After a second viewing of the film this morning, I feel I have a pretty good handle on my likes (many) and dislikes (not-so-many), so the only question is where to begin. I'll start with the obvious bits first, then the "eh" moments, before moving on to the good stuff. I will avoid major spoilers to the best of my ability.
Obvious: the special effects are incredible. Beautiful, even. Whether it's Superman corkscrewing around a plummeting jetliner in the first major action sequence or taking Lois on a late-night flight above Metropolis, this movie is nothing but eye candy. Hell, even the opening credit sequence, with its homage to the original film's credits, is gorgeous. And the special effects teams, along with Superman himself, Brandon Routh, truly make you believe, even more than the original film, that a man can fly.
The music, also, is wonderful. John Ottman (who also co-edited the film) did a great job of incorporating John Williams' score into the new music he wrote for the movie. There were numerous times, especially toward the beginning of the film, when I'd hear that familiar music and I'd find myself with tears in my eyes.
Now, on to the not-so-great parts: Lex Luthor's plot, his scheme, his dastardly plan...it's kind of weak. It's the weakest park of the film. Don't get me wrong, Kevin Spacey does a fantastic job with the role. He evokes fond memories of Gene Hackman's Luthor from the first two Superman films, but he seems a bit more...sinister. Slightly more maniacal, less campy, though he does have some great, humorous moments throughout the film. But...his scheme...it's silly. It's comic book-ish. For a film that tries so hard (and mostly succeeds) to ground the idea of a "Superman" in reality, Bryan Singer and his writers dropped the ball here.
I came to realize, however, while watching the end credits role the first time I saw the film, Luthor's evil plan is not the driving force of the film. It exists merely because it has to exist. It's a Superman film. It's a big summer action-packed blockbuster and there needs to be a tangible, physical antagonist for our hero to fight, someone the audience can boo, but the heart of the story, the meat, the point, for lack of a better word, lay elsewhere. And that is where the movie fires on all cylinders.
Bryan Singer has always been drawn to outcasts, people on the outside of mainstream society. Adopted by Jewish parents, Singer was always different. Being gay just pushes him that much further outside the "norm." That's why he so-perfectly understood the X-Men. And that's why he was the perfect filmmaker to bring Superman back to the big screen.
Superman is the ultimate outsider, an immigrant sent to this planet as Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton, to be adopted and raised by a farmer and his wife in a small Kansas town. What could be more All-American than that? But he never quite fit in. He's not "one of us." He's an alien, an outcast, forever on the outskirts of humanity no matter how hard he tries to assimilate as the geeky, nebbish, bespeckled Clark Kent. Superman doesn't know where he belongs, if he belongs, and that is the key to this story.
After the events of Superman II, astronomers discovered what they believe to be the remnants of Krypton and in a rush of excitement and hope, Kal-El leaves Earth without saying "good-bye," in an attempt to reconnect with his home planet, with his people. He's gone for five years. A lot can change in five years.
Upon his return, Superman learns that Lois Lane is engaged to the nephew of Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White, Richard, who's an editor at the Planet and, like Superman, flies, though he prefers to use an airplane. Richard is as good-looking and American-as-apple-pie as Superman. It's no wonder Lois is attracted to him, but can he fill the Superman-shaped void in her life?
Even more surprising to Superman is that Lois has a five-year-old son, Jason.
With the world, and the people he cares about most, having moved on without him, Superman doesn't know his place in the world anymore. This is the emotional bedrock of the movie.
Brandon Routh, who was born and raised in a small town in Iowa, is absolutely perfect as both Superman and Clark Kent, nearly identical in mannerism and speech to the late Christopher Reeve (to whom, along with his wife, Dana, the film is dedicated). It's like he's channeling Reeve throughout the movie.
The weight of the world, the pressure he feels to be our "savior," has never been more evident than when Superman floats easily, high above the planet, his eyes closed, listening to the cries for help of countless people (don't ask me how he hears anything when he's floating in space).
Speaking of casting, the one role I was concerned about was that of Lois Lane. I just wasn't sure Kate Bosworth had the chops to pull this one off. I mean, she's 23 (22 when filming took place) and is portraying a woman with a Pulitzer Prize and a five-year-old kid. But she pulls it off much better than I expected. Lois is the same driven, hard-nosed reporter she's always been, and instead of always getting into trouble and playing damsel-in-distress for Superman, she's much more capable this time around, coming to Superman's rescue once or twice.
One of the best performances is that of James Marsden, who plays the aforementioned Richard White. Bryan Singer finally figured out what to do with him after working together on the first two X-Men films. Richard is a great guy. He loves Lois, yet knows deep down that Lois still loves Superman and probably always will. That's gotta be tough. I mean, how does he compete with a god?
And speaking of God, yes, there are quite a few allusions to Superman as a Christ-like figure, not the least of which is Superman, after saving the world, unconsciously floating through space, arms outstretched as if on a cross. Singer wasn't exactly going for subtlety in this department. And you know what? Whatever. I mean, we all know Jesus was Jewish, right? Whatever your beliefs, whatever your faith, there are some pretty powerful iconic images and Singer has no qualms about using them to get the emotional response he wants.
To sum up this movie, all's I can say is...Superman's back. It's been 19 years since he last graced the movie theatres, and about 25 years since he did so with a good movie. I didn't know how much I'd missed him until I teared up during the opening credits last night. For anyone of my generation, mid-20s to mid-30s, Christopher Reeve's Superman was a big part of our childhoods. It just felt...good, seeing him, Superman, up on the big screen again. His legacy is definitely in good hands.
Now if only we could get Christian Bale's Batman and Brandon Routh's Superman in the same movie. That would be sweet.