His "S" is Showing

It's not exactly a confession for me to say I dig on superhero movies. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man was almost exactly the movie I'd been wanting to see since I was seven years old and bought my first comic book, Web of Spider-Man #19. I liked the sequel even better. Sam Raimi really gets exactly what it is that makes Spidey so cool. Christopher Nolan did the same for Batman with Batman Begins; he was the first director of the Bat-franchise who understood that Batman doesn't have to be a tortured, angst-ridden weirdo (see Tim Burton's two entries) or a campy fetishwear joke (see Joel Schumacher's, or better yet, don't). Bryan Singer had a similar understanding of the X-Men. He understood the underlying mechanics that really make the concept tick and turned out two absolutely stellar X-Men movies.

Sad to say, I don't think Singer got Superman in the same way. I was really excited for this movie, from the moment I heard he was making it, and even moreso when I saw the teaser trailer earlier this year. I've always been a fan of Richard Donner's original movie, and I find Superman II ("Come, son of Jor-El! Kneel before Zod!") to be flawed but still thoroughly entertaining. As good as they are, those movies are dated and hampered by the limited special effects available at the time they were made. I was really looking forward to a Superman movie full of Superman doing really mind-blowing super-stuff, the kind they could never really show before. In the end, I have to concur with the always insightful Dave Campbell, who succintly said, "It didn't suck."

First off, we paid four bucks extra each for the IMAX 3-D experience, which was a complete waste. There was less than ten minutes of 3-D footage in a two-and-a-half hour movie. The 3-D effect is really stunning, but not worth the extra bread.

Secondly, this is one of the driest, talkiest superhero movies I've ever seen. There are exactly two sequences in the movie that are exactly what I was hoping for, Superman's initial in-costume appearance saving a doomed airplane and then foiling an over-the-top comic-book-style bank robbery a few minutes later. They are so perfectly done, so exhilerating, so spot-on with what a Superman movie really ought to be that ultimately it just made me kind of sad that the rest of the movie wasn't more like it. After that, we get well over an hour of talking and Superman and Lois Lane exchanging yearning glances before there's even a hint of action again.

It's at this point, where something actually happens again after far too much talk, that Singer and his writers make a decision that's so fundamentally boneheaded, so counter-intuitive, so contrary to the spirit of Superman, that it nearly sinks the entire film. What was up until then just a strange, slightly annoying element of the movie becomes an anchor, dragging the rest of the movie down with it. The last half-hour or so of the movie is especially notable as a mess, trying to resolve the plot and the myriad subplots with varying degrees of success.

Part of the problem is the perrennial problem with Superman - he's so powerful that no villain can really be appropriately threatening. Ultimately, Lex Luthor is an evil genius, but he's only human, but he's going up against a god. Luthor is never evil enough, never powerful enough, never more than a nuisance. That's what made Superman II so good - Superman was overmatched by three villains, all of whom had all the same powers as himself. There was drama, there was a real threat. Here, there's a bald man in a trenchcoat with the assistance of Parker Posey and the guy from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.

Still, there's a fair amount to like here. Brandon Routh makes a terrific Superman, paling in comparison to Chris Reeve only because Reeve was born to play the role. Still, Routh acquits himself well, and plays the contrast between Superman and Clark Kent nicely. Kate Bosworth is not terrible. Kevin Spacey is brilliant as always, though I wish he had been more willing to ham it up like Gene Hackman did in the same role. The special effects, when they happen, are great. Metropolis looks like a real, distinct city rather than New York with a different name - the whole movie is quite beautifully designed.

In the end, though, I wanted it to be more Super than it managed to be. Not a bad movie, but nowhere near as great as it could have been.