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He's back. A hero for our millennium. And not a moment too soon, because during the five years Superman sought his home planet, things changed on his adopted planet. Nations moved on without him. Lois Lane now has a son, a fiancÚ and a Pulitzer for "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." And Lex Luthor has a plan that will destroy billions of lives. And the thrills - from a sky-grapple with a tumbling jumbo jet to a continent-convulsing showdown - redefine Wow. "I'm always around," Superman tells Lois. You'll be glad he is.
For more about Superman Returns and the Superman Returns Blu-ray release, see Superman Returns Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on July 4, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella
Director: Bryan Singer
» See full cast & crew
Superman Returns Blu-ray Review
Be sure to buy the 2008 re-release instead of this irrelevant disc...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, July 4, 2009
As I perused Blu-ray.com's ever-shrinking list of backlog titles -- releases that somehow slipped through the cracks without ever receiving an official review -- I realized my eventual write-up would post on July 4th. It occurred to me that I needed to review a film that screamed baseball, fireworks, and warm apple pie... a sliver of American culture so distinct, so iconic that its Blu-ray case could come topped with chintzy plastic flags and no one would bat an eye. I needed a film that dealt with an unwavering moral monolith; a hero whose every deed personifies the hope those with stars in their eyes and stripes on their hearts long to feel (regardless of their Red or Blue-state affiliation). I needed something like director Bryan Singer's Superman Returns. Yes, it's flawed. Yes, the X-Men helmsman spends more time professing his love for Richard Donner's Superman than creating a mythos all his own. And yes, the result is often a dour, humorless affair that meanders towards its inevitable conclusion with the urgency of a ninety-year-old woman at a bake sale. But you know what? I don't care. Singer's Supes is still a pillar of principle and moral fortitude; a superhero who could stand in front of a flag and mean it; a nostalgic icon of a simpler time when good was good, and evil was evil.
Released in the wake of Christopher Nolan's wildly successful Batman Begins (a more perfect study of how to reboot a comicbook film franchise), Singer's Superman Returns takes a different approach, picking up where Donner's 1978 originator and 1980 fiasco left off. As the story opens, Superman (Brandon Routh, cast in part for his uncanny resemblance to Christopher Reeve) has been missing for five years. In his absence, his former flame, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), met a new beau (James Marsden), settled down, popped out a kid (Tristan Lake Leabu), and wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning article titled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." Ahem... it's safe to assume she was a bit miffed when he left. When the absentee hero finally returns, he doesn't waste a lot of time before reinserting himself in his old life. A pair of glasses and a suit land him another job at The Daily Planet, his editor-in-chief, Perry White (Frank Langella), dumps a pile of work in his lap, and his ever-loyal pal Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) is simply ecstatic to chat with the mild-mannered Clark Kent. Before long, he learns that his arch nemesis, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey, having what I can only describe as an absolute blast in his every scene), has been busy in his absence. Not only has Lex stumbled across even more Kryptonian crystals hand-crafted for his maniacal pleasure, he's concocted a plan to create a new oceanic continent, rake in billions of dollars, and rid the planet of Superman once and for all.
Adhering to Donner's every convention as well as the series' mom-n-pop sensibilities, Superman Returns is an odd entry in a typically flashy genre. Not only does Singer repress the inventiveness he so readily injected into his X-projects, he constructs a dated, somewhat antiquated film that, at times, feels as if it's declaring allegiance to the early '80s. Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty's screenplay is partially to blame: they rehash Superman's origin (without inserting any fresh material), drop him in the middle of an office yanked directly out of the '50s, and reign in the superheroics (with only a handful of major action scenes) and neuter their characters' sense of wonder. More distressingly, Singer and his writers occasionally fail to elicit the emotional response they're obviously gunning for. Don't get me wrong, Routh is absolutely fantastic -- he deftly sells the duality of an impervious god-man and perfectly channels Reeve's now-classic performance -- but Bosworth lacks Margot Kidder's believability, Huntington is a bit too cheery-eyed and rosy-cheeked for his own good (or the good of the film), and Marsden is squandered in yet another superhero flick (first it was Cyclops, now it's Bland Rebound Guy).
After reading all of that, you might find yourself wondering why I awarded Superman Returns such a generous score. Truth is, I actually enjoy the film quite a bit. Critics ridicule its pacing and fanboys cry foul at every turn, but Routh's performance is simply magnetic, holding the entire story together even when transparent sentimentality and predictable developments loom on the horizon. It helps that Supes' son isn't a distraction. The young Leabu is often as commanding as Routh and Spacey, developing the emotional core of Singer's film without allowing it to slip into the sinking sands of schmaltz. And Spacey? His unhinged hilarity infuses the film with some much-needed soul. He reels and rants, pauses and launches, and sinks his teeth into each scene with a grin that says I'm a madman and I love it. His Lex is actually more menacing than Gene Hackman's Luthor (less of a manipulator... more of an outright bastard), and he commands the screen whenever he waltzes into view. His confrontations with Superman are incredible; his fierce hatred for such a moralistic enemy is only bested by the steadfast determination in Routh's eyes. I could have definitely done without Luthor's bumbling henchmen (played by the likes of Parker Posey, Kal Penn, and others), but I suppose it goes with Donner's established territory.
