Thursday, October 22, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: Superman Returns

Why don’t people talk about Superman Returns more? Is it because it came out nine years ago and I just missed the boat? Or do I have a new appreciation for it because I haven’t seen it in at least five years? Or is it because everyone’s hopped onto this superheroes-have-to-be-broody train? Now, I like those stories (some of them, at least), but it’s refreshing to see a superhero story that’s not all gravity and weight. 

There are just so many wonderful elements in this movie. Yes, the story’s kind of silly at times, especially Lex Luthor’s plan to create a new landmass, but Kevin Spacey brings such villainy to the role that you almost can’t help but be entertained. John Ottman’s score is absolutely gorgeous and expertly utilizes John Williams’s original themes. Brandon Routh is so doofily charming as Clarke and yet poised and heroic as Superman. There’s just so much that works.

Watching it with a fresh eye after so long, though, a few things struck me. The first is Kitty Kowalski, Lex Luthor’s girlfriend and henchman. She goes along with Lex’s plans and even takes part in distracting Superman at one point. Eventually, though, she realizes that the danger is very real. Around two hours into the movie, after seeing Luthor defeat Superman, she asks, “Are people really going to die?” like this whole time she was going along with Luthor’s plan for a bit of fun and never imagined he could be serious. Then, as they escape in a helicopter, she dumps the all-important crystals out into the sea, knowing exactly how angry Luthor will be.

According to Comic Vine, Kitty doesn’t appear in the DC universe except for this movie and a cartoon prequel. Here’s the background info on her: “Kitty worked as a prison nurse in the prison where Lex Luthor was locked up. At their first meeting, Kitty watched him killing another prisoner. He tried to kill her too, but Kitty told him that she is his biggest fan and she can help him.” Talk about a character who knows how to survive! And then she gives it up that need for self-preservation and risks Luthor’s wrath when she decides all those people are more important than she is. For a genre that’s so focused on male-centric stories, Kitty’s presence and character arc completely surprised me.

Next up is Richard, Lois’s husband/boyfriend (it’s unclear exactly what their relationship is). Richard is kind of perfect. He’s a pilot. He’s a great dad. He goes and grabs dinner for the “intrepid reporters.” He doesn’t hesitate after he rescues Lois and Jason when she wants to go back for Superman. He drives Lois and Jason to the hospital to see Superman. Like, he’s such a good guy, and yet he’s always second-best to Supes. The movie could have easily villainized him, but writing him as a good guy is just another way the movie upholds Lois’s character. She’s smart and makes good choices, not just in her job, but in her personal life, too.

Which brings us to Lois Lane. Gosh, let’s talk about Lois Lane. I have so many feelings about her. She wins the Pulitzer Prize for her article “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” She raises a young son like a champ, always ready with an extra inhaler. She saves herself by faxing her coordinates to The Daily Planet. She jumps into the ocean to save Superman. Let me say that again. She jumps into the ocean to save Superman. I think the plot—Superman returns to Earth after five years to discover he may have fathered Lois’s son; Lois is appropriately angry about his prolonged absence—naturally lends itself to the old “Superhero is manly and stoic; his not-quite-girlfriend is basically in the background for him to win her (back)” narrative that characterizes the genre, which is why getting to see Lois as proactive both in her career and in relation to Superman is lovely. (I am aware of how long that sentence was. I’m not sorry.) It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s refreshing.

That’s not even delving into the themes and imagery, but I think that’s enough for tonight. At one point, this movie was in my donate-to-the-library box, but I’m glad I revisited it. I’ll be putting it back on the shelf for future movie nights.

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