Thursday, January 24, 2008

SUPERMAN versus LEX LUTHOR
(DC/Warner Brothers)
Where:
Superman Returns When: June 2006
Why: Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris How: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kal Penn, Ian Roberts, Vincent Stone, Parker Posey

The story so far...
When astronomers locate what they believe to be the distant location of the once proud planet Krypton; Superman decides to unexpectedly turn his back on humanity, seeking answers about his origins in the stars.

After five years, Superman returns to a world that has grown used to his absence. An absence that saw Lex Luthor freed from prison due to the heroes absence during his trial, and allowed the villain to amass a new fortune through a sham wedding, and foster a new plot to use Kryptonian crystals to create a designer continent where Luthor will control realestate and wealth, at the cost of the United States.

When Lois Lane fails to show for her wedding to Daily Planet Editor, Perry White's nephew Richard, Superman and his pals learn through a desperate fax that Lois is being held hostage aboard Luthor's inhereted boat. Thus, Superman launches into action, ready to confront the geological threats of a world desperately counter-balancing a new landmass.

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Jim LeeARTWORK: Glen OrbikStrength: Superman 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Lex Luthor 6 (Genius)
Speed: Superman 6 (Mach Speed)
Stamina: Superman 6 (Generator)
Agility: Superman 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Superman 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: Superman 5 (Lasers)


- With the planet Krypton on a path toward destruction, a scientist, Jor-El, bundles his only son into a rocket ship designed to take him far from the impending doom. The young Kal-El would be rocketted far from his home to come to land on the planet Earth, where a yellow sun would grant him the powers to become the man of steel - Superman!

A spiritual leader for the superhero community; Superman has a wide array of physical capabilities to back his presence up, the stalwarts being; super strength, flight, heat-vision, super breath, and super speed. He also has a keen intellect, his Kryptonian brain enhanced in much the way his body is.

A keen strategist, Superman has a broad understanding of sciences and battle tactics, but is often hindered by his own sense of caution and responsibility.

- Born to Lionel and Leticia Luthor, a young Alexander would spend time under the care of his aunt in a humble Kansas town called Smallville. There he could become acquainted with Clark Kent, the man destined to be the rival that would drive him to criminal greatness.

Lex Luthor's career has straddled the line between respected businessman and criminal mastermind. Few have so callously capitalized on the instabilities of a universe populated by gods and monsters, and as a human, he is perhaps rivaled only by the Batman for his ability to participate.

As the figurehead of LexCorp; an ambiguous conglomerate of companies involved in sciences, weaponry, and various other technologies; Luthor has amassed a fortune and veritable smorgasboard of resources to create any manner of custom designed weaponry or tools. Among the most prominent in his offense, an armored powersuit capable of confronting even the might of Superman!
Luthor's inventive genius has earned him a place amongst his world's most brilliant minds. Among Luthor's greatest triumphs, maneuvering himself to become President of the United States - a title Superman would never dare oppose.

The Math: Superman Ranking: Superman (#8)

What Went Down...
Having rescued Lois, her fiance, and the boy who may very well be Superman's, the big blue boyscout heads off to the terraform that has sent shockwaves as far as Metropolis! He comes to land on one of the jutting islands grown with the same technology that facilitated the effortless construction of the Fortress of Solitude.

Exploring the island, Superman hears a voice from the past echo with a snide commentary on the land's resemblance to Superman's own hidden fortress.
Luthor continues to taunt his old nemesis, confident as Superman slowly walks the path formed by Kryptonian design, unaware of the crippling element that lies deep within Luthor's earth.

The first indication is two beads of sweat dripping from the Man of Steel's temple as he demands the return of his crystals. Luthor responds with a violent shove that leaves the Superman tumbling down stairs, and through rocky stalagmites.

If the pain didn't tell him, the blood did. A gentle vein of green glows from a crack in the ground beneath him. This earth, similar to both his forgotten home, and the one that adopted him, behaves so very differently, betraying him in a way Earth's nature never has.

Luthor, having always found a great weapon in science, delights in the laymans account of the scientific story of Superman's predicament. His joyous ring echoes through the empty mass as he explains the crystal's function to imitate neighbouring minerals, such as the Kryptonite he had stolen from a museum.

The weight of Superman's predicament sinks in with help from Luthor's boot, driving home the weakening effects of the radioactive rock with every punt.
Again, and again, Luthor drives the boot in, releasing the bitter resentment no doubt pent up after years behind bars.

