Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane? No, It's ... a Mild Disappointment ; 'Superman Returns' with a Whimper in a Reverent, Sincere Movie That Lacks Great Characters

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane? No, It's ... a Mild Disappointment ; 'Superman Returns' with a Whimper in a Reverent, Sincere Movie That Lacks Great Characters

Article excerpt

Twenty years after the last "Superman" feature - anybody remember "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace"? - we have a new addition to the franchise. Weighing in at a budget of about $180 million, "Superman Returns" is a great, big, and very square superhero movie. After the slapstick of Richard Lester's "Superman II" and "III," director Bryan Singer has gone back to basics - with mixed results.

This approach should not be shocking to anyone who saw Singer's "X-Men" movies. A traditionalist in the fairly untraditional realm of comic-book movies, he doesn't go in for a lot of hoopla or high jinks. His take on "Superman" is almost childlike, and that is part of its appeal. He takes us back to the time when we read superhero comics as kids and all that crusading idealism could be taken straight, undiluted by satire or subversiveness.

With the new "Superman," what you see is pretty much what you get. While it's true that he's a brooder, he doesn't go in for the Hamlet-esque contortions that the Batman franchise has been prone to.

In Singer's film, which was scripted by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, Superman returns to Earth after being AWOL for five years. In search of his roots, he had been poking around the recently discovered ruins of Krypton. Back in Metropolis, he resumes his old job at the Daily Planet as Clark Kent and discovers that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has a child and a full-time boyfriend (James Marsden). Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is also back: Let's just say that his scheme to rule the planet involves Kryptonite.

It's probably no accident that Superman's five-year absence began in 2001. If I may put a sociological spin on it, Superman is a superhero for a post-9/11 world in dire need of one. (One curiosity: We are told that he stands for "truth and justice"; what happened to "The American Way"?) But Singer doesn't play up the 9/11 angle very much, and it's just as well. Do we really need Lex Luthor to be a stand-in for Osama bin Laden?

Although "Superman" is set in the present, it has a deliberately retro look. …

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