Arts + Music » Arts + Culture

Superman Returns

Mark Palermo sees what’s old made new again.


Most movies that don’t identify themselves as remakes are still retreads. What counts is when old material is revamped, made fresh again. Superman Returns and Click acknowledge their predecessors and that viewers are probably familiar with them.

Superman is pitched alternately as the first of a new series and a throwback and extension of the initial two of the Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner/Richard Lester Supermans. John Ottman re-orchestrates John Williams’ iconic score while star Brandon Routh fills Superman’s cape with the boy-next-door mannerisms of Christopher Reeve.

The effort returns the superhero blockbuster to a pre-cynical view of heroism. There’s a parallel to United 93 in a plane catastrophe scene. Throwing Superman into its midst bypasses distaste with catharsis—our fatalistic associations with faith in overruling goodness. Director Bryan Singer crafts it into the film’s greatest moment: an action scene both thrilling and touching.

What keeps Superman Returns’ black-and-white justice from succumbing to naivete is that Singer and screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris don’t shy away from the thematic complexity of their hero being unlike us. Arch-nemesis Lex Luther (Kevin Spacey, in a slick and funny performance) assumes the role as humankind’s real inspiration. Gods have it too easy, he reasons, before setting forth on a plan that will kill millions.

Superman Returns sticks mainly to the confines of its genre. Sometimes this gets stale. The handling of the romance between Superman and Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) plays as a distilled reminder of the pop romance in the Spiderman films. And while the movie passes quickly, lengthy periods where Clark Kent and Superman are off-screen give it an odd balance. Singer’s treatment isn’t unique enough to be a classic, but its passion for the franchise isn’t lazy. Superman makes his screen return as solid matinee spectacle.


Releasing a movie about a high-powered TV remote control seems archaic in 2006. But Click plays on an interesting 21st century phenomenon: People’s ability to have near complete control over their media intake—selecting the type of news articles delivered to you online; entire cable channels skewed to a very specific demographic. Being able to put your wife on mute is just the next step in filtering your life experience.

The device also justifies Click’s familiarity. Watching it is like channel surfing, through Adam Sandler movies as well as It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, Groundhog Day, Multiplicity and several 1980s comedies. The melee of tones would seem incoherent had they less combined impact. What doesn’t work (about a third) has nothing to do with its penchant for the crass and sentimental.

That contrast is exactly why it’s interesting. By incorporating the sensibility that made Sandler a frathouse staple in the late ’90s, there’s a resonance when the movie rejects it. As career-minded dad Michael Newman, who has no time for his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and his too-cute kids, Sandler goes through a Scrooge story where he learns to step beyond contemporary arrogance—the very film persona that made his comedies popular. Click registers by giving its formula a moral gravity. Through its speed-dial familiarity comes the shock of sincerity.


Add a comment

Remember, it's entirely possible to disagree without spiralling into a thread of negativity and personal attacks. We have the right to remove (and you have the right to report) any comments that go against our policy.

xxx - Deprecated in favor of GTM, above.