One of the disadvantages of living in a country that is obsessed with football is that during the world cup or the European cup the country pretty-much comes to a standstill entertainment-wise (the upshot being that evening traffic is much reduced). Movie releases are postponed by months because the attendance figures in cinemas drop, and that is why, much later than the rest of the world, Superman Returns only opened here this weekend.
Usually I stay away from the first weekend crowd, because they’re too noisy and irate and walk in late, still talking on the phone no less. However, this was Superman, so I decided to risk an early Thursday show*. Guess what, the fire alarm went off just as the opening Warner Bros. logo came up. Lights start flashing, alarms blaring, projection shuts down.
(*Thursday/Friday being the weekend, but many people work a half-day on Thursday so there was a good chance most of the crowd I dislike wouldn’t be there until the later shows, and I was right.)
I had to wade through mind-numbing Coca-Cola and Fair & Lovely ads for this?! Luckily, a few false starts later, the nice new DC logo came up, and it was smooth sailing from there. To be more precise, smooth flying.
I don’t think I’ve conveyed quite how much of a cultural icon Superman is to an Indian my age. When I was growing up in the eighties, Superman (the 1978 Richard Donner film) was one of the first films I had ever seen in a theatre (moving to Oman later relegated me to videoland, but that medium helped to teach me much about cinematic form and language). Every year or so the film would be back in Indian theatres, and every time it did my dad would take us to see it. At the local raddiwalla, Superman comics were priced higher than other comics, even Archie. Spider-Man was on TV, but Superman could fly. He had that fantastic, soul-stirring background music to go with it (Spider-Man had some strange 70s rock thing and a funny theme song). I had a Superman suit when I was a kid (it was black. hehehe) and still have a photo of me trying to fake a flying shot (one of my legs was hidden behind a light-coloured headboard — it was pretty convincing). I still have that suit somewhere.
No, I don’t think it fits.
A long time has passed between those days and now. A lot of comics, a lot of movies, and a lot of comic-book movies (in the nineties I would never have imagined that we’d have any comic book superhero movies any more, and the future seemed bleak and dull and populated by Schwarzenegger sweat-and-gun-a-thons), two good TV shows about the guy and a plethora of Elseworlds interpretations (of which Mark Millar’s excellent Superman: Red Son, about a man of steel who is raised in Russia instead of the USA is my favourite, and a must read).
I was a little worried that the simplicity of Superman would not be enough to entertain me anymore.
Boy, was I wrong. Bryan Singer and crew have crafted an amazing piece of film. It stays true to what has come before it and yet, just as the previous films reinvented the character and created a lot of the mythology that we consider a part of the character today, Superman Returns does away with the restictive, old-fashioned collective idea of what Superman is and gets to the heart of the character, showing for what he is: complex, straightforward and most importantly, good.
They also cheekily take the film in a direction that should have fans howling, but again this subplot should only really offend those who cling to the Superman-as-ascetic-Jesus-figure notion (an incorrect one, if you’ve ever read the comic). This fan, for one, is very glad that the movie goes boldly, where no official canon, retcon-fearing comic-book writer every dares (but secretly wishes) to go, and they do it subtly.
The film is a very quiet one (another quality I love about the old Superman, as well as Bryan Singer’s films), and except for Kate Bosworth’s well performed, but straight and bland version of Lois Lane (who, from comic to screen to radio to TV has always been portrayed as a bit of a nut), the entire cast (especially Brandon Routh and Kevin Spacey) put in masterful performances, aided by the classic John Williams score and the new John Ottman compositions.
I’m very tempted to go see this one again to catch what I missed, because I’m sure I missed a lot when I was just grinning like a little boy.
Excuse me, I need to go find a cape.