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Not so super

By Lady Liberty
web posted July 3, 2006

Superman Returns

* 1/2 out of ****

Superman ReturnsAfter being disappointed with the latest installment of the X-Men franchise (X-Men: The Last Stand), I made mention that at least some of the blame fell on a new director. Bryan Singer, who so ably helmed the first two X-Men movies, had opted instead to take charge of a new Superman installment entitled Superman Returns. I wrote that I hoped that X-Men's loss would be Superman's gain. Unfortunately, the latter movie has also proved to fall considerably short of expectation.

Superman Returns highlights just that: After an absence of about five years, Superman (Brandon Routh) is back. Unknown to most of the citizens of earth, when astronomers discover what they believe to be the remnants of Krypton, Superman is unable to resist taking a trip to check it out for himself. When he finally returns, his mother, Martha (Eva Marie Saint) is happy to see him. His old boss, Perry White (Frank Langella) gives his alter ego, Clark Kent, his job back. Photographer Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) is glad to see Clark, too. But the woman Superman/Clark loves, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), has moved on.

Lois has a son and a fiancé (Perry's nephew, Richard White, played by James Marsden). She's also about to have a Pulitzer Prize for an editorial she wrote entitled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." Try as she might, though, the return of Superman has also brought the return of at least some of her feelings for him.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has only had his own feelings toward Superman intensify over the past several years. And now he's got a plan to take Superman out for good and become rich and powerful beyond his wildest dreams. The fact that he'll have to kill millions — or even billions — of people to do so is just a minor detail to Lex. Along with his bimbo girlfriend, Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey), Lex puts his plans into action even as Superman is doing his best to repair other much more personal things as best he can.

There comes a time, though, when choices are made, losses are endured, and even Superman needs all the strength he can muster. While the world watches and waits, the very survival of relationships, humanity, and Superman himself hangs in the balance.

Brandon Routh is eerily like the late Christopher Reeve. While we might expect Superman to look like, well, Superman (the "look" is well established), Routh looks so much like Reeve, sounds so much like him, and even acts a good deal like him that it's uncanny. The fact that he fills out a spandex suit very nicely doesn't hurt, either. Routh, while probably not the world's greatest actor (at least not yet — you'll recall Reeve himself grew well beyond his Superman role as time went on), is just fine in his portrayal of the relatively one-dimensional Superman.

Kevin Spacey seems to be having a good time as Lex Luthor, and imbues the character with a hint of real insanity that we've not seen so clearly before; Parker Posey holds her own with the formidable Spacey — which is saying something. Other supporting cast members are fine, and an extra tip of the hat must go to the late Marlon Brando who appears briefly as Superman's father Jor-El thanks to archive footage of his earlier appearances.

The one truly problematic performance is that of Kate Bosworth. It's not that she's a bad actress — she isn't. Instead, she's quite plainly woefully miscast. She looks even younger than she is (what, did she start working at the Daily Planet when she was, like, 14?), she doesn't have the forcefulness to play a top notch reporter let alone a Pulitzer Prize winner, and her chemistry with Routh is all but non-existent. It's not Bosworth's fault that she's the weak link here, but she's never-the-less the weak link.

The direction is okay for the most part, and I can excuse moments of camp. This is, after all, a comic book! What's not to be excused are the poor edits, the dismally simplistic story (conceived by the director and screenwriters), and a very ordinary script. The special effects are largely quite good (though there's some inexcusable shakiness in the opening credits) — particularly those involving a plummeting jumbo jet — but they can't make up for the other shortcomings, and there are many.

After a summer of high hopes for comic-based films, I'm now resigned to having to wait for February, 2007 to see Ghostrider, and May of 2007 for the much-anticipated Spider-Man 3 (for which I saw my first trailer this weekend, and have to offer up a preliminary "Wow!" as a result). Superman Returns is okay, I suppose, but it's considerably less than "super," and certainly less than we had the right to expect.

POLITICAL NOTES: Say what you will about the homosexual themes of Superman Returns (I frankly didn't see it) or the religious references (those are there, thanks to either lack of imagination or extraordinary hubris on the parts of the writers), there's something much more important offered up at one point in the film:

Lex Luthor gleefully mentions an appeal of an earlier conviction that's based on the fact that Superman didn't give him his Miranda rights. Now while some might interpret this to mean that Miranda isn't all that important, especially not when it comes to the worst criminals, I see it differently. To me, this throwaway line says that no matter how altruistic your motivations, and no matter that you're merely working for "truth, justice, and the American way," the rights of even the baddest of bad guys simply must be upheld if the rest of us are to enjoy the privilege of the same. And that's something with which I thoroughly agree.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Superman Returns is rated PG-13 for "some intense action violence." While likely not suitable for the smallest children, I think those of about 10 or so and up will be just fine. I'd frankly be more concerned with the influence on them of the fact that Lois has an illegitimate child, and no one seems to care. Superman Returns will be enjoyed by more than a few people simply because Superman is finally back on the big screen. But for those who expect more from their theater-going experience than some high end effects and some pretty actors, well, you might want to save your anticipation — and your ticket money — for some other film that deserves it more.

