Sunday, January 17, 2010

"And Nothing To Do But Go On Home" (or: "Dudes, Remember Bryan Singer Made A Superman Movie?")

Holy crap, Superman Returns, aren't you an hour and forty-five minutes drowning in a two-and-a-half-hour movie? (And, on AMC, it's a three-and-a-half-hour affair, but I hadn't seen it since it was out in theaters and decided to give it another go.)

I'm not even saying there should have been more action (couldn't've hurt, though), and I'm certainly not going to insist "Superman needs to punch somebody" because he most certainly does not have to ... but man, this is a movie in need of some content. Maybe you could get away with long, silent glances if they seemed to signify something, either in the writing or in the acting, but it's an awful lot of audience participation going on there - "Fill in the blanks, kids, what do you think Lois is feeling but can't find the words to express?"

But what makes that two-and-a-half hours inexcusable is that the movie doesn't have any payoff, not really, anyway. I mean, the whole secret-child angle and competing with the kid's swell-guy dad for Lois' affections - it's not my favorite idea, I'll admit. But it could be interesting. Spare me the "faithful adaptation"; at this point, I'd much rather watch a movie like The Dark Knight, that takes a risk by using these concepts as a springboard to talk about things that matter to somebody, than an updated Superman origin using CGI. So I am totally willing to give this a shot. And it does start out very amibitiously, even to the point where I'm thinking on this second viewing, Man, maybe they really are going somewhere with this.

But they don't. Lot of questions to be sure, and that gives it the illusion of gravity: How does Superman cope with a world that's moved on in his absence? What would fatherhood mean for the Man of Steel? (Hey, that one might be something I could get into now.) Most importantly, as Eliott S! Maggin put it, "Must There Be A Superman?"

But at the end of the movie, I don't know. The movie doesn't answer any of those questions. Okay, Dark Knight doesn't give you the firm answer on any of the questions it poses, either, but it engages with them so that you can work it out yourself. You can debate the morality of the characters' actions in The Dark Knight - even that crap about "Batman is George W Bush" ... there's at least enough material in the movie where there's a case to be made.

But Superman Returns doesn't give you even that much. It lays before you a bunch of questions and then refuses to give you the tools to answer them with. This is a movie that's really just shrugging its shoulders, saying "Hey, don't ask me, I'm just puttin' it out there. I mean, I'm just sayin' is all..."

So what's the point of Superman Returns, ultimately? If it's spectacle, it's dragging in places. If it's a love story, the leads don't connect. It hits the Superman-as-Christ-figure beats, but only in that totally superficial screenwritery way. That bit at the end with Superman giving his son the same speech his father gave him - surely that's too thin, too irrelevant to you and I to justify 150 rather ponderous minutes.

And then Superman flies away into the sky, and they play that John Williams theme, and Brandon Routh does that same fly-by-the-camera thing Christopher Reeve used to do ... well, what does that mean? Because that music's always meant "Superman's saved the day and everything is fine" in the previous movies this film is so dutifully referencing. But there is no closure in this movie, so that music's just hollow. Rather cynically, it's using that familiar score to fool you into thinking that the movie is over - "Yep, that's it, everything's resolved ... you wouldn't be hearing that music if it wasn't, right?"

What is the point? You've got the Christ stuff, the abandonment issues, the fatherhood stuff, the unresolved love triangle ... and married to the constant homage to the previous Superman movies that just weighs it down because Brandon Routh looks a lot like Christopher Reeve but isn't, Kevin Spacey is doing a lot of the stuff that Gene Hackman is doing but isn't as funny when he's trying to be, the theme's by John Williams but the score's by somebody else.

You're a weird animal, Superman Returns. But that makes you an interesting failure. I watched you twice, which is more than I can say for Ben Affleck in Daredevil.

(I'd like to see that 20-page essay in defense of Superman Returns that Quentin Tarantino was supposedly working on, actually. Like, quite a bit.)

12 comments:

plok said...

A non-comics friend of mine got to the end of this one and howled. "That's IT?!? Where's my freakin' closure?!?"

For me, it was more like: holy shit, Lois is going to have some explaining to do to her husband one of these days, isn't she? Now there's a fight you could sell tickets to...

Justin said...

Yeah, actually, I re-checked-out your post on Sin City/Superman Returns because I remembered something about that in it.

