A project that was in development for ages, "Superman Returns" has seen many directors and stars come and go, finally settling on director Bryan Singer (fresh from his departure from the "X-Men" series) and unknown Brandon Routh. The picture arrived in theaters not long after the successful rebirth of the "Batman" franchise and gained buzz, both for early word on the movie and for the fact that the budget of the film was nothing short of massive (despite grossing a whopping $200m in the U.S., the film still wasn't though of as a hit, due to how expensive it was.)
All that said, after watching the film, I remain surprised that the picture didn't grab an even wider audience during its theatrical run. The film opens with Superman (Brandon Routh) returning to Earth after spending years away, searching out possible remains of his home planet, Krypton. Shortly after, Superman's old nemesis, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has been released, and he decides to pay a visit to Superman's Fortress of Solitude in order to snatch a bunch of crystals. Luthor's plan? Use the crystals in order to raise a sunken land mass, resulting in horrific flooding of the U.S. and leaving Luthor with valuable (although probably not with the housing market being what it is) real estate.
Okay, so there's some holes in Luthor's plan, like the fact that the mass of land that does rise looks rather like the asteroid from "Armageddon", which is not really the best place for condos. Superman also has to face returning to Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), who he didn't say goodbye to when he left to seek out Krypton. She's now married to a reporter and pilot named Richard (James Marsden, "X-Men" series) and has a child.
The picture may be on somewhat shaky ground when it comes to aspects of the plot, but Singer manages to zip over questionable elements with such grace, excitement and good humor that it's hard to ponder the film's issues for very long. Routh, who was certainly the other concern about the film going in, may look rather bland, but handles both the comedy (and there are some moments in this film that are genuinely funny, and yet manage to not take away from the tension and drama generated by the rest of the film) and the drama reasonably well. Luthor's plans aren't exactly the grandest in the history of movie villians, but Spacey plays the role with just enough insanity to make it a fun and watchable performance.
The other star of the film is the effects work (done by several different companies), which is astonishing in some of the film's biggest scenes (such as an exciting rescue sequence involving a space shuttle/airplane. Production design (by Guy Dyas, "X2") and cinematography (by Singer's frequent collaborator, Thomas Newton Siegel) are also among the film's many technical highlights. There are some absolutely beautiful, classic shots on occasion throughout the flick. As great as many of the big scenes are, the film also zeros in on little moments - comedic, emotional or otherwise - that are wonderfully effective.
While the film isn't loaded with action sequences, the ones that are included make an impact and the stretches of character/story development are satisfying and engaging. It's to the film's credit that the villain's plan is kind of bizarre and faulty, yet I was never bored and the film's 154-minute running time flew by. Overall, "Superman Returns" stands out as grand entertainment and a marvelous return for the franchise.
VIDEO: "Superman Returns" is presented by Warner Brothers in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film was shot with a new Panavision HD camera. The presentation looked absolutely stellar throughout much of the show, but there were a few minor flaws that made themselves known on a couple of occasions. Sharpness and detail were certainly not a problem, as the film looked razor sharp throughout.
As for the issues, I did spot some minor artifacting on a few occasions. However, no edge enhancement or additional flaws were noticed. Colors looked perfectly bold and bright, with excellent saturation and no smearing or other concerns. Black level also looked solid, while flesh tones appeared accurate and natural.
SOUND: "Superman Returns" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. As good as the visuals looked on this DVD, the film's stellar sound design impressed even more. Although "Returns" isn't loaded with action sequences, the surrounds are almost always fully engaged, offering up richly detailed sound effects, ambience and reinforcement of the score. Action sequences kicked the audio into high gear, with the surrounds doing a remarkable job of putting the viewer directly into the middle of the sequence. Audio quality was terrific, with punchy, crisp effects and clear, undistorted dialogue.
EXTRAS: Instead of a commentary, we get the nearly three-hour "Requiem For Krypton". This massive "making of" has Singer being followed around from day 1 of his involvement in the project. The documentary follows the director as the film gets underway, with the initial meetings and trip to Australia to start filming. Once in Australia, the documentary follows Singer and company as they hammer out the details during free moments between shooting some of the film's major sequences. We see a lot of the meetings going on between cast and crew and watch as many of the effects sequences are planned out and filmed. The only oddity is that this documentary does not allow us into post-production, ending once the filming has wrapped. Still, the documentary is an extensive and engaging look at the making of the film.
"Resurrecting Jor-El" is a short featurette that shows, step-by-step, how the filmmakers were able to insert Marlon Brando into the film. 11 deleted scenes offer some interesting tidbits, but it seems as if these were bits that hit the cutting room floor in order for pacing reasons.
Finally, we get the film's teaser and theatrical trailers, along with promos for "Justice League Heroes", "Superman Returns" video game and "The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection".
Final Thoughts: Overall, "Superman Returns" stands out as grand entertainment and a marvelous return for the franchise. This special edition DVD boasts stellar audio/video quality and a super 3-hour "making of" documentary. Highly recommended (also available in a 1-DVD regular edition and on Blu-Ray and HD-DVD.)
The Film A-