Friday, June 30, 2006

I miss Chris Reeve

It's as close to a Hollywood Delphi Oracle as you can really get: if Parker Posey is cast in a speaking role in your movie (and you're not Christopher Guest), your movie is doomed to disappoint. I mean, think about it: she had bit roles in Blade Trinity, You've Got Mail and Scream 3, and this week, she returned to the big screen as Lex Luthor's moll, Kitty. Hell, even showing up opposite Jimmy Fallon in a Pepsi commercial makes me want the soda less. As a comic book geek, I expect a certain kind of treatment for comic book movies. Thomas Jane as The Punisher left something to be desired. Michael Chiklis as the StayPuft Marshmallow Man version of the Thing had me cringing for all the wrong reasons. Chris Nolan (Batman Begins) got it right. As did Ang Lee who cast Industrial Lights and Magic (or some equivalent) as The Hulk. I didn't know what to expect for Superman Returns, but I knew that so long as they rejected Jonathan Lemkin's original script (IMDB writes that Lemkin submitted a script in which Superman dies and Lois dies giving birth to a new, fully-adult Superman at the end of the film), there really was no direction to go but up, up and away. Bryan Singer at the helm of yet another comics-related movie seemed to be a sure-fire bet. And although I thought newcomer Brandon Routh looked a little too slim in the Supes costume, he was practically Whoopi Goldberg channeling Chris Reeve -- it was sort of eery to watch Routh as Clark Kent; you practically had to blink to make sure Reeve wasn't making a posthumous appearance. Unfortunately, this strength of the film also proves to be its downfall. The problem is that Singer seems to love his camp a little too much. While making an homage to the old Chris Reeve films will be much appreciated by most fans, again we see the problem of treading too finely between homage and down-right Xerox. While trying to return to the screen everything we loved about the "Reeve" Superman films and though the film's theme is the passing of knowledge and experience from father to son, Singer's Superman Returns never manages to make the film his own. Instead, the film is haunted by the spectre of Chris Reeve, and despite how well Routh imitates Reeve, we end up merely being reminded of how much it is an imitation and how much we miss Chris Reeve. Don't get me wrong -- there was great enjoyment in watching what a modern-day Chris Reeve Superman movie could've looked like (as far as visual effects and contemporary movie-making technology). Updated special effects gave the movie a watchability that will appeal to younger audience members that the original Reeve Superman could never hope to achieve. And I practically gave the film a standing ovation when the neon lettering of the opening credits flashed onto the screen to the sounds of the original John Williams overture. Marlon Brando as Jor-El nearly had me weeping. And this was all in the first five minutes. But what I thought was a trifling of Easter Eggs soon became a full Resurrection of the Son. Singer stuffed this film chock full of references not only to the original Superman films, but also to some iconic Superman comic book covers. Several shots were set up to be reminscent of memorable scenes from the Chris Reeve films, and even Kevin Spacey was directed to channel Gene Hackman's bumbling Lex Luthor rather than the more insidious figure he represents in comics (the only mistake I think the Chris Reeve films made). As mentioned earlier, Brandon Routh is brilliant as Christopher Reeve. Unfortunately, someone should have told him to buck Singer and try to infuse a little of his own flair into Superman, and make Superman his. The physical resemblence and his uncanny Clark Kent would've been enough to pay respects to Chris Reeve's memory -- Brandon Routh must establish that he's more than a talented look-alike. Also, as described earlier, Kevin Spacey was good as a goofy Lex Luthor, but he was hardly scary; Singer should have chosen to use the five-year gap in storyline between the last film in the Superman franchise and Superman Returns to redefine Lex Luthor into a personality more ominous and in-keeping with modern-day comic book movies. As a somewhat foolish and inept man (with good evil intentions), Lex Luthor of film is hardly a match for Superman. But what was perhaps most galling was Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. As much as this film made me miss Chris Reeve, it made me miss Margot Kidder more. Kate Bosworth simply doesn't manage to capture the magnetism of Lois Lane, and is certainly not talented enough to fill Kidder's large shoes. Further, Lois Lane of Superman Returns hardly does justice for the feminist icon that her character in the comics has become for many -- in this film, not only does Bosworth's Lois seem to shrink in any scene in which she's acting opposite an adult man, but symbolically, her character, supposedly a capable, spunky journalist who doesn't take shit from anyone (and smokes a proverbial buttload of cigarettes a day), can't handle Superman disappearing for five years without saying goodbye. Rather than deciding that her self-worth isn't based upon the presence of a man whose made it his second job to sweep her off her feet, Lois decides to "move on" by immediately attaching herself to another man, one Richard White, nephew to Daily Planet editor-in-chief, Perry White. Implicit in this act is that upon Superman's disappearance, Lois found herself a pregnant single mother and seems to have thought it best to find herself a man. Lois freakin' Lane needs a man, and not just any man, but Richard White, who she uses to further her career at the Daily Planet, by manipulating him into speaking on her behalf to Perry on at least two occasions. This also suggests that Lois freakin' Lane didn't become top journalist at the Daily Planet because of her gumption and aptitude, but that she essentially slept her way to the top. Lois freakin' Lane. And, during the film, Perry inexplicably keeps dismissing Lois, even telling her to busy herself finding a pretty dress. Lois freakin' Lane. For her part, Kate Bosworth's Lois doesn't seem like she could stand up to Perry, so it was hardly surprising for Perry to act that way. And, upon Superman's return, Lois is rendered speechless and literally faints. Lois freakin' Lane! Finally, this film was the subject of some minor hype when it was mentioned that Kal Penn (of Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle fame) would be starring as "one of Lex Luthor's main henchmen", a minion named Stanford (the dude had a name? the dude had lines?). Although it's nice to see that Metropolis has, in recent years, finally integrated its population, Kal Penn was hardly astereotypical as the one amongst Luthor's crew who had the scientific know-how, although at least that was better than the other three forgettable minions whose talents consisted of grunting. Overall, Superman Returns wasn't bad, but it was exactly what one would've expected had they gone on to make a Superman V while Chris Reeve was still alive. While I enjoyed watching the film, there was nothing particularly special about this movie. It was no Batman Begins.


