Superman Returns (2006)
Guest Review by The Mighty Royce
The joy of Million Monkey Theater is the obscurity of its chosen focus. Gems of mediocrity buried by dust and time are unearthed for our entertainment and offer us something new that we the audience may very well never have seen. I'm a newbie to the serious appreciation of the B-genre, yet, like a pimple-faced adolescent at a Stones concert, have been asked on stage to dance badly beside the headline act.
As a guest reviewer, I'm extended certain societal privileges by my host which even he himself may not be able to enjoy. I get the bed whilst he gets the couch. I get to watch whatever I want to on TV. I get to play with the cats yet don't have to clean the litter tray. You get the idea. Last but not least of these privileges is the ability to bring a little something different to the existing dynamic for a short while which, not being steeped in house rules, might make you say, "Yeah, I guess I can see where you're coming from!" That little something different is, in this case, a slight stretching of the borders of inclusion in Million Monkey's pilloried pantheon. As a guest, I shall abide by my host's laws and edicts and at the same time make a compelling case for my more commercial choice of review.
The B-Movie, as Commandant Lassard might say is many, many wonderful things to many, many wonderful people. If I had to write the Top Five rules in stone to identify a B-Movie, they would be as follows:
1. It must be highly derivative.
2. ...if not a total rip-off.
3. It must have acting so butt-clenchingly wooden that you find yourself fantasising about humanely ending the actor's lives (or your own) as an act of mercy.
4. It must have plot holes you could drive a cartwheeling mastodon through and still have room for a Death Star on toast.
5. The viewer must have seen it all before....and better.
There are other rules of course. Your own five may be totally at odds with mine; but as I say, I'm waving my guest reviewer card like a pop star in line at Walmart and demanding precedence. I shall intersperse the review with more as they come to mind. It is not insane to offer the hypothesis that there is only one thing worse, more contemptible and unforgivable than a B-Movie that follows the above rules: that's an A movie that deliberately CHOSE to follow them. Yes, guns at the ready boys, we're facing the withering visage of that damned hybrid, The A/B movie. You know, AB....as in abysmal, abominable, abased, aberrant, and abhorrent. This review spotlights just such a willing puppy, one which gladly rolls in the poop of the five above. It had no excuse. It had the studio backing, the promotion, a headliner name, a critically acclaimed director, the special effects budget and a character so beloved by the public that they would forgive him absolutely anything. As a comic book devotee, I should have been one of those people. Alas, no. I'm popping my knuckles above the keyboard, rolling my neck and getting ready to bury this stiff in the crypt o' night (that's as good as you're going to get folks, this is free).
Superman Returns (2006) in a nutshell is Superman: The Movie (1978). Well, it's been fun, goodnight! No, like me, you're going to stay. The audience for this review will be split into two camps. One who never saw the movie because they think superheroes are for the birds and will therefore avoid this rant and will therefore not even be an audience, whilst the second will be comic book fans who, six years later, still can't hear enough about how bad this film was and find fraternity and vindication in sharing the trauma with others. Camp Two, this one's for you. A tale of a heroic humanoid alien, an evil genius, a stunned and helpless populace, a damsel in distress and a mutant hybrid space baby. B-Movie all over it, I'm telling you.
The last five letters may be alternately replaced by "made", hashed" or "gurgitated".
It pretty much drops the ball right out of the gate, as an opening title card informs us that "On the doomed planet Krypton, a wise scientist placed his infant son into a spacecraft and launched him to earth." Check. "Raised by a kind farmer and his wife, the boy grew up to become our greatest protector...Superman." With you so far. "But when astronomers discovered the distant remains of his home world, Superman disappeared." Whoa. Wait a minute. You're telling me it took Earth technology, millennia behind Krypton's, to discover the debris of the planet and then tell Superman? What about the technology at the Fortress of Solitude? That couldn't have detected this long before Humanity's glorified space monocle did? Regardless, the heroic and self-sacrificial Superman behaves exactly as his character dictates and shoots off into the cosmos for five years leaving us neck deep in our own mire without so much as a by your leave. Displayed in the comics (especially the Golden Age) and hinted at in the films is the sheer immensity of Superman's intellect. Now, I'm no bulletproof space genius, but if coming within ten feet of one shard of my home planet could drop me to my knees, I wouldn't be in a hurry for a reunion. Sure, maybe you could find some cool and interesting stuff amidst the wreckage of Krypton: ancient yet advanced technology, art, a lot of really surprised looking floating heads, but would it be worth it? It would be like someone handing you a bucket of wasps and telling you there was a Jolly Rancher at the bottom. I'd pass.
