Those who talked to me prior to the theatrical release of Superman Returns knew I was extremely excited for the film. The trailers, the suit, the actors…I was pumped for all of it. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Reeve’s films (by “biggest” I mean “not at all”—more on this in my upcoming “Christopher Reeve’s Collection” review) and Singer’s apparent mirroring of the Donner films oddly didn’t have me worried. It was Singer, after all; I love (and own) his X-Men films and to me the man could do no wrong when it came to superheroes and it had to be better than the campy Reeve’s films.
Those who talked to me after the theatrical release of Superman Returns were greatly confused by my new stance on the film. Upon exiting the theater after seeing Superman Returns, I was met with a range of emotions but they all boiled down to “well, that sucked.” Hype had once again killed any enjoyment I could have cultivated from the film; it happened with Hellboy and Superman Returns was the next victim (Batman Begins escaped the hype hate due to Batman & Robin being the last I saw of him in theaters).
In the months following Superman Returns release, I never went to see it again in either regular or IMAX 3-D. I contemplated it, but saw fit to merely listen to John Ottman’s spectacular score for the film instead. When it came time for Warner Home Video to announce the DVD release, I began warming up to the idea of giving the film a second chance.
Upon receiving the final retail copy for review and clearing time on my schedule to watch it, I popped the disc into my DVD player, turned on the surround and settled in for what I would hope was a more enjoyable experience.
After the flying intro credits (my first viewing of the film and seeing this intro was met with an instant “Oh great, they aren’t even trying to separate themselves.”) shook the room around a bit, I began getting into the film once again and by the end of the near three hour film, I was left with a feeling that was completely opposite of what I felt upon exiting the theater. What was it this time? Further disgust? No…it was different. This time the film held up a lot better. It was stronger, deeper, more emotional…all around, it was a much more enjoyable film the second time around.
I realize it’s bad to write five paragraphs about how much you don’t like a film and never give a single reason why. It wasn’t the suit, it wasn’t Lois, it wasn’t the actors or their acting and it certainly wasn’t the directing or special effects. No, my initial disdain for the film stemmed only from Lex Luthor.
As a kid, the Superman I remember growing up with was Dean Cain and very sparse intervals of Superman: The Animated Series. I had watched the Reeve’s films a lot as a kid, the fourth one the most, but I barley remembered Luthor from those films or the Cain series. Years later, when I started fully exploring the animated Superman and began watching Smallville (which has recently continued into its sixth extremely dull and unsatisfying year), I was introduced to a different kind of Lex Luthor. This one was pure evil, with a charming facade for the public. While the Smallville one took longer to get to this status, it was evident from Rosenbaum’s portrayal where this one was headed. Tying Rosenbaum’s performance into the animated Luthor’s, I had somehow created this as the real Lex Luthor—not the Silver Age, Donner inspired Luthor who was too silly for my tastes.
It’s not to say that Kevin Spacey didn’t do an excellent job, as he pulled off some awesome scenes, but I just did not enjoy what felt like a repeat of Donner’s films. The story was different for Superman and Lois, but Luthor was surrounded by the same idiot goons and girl and had the same diabolical plan. This wasn’t the Superman I had hoped to see—where are the foes that can go toe-to-toe with Superman? We’re in an era of breath taking special effects and all we get is Luthor beating Superman down with Kryptonite again?
In any case, while I still don’t completely enjoy Luthor in either Donner or Singer’s films, I certainly warmed up to him more upon a second viewing of Returns. You’re probably wondering how I could dislike a film only because of one character, to which I have to say “no” to, as it’s simply not true. It is true that Luthor was what I disliked most about the film, but what really took me out of the film…what really made me ask what the hell Singer was thinking was when, after Superman makes a core shattering fall from space to Earth, we’re immediately pushed into a shot of Superman in a hospital.
Maybe it was the rapid cut, but I really was ripped out of the climactic finale at that moment. There was something odd about seeing Superman in a hospital in a feature film; I guess you don’t expect your superhero (and certainly not Superman) to be hospitalized near the end of the film. I enjoy seeing my favorite superheroes getting the crap knocked out of them and having them return to deliver the pain back to the foe, I’m just not used to seeing the public help them back up afterwards. The whole hospital sequence felt very Spider-Man to me…not a bad thing, just not something I would have imagined for a Superman film.
It’s evident upon my second viewing that my dislike of the film came from wanting the film to be too much. I wanted it to be the triumphant return of Superman, instead it felt like I had just watched an updated version of the original Donner film with the “twist” of Superman leaving Earth and returning to find he has a kid (an aspect I actually greatly enjoyed).
Before this film review wraps up, I need to comment on a few things that I really did enjoy in the film. Routh was one of the best Superman / Clark Kent choices I’ve seen since Reeves. Routh took both roles and made them his own and I hope we see many more Superman films with him wearing the cape; he truly was a delight to see on the screen. And of course, I can’t forget Bosworth as a new Lois Lane we’ve never seen before, Huntington as a perfect, more audible Jimmy Olsen and despite the Luthor he played, Spacey did a marvelous job acting him. I don’t think anyone can deny that his startling “WRONG!” will leave internet message boards for a long, long time.
