns then you get a 2-for-1 deal on tickets to The Ant Bully. That probably won't interest anyone, but I figured I might as well mention it on the offchance.
The film starts with some text on the screen, giving the story so far. Unlike the Star Wars films, this is static rather than scrolling, but the size of the screen meant that I did have to turn my head from side to side to read it all, and I was slightly worried that it would disappear before I'd finish, although this turned out not to be a problem. This meant that the film started with Superman returning from a 5 year absence, and they omitted the iconic images of Krypton exploding with young Kal-El's rocket escaping. This was a surprising choice, but it did save time, and nowadays it's probably reasonable to say that the audience will know all that already.
There are certainly echoes of the first two Christopher Reeve films, notably the music; this is something that drew my attention when I first saw the trailer. The most significant example is that Marlon Brando plays Jor-El, even though the actor died two years ago! Essentially, they've reused his dialogue from the original film, although I think that some of it only appeared in the extended version (on DVD) rather than the version that's been shown on TV. This may mean that the producers are cheating a bit, by cashing in on other people's achievements, but if so then I don't really mind.
I'd say that the casting was pretty good, particularly Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor; the only exception was the boy playing Jason (Lois' son), but I'll make allowances for youth there. I was glad to see James Marsden in the cast, mainly because I think that Cyclops was unfairly criticised for being boring in the X-Men films.
Taking that a bit further, I actually liked Richard (Lois' fiance) quite a lot. As with Commodore Norrington in Pirates of the Caribbean, he seems like a good person, who doesn't really deserve to be pushed aside in favour of someone who the audience prefers. He genuinely cared about Lois and Jason, and he demonstrated his competence by being a good pilot. I was less impressed by Lois early on, since she seemed lazy (asking a question that was already covered in the press pack she hadn't read) and stupid (not knowing how to spell "catastrophic"), which aren't really good qualities, least of all for an investigative reporter. However, her character grew on me as the film progressed.
Despite Lois' claim that the world didn't need a saviour, I think it's fairly clear that they needed a hero, and they got one; this makes me happy. I think he was also quite inspirational, since he was a man of action without being violent - he just used his powers to protect people. The only violence came from the bad guys, and it was quite clearly shown to be acts of brutality, rather than anything to admire. The only bit I'd quibble with is when one of Luthor's henchmen threw the (powerless) Superman through the air, which seemed a bit unrealistic as compared to the street level actions of the others (e.g. kicking him while he's lying on the ground).
Speaking of realism, I did like the atmospheric disturbances that we saw when Superman flew down from orbit, e.g. the heat flare that I've seen on films of the Space Shuttle.
Regarding the hospital scene, I did read a comic strip questioning how his suit could be damaged, but this didn't bother me. However, it did seem slightly odd that there was nobody actually sitting in his room all the time; this is Superman, so I'm sure they could find some volunteers to do unpaid overtime! I thought it was a nice touch to have Martha Kent standing outside the hospital, since she didn't have an obvious (public) reason to be allowed inside. This reminded me of a similar scene in the comic Funeral for a Friend (set after Superman's temporary death in the DC universe), where Jonathan and Martha choose to stay in Kansas and watch the funeral parade on television rather than dealing with crowds of strangers.
I think the best part of the film was when Richard, Lois, and Jason were trapped inside part of the boat that was sinking. When the door above them slammed shut on Lois' head, that looked like quite a hard impact, so I think she was lucky not to get her skull caved in. However, after she was unconscious, this left Richard in quite a tough situation - he had to keep her and Jason afloat, while the water was rising and there was no obvious way to escape, but he couldn't give into despair because Jason needed him to be strong and infallible.
Superman then lifted the boat out of the water, opened the door, told Richard to take his hand, and asked "Do you have them?" (i.e. "Are you holding onto Lois and Jason?"). When Richard said yes, Superman dropped the boat, and that was the scene that really made me sit up and say "Woah!" That's partly because it was quite a spectacular sight, leaving them all dangling in mid-air, but more than that it was a display of trust. I think it would have been nice for Superman to give a bit of warning before he did that, since I could imagine saying "Yes, I'm keeping her head out of water ok" without meaning "Yes, I can support her entire weight with my current grip". However, the point is that when Richard said "Yes", Superman took him at his word, and acted on it; admittedly, he probably could have flown down to catch Lois if necessary, but he was still demonstrating a sign of good faith. As for Richard, he showed himself to be worthy of that trust - he held onto Lois, and didn't let her fall.
At this point I started to have some concerns about the way the film would end, since the plotline seemed to be fairly straightforward. It had now been revealed that Jason was actually Superman's son rather than Richard's, and Superman/Lois have been generally established (in various media) as a couple who are destined to be together. However, I really felt bad for Richard, since he wasn't aware of this, and even if he got dumped by his fiancee then he didn't deserve to lose his son, i.e. the boy he had raised as his own. With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised that things didn't turn out the way I'd expected - Superman expressed an intention of being involved in Jason's upbringing, but he didn't get together with Lois. For that matter, he didn't reveal his secret identity either, unlike Bruce "blabbermouth" Wayne (at least in his film incarnations).
Speaking of Bruce Wayne, I wonder whether there are plans for a Batman/Superman film, since this film mentioned Gotham. That said, I had the same reaction when Batman Forever referred to Metropolis and The New Adventures of Superman referred to Gotham (back in the mid 1990s), and nothing came of that.
There wasn't an extra scene after the end credits, but they didn't take long, and I liked the music, so I was happy to wait for other people to leave first rather than joining a big queue.
On my way out, I overheard a couple of conversations from other people in the audience. A small child was (presumably) unimpressed by the film, so his mother said "I suppose you'd prefer more punches?" and he said "Well, it is Superman!" Meanwhile, there were a young couple (undergrad age), and the boyfriend said "Ok, you've seen this on the normal screen, and you've seen the 3D IMAX version - that's it now, no more Superman!" However, the girlfriend wasn't quite satisfied - she said that she wanted the live action version now, performed on the stage in front of her; I like to see that kind of enthusiasm!