Friday, July 07, 2006

The Man of Steel, The Woman of Stale: Superman Returns

Move over Lex Luthor, Superman has a new arch-nemesis, and it's Lois Lane or, more specifically, Kate Bosworth.

Bosworth, a graduate of the Scarlett Johansson School of Hot Women Who Don't Act Too Good, is not convincing in any of Lois Lane's roles in Superman Returns. She's not convincing as a hard-nosed reporter. She's not a convincing as a nurturing mother. She's not convincing as a woman torn between her current lover and an old one whose returned from a long absence. In a scene between Lois and Clark, Bosworth stumbles and drops her purse, and can't even do that with much assertiveness. Even her hair, long and curly and a blandly brunette instead of the actress' natural blonde, gives a poor performance.

A casual observer (or a sexist) might think this unimportant; after all, it's a Superman movie and Bosworth isn't Superman (and, credit where credit's due, this movie's Superman, Brandon Routh, is pretty solid). But Superman Returns' primary conflict is as much about the love between Superman and Lois as the hatred between Superman and Lex. And every time the story turned to romance, I was faced with an unanswerable question: "Why would Superman, who could have any woman in the world, choose Lois?" Superman Returns offers no compelling reason.

(I should mention that when I raised this same question to a friend of mine, his honest response was, "Dude, Lois is hot. She looks like Kate Bosworth." "True," I replied, "But that's all she's got going for her. Is Superman really that shallow?" "I guess so," was the reply.)

Lois is crucial because of the way director Bryan Singer (along with screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris) treat Superman. Most reviews I've read discussed the way Singer plays him as all "super" and little "man" as a deity who walks (or, more accurately, floats) among us. But everyone I've read or heard has missed the way Singer, with two X-Men films under his belt, has made Superman, a DC property, into a hero with all the problems of a classic Marvel character. In the comics, Superman and Lois are married, but even before they were, Superman wasn't a barrier to Clark's sex life, at least not to the melodramatic degree that Singer takes it to. In classic Superman comics, the Superman/Clark/Lois love triangle is played for laughs. In classic Marvel comics, particularly Amazing Spider-Man (and to a lesser degree, books like The Incredible Hulk and others) Peter Parker's costumed identity, his obligation to protect others, is what keeps him separated from whatever girl he's chasing at the moment. Being Spider-Man should be fun, but it invariably ruins Peter's life.

That is exactly how Singer treats Superman: beneath the deification, and alienation (a word, by the way, that is prominently displayed on Ma Kent's Scrabble board in the very first scene) is Stan Lee's most enduring concept, with great power comes great responsibility. Kate Bosworth had the latter and couldn't bring the former.

Additional Superman Returns notes:

-The sea plane lobby got to Bryan Singer. Have you ever in your life seen a sea plane get so much screentime in a big Hollywood movie?

-Everyone says Routh looks exactly like Christopher Reeve. I don't see it: Reeve had a masculinity that Routh does not. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; Routh has a certain mannequin perfection which suits Singer's take on the character: there needs to be something artificial and even otherworldly to Superman, and Routh provides it.

-Routh does, however, sounds exactly like Reeve. If you closed your eyes, you might have trouble guessing which was which.

-I'm fairly certain that Kal Penn does not say a single line of dialogue as Luthor's henchman Stanford. Why even hire a recognizable actor if you're not going to allow him to open his mouth?

-Though I expected Marlon Brando's appearances in the film to feel like the lowest form of graverobbing, his contribution really works. Even if his speeches to his son occasionally sound like additional outtakes from Apocalypse Now ("I swallowed a bug Kal-El. You must never let the humans forget that they, too, do not want to swallow bugs. They need only the light to guide their way...I think I swallowed another one.")


Blogger Ed said...

Ladies and gentlemen...Singer vs. Singer! Termite Art rules!

8:18 AM  
Blogger alau said...

Omigod! That last comment about Brando was priceless! ROFL!

7:01 PM  
Blogger Karen Strang said...

I disagree with you only with regards to your opinion of Scarlett Johansen, who I think is an actor of rare talent and skill.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Matt Singer said...

I shall defend my opinion of Scarlett to the last. Though she was good in Ghost World I don't care for anything she's been in (that I've seen) since. I've never been a fan of Lost in Translation and she was the weak link in Match Point and the otherwise underrated In Good Company. I will admit that I haven't seen Girl With a Pearl Earring or A Love Song For Bobby Long or The Island — well maybe the last one should be left out of the discussion.

12:03 AM  

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