The Devil Wears Prada

** 1/2 out ****

The Devil Wears PradaI'm not a fashion geek nor am I especially into so-called "chick flicks," but I had a little extra time to kill before meeting a friend this weekend. Since I think that Meryl Streep is arguably the best actress alive today, I decided to occupy an hour and a half by buying a ticket for The Devil Wears Prada. Yes, it's a film focused on fashion. Yes, you'd probably call it a "chick flick." But you know what? I was entertained.

The titular devil is Runway Magazine editor, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). She goes through assistants like some people go through chewing gum — and she treats the girls with just about as much thought as she'd offer to a used up wad of Juicy Fruit Enter Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway) who is applying to take the place of the most recently fired Second Assistant. Andrea (or Andy, as she says most people call her) isn't into fashion, but she needs the job and she knows it will be good experience for her. But Miranda's First Assistant Emily (Emily Blunt) isn't so sure that Andy's right for the position.

Unfortunately, just as Emily is ready to send Andy on her way, Miranda herself arrives and decides that only she can hire a suitable replacement. While she also doesn't consider Andy a good fit, a brief burst of assertiveness on Andy's part wins her the chance at the job. As she jumps in to the deep end and flails around accordingly, she's repeatedly told that "millions of girls would die for" her new job. In fact, it's not long before Andy wishes she was dead.

Miranda is hopelessly demanding and impossible to please. Emily resents Andy and offers the barest possible amount of help. And Andy herself would frankly much rather be writing than hanging up Miranda's coat, buying her coffee, or delivering her dry cleaning. But she doggedly keeps trying because she's hoping her position will at least open a few editorial doors down the road.

Andy's boyfriend Nate (Adrian Grenier) and her friends Lilly (Tracie Thoms) and Doug (Rich Sommer) sympathize even as they're taken a little aback by Andy's lack of interest in her job. Even Doug is excited about the designers she might get to meet, and the inside gossip she might get to hear; Lilly is impressed with the perks. But Nate and Andy's father only see that Andy is on call virtually 24 hours a day at the whim of her demanding boss, and that no matter what she does, it isn't good enough for Miranda.

In a fit of despair, Andy all but decides to give up. But when she complains to co-worker and Miranda's right hand man, Nigel (Stanley Tucci), he offers her at least the beginnings of a solution. Andy determines to give it a shot. Her attitude changes and she becomes more and more competent at her job. She also, however, becomes less and less of a friend — or a girlfriend. And when she meets the handsome writer Christian Thompson (Simon Baker), Andy realizes that her chance may finally be right here, and right now. But can she afford all it will cost her to take it?

Meryl Streep is, by virtually every account I've ever heard, a nice woman. Miranda Priestly, however, will convince you that she can't possibly be anything but cold, calculating, and downright cruel. All this, and Streep never once raises her voice! While this isn't the kind of role that wins anybody any awards, Streep apparently doesn't care. Her performance is stellar.

Anne Hathaway, whose previous efforts have mostly been fluff roles (the lead in The Princess Diaries films, for example), made a point of showing her range by accepting a significant supporting role in Brokeback Mountain. With The Devil Wears Prada, she's gone back to fluff, but it's considerable fluff given her many scenes with Streep, and she does a surprisingly good job at holding up her end of the bargain. While she's not there yet, I suspect that Hathaway is capable of being formidable herself.

The supporting cast is all quite good, but special mention must be made of Stanley Tucci. His character is fussy and egotistical, yet vulnerable; he seems flighty at best, yet exemplifies stolid loyalty. Meanwhile, Simon Baker is relegated largely to the role of eye candy. That being said, he's very nice eye candy which, in a movie like this one, does count.

The Devil Wears Prada isn't anything other than what it's supposed to be, and that's a diverting hour and a half. It does offer up some life lessons for young girls (at the same time taking away from them somewhat by glorifying the very thin models and holding up starvation as a diet technique), but the one thing the movie really has going for it is the simple fact that most women of most ages, whether they'll admit it publicly or not, will probably be entertained.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: The Devil Wears Prada is rated PG-13 for "some sensuality." Everything is ambiguous enough, though, that I don't see a real problem with kids of age 11 or so and up. The Devil Wears Prada would be a pretty good date movie for the younger set, and a great flick for mothers and daughters. Drop your sons off at a Superman Returns screening though; as much as girls are going to enjoy The Devil Wears Prada, boys are going to hate it.

Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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