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Following a mysterious absence of several years, the Man of Steel comes back to Earth in the epic action-adventure Superman Returns, a soaring new chapter in the saga of one of the world's most beloved superheroes. While an old enemy plots to render him powerless once and for all, Superman faces the heartbreaking realization that the woman he loves, Lois Lane, has moved on with her life. Or has she? Superman's bittersweet return challenges him to bridge the distance between them while finding a place in a society that has learned to survive without him. In an attempt to protect the world he loves from cataclysmic destruction, Superman embarks on an epic journey of redemption that takes him from the depths of the ocean to the far reaches of outer space.
When director Bryan Singer fled Fox Studios and the superhero franchise he started there for ‘Superman’, fan backlash was inevitable. But if fans were miffed, it’s only because Singer’s ‘X-Men’ movies are so damn good. ‘X-Men 2’ is easily one of the best superhero movies ever made, and the promise of a third movie continuing the complicated, character driven storyline begun in that film would have been wonderful. But despite his success with muties Bryan was ready for new challenges, and the man behind Wolverine jumped to Warner Bros., upgrading from Professor X’s school for the gifted to the biggest hero of all, Superman. The word “super” is actually in his name; come on, it doesn’t get bigger that that.
Warner Brothers, wisely, knew they’d need someone with experience and clout to bring the once mighty comic book hero back from virtual cinematic death. Singer, proven on ‘X-Men’, fits that bill, though even for him bringing back the big blue Boy Scout won’t be easy. ‘Superman’ first arrived in theaters back in 1978, with Christopher Reeve in the title role and Richard Donner in the director’s chair. The result was instant success, and the film spawned three sequels. Unfortunately, as is so often the problem, the series’ quality declined rapidly after number two, until the franchise quietly sputtered and failed on the release of the miserably bad fourth film ‘The Quest for Peace’.
That leaves Singer trying to resurrect something that audiences left for dead back in 1987. Christopher Nolan faced a similar challenge this year when releasing ‘Batman Begins’. His solution was a virtual reboot of the Batman franchise. For the Dark Knight, ‘Batman Begins’ was a chance to take up the mantle of the bat anew. Nolan chose to ignore the previous four Batman movies and chart his own course with a new cast and an all new story. For ‘Superman Returns’, Singer is going a different direction.
Bryan Singer’s solution is to ignore the bad Superman movies and pay homage to the good. ‘Superman Returns’ picks up a few years after the last good Superman movie, ‘Superman II’ leaves off. The film, is the story of Superman’s return to Earth after a long absence. The Man of Steel comes home to find that the world has changed. The woman he loves has moved on with her life, and the world at large has figured out a way to survive without him. They no longer need him. What’s a guy who’s faster than a speeding bullet to do?
To further tie his movie back to the first two Richard Donner directed Superman movies, Singer is doing something interesting. He’s cast Marlon Brando as Kal-El’s father, Jor-El. Wait a minute, isn’t Marlon Brando dead? Or has he taken up a secret life somewhere with Elvis? No, he’s pretty stiff, but ‘Superman Returns’ is bringing him back to life for a limited engagement. Brando played Jor-El in the original Superman movies, and so, using footage from those films, he’ll reappear in this one. Thing of him as a bridge between the old and the new. Singer’s so intent on paying homage to those original Superman flicks, that the film’s first trailer is narrated by Brando as well. He’s intent on getting us all to make that connection, right from the start.
Though no one will ever replace the late, great Christopher Reeve as Superman, Singer and company have found a guy, who at least physically, seems like a good stand in. Brandon Routh is a bit more gangly than Reeve, but otherwise he’s a dead ringer for exactly what we’d all expect from Clark Kent or Superman. His Kent especially, looks almost eerily like Reeve’s take. Looking the part doesn’t mean he’s necessarily right for the part though. Brandon Routh is an unknown commodity. His acting experience is mostly in soaps, which means he might as well have none. But then, Christopher Reeve wasn’t exactly a household name either the first time he wore Superman’s “S” emblazoned cape. Maybe it’s fitting that the new man in tights is another unknown.
Singer fought Warner Brothers insistence that he cast a big star as Superman, so he’s made up for Routh’s lack of draw by surrounding him with celebrity talent. Kevin Spacey has shaved and waxed his head to take on the part of Lex Luthor. Lex, will not be some idiot space alien… or whatever it was he was rumored to be written as in earlier, unproduced drafts of the ‘Superman Returns’ script. Those ideas were jettisoned along with Brett Ratner, who was once attached to the project as director. Instead, we get Spacey as the guy we all love to see get beaten up by Supes. Though Spacey should fit perfectly into the role, the same can’t be same for Kate Bosworth, who’s playing Lois Lane. Kate’s not exactly the first actress you think of when looking for a brunette, take charge kind of woman. She’s best known as a blonde, sometimes vapid surfer girl in movies like ‘Blue Crush’. Kate’s not a bad actress, just an odd choice for the type of girl any Super-fan knows Lois Lane to be.
If you’re looking for a way to get in on what’s happening with the ongoing production of ‘Superman Returns’, there’s only one way to do it. Watch Bryan Singer’s production journals. Taking a cue from the video diaries created by Peter Jackson during his filming of ‘King Kong’, the ‘Superman Returns’ team have created short featurettes during the process of making the film, and uploaded them on the website BlueTights.net. What you’ll find there is fantastic. The movie looks beautiful and the effects work is nothing short of stunning. Brandon Routh isn’t hanging in front of a blue screen with a fan blowing in his face, he’s actually flying. They’ve strapped Routh into a specially developed flying rig, and they’re literally flying their actor around a warehouse. Sure, they could have CG’d it, but ‘Superman Returns’ is going the extra mile. If Dan Harris and Mike Dougherty’s script can live up to Bryan Singer’s vision, we’re in for something unimaginably special.
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