The deleted scenes see Kal-El returning to the shattered remains of his old planet. Going back home is always hard, especially when the ranch has been reduced to continent-sized chunks of a highly-irradiated and deadly substance that's your biggest weakness.
It's time to meet the villain: Lex Luthor, evil genius. We see him con a fortune out of a dying old lady whom he seems to have pleasured in ways that would ignite a church at twenty paces. Long story short (and oh-so-conveniently) he inherits the old dear's wealth and sets about re-establishing himself as a major player on the badass scene. Rather than use her fortune to take the house, invest and live like a king for the rest of his life in Waikiki, mastermind (ha) Luthor decides to head for the bone-crippling chill of the North Pole for some spelunking. First thing you'd do, right? He is played by Kevin Spacey, the name draw in this woe-begotten shambles. Spacey is the worst actor in the history of carbon-based life. Don't you "The Usual Suspects" me. Or "Se7en" me either. Those were good films; HE sucks. He must have attended the same drama school as Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones and David Duchovny. I looked for their old acting Alma Mater on Google maps. There's a black hole there now due to the UTTER, UTTER SUCK the school created (yes, objective and critical writing. I love it. I don't write it, but I love it.). Some call Spacey bland, monotonic, incapable of emotion and visibly embarrassed by his own craposity on screen. His critics are less kind.
Between takes, Spacey entertained his co-stars with extremely brief readings of bubble gum wrappers.
Back at the Kent crib, we see Ben Hubbard driving off after what seems to have been a metaphysical game of Scrabble with Ma Kent. Blazing like a star and rumbling like thunder, The Kryptonite Express returns (miraculously avoiding Ben's attention in the silent dark of the Kansas night) and parks like a comet in the back yard. Superman/Clark Kent is played by Brandon Routh, who suffers nobly through a terrible script and paint by numbers direction. He looks the part in every way and exudes a real humanity and compassion which this damn movie never lets him capitalise on unless it's making him look like a contradictory dink. Anyhoo, Ma takes this in her stride and cradles her alien prodigal as the CIA and Men in Black crowd the farm guns drawn and start asking what the hell that just was on their radar. Or maybe it didn't show up on the radar. Like this movie.
We cut to Lex aboard his new luxury yacht, where he is expounding his desire to share power with Mankind. You know, the way all evil dudes do. He's going to make money out of this philanthropy, as he emotes to his equally bland airhead female sidekick (another lift from 1978's Superman). Lex parks the yacht in the North Pole and just walks through the front door of Superman's Fortress of Solitude. No built-In defences. No laser gates. No "Beware of the dog" signs. Just walks right in. Why? The plot (ha) needs him to. He rapes the annals (ouch) of Kryptonian knowledge to hatch a scheme he seemed to already have had on the boat over. Jor-El doesn't even recognise the difference between his tall, muscular, raven-haired offspring and the egghead midget with the saggy face standing in front of him.
Yeah, I'd have to ask to see some I.D. too.
Clark wakes up next morning and casually remarks to his mother that he buried the ship. Why didn't he just stick it in the barn with the one from the first movie? Oh yeah, it vaporised itself in Superman IV. No wait, this movie denies the existence of Superman III and IV. Regardless, wouldn't it have been easier to hit "dematerialise" on the thing and not render valuable farm land utterly unusable with alien radiation?
Don't worry about the crops, Son. Breakfast cereal that makes kids glow in the dark is just what the world needs.
Anyway, Clark flicks through the TV stations to find Earth as it usually is: a mass of chaos and self-inflicted misery. He grimaces heroically at these images as if to say "Oh, the terrible waste of life and potential! I care so much! That's why I left you all to it for five years to go poison myself!"
Yeah, don't act like you give a crap.
So far, we have practically a scene for scene with the Reeve original. An opening set up with the explosion of Krypton, Kal-El travelling to Earth and crash landing in Kansas and being found by a Kent. All it has to do now, if it has no shame and wants to continue on a horribly derivative footing, is to show the audience scenes of Clark reveling in his powers during his youth in Smallville. But it won't, right? I mean, that would just be too damn blatant. Course it won't!
Course it did.
I mean, it's like a terrible, no-budget foreign rip-off which simply lifted the plot wholesale and hoped to palm it off on an uninformed audience as original material. That's a B-Movie credential right there. Superman Returns is already shaping up to be nothing but a cynical, soulless, creativity free zone only concerned with conning genre fans and making a buck. There are some more B-Movie credentials. Man, I'm learning fast! I must take care not to become mad with power. Chilling at the Million Monkey has taught me that hack writing and hilariously handy plot contrivances serve to fill in the gaps which are supposed to be filled by meaningful exposition, plot advancement and character development. In this movie, those three can take a big old running jump over a Kansas cornfield.
