Superman Returns was an uneven movie. Much of it was lame (stupidity about crystals, a boring Lois Lane), and some of it was good (Jimmy Olsen and James Marsden were so good they unbalanced the movie, putting my sympathies with minor characters rather than the main ones, and Lex Luthor had a great first scene). Much of the film chugs along in an uninteresting way -- I already saw the original movies, didn't need a movie that did the same thing the 1980s movies did. I can still rent those movies if I want to. I want something NEW from the new Superman movie. I want more than a pale study of the nostalgias. Characters need to be reinvented from time to time (as Frank Miller reinvented Batman in the Dark Knight Returns). Making Superman's cape darker is not enough. As Brad pointed out to me you can tell how boring the movie is by looking at how each character (with the exception of Lex Luthor) is introduced for the first time in the film. They don't get great introductions because Singer knows we already know them. These are characters we have seen before, so no fanfare -- there they are, doing their usual thing.
Then we get to the scene where Lex Luthor's goons pound Superman on kryptonite island. (Yeah, it's weird that Superman cannot tell for a while that it is a kryptonite island -- that is a storytelling failure I don't want to talk about right now; I suppose it has something to do with the fact that is is a kind of hybrid kryptonite-crystal thing but the movie does not feel like being clear on this point). The scene is powerful. Kevin Spacey is an uninteresting Lex Luthor for a lot of the movie, channeling Gene Hackman as Routh channels Reeves, but Spacey SHINES in this scene. J. Hoberman, in his review in the Village Voice describes "the cold sexual enjoyment [Luthor] projects watching the weakened Man of Steel being stomped," which is exactly right. Then Luthor, wonderfully not above getting his hands dirty, comes in for the final, up-close and personal stab and it is really horrific. Superman falls. I got choked up, which is impressive during a movie that was not that good. It was just a very good scene. Eventually Superman goes on to foil Luthor's evil plan, and the movie takes a dull turn and goes on for 45 minutes more than it should. At the end Luthor, escaping kryptonite island, gets stranded on a little desert island with Parker Posey. The end.
Luthor wanted beach front property and now he has it, though not in the form he expected. He wanted lots of land and now he is stuck with only a little. Plus he has to put up with Parker Posey being annoying. The screenwriters must have been patting themselves on the back: "Hilarious! Ironic! Classic!" But it is just wrong. That is a punishment appropriate to a comedy character, a buffoon like the bad guy in One Crazy Summer, a guy who is going to shake his fist in the air and yell "Darn those crazy kids!" Superman does not come face to face with Luthor again after Luthor kicks him off the cliff. That is just wrong. Comedy punishment cannot be the end for the guy who tortured and degraded Superman in a quasi-sexual way. The film demands a scene where the nearly indestructible Superman confronts the man who brought him to the edge of death. Do something creative with the scene, fine, but you cannot leave it out. And they did. And they are idiots.
While cleaning my house this weekend for relatives I watched a chunk of View from the Top, the horrifically bad Gweneth Paltrow movie where her highest dream is to become a flight attendant (Mike Myers is the instructor, and Candace Bergen plays her role model). The big bad in the film is Christina Applegate, who -- gasp! -- switches her exam with Paltrow's, damning Paltrow to being a local flight attendant rather than an international one (her dream). Applegate gets to fly to Paris while Paltrow is stuck is Cleveland. Eventually Applegate is caught -- a copy of the test is recovered and all the "i"s are dotted with little hearts, Applegate's "trademark" (as she says). Say what you want about the film, it doesn't forget to have a final confrontation between its main antagonists (a cat-fight), where our hero emerges the winner. How embarrassing is it that, at least on this fairly important point, Superman Returns cannot claim to be a better film than View from the Top?