Having read many reviews of the newly released Superman Returns, i wasn’t expecting much from film when i entered the theater. Two and a half hours later, i left feeling completely entertained and fulfilled. Feeling misled by many critics, i began to wonder why the movie was being panned by critics i generally trusted. Going back to the reviews, i found that almost every critic that gave the movie a compared it to the first two originals.
For instance the New York Times can help but repeatedly discuss the greatness of Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman’s roles rather than the effectiveness and charm of Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth. For instance, the NYT review actually lists all the characters of the 1978 film and only after praising the original storyline and cast does it briefly mention the actual participants in the current film:
Released in 1978, that film ushered Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s original comic creation into the blockbuster age with frothy wit and a cast that included Marlon Brando in a creamy scoop of white hair and Gene Hackman in clover. Christopher Reeve, of course, wore the cape and tights, while Margot Kidder did a fine approximation of the young Katharine Hepburn at her most coltish. Valerie Perrine and Ned Beatty added some laughs, while Glenn Ford supplied a pinch of gravitas.
The NYT’s infatuation with Reeve continues later in the article:
Mr. Reeve worked the tonal changes with similar ease, delivering a superhero whose earnestness was strategically offset by his fumbling, bumbling, all-too-human twin, who was just the ticket for the post-Watergate, pre-Indiana Jones moment. Mr. Singer’s Superman, played by Brandon Routh, is a hero of rather different emotional colors, most muted……Part of the charm of Mr. Reeve’s interpretation was that a guy this impossibly handsome, who literally towers over everyone in the office, could hide behind a slouch and oversize eyeglasses.
The NYT is not the only review to do this. Roger Ebert’s review is the same:
Routh may have been cast because he looks a little like Reeve, but there are times when he looks more like an action figure; were effects used to make him seem built from synthetics? We remember the chemistry between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) in the original “Superman” movie, and then observe how their counterparts are tongue-tied in this one. If they had a real romance (and they did), has it left them with nothing more than wistful looks and awkward small talk?
Of course, Lois doesn’t remember the romance between her and Superman because he erased it at the end of S2, but apparently Ebert forgot that point.
What gets me about these constant comparisons to the past films is that, as a 28 year old, i don’t remember them. The first and second films came out when i was 8 months old and 2 years old. And, anyone younger than me probably doesn’t remember them nor think fondly of them. Thus, you have 2 brand new generations of viewers who are experiencing a modern Superman film for the first time. It seems that older reviewers get caught up in their own nostalgia when reviewing a remake and i’m sure older film-goers may agree with them, but for me these reviews prove the generational gap just as much as the reviews of Dumb & Dumber did when that film came out in the mid-90’s and was generally panned by all viewers.
The long and short of it – is Superman it a classic? Definitely not. But it is a very enjoyable popcorn movie and is more than enough to make the July 4th movie going experience worthwhile, as long as you haven’t seen the originals and can barely remember the Ronald Regan presidency.