Then, in possibly the most sickening "up yours!" to an audience ever set to celluloid, Clark just walks straight back into his job as a FEATURE reporter at the Daily Planet as if he's only been in the john and not hanging out with llamas for five years. We are further insulted, as is one Norm Palmer, by finding out the previous guy filling Kent's seat just happened to die at the precise moment Clark needed a job. This is played as comedy. I’m sure Norm's widow is splitting her sides. "It was his time," says Jimmy Olsen. Well, now it's your time you little bow tie pimping toady. There is a stunningly obvious subtext here that young Jimmy is very fond of Clark. One might even say enamoured or besotted. Now, where a man wants to jam his Johnson is his own business, gay straight or Republican is ok with me, but something about Jimmy's unbridled leg humping is just...creepy. He even manages to sneak up on Clark (who has super hearing) as he finds out his own beloved Lois Lane has moved on and is now in a relationship with another man and seemingly with a child. Like any hound dog trying to get the briefs off their love target, Jimmy makes his move as Clark is in pain and offers alcohol.
Hope sprang eternal when Jimmy realised Clark didn't mind sucking on a Bud.
Lois Lane makes her entrance aboard an experimental shuttle. She's played by Kate Bosworth, and has all the fire, spunk and personality of an energy saving light bulb. The girl just seems dead in the eyes, voice and soul. Or maybe she can't act. Like, oh Luthor, all his one dimensional henchmen, Luthor's girlfriend....Sure, she may be peeved that her big blue beau ditched her five years ago, but Lois should be more than what a man makes her, right? Meanwhile, Lex has absconded from the Fortress with a piece of Kryptonian crystal and is using it to destroy toy trains. The fun part here is listening to the real world sound effects that have been added to the model sequence, including "argh!" from the model citizens as they topple over. If this was in a movie with a tenth of the budget, it would have been laughed off the screen. As it is, it ain't. By tinkering with forces Man should best leave alone, the resultant emissions from his toy train experiments hit the surrounding city and the ascending shuttle.
The TV reports that the poop has hit the propeller, and Clark takes to the air. You can tell it's an emergency, as he runs out and leaves his overcoat (no doubt containing his wallet, credit cards and Junior G-Man membership card) hanging over a stool. To give it its due, the spectacle of Superman saving the shuttle is, well, spectacular. But good effects do not an A Movie make, and the plot makes the discerning viewer demand to know why the unlimited might of the Man of Steel can lift a continent (as we shall see) but takes forever to put the brakes on an airliner.
Don't look at me like that. I'm admitting it was awesome.
After making sure the occupants of the shuttle have suffered irreparable whiplash and serious mental trauma, he brings the craft to a halt in the middle of a packed baseball game and drops it on the field. Popping inside to wink at Lois and deliver Christopher Reeve's speech after saving his Lois from another faulty aircraft, he leaves to the rapturous applause of the crowd who simply accept he is back without either A) fleeing in panic at an approaching aircraft and trampling each other to peanut butter B) shaking with shock and not being able to lift their heads let alone cheer, or C) screaming "You bastard, we've been dropping like flies in accidents just like this for the last half a decade! Where the %^&$ were you?!" The bad imitations of the 1978 original continue as Perry White (Frank Langella) demands the Daily Planet be all over the return of Superman like white on rice. Line for line almost, it offended me to the point of the paper bag. Lois and Clark even leave work in a step for step reshoot of its predecessor. Frank Langella is a seasoned pro and such a versatile actor you could use him for a salad sauce, but man is he wasted here. It's that cringing, helpless moment for a bad movie reviewer when you realise "I can't save that person! They're too good for this movie!" But by jingo, I can sure as heck do THIS:
Frank Langella is ten kinds of epic. This wasn't a promo shot. This is his passport photo.
By this time, Lois' seeming son has been introduced and he's a wheezy, weak little kid who along with his father proves to be the real hero of the piece. I liked the character for the simple reason that he acted like a kid. Hollywood seems to think that all screen children must be abnormally intelligent, disillusioned and with all the cynicism and social smarts of a 60 year old hooker. The boy, in the only moment of genuine humour in the film, sees straight through Clark's disguise when he looks between a picture of him and Superman. More on him later.
