I always was very imaginative, especially when I was growing up in the backlands of Bihar. So as a kid, I used to have a strange pecking order for super-heroes: Phantom was the stongest, followed by Superman, then Spidey, with Batman being the weakest of the lot. I have tried remembering quite a number of times how the hell did I arrive at this pecking order, but arrive I did.
Anyways, the only awareness I had about Superman before I went to watch the movie:
- I had only watched the original 'Superman' (Part-I) on HBO recently, and thought it as a decent sort of movie, nothing great. Possibly that's what watching movies on television does to you.
- I had heard that Superman I & II were good films, III & IV had ensured that the series gets shelved.
- Christopher Reeve had the first-mover advantage, so he made the role his own, first on-screen and subsequently in real life by fighting his paralysis.
- The reincarnation of the franchise was a long-planned one. In fact, even the comic-books had faced troubled times sometimes in the 90s, when Superman had once been killed, and later surrendered his super-powers so that he could marry and lead a normal life with Lois Lane.
Superman Returns supposedly takes-off from where Superman-II ended, and since I did not see Superman-II, I will have to believe that. The 'Man of Steel' is long gone for five years, and his girlfriend Lois Lane is so hurt that he did not say goodbye to her, that she decides to use her journalisitic powers to justify and propogate his absence and uselessness to the world. She has also got engaged, even has a kid out of wedlock. We are given a hint of something fishy there as she hates the fact when she is questioned about no marriage and having a kid.
In a humorous twist, Superman's arch-rival, Lex Luthor is not imprisoned as Superman is not around to give testimony at his trial. And in the meantime, he has discovered the 'Fortress of Solitude' Superman had built, from where he steals crystals to build an island as powerful and glorious as Krypton (though frankly it looks super-tacky). He fires his crystal with stolen kryptonite, ensuring the island is a deathbed for Superman.
Lois Lane tries to investigate the fishy things which have been happening in the world, mainly because of the crystal. She lands up on a boat, along with her kid (why?). When she discovers the boat belongs to Lex Luthor, she is kidnapped on his boat. Then her fiance tries to come and rescue her, but they all get trapped in the sinking boat. Now, it is Superman's turn to come to their rescue. He facilitates their escape, but when he himself proceeds for further investigations, is beaten to pulp on the kryptonite-laced island built by Lex. So now Lois' family has to return the favour, rescue Superman, who after replenishing his energy from the sunlight of outer space, goes back and destroys the island. More importantly, he flings the final chunk of the island into the solar system, to ensure that there is no trace of kryptonite left on earth. Technically, Superman can never do this as even a small piece of kryptonite is enough to sap all his energies, here we are talking about a whole island. However, he does lose all his energy after the fling, and falls back on earth limp and inconscious, where only a visit by Lois and her son to the hospital manage to bring him back to life.
Why does the movie work? First of all, following the trends of the recent Spiderman-II, Batman Begins and even Die Another Day, it humanises the super-hero. While old-timers have taken offence to this, being a relatively new convert helped me take this in my stride. Especially the scene where he is battered to pulp by Lex and his goons is quite heart-wrenching. Even the climax where everyone is keeping vigil on his recovery is uncannily similar to 'Coolie', and its real-life repeat with Amitabh Bachchan recently.
I also kind of liked the special-effects, though we have seen it all in recent movies. The especially good one was the return of Superman into global consciousness, when he saves an airplane from drowning. The climax was not so hot, but still passes muster. Superman's constant sojourns into space were kind of cute.
Last but not the least, I totally loved the surprise of Lois' son being Superman's. Her fiance is shown to be a decent man, not some jerk, and you feel that he does not deserve a competition for the girl's affection from Superman of all people. However, while it is not stated so anywhere, by the end, it is quite clear that the kid is Superman's. He is afraid of kryptonite when Lex flashes it, he saves his mom by throwing a piano on a goon, he spots Superman drowning when others cannot (thought that is not such a Super thing to do), and finally Superman comes back to life when Lois whispers something into his ears (apparently about his parenthood of the kid). Anyway, the comment which Superman tells his sleeping son, "You might be an outcast, but will never be alone", was quite good.
As for the performances, I thought Brandon Routh was competent - totally looks the part and does not need great emoting. I thought the same about Christopher Reeves in the only Superman flick I have caught. Kevin Spacey as Lex is very good - funningly evil, possibly a comparable figure to Mogambo (whom I loved), but less-caricatured.
Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane has got a lot of flak, but I thought she was quite good. She looked good and vulnerable, acted fairly well, and had good chemistry with Superman. Her handling of the two men in her life was especially commendable. The only criticism I can think is that maybe she came across as being too tame for the wild-natured reporter Lois Lane is actually supposed to be.
The biggest compliment for the movie is that I want to go and watch all the old Superman movies now. Anyways, this is one enjoyable flick which everyone should go and watch. Just in case you miss it, you can always catch the funny quotes of the flick from the link below.