Dir: Bryan Singer. US.2006. 150 mins.
Like Sam Raimi did with Spider-man and Christopher Nolan with Batman Begins, Bryan Singer invests his new Superman movie withemotional intensity and high passions, creating a love triangle scenario whichis even more gripping than Lex Luthor's latest plot to destablise the world.Made with the intelligence and elegance that Singer brought to his X-Men films and filled with visual and thematicinvention, it's a thoroughly engaging summer spectacle which should have nodifficulty hitting the box office numbers that it needs to reignite thefranchise.
Singer'ssmart concept here is to continue the saga begun in the Christopher Reeve filmsof the 70s and 80s, thus avoiding time-consuming exposition about Superman'sorgins and past. Even without the exposition, however, the film is tooambitious. Singer tries to run adventure story alongside romance while keepingas many staples of the comic book intact as he can. Inevitably some fans of theDC Comic books will be disappointed at the uninspired Luthor plot, themarginalization of characters like Perry White and Jimmy Olsen and thetreatment of the Clark Kent alter ego who is summarily abandoned halfwaythrough the film after just a handful of scenes.
Fanswill nevertheless approve of Singer's reverence for the 1978 film - he usesfootage and dialogue of Marlon Brando as Jor-El as well as key themes from JohnWilliams' original score - and the casting of the new Superman in BrandonRouth. Warner Bros should attract both aficionados and a new generation ofSuperman fans and Singer will no doubt develop the characters and drama in asequel.
Quite how big the film willbe on arrival is anyone's guess. It could rival the $103m domestic openingscored by X-Men: The Last Standor might have a more modest debut, bearing in mind that the novelty of seeing aman fly was first exploited by Richard Donner in 1978.
Internationally, where theDonner film performed even better than domestically, audiences will flockto Singer's epic vision, which at a reported cost of $250m, is this year'sHollywood spectacle to beat.
Routh fits comfortably intothe tights, cape and codpiece of the Man of Steel. The former soap actorcombines all-American looks with a rock-hard body, calming strength of presenceand sensitivity all perfectly suited for the role.
The film begins with hisreturn from a five-year sojourn in outer space where he has been searching forfragments of Krypton. He crash lands at his earth parents' home in Kansas andis greeted by his mother Martha Kent (Saint). Soon afterwards he heads off toMetropolis to reclaim his job as a reporter at the Daily Planet.
Meanwhile his absence as akey witness at the trial of Lex Luthor (Spacey) has meant that the arch-criminalwas freed on insufficient evidence. Having conned a dying widow of her fortune,he and his inner circle - Kitty Kowalski (Posey) and Stanford (Penn) - set offto find the Fortress Of Solitude where the legacy and secrets of Krypton areheld.
Once at the Daily Planet,Superman aka Clark Kent discovers that crack reporter Lois Lane (Bosworth) isliving with her new boyfriend Richard White (Marsden), the nephew of PerryWhite (Langella), and the two have a young son called Jason (Leabu). Furthermore,she has just won the Pulitzer Prize for a scathing story entitled "Why TheWorld Doesn't Need Superman".
Clark is immediatelyrequired to don his Superman gear when an electrical power cut in the city -caused by Luthor's experimentation with crystals he has stolen from theFortress - sends an airliner carrying the Space Shuttle into peril. Supermanseparates the shuttle from the plane, whose passengers include Lois, and bringsthe plane back to earth in a baseball stadium.
The world welcomes back itshero, with the exception of Lois who is less than impressed with his return andgives him the cold shoulder. But the two are forced to work together when Lex'splans come to light to create a new land mass in the Atlantic Ocean which willsubmerge the US and kill millions of people.
Singer elicits strong workfrom his actors, notably Routh and Bosworth, who makes a surprisingly feistyLois. The Lex Luthor gang is less satisfying, since Singer apparently can'tdecide whether to make them comic or malevolent. Spacey is a lowkey Lex, whilePosey's one-liners fall flat and the talented Penn has barely a single word ofdialogue in the entire film.
Effects and sets, created inAustralia, are of course of a very high standard - de rigueur in a summer moviethese days - but the real pleasure of the film comes from Singer's focus on thehuman drama. The director understands the importance of letting the audience inon intimate moments and lets quiet scenes run longer than a director like BrettRatner ever would in a superhero movie of this size.
As for today's teens andtheir short attention spans, this is one summer blockbuster whose 150minute-running time will fly by as fast as Superman himself.
Jon Peters Productions, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Warner Bros Pictures,Legendary Pictures
Warner Bros Pictures
Chris Lee, Thomas Tull, Scott Mednick
Jon Peters, Bryan Singer, Gilbert Adler
Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris, from a story by Singer, Dougherty& Harris, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel & JoeShuster and published by DC Comics
Newton Thomas Sigel
Guy Hendrix Dyas
John Ottman & Elliot Graham
Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Kevin Spacey, FrankLangella, Eva Marie Saint, Parker Posey, Kal Penn, Sam Huntington, TristanLeabu