When Superman manages to catch Luthor's boot, one of his trio of muscled goons snatches the helpless hero by the face, using it as leverage to drag him across the unforgiving ridges of the new rock floor.

Succumbing to pain, Superman let's out a pathetic decree he can never hope to support on a land made of his only weakness; "I'm still Superman!"

Luthor's hired muscle, a thug called Riley, wrenches at Superman's typically invulnerable body, vaulting it into the air. Gravity proves a bitter rival as Superman comes crashing down once again, his body crashing into rock, unable to defy physics any longer.

Superman struggles to do litle more than crawl away as the other toughs, Stanford and Grant, circle around to join the burliest of the three in the brutality and humiliation of the once proud icon of truth, justice, and the American way.

The beating continues, repulsing even Luthor's partner in crime, Kitty.
Superman is kicked, twisted, beaten, and drowned, with no ability to retaliate. The three on one assault assures his defeat, leaving a broken man to Lex.

Luthor reveals a piece of Kryptonite from within his coat pocket, brandishing the crystal shaped piece like a dagger. No doubt revealing something about his character, Luthor pulls a crawling Superman into his grip, and plunges the tip of the Kryptonite deep into Superman's back, deliberately breaking it off.

Now directly exposed to the power-sapping properties of the alien mineral, Superman finds himself completely overwhelmed. Amazingly, he makes it to his feet, but it is to be the last time. With no intervention from his nemesis', Superman staggers backward to a sheer cliff face, with only the ocean below to break his fall.

Weakened by the Kryptonite still in his back, it is sure to be a watery grave for the hero from Krypton, unless someone can save him!

ARTWORK: Glen OrbikThe Hammer...
Well, while it's with some reluctance I include "Riley," "Grant," and "Stanford" in the rankings, they never the less share victory with their boss, Lex Luthor!

So, with some reluctance I finally got around to seeing Superman Returns. I wonder if you managed to guess that. Yeah, so anyway, as that would suggest, I wasn't exactly thrilled with the prospect of this fifth Superman picture. My immediate problem was a fairly obvious devotion to the genre defining work of Richard Donner [in 1978] that, undeniably had it's merits, but has never sat particularly high on my list of favourite films.

It's quite pleasing then to discover that, while the film shares many bonds with the previous Donner flicks, it is not nearly the remake I had assumed it to be.
That's not to say it's at all a masterpiece of originality. Overtones common to the seventies film(s) are right there, including an airborne sequence that, though an exciting introduction to Lois Lane-woman of action, felt a tad familiar, like so many other generic moments, despite their specifics.

When I look at Superman Returns, I'm hard pressed to specifically fault it.
While it's nowhere near as subversive in it's success, it really draws parallels to the revamped Doctor Who TV franchise, which set about to reacquaint viewers with the fundamentals of what the character and series where about.
Much to my surprise, the film even manages to do a lot of the heavy lifting with allusions, such as the delivery of character and exposition through scenes set in the Daily Planet, which never actually show Clark Kent reporting on anything, despite a suspicious return to Metropolis that coincides with the big-blue.

It seems shamefully lo-brow to talk about a superhero film needing a supervillain. It feels like that's exactly the kind of thing we've all tried to repel from our medium which has been tarnished by less respecting efforts to translate it to the screen. Even so, if there's one undeniable issue here, it's Lex.

Well, that's not entirely true, it's Superman in-relation-to Lex.
I'll skim over the fact that Kevin Spacey's Luthor still has Gene Hackman lurking behind the contemporary veneer of a bald head, and beautiful suits. This character is far from the criminal mastermind who will become President!

[Bryan] Singer had originally conceived a script that brought General Zod back to the screen, but supposedly Jude Law's unwillingness to fill the role led to a rewrite of script. Personally, I imagine this would've been equally stale, but the necessity for a physical opponent feels present in a film that barely sees Superman clench a fist! One might argue this is a symptom of the comics, which offer a relatively meagre list of rogues for potential adaptation, but something fresh and physical might have been nice.

Of course, as described in the above fight summary, Superman isn't without his perils. One of the many motivators of a site like this is the opportunity to put myths under the microscope, like the common complaint that Superman is so powerful he's become unbeatable. A claim that couldn't be farther from the truth as the Man of Steel is utterly dismantled in the film's only feature fight.

You've got to give it some credit.
The gravity of the situation is completely underwhelmed on screen by the fact that Luthor isn't allowed to succeed, but think about it on your own time.
He's attempting to raise an entire continent riddled with Kryptonite. Imagine, will you, the prospect of a nation where Superman literally would have no power. As far as turning the home advantage against your opponent, you have to give credit to Lex [and the writers] for putting Superman at such a logical disadvantage!

