SUPERMAN RETURNS

3 Stars - Thought-Provoking

In Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns," Kal-El or Superman (Brandon Routh) is sent to earth by his father Jor-El (Marlon Brando from footage of previous films) as a guiding light.  That this is an allusion to the Christian Father-God who sent His only Son Jesus as a light into the world is made clear when Jor-El says, Even though you've been raised as a human being, you're not one of them.  They can be a great people, Kal-El.  They wish to be.  They only lack the light to show the way.  For this reason above all "their capacity for good" I have sent them you "my only son."

But it soon becomes clear that although they both share the Hebrew name for God, "El", the Biblical portrayal of El and the fictional character of Kal-El share little resemblance.  Kal-El is more like the mythical gods of Olympus whose loves and battles mimic and menace the lives of humanity.  For example, Kal-El broods like a confused high school lover over Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth); he is vulnerable at the hands of his foe, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), who uses the unearthly kryptonite to subdue him; Kal-El is not pure or wise like the Biblical Savior; and he can be deceived by both his enemies and his own heart.

The plot of this return to the Superman series of films is that Kal-El has been gone for five years trying to find his home planet.  Sadly discovering that the astronomers were wrong and Krypton does not still exist, Kal-el returns in a blazing entry through the galaxy into our solar system and crashes once again in the Kents' cornfield in Kansas.  This reentry finally brings him back to Metropolis and the Daily Planet as he searches to rekindle his love with Lois.

However, Lois has moved on, or at least that's what she has tried to do.  She is now a single mother, winner of a Pulitzer prize for her article, "Why the world doesn't need Superman," and is living with her boyfriend.  These paradoxical threads have woven a pattern that still defines her life. This is evident when she discovers that her love for Kal-El is still strong but she is bound by her faithfulness to her new boyfriend, Richard White (James Marsden).

The larger plot predictably revolves around Kal-El's need to save the world from the soulless Luthor.  Due to his earlier experiences, Luthor has obtained the crystals from Kal-El's private sanctuary and has unleashed their power to create, except that his plan will also use them to destroy a billion human lives.  It is for this purpose that Kal-El is asked to sacrifice himself for the salvation of the world.

With grandeur of sight and sound, "Superman Returns" is a cinematic comic book of entertaining action.  The chemistry between Kal-El and Lois works well, and the icy greed of the villain Lex Luthor is believable.  Left in the realm of mythical fiction it is a tale of life and death, of love and courage.  That it lacks true lessons for life is what makes this film miss the mark of great cinema.

 

Discussion:

  1. One of the weaknesses of the Superman fiction has always been the inability of Lois to recognize that her partner at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent, is also her lover Superman.  Why do you think this has never been changed throughout the stories?
  2. When it is discovered that Lois' son has the ability to defend her, why do you think the film does nothing more with that fact?  When Lois tells Superman who her son is, why do you think she doesn't tell her son?  Do you think they will ever come together as a family?
  3. The discussion that occurs between Lois and Kal-El when she has told him the world does not need a savior results in him taking her high above the earth and asking her to listen.  When she hears nothing, he says, "I hear everything."  If the world doesn't need a savior, why is everyone crying out to be saved?  Do you believe the world is crying out for a savior?  What kind of savior do you think they want?
  4. The fact that Kal-El's coming brought not only a powerful superman to save us from evil, but he also brought the crystals that Lex Luther plots to use to destroy us.  Do you believe that good and evil are directly connected like that?  Why or why not?