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‘Superman Returns’ with religious undertones

Howie Nave
Warner Bros. "Superman Returns" stars Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth.
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When writer-producer-director Bryan Singer bowed out of doing the final “X-Men” installment, I was bummed to say the least. I mean, the last in the franchise trilogy and he couldn’t stick around to complete the grand finale? Why? The reason was that Singer was busy working on bringing yet another comic book hero to the big screen in the form of “Superman Returns.” Another franchise? Oh yeah. I mean, look how quickly Warner Bros. brought “Batman” back (with “Batman Begins”) after Tim Burton had done it perfectly in the last century, so why not reintroduce Superman again?

Christopher Reeve may have been a tough act to follow when he definitively established the Man of Steel with his portrayal of the comic book icon back in 1978, but in the hands of Bryan Singer, well, Superman has been given a complete makeover and purpose. And to cast an unknown actor (Brandon Routh) in the leading role was a smart move on Singer’s part, so the story takes the leading role with no preconceived expectations. Routh looks so much like a young Christopher Reeve that it’s almost scary. In fact, three years ago Routh actually dressed up as Superman for Halloween and to now be playing him is more than just a coincidence, ya know? So Bryan, almost all is forgiven for your departure from “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

“Superman Returns” takes the tried-and-true story and completely turns it around. He has been absent from Metropolis for a number of years (I won’t give it away as to why), and upon his return finds out that things have changed drastically both on the planet and in his personal life, in the way of Lois Lane played by Kate Bosworth. She’s moved on and has developed a new life with a new guy (James Marsden) and a new kid. Yet she now must reconcile her feelings when he re-enters her life. She even writes an essay feeling scorned at his departure called, “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman” that wins her the Pulitzer Prize. Talk about an interesting spin from someone who loved him yet has moved on when he mysteriously decides to do his disappearing act.

The world has moved on without him, too, but hasn’t fared too well.

Lex Luthor (played wildly by Kevin Spacey) has no trouble filling the evil void once Superman has disappeared and has a diabolical plot that would kill off millions. His accomplice, Kitty Koslowski, gives actress Parker Posey a character she can just run away with and feeds off Spacey’s character very deliciously. The world needs a savior, so when Superman returns, there is this religious undertone like the Messiah has returned to save mankind. This isn’t lost on the director’s vision, because the dialogue is almost taken from Scripture and the parallels between his return, the world in turmoil and the Second Coming will not be lost on the audience either.

Singer emphasizes the divinity of Superman. In fact, when not Superman or the human Clark Kent, he is Kal-El, who was initially sent to Earth by his father, Jor-El, when their planet, Krypton was destroyed. As Kal-El he is driven to seek the remains of his former planet to find a bigger meaning as to what his existence is and what is his real purpose for being. What’s fascinating about the superhero element is that like mortal humans, we all reach crossroads where we question our existence and what purpose are we here to serve in the final analysis. Heady material, huh? And all this germinated from a comic book? An interesting question posed and answered, but more importantly a very entertaining movie. That combo can spell only one thing: Summer blockbuster.

Like his “X-Men” movies, Bryan Singer has a real passion for the subject matter and is a walking library when it comes to his characters. And he blends elements from past Superman movies with cameos from both past movies and the television series. One of the coolest scenes from the offset is his homage to the 1978 Richard Donner-directed movie, borrowing clips of Marlon Brando’s performance as Jor-El in which Brando passes on the wisdom to his son about who he is. Look too for cameos by Noel Neill and Jack Larsen, who played Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen respectively in the ’50s TV series, “The Adventures of Superman.”

Along with writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, Singer keeps the pace going in such a manner that you almost don’t want to see the conclusion, which is why we will no doubt be getting a sequel.

Whether you’re a fan of the comic book series or a first timer to the genre, you’ll be entertained and leave the theater with a “Wow – that was incredible” feeling after seeing this movie.

– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including the Sirius Radio Network every Sunday evening. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8.


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