“Why is there one red star on the ceiling?”

On Wednesday, I watched Superman Returns. It was an absolutely wonderful movie.

When that familiar, triumphant John Williams score opened the movie, when those electric blue-outlined credits started whooshing past the screen, I was five years old all over again: back in Mrs. Elmes’s kindergarten class on Movie Day, watching Christopher Reeve defeat Zod, Non and Ursa; running around my house in Manassas wearing Superman Underoos and a red cape; flying my Superman action figure around the three-foot wooden Fortress of Solitude my dad built for me.

Hearing little kids in the audience react to the movie made me realize that I can’t wait to show this movie to my own children, and show them the first two movies, and explain the red star, and explain why Don Corleone is in the walls, and so on.

This movie achieves what George Lucas hoped to achieve with the Star Wars prequels: fleshing out a modern-day mythology, and introducing it to a new generation—of course, Superman Returns has an advantage in this department because it didn’t suck. I wonder whether Joseph Campbell would have used different movies as references in The Power of Myth if he had known how bad the prequels would be.

It is reverently reminiscent of older Superman productions: movies, comic book covers, even the George Reeves TV show–that’s the 1953 Lois Lane as Gertrude and the 1953 Jimmy Olsen as the bartender. It picks up where Superman II left off, and mercifully ignores III and IV. Seriously, you can forget that those abominations ever happened. “Good Clark versus Evil Superman in Garbage Dump” never happened. “Superman versus Nuclear Man while Destroying All Nukes” never happened.

The acting was good all around. I was a little worried that some of the choices (that means you, Miss Bosworth) were risky, but after seeing the movie, I’d take the new Lois, Jimmy and Perry over the old ones. Brandon Routh is good enough as Superman and Clark, and there were times when it was like watching Christopher Reeve. Kevin Spacey was sardonic, charismatic and diabolical as Luthor. I think he was better than Gene Hackman, for two reasons: Spacey didn’t wear the silly wigs throughout the movie like Hackman did, and Hackmanhad to play Abbott to his henchman Otis’s Costello.

Even so, in the first movie Gene did have one perfect moment of utter inhumanity that Spacey just didn’t match in this one. Lex has just told a helpless Superman that nuclear missiles are headed towards the San Andreas Fault and Hackensack, New Jersey. His girlfriend, Miss Tessmacher, overhears this, and says, “Lex, my mother lives in Hackensack.” Lex checks his watch, raises his eyes to Miss Tessmacher, shakes his head, and walks away. That’s it. What a bastard.

Bryan Singer is an excellent director, and watching this movie reminded me that he was the biggest difference between the first two X-Men movies and the lamentable third one. He’s made great movies, and proven that he can be trusted with a $200 million budget. The special effects were Oscar-worthy—actually, I’m not sure that’s a compliment, so I’ll say that they were spectacular. Spectacular, but not overdone; sometimes the explosions, booms, zaps and pows were terrifically loud, and sometimes they were handled with just the right subtlety—e.g., the fiery landing of the spaceship in the beginning. Singer made the action scenes look and feel like Alex Ross paintings brought to life.

Superman Returns has just the right mix of power and grace, action and romance, the familiar and the new. Please fork over your hard-earned money to see this film, that we might see even more like it.

One Response to ““Why is there one red star on the ceiling?””

  1. aabrock Says:
    July 1st, 2006 at 8:36 PM

Watched it today…I really enjoyed it. High points:
– the 747 rescue…that was bloody AMAZING
– James Mardsen…you really root for the guy and wish they could have found Cyclops something to do in the X-Men movies
– the piano
– the opening credits (if I were more up on my DC comic lore I am sure I would recognize some of the planets zooming by, Apokolips maybe?)
– Superman in space listening to the world

I really appreciated the homage to the first 2, but please chart new territory with Superman Returns II…bring on Brainiac or Darkseid. No Zod or Bizarro Superman! Perhaps the death of Superman arc…now that would pack a punch.