Blogger William said...

You thought Ang Lee got it right in "Hulk"?! Are you talking about casting or the movie itself? The man is talented, for sure, but it was all wrong! 3 hours for some psychological thriller about a guy who gets mad and punches shit?! And the "riveting" fight scene involves said green psycho beating the shit out of gamma-radiated dogs?

It took big balls to make that statement, Jenn. Big balls, indeed...

7/01/2006 01:45:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

in the years that you've known me, have you ever known me NOT to say the shit that will rile people up?

Yes, Hulk was good. They actually made a character whose repertoire of the English language consist of a pronoun and the word "Smash" into a riveting tale of psychological conflict.

That's Ang Lee. Talk about talent.

7/01/2006 03:55:00 AM  
Blogger The Video Store Girl said...

Actually, I liked Lee's Hulk too -- very underrated, and when I mention I like the movie to my friends they go "WHAT?" But I don't understand the hate for it. "Daredevil," on the other hand...

7/01/2006 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Superman killed three people!

Why is no one talking about this?

Three people, and not even Kryptonian criminals! Hell, for all he knew, he could have taken out all five, including Lex! I think he was out in space banging Wonder Woman for too long and some bad habits crossed over.

Plus, he's got children running around the planet he hasn't claimed, he's ducking child support, and the three folk he took out in the movie beat his ass just 'cause earlier in the film.

Clearly, Brandon Routh is the Blackest Superman on Earth. I think 50 Cent will sign him to G-Unit Records next week.

7/01/2006 07:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...


Superman was downright evil in his old days.

I thought it was amusing to see William and Jenn arguing the same thing, but for different sides.

7/02/2006 06:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Adam said...

Ang Lee's Hulk is most definitely under-rated! I liked it, and seeing it after meeting Mr. Lee himself, it makes sense that he would try to enfuse a little sophistication into a misunderstood character. The HULK, for anyone who really knows the character was always about more than, "HULK, SMASH!!"

7/03/2006 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger Karen Strang said...

This is a great post. Your paragraphs on the current incarnation of Lois are important and, as far as I know, unreported in the media, which I think is a cryin' shame.

I have quoted (with attribution and link) your views on Lois Lane at my own Livejournal, I hope that's okay. Feel free to check out my own additions to your thoughts.

7/07/2006 01:05:00 PM  
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