Saturday, January 06, 2007

Superman Returns (2006)

Something I know from experience is that Warner Brothers is the worst studio to work for. It's a studio run by hateful people with the collective business sense of a twelve year old lemonade stand owner on the wealthiest street in town.
So I imagine they must have thrown a dumptruck full of cash onto Bryan Singer's lap to agree to come direct this movie for them. Warners, after all, was considering having McG direct this movie just before they scored Singer. That should tell you something about the business sense of the Warner Brothers executive staff. Jack Warner would be turning in his grave if he knew the people running his company would consider hiring McG to direct Superman's great return.
However, all turned out because they got the glorious director of all things comic book to come and direct this movie. Obviously Singer hit two home runs with X-Men.
The end result is potentially Singer's fourth best movie. His best is The Usual Suspects, #17 on IMDB's top films and a movie that garnered Spacey his first Academy Award. I would say that X-Men 2 is better than X-Men 1. X-Men 1 required a lot of character setup, and the ending was generally a pretty lame battle at the Statue of Liberty. Actually, having read the original draft script for X-Men to bid on its effects -- that's another sob story for another time -- I can tell you that a bunch of cool character development was cut from the final movie. They were going to show Storm and Cyclops', but didn't (IIRC).
Back to this movie. It's a lot less cheesy than Superman:The Movie. Spacey, of course, nails Lex. I'm kind of glad the Miss Teschmacher and Otis characters were not in this movie, though Parker Posey's character "Kitty" plays as close to Teschmacher as you can get without being her. I really like Lex and his underlings in this movie. Kal Penn does not speak, which is probably a good thing when he's not playing Kumar.
Which brings us to Lois and Clark. Routh does a good job as Superman/Clark. It's a pretty simple character though, right? He acts all klutzy as Clark, he acts all Eagle-Scouty as Superman ("You know, smoking will kill you..."). When he gets near kryptonite he acts all weak. It doesn't take a great actor to play Superman beyond having a strong chin and profile, which Routh does fine.
Kate Bosworth raises the bar on the Lois character. She proves exactly how silly they were to cast Margot Kidder the first time around. As an adult, I realize how stupid and crazy Lois was made out to be in the first couple Superman movies. This version of Lois seems like a reasonable adult journalistic type. Bosworth does a stellar job and is one of the best superhero girlfriends lately (compared to Katie Holmes in Batman -- a worthless character -- or Kirsten Dunst).
The movie is pretty good, though we have one random "Hey, Superman saves these people and does something cool" moment (the eye-bullet scene which was in the trailer). The rest of his super actions in the movie are actually tied into the story, which is remarkable for most superhero comic book films. Overall this movie is pretty watchable, I would see it again.
I did want to mention here that while Superman : The Movie came across as more cheesy--especially after we're introduced to Lois (spinning the world backwards to save her, anyone?)--the first 30 minutes of that first film could be some of the best frames ever printed in the history of film. The story of Jor-El, Krypton, Superman's time in Smallville is awesome. No comic book movie has come close to matching the character and story development of that part of Superman : The Movie.
Finally, no viewing of this film would be complete without a critique of the effects work, since my former division of AOL was supposed to work on it (another sob story for another time). I'll go gently though since so many friends worked on the movie. All-in-all, the effects are okay. My favorite effects in the movie look like models, so if they weren't, then bravo to the CG people who did them. I did like the bullet-in-the-eye effect. I also really, really liked the x-ray vision effect. Nice way he can go through layers of walls progressively with his vision. The explosion and space-shuttle effects look CG. I could see a bad matte or bad spill supression on some shots, and on an HD transfer compressed down to 7.0GB, that's pretty questionable. Furthermore, I was surprised the skin and cloth shaders on the CG Superman were as unconvincing as they were. I've seen better cloth and skin shaders in real time, rendered on the GPU. I think it might be time to revisit some of the shader techniques utilized by these films. It could be the treatment in the composite... I wasn't there when they were putting together the shot of course.
Speaking of the HD transfer, I watched this movie via Xbox Live. The compression was pretty horrendous. Granted, at 2 and 1/4 hours, this movie required about a 1:35 compression ratio to get it down to 7 gigabytes. I think the digital color timing done on the film also did a number on the compression though. It seems like these video codecs don't play well with visual gradients that have been messed with digitally (like clouds). A lot of parts where Superman is flying through the clouds looked pretty blocky as a result. I'd be curious to see how this looks on HD-DVD.
Rating: Good/Good. If you can stand supporting the people of Warner Brothers, it's worth grabbing on Xbox Live or an HD-DVD.