For the movie itself, the scenes with Clark and Jimmy rank highest and the airplane sequence is exactly what I wanted to see in a Superman film. Harrowing air acrobatics with enough plane destruction to keep you entertained each moment the plane travels further and further down in the atmosphere. It’s really a sight to behold, especially in surround sound.
Luthor and his goon’s brutal beating of Superman was also quite the highlight of the film (I told you I liked watching the hero get beat up), as it showed the darker side of Lex moreso here than anywhere else in the film. The stabbing of Superman was also a surprise and Routh and Spacey did a superb job in this scene. This was definitely one of the highlights of the film.
In the end, Superman Returns, with Singer’s other superhero films, will have a place on my DVD shelf. While I’m still not in love with the film, I find myself in another Hellboy situation: utter disgust at first and then, over a period of a few months, warming up to the film so much that I am able to place it on the top shelf with the rest of my favorite DVDs.
As with most high profile Warner Bros. film releases, Superman Returns comes in a variety of flavors: single disc widescreen, single disc full screen, widescreen two disc, Blu Ray and HD-DVD. Of course we don’t want to look at the single disc release (special features? None!) and despite having an HD-ready TV, I don’t have the desire to buy a $500 or $1000 player until a winner is decided and the unit costs less than $200.
So, ready for review is the Superman Returns: Two Disc Special Edition. The case is presented with a slightly foil reflective cardboard slip over it with embossed lettering, buildings, Daily Planet globe and of course, Superman. We can easily toss this sleeve into the corner with the rest of the DVDs that came with these and look at the cover underneath, which is exactly the same aside from the foil/embossing. I just want to mention how happy I would have been if they used the “Over Earth” Superman Returns poster as the cover and not some newly made cover, but this one works too I guess.
Inside the package we find a $10 rebate for Superman Returns if you buy the Christopher Reeve collection. Behind this is a catalog for the Noble Collection which sells all kinds of movie related trinkets.
Disc art has Superman on the first disc and Luthor on the second. Unlike the other variants of single disc/two disc releases, this one doesn’t seem to have been made specifically with the other discs in mind. Disc 1 doesn’t say anything on it to separate it from its single disc kin and the second disc merely says “Special Features.” Some may find this cheap, but I’m actually going to applaud WHV for doing this finally, as it didn’t make sense, from a cost standpoint, to manufacture nearly identical discs with slightly different content.
Menu art is curious for both the discs, as they both feature moving spotlights with film clips/production clips in the center. The clips are all right, it’s just the spotlights—in neither my first nor second viewings of the film did I remember seeing a single spotlight at all in the film, so I’m not completely clear on the choice for the spotlights, since it looks slightly like 20th Century Fox.
In any case, the menus for both are clean, clear and easy to navigate. You can’t ask for more and I’m glad there isn’t an extremely bloated menu interface (looking at you, Batman Begins) that holds the viewer back from finding out what to view next.
Video for the film appears slightly grainy to me, especially in the Smallville scenes or any scene where there’s a lot of dark levels. The grains so heavy that it makes the image appear to “dance”; most won’t notice this, but I was certainly distracted every time it showed up. Most of the films transfer is fine and all CGI shots were crisp and beautiful looking, it’s just the darker scenes that need some help in the grain department. There is also slight blocking on screen at times when the reds get too intense, but those moments are few.
Audio is quite amazing to be in the same room with, particularly during the intro credits, airplane sequence and any time Superman breaks atmo—all cause the room to vibrate and you may want to alert your neighbors that you’re about to watch a move that could cause windows to rattle and shake.
The meat of the second disc can be found in the “Making Superman Returns: From Script to Screen.” And this certainly isn’t a calf we’re talking about here, it’s a full on heifer: this special feature runs nearly three hours (its one or two minutes short). Just as the name states, it covers the inception of Superman Returns, since before Warner Bros. even hired Singer to direct it, up until it’s final moments of shooting. In this special feature, we see Routh go from model to Superman and Spacey goofing off on set, driving around in his Luthor-cart and a bullhorn shouting “Superman must die!”
There is very little left unturned in this documentary, and although the online diaries were not included on this set, I recognized some of the material from it inside these series of special features. The surprise blooper reel, albeit short, at the end was also a fun to watch. The three hours was well spent and very much worth watching for those who enjoyed the movie.
Switching over to the deleted scenes, there is a great crop of scenes that I wish they had left in the film. Further exposition on Clark’s abrupt leave from Earth, Martha’s sending postcards to Lois while Clark was away, an alternate scene where Clark discovers Lois’s Pulitzer Prize winning article, Martha going on a date, quite a few more with Lex and my personal favorite, an easter egg of Spacey doing a couple dozen takes of Lex yelling “WRONG!”
Trailers (teaser, theatrical) for the film and trailers for other Superman merchandise (video games, Reeve’s DVD collection) finish up the special features on the disc. The only complaint I have about the release is the lack of commentary, which is becoming a disturbing trend with Warner Bros. feature film releases based on superheroes (no commentaries for Batman Begins, V for Vendetta or Superman Returns). I enjoyed hearing what Singer had to say in the documentary and his X-Men commentaries, so it’s a shame they couldn’t bring in a few of the cast and crew for commentary.
Overall, the two disc special edition of Superman Returns definitely sets itself apart from the single disc counterpart. With over three hours of special features to keep you company, the two disc release is very much worth picking up over the single release.