Lovelorn Superman decides to spy on Lois at home using his X-Ray vision in another dose of creepiness (hanging with Olsen too long). Pointless and forgettable Lex scenes drag by before we see Superman take Lois on a copy of the classic '78 flight over the city. She chews him out first though and tells him she's moved on and has a new life with a good man called Richard who also takes her flying. Superman, being who he is, steps away decently and wishes her luck. Or he should have. Instead, he decides to urinate all over the good man by showing him what flying really is, and takes another guy's girlfriend off for an intimate anti-gravity session....right by her goddamn house! Why didn't he just knock the window on his way by and kiss Lois' face off as Richard looks on in shock? The scriptwriters will doubtless say this is to show Superman's fallibility and humanity. Personally, I don't think misusing your power, spying on people and breaking up a happy family spell human. It spells "h-o-r-s-e-s—a-s-s".
Loose Lane and Slutterman.
It's no loss to the viewer if we leap straight to nosey Lois and her son being taken hostage aboard the Lex yacht where he intends to sail out and drop some Krypto-crystal into the ocean in order to create a new continent which he will use to make a fortune in real estate. Rather handily, as Lex tells Lois everything about his evil plan, map after map all beautifully detailed slide down to illustrate his points. Now, either Lex has a professional cartographer on board, or he spent a lot of time in prison thinking this one up. Oddly, he tells Lois his plan will kill billions by flooding parts of the United States. Unless I'm behind on the facts, he could submerge the entire country and still not kill billions, plural. Does America even have a billion? Nah, it can't have. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Long story short (too late!) Lois gets her co-ordinates faxed to the Planet alerting Richard and Supes to her location...right before her kid plays "Heart and Soul" on a piano with one of Luthor's heavies then smashes him in two with the piano. Say, that kid's vitamins must really be kicking in. There's only one other guy I know of who could have done that.
In another "I want to kill my TV by biting it to death" rip-off, Returns steals from Superman's dilemma of finding the hero trapped between choosing to save the many who are under threat from geological upheaval or to rescue Lois who is about to be buried beneath a suffocating and crushing natural substance (78 -- Earthquake, Lois buried in earth -- 06 -- Earthquake, Lois submerged in water). He chooses to save the people first, Lois later, and manages both. Hey, nice one. Lois and family (bold Richard having flown in to save the day and flunked) make it to safety. Meanwhile, Lex has raised a Krypto-Continent with an edge and is waiting for Superman to arrive. When he duly does, he gets his trunks handed to him by Luthor, who has seeded the landmass with Kryptonite. Dang. Lex breaks a shard of it off in Superman's side (the Christian viewership had a field day with the Christ symbolism in this movie) and kicks him to a watery grave. Luckily, Richard, Lois and Junior all fly back to see if he's ok, with the kid spotting Superman from a height in a storm and practically underwater. Say, that kid's eyesight is amazing. I mean the only other guy I know of who could do that is....wait a minute....
Our hero is soon toweled off and completes the drying process by heading straight toward the sun and absorbing its rejuvenating rays. This is actually beautiful. The music, up until this point derivative and forgettable, soars to ethereal heights as we feel the warmth of Sol empowering Superman and restoring hope for the rest of us, which is why it gets about five seconds in the entire movie.
The film's one shining moment.
To be fair, we then see the epic sight of Superman burning the continent a new one with his heat vision and slicing it into a gargantuan chunk which he then proceeds to lift into the air. A continent made of kryptonite. Lex owned Supes by stabbing him with a slender chip of the stuff. Some fans have said there was enough crystal between him and the kryptonite to allow him the strength and the time to get it off into space. What the layer wouldn't protect him from was rampaging Christians who saw his floating to earth with arms outstretched schtick a little too much to handle. I'm sure not many of the faithful showed up to yank Supes out of the crater he bombs out of a Metropolis park.
God would have better wallpaper.
The movie concludes with Superman recovering after Lois tells him that Junior is his son. Being the apex of moral evolution, he takes Lois gently to the side and asks how he might possibly contribute to raising his son in the role of a responsible and attentive father. By now, we know he actually doesn't. Instead, he rehashes some Brando from the '78 then says to Lois "Well, guess I'll be off now!" And that's it. No tender moment between the parents. No truth for the kid. Not a cent in maintenance from the Bank of Kent. Nope, it's time to replicate the money shot of Superman flying into space that ended the classic movie. Derivative, insulting, fifth rate, blandly acted by all but a few and predictable as this guff was, I actually am very, very grateful this particular version was made.
Because it could have been so much worse, that's why.
Written in August 2012 by The Mighty Royce and used with his permission. No refunds.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...