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.)