All things considered, I feel safe in recommending Superman Returns. It isn't as mesmerizing as Batman Begin or The Dark Knight, as entertaining as Iron Man, or as complex as Watchmen, but it is a solid genre pic that has a lot to offer Superman enthusiasts. It's a shame Singer probably won't get the chance to further expand the characters and the franchise -- X-Men 2 was such a leap forward from the first X-Men that I can only imagine what heights his now-defunct Superman followup would have reached. Ah well, it may be slow and flawed, but it has more than enough baseball, fireworks, and warm apple pie to go around.
Superman Returns Blu-ray, Video Quality
Ouch. Minted for a 2006 release (when Blu-ray had first emerged from Sony's primordial ooze), Superman Returns' 1080p/VC-1 transfer has lost whatever luster it may have once had. Singer and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel's amber-drenched palette remains fairly strong and stable, but inconsistent contrast leveling and dull, muddy skintones continually flatten the image. Dimensionality and detail is hit or miss as well. At times, Routh's pores take center stage... at others, his face looks as if it's been crafted from clay. Likewise, a thrilling high altitude rescue is undermined by soft edges and indistinct textures; an odd development considering the film was shot using the latest and greatest high definition cameras. Moreover, scenes aboard Luthor's war-yacht (or whatever you want to call it) are lifeless, rooftop rendezvous resemble murky bowls of brown gumbo, and underwater sequences exhibit some of the worst artifacting, banding, and source noise I've ever encountered. And that's only the tip of the growing Kryptonian land mass. From a reckless application of noise reduction to a who's who of digital discrepancies, the picture is a mess from beginning to end. As it stands, only a handful of third-act confrontations between Supes and Lex manage to leave a long-lasting impression.
I have no doubt some of the presentation's unsightly misfortunes can be traced to Singer and Sigel's intentions -- overbearing shadows, impenetrable delineation, and limited depth among them -- but it's quite clear that Superman Returns is in desperate need of a fresh restoration; a sharp transfer that will give its iconic hero the sort of stunning Blu-ray homecoming he deserves.
Superman Returns Blu-ray, Audio Quality
When Superman Returns first arrived on home video in 2006, Warner (at that point struggling to provide comparable sonic experiences between the HD DVD and Blu-ray releases of their films) produced two distinctly different audio mixes: a rousing, lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track for the HD DVD version, and a generally satisfying 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track for the Blu-ray version. While both releases bested their DVD counterparts, the HD DVD's TrueHD track was much more impressive, leaving many a Blu fiend salivating for a taste of lossless goodness all their own. As it turned out, Warner had been cataloging their fans' complaints. In 2008 (some two years later), the studio issued a re-release of the Blu-ray edition that offered not one, but two high-quality audio options: an uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track and the same TrueHD mix that originally debuted on the 2006 HD DVD.
It's a cinch to identify which Blu-ray release of Superman Returns you're holding in your hand. Not only does the tech spec box on the rear coverart clearly outline the disc's audio tracks, the ISBN and UPC codes are different as well. The lesser edition is associated with ISBN# 1-4198-4481-4 and UPC code 012569829657, and the superior re-release is stamped with ISBN# 1-4198-6004-6 and UPC code 085391177913. So unless you left your glasses at home, it shouldn't be difficult to discern. Just be careful if purchasing a used disc from Amazon or eBay -- make sure the seller has outlined exactly which version of the film they're selling. Not everyone is as honest as you and I.
Anyway, I digress. While Warner's 2008 re-release is definitely the disc fans will want to make sure is in their collection, the original release nevertheless offers a decent Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track that holds up fairly well, even in the shadow of its beefy big brother. Dialogue is a bit chunkier, but remains clean, clear, and intelligible throughout. Even though action-oriented scenes tend to overwhelm the soundscape, they rarely trample on any crucial lines. LFE support is solid (particularly considering the lossy nature of the mix) and dynamics deliver some relatively powerful punches. My only sizable complaint is that the rear speakers, despite being active throughout the film, lack the clarity and resolve of the high-end tracks featured on the 2008 reissue. Interior acoustics aren't nearly as convincing, ambience is a bit more sparse, and directionality isn't quite as striking. Granted, everything about the track lined up with my expectations for a 640kbps mix, but it's the unfortunate underling in this little arena. Fans and audiophiles looking to purchase Superman Returns should double check their shopping carts and skip this lesser edition altogether.
Superman Returns Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Both the 2006 Blu-ray release and 2008 re-release of Singer's Superman Returns boast the same supplemental package as the 2-disc Special Edition DVD. However, don't make the mistake of shrugging your shoulders at the seemingly shabby list of features adorning the rear coverart: Warner's BD-50 disc includes a massive, all-inclusive, three-hour documentary of legendary proportions. Granted, it's presented in standard definition (God knows what the film itself would have looked like had the documentary been encoded at 1080p), but that's a minor nitpick at best. Hopefully, Warner's inevitable re-re-release will not only right Superman's woefully inept transfer, but upgrade the mammoth doc, drop it on its own disc, and give it more room to breathe.
Superman Returns Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Superman Returns isn't the crowd-pleasing reinvention many hoped it would be, but it is an above average genre pic that boasts a pair of exceptional performances from Routh and Spacey. Just beware: this 2006 Blu-ray edition has been replaced by a 2008 re-release that features lossless and uncompressed audio tracks. If you have any desire to add Singer's film to your collection, be sure to order this disc's superior replacement instead.
Superman Returns: Other Editions
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