That said, the extremes described by fans disatisfied with Superman's power levels are reversed, producing the same result. Superman fails to live up to the name, and in that respect the film can be disappointing. Likewise, though there are moments of perfect simplicity, the character almost demands a more bold interpretation. Scenes on the island fade to shades of grey, while brighter efforts pop with their surprisingly retro art design.

SUPERMAN RETURNS... More than once in a film that downplays the Man of Steel!Brandon Routh is unconvincing, and at times appears to be lost to the suit as his body turns on certain angles. Though CG successfully makes up for the seventies claim that we'd "... believe a man can fly", it cannot mask uneasy inconsitencies like Superman's spacefaring ejection of Luthor's Kryptonite-infested state (which had previously left him near death and barely able to stand).

The result continues the theme of weakness when Superman plummets back to Earth to suffer a coma. In heavy handed scenes in the Planet, headlines are prepared to announce Superman's death, and really, I feel something of that weight should've been saved for what should be an inevitable sequel.

I said I was hard pressed to fault the film, and while I'm doing a pretty good job at picking and pulling at pieces that were disappointing, don't confuse that with a critque designed to leave the film lambasted! Actually, without responding to anyone else's opinions, I get the impression the film was perhaps unfairly received by a good many.

With a catalogue of adaptations as reference, you can start to shuffle paradigms referring to the order of quality. If Catwoman and Ghost Rider is the worst of this crop, which I truly believe are, and Batman Begins and Sin City mark higher ends of the scale; then Superman Returns is probably most central of all movies.

A satisfying story and respect for the character mean a worthy product, but nothing about this stands out. Superman's feats of amazement never really have any reason to be, nor do they extend themselves beyond what we've seen before. CG deserves kudos for being almost unnoticable in scenes that, in conceptual review, are utterly underwhelming. Singer's devotion to the past is evident, and seems to come at the cost of detailed minutia and chic that made the X-Men films so satisfying. Then again, some of that might fall on the cast, too.

As the hours tick from night to day, I really want to wrap this up, but every time I try to do so, it seems unsatisfying. Each positive or negative manages to bleed into a related contradiction, which I suppose is how these major productions come unstuck, when you're that close to each piece.

I might leave further aspersions to you, the war mongers, but before I do, I do want to lament on one last thing. Something that actually pertains very specificially to the scene reviewed, which is not only a fight, but also a fairly tremendous six minute exchange between two sixty year old characters.

I zoom in on Routh, who captures Reeves' gawky Clark Kent with eerie efficiency, but never quite amazes as Superman. Having become aware of the Kryptonite weakening him, Superman's kicked to the ground.

That moment when he's snatched by the face and dragged along the ground, if I can dare to expose myself so much, is chilling. The small boy inside me who still runs around with that warn out Superman t-shirt (that has a cape attached!), and colours Superman pictures green and orange sometimes to create a new hero/villain, and marvels at Superman comics.

That small boy is utterly terrified by a Superman who grunts and howls, and screams his name like it's a threat when he couldn't be less capable of backing it up. It's the moment the parent becomes pathetic, and that's scary, and I almost wonder if that wouldn't have upset small children in theatres. I don't know. Maybe we were just made of different stuff, back in a time when Superman mattered.

The Fight: 4 The Film: 4.5

If you're at all like me, and reticent about Superman Returns, then I can wholeheartedly say I think you should at least give it a go. Contrary to the very nature of providing you with a review, I'd recommend going in with as few assumptions as possible, because I'm still surprised by what was served up.

If you're part of a rental scheme, that's the perfect way to check this movie out, but if you find yourself wanting to own the DVD, which unfortunately appears to lack a commentary, you should head over to Amazon.com! They've got products available for a range of super prices, and every time you use links from the Infinite Wars to purchase, you help us continue to do things like this! Kick-backs, because poppa gotta eat tonight! YEAH!

2 comments:

buzzlefett said...

I was also very upset by the fact that Superman was now able to lift a CONTINENT of Kryptonite that had recently completely incapacitated him and push it into space. I found it utterly unrealistic (funny to say about a fantasy movie!) and inconsistent within the movie.

But, I still like Kevin Spacey as a bad guy!

Mike Haseloff said...

I think I'd rather someone more physically intimidating. Not necessarily a muscular giant, but someone with a strong jawline, smooth head, good brow.

I feel we've done the Hackman thing, and now it'd be nice to get the kind of Lex Luthor I think of in the comics [today].