Superman Returns soars over all other versions.
"Any defeat, however trivial, may be fatal to a savior of the plain people. They never admire a messiah with a bloody nose." H.L. Mencken
I've always thought of myself like Superman: heroic, above the crowd, strong, selfless. The new film Superman Returns reveals that HE is just like ME: weak, self absorbed, righteous, mortal, and wobbly about women. The numerous spot-on insights in this latest installment are testimony that this film may even eclipse the best of Spiderman in exploring the effect being human has on the best of us.
At a recent Hollywood party, I lost my hand for a second in a shake with Mike Tyson, the flawed former heavyweight champion of the world. I did speculate, however, that I had never before met someone who was once the best in the world. Superman (Brandon Routh), unarguably the best of us all, is the polar opposite to Tyson, but both are reduced from their lofty cultural thrones because they are not above acting foolish like the rest of us.
Although not of our planet, Superman exhibits human vulnerability when he faces Lois's (Kate Bosworth) having a child (This kid is unworldly strong. Could the Man of Steel have acted like a real man that night?), and boyfriend but not husband (Hmm, what's she waiting for? a cape?). All happened when and, maybe because, Superman left for five years to find what was left of Krypton, the source of his only physical weakness, kryptonite.
Director Bryan Singer brilliantly bandies about Superman's struggles with Lois and his combat with nemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), who has kryptonite and cave crystals from Superman's Fortress of Solitude to neutralize Superman and start a new continent on earth. Superman's skirmish with death at Luthor's hand has to be tough on an audience that sees its savior as immortal.
The difference in special effects alone between this version and the first in 1978 (expertly directed by Richard Donner) is dramatic: Superman now flies like Baryshnikov, and the universe, from the titles on, looks as real as a night at the Palomar Observatory.
But it is in the human struggle that Superman Returns triumphs over all other versions. It makes me think again about the messianic Christ motif and the notion that men, such as Lois's boyfriend, struggle with the idealized superman in the sub consciences of the women they love.
Even Lex Luthor loses that battle.