I really *would* like to see Lois tell Richard White about her son, and see him deal with that, because *that* seems like it'd have some emotional weight and payoff. I mean, wouldn't that have been the most interesting thing in that movie, theoretically? Or, just the opposite, Lois saying she'll *never* tell him, and we have to deal with the morality of having that lie hanging over the relationship.

But we don't get *either*. I mean, there's setting up for a sequel, and there's not finishing your first movie to begin with. Is Lois going to tell Richard? Is Superman going to pursue Lois or stand aside? What role is he going to have in the raising of his kids? I can't even speculate because it's just like MOVIE OVER, CUE FANFARE.

Basically, if Superman had said "Sorry, Lois, I'll never leave again," I'd at least feel like he *learned* something.

plok said...

That's really the heart of it, isn't it? There's nothing this movie can't refuse to tie up. Even down to: all the time Superman's in the hospital, I'm thinking "so where's Martha Kent? Just fucking outside, or something?" Cruel, cruel movie. Then there's Luthor stranded on the island -- wow, Superman doesn't even take him to jail.

No arc terminates, no plot point pays off.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this, I was just watching (again) and wondering (all over again), "is that all there is?"

'Lil Ric said...

That dude Lois hooked up with in Superman's absence came off as ten times cooler than Superman himself. He saved the day after Superman got his ass kicked by Kumar and he did it without any superpowers. He was even played by James Marsden which seems to be comic movie shorthand for, "shit on this guy!"

I remember loving Superman returns until about 45 minutes in when it was obvious that it wasn't going to get any better or go anywhere fun.

Josh said...

Yeah, how about the completely botched visual style. Justin, I know you and I have discussed this at long end. But Singer's vision of Metropolis made no sense in continuity. If Superman Returns is a direct sequel of the Donner Superman II then Metropolis should look like a city from the 70's. If its supposed be set in modern day then it should look modern. Instead we get a city that looks like it stepped out of 1950. Its Bruce Timm's Gotham brought to life. But thats not Metropolis from the comics at all. Metropolis is the city of the future. Its more advanced than New York, Tokyo, London, you name it. But instead Singer has brought back Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

His color palette is completely desaturated. Again, completely wrong. Superman is the one character that lets you go full saturation primary colors. Most comic movies that should be desaturated use neon and it is terrible. It seems like Singer missed a lot of visual cues.

Justin said...

Ric: Yeah, I mean, I give the filmmakers credit for not taking the easy way out. It would be the laziest thing in the world to make the guy Lois is involved with into an utter tool or a coward or an unexciting guy, but the movie actually presents you with some conflict by making Richard White such a swell dude. On the other hand, he's *so* great that he has me actually rooting *against* Superman, and like ... that can't be *right*, can it? I'm all for introducing shades of gray, but this is a movie that makes me actively dislike Superman's character, and that's hard to do.

(Also, right about James Marsden: If I ever met him, I'd take him out for drinks and be like, "Yeah, screw Wolverine and Superman, dude, you're a friggin' *prince*, man." As though these are real people, that's how much I feel for the characters he's stuck potraying.)

Josh: The most stereotypical thing in the blogosphere - the writing-guy critiques narrative but doesn't even consider the artistic merits (or lack thereof), so thanks for bringing that up. That brownish-red of Superman's cape kills me too. And you bring up a good point on a larger scale about Metropolis - *is* this a continuation of the Donner Superman, or just an homage? It was a thrill to hear the John Williams Superman theme in the theatre, but in the back of my head I knew, Williams didn't actually have anything to do with this movie, they're just using his themes. Confusing experience.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Josh said...

Anonymous there makes a good point. Also his html is very clean. We should all go ahead and do what he says and buy whatever he wants us to buy. Whether its penis enlargers, cheap Rolex watches, or just sending money to a wealthy prince overseas who needs the money to retake his throne and he will return it with interest once he regains power. Man that Anonymous guy is really smart.

Justin said...

Yeah, Anonymous made so many good points I had to delete him or her for being TOO BRILLIANT.

(Actually, your response almost made me decide not to delete it, but...)

Justin said...

Um, not the Anonymous who made the fourth comment, of course, but the spammer who was frankly wasting his or her time anyway.

Josh said...

fair enough.