July 14, 2006
Psst, Superman is . . .
No, Superman isn’t gay. Not even in the hands of openly gay, super-successful, mega-director Bryan Singer, who directed the first two X-Men blockbusters as fabulously entertaining movies with heavy subtext about being gay in the world.
It is not so out of the ordinary to see gay men and women as having something fundamental in common with superheroes from Superman and Magneto to Catwoman and Spiderman. Like their superhero counterparts, GLBT folk understand too well the notion of living the double life--life inside the closet and an existence outside of its confines. Truth be told, given the seemingly inexorable rise of homophobia and gay bashing these days, it takes more than superpowers to stay alive, to fight off the hatred.
While many have complained about it, the heavier tone in Superman Returns is appropriate for our times, burdened as they are with a lot of global and local darkness.
Singer knows how to make a summer film with substance, yet he doesn’t detract one bit from the spectacular thrills expected of this genre.
The film begins by telling us that Superman has been gone from Earth for five years, visiting the destroyed planet Krypton. When he returns, he finds that Earth has moved on. It has managed to survive without his goody two shoes and cape. More devastatingly, Lois Lane has moved on. She is now engaged, has a child and won a Pulitzer for her insightful piece, “Why We Don’t Need Superman.”
Add to this mix of unrequited love the Machiavellian machinations of Lex Luthor and his evil posse and the fireworks are ready for set off.
Singer brings his usual visual panache to the film.
The special effects are awesome, especially an early sequence featuring a doomed flight and NASA shuttle launch. Singer also manages to insert plenty of character development and drama into this Superman, making it rise above the ordinary action hero flick.
To be fair, the last two Spiderman films and the latest Batman movie have upped the ante on the genre.
Singer matches swords well with those films and their creators.
Newcomer Brandon Routh, flying in the cape of the late Christopher Reeve, is a worthy successor to the role.
His resemblance to Reeve is a bit too eerie, but he manages to soar in his own right. Routh certainly has the matinee idol looks required for this role and his large presence does wonders for the larger than life hero he plays.
Kevin Spacey, who is making few films these days, manages to make Lex Luthor maniacal and malevolent in exciting ways. Spacey relishes bringing the mighty Superman to his knees, and this rivalry is darker and more brutally violent than in the earlier films.
As his sidekick Kitty, the perennial gay fave Parker Posey is a hoot and one laugh away from stealing the show from Spacey. Her hyper, manic, strutting villainess with a heart of gold is a joy to watch.
Back from the dead, Marlon Brando makes an appearance in the film. From sound takes from past Superman films, here Brando is resuscitated to play Jor-El, Superman’s father.
The major disappointment in the film is the casting of Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. At times she comes across like a juvenile valley girl and at times a spurned harlot on a soap opera. Her tone and acting seems out of sorts with the rest of the film. So jaded is she at the loss of Superman that she comes across as crass and too hardened for her own good, and ultimately the good of the film. Like the miscasting of Katie Holmes in the latest Batman venture, Bosworth is out of her league here and seems to be acting in some other genre.
Columbus-born Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris team up as screenwriters here and provide the film with a good spine. Singer brought them over from the X-Men films which he left to direct Superman Returns.
In an interesting side note, it is worthy to reiterate that when the Advocate did a story on the connection between superheroes and gay folk, the right-wing media turned it into something pernicious. They moaned and groaned that the gay, liberal elite were turning Superman gay. How dare they, these radicals intoned, take a cherished, all-American icon and turn him gay.
(Remember Bill O’Reilly’s ludicrous claim that Brokeback Mountain was “homosexualizing” America?)
First of all, it is beyond the superpowers, even of the gay community, to turn a fictitious superhero gay.
Secondly, no one was saying Superman was gay in this film.
Sadly, the film’s production company trotted Singer out to assure the public, prior to the film’s release, that Superman was in no way gay. Singer complied with their wishes and it had to be somewhat sad and annoying for an openly gay auteur to apologize and reassure America that Superman was straight.