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Wednesday, July 12, 2006 01:00 am

Missing Reeve

Superman Returns isn’t as promising as its predecessors

Is it possible to breathe new life into a story as overused as Superman? Apparently the makers of Superman Returns couldn’t answer that question, either. The problems lie in the shallow source material. Superman is the most basic and ultimately the blandest of all comic-book heroes. Even his nickname is ridiculously generic. Batman relates to bats, and Spider-Man displays characteristics of spiders. Superman, I guess, is just super. Perfection is so boring. Brandon Routh may resemble Christopher Reeve, but he lacks Reeve’s charisma as both the Man of Steel and his bumbling alter ego, Clark Kent. Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane is so unpleasant, one would think that Mr. Perfection could do much better. Margot Kidder was a little shrill, but her budding psychosis gave the gung-ho reporter a little spark. The ideal match-up might have been Reeve with Teri Hatcher, who was the most appealing Lois (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman). Superman (1978) was the first big-screen treatment and a major improvement over the silly 1950s TV series starring George Reeves. A big budget brought state-of-the-art special effects to the adventure, allowing Superman to battle more than just bank robbers. Looking back on the now-primitive effects, it is hard to believe a man can fly. Superman is hindered by an overlong introduction to his roots, but a little Miracle-Gro might have moved things along a bit faster. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), Superman’s archnemesis, makes his first appearance here. Why must this overblown criminal pop up in nearly every movie, including the current release? Comedy director Richard Lester took over the reins from Richard Donner for the next two installments, and he added a dose of needed humor. Superman II (1980) featured the best villains of the series, the trio of criminals from Krypton, who lifted this film above its predecessor. Superman III (1983) delves further into comedy with Richard Pryor as a computer genius who aids a power-mad businessman (Robert Vaughn). Lester was accused of using Superman as a vehicle for his misanthropic slapstick. He did, and it worked. The real dog of the series is the low-budget Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), directed by Sidney J. Furie, which tried to get by on the same cast with lesser effects. It didn’t work, and it bombed. Superman Returns may not bomb, but it shows little promise for a new series.  
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