The Passion of Kal-El
“The Son becomes the Father, and the Father becomes the Son,” Marlon Brando’s iconic Jor-El intones at the start of the first film in the Superman franchise since the laughable Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Director Bryan Singer’s recurrent use of footage of Brando’s performance in 1978’s Superman: The Movie firmly establishes that this long-awaited kick at the Kryptonic can yearns to illicit as many mythic, biblical echoes as possible.
Since a torrid night in the sack with Lois Lane, Superman’s been AWOL. Five years prior, astronomers suggested that Krypton might still be up and kicking. The caped crusader couldn’t say no to checking out his home world. It turns out however, that the planet was destroyed after all. Then, one night, a now-widowed Martha Kent feels her house a-shakin’. She peers outside as what looks like a meteor crashes into her backyard. Turns out, it’s our boy Kal-El.
Since his initial departure, though, a lot has changed. For one, Lois Lane has moved on. When superhuman guys fly off without saying goodbye, intelligent earth girls look for stability. Lois (a slightly bland Kate Bosworth) seems to have found that in Richard (James Marsden), the strapping young son of Daily Planet editor Perry White. The two have a scruffy, asthmatic young son and a home with a fence and a sea plane. They’re the very picture of domestic bliss. But now that Superman is back (announcing his arrival by hauling a plummeting commercial jet liner Lois is riding out of the sky), there are questions. Lois has been awarded a Pullitzer for a column entitled Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” But is this article little more than an attempt to deny nagging, deep-seated passions? And what of the connection between Lois’ son and the recently returned (from Tibet, it seems) mild-mannered Clark Kent?
That relationship is really at the core of this film. That, and the question Lois poses in her award-winning piece: does the world need a saviour? The religious right and the equally zealous agnostic left will argue about whether the film is a Christian allegory or not. The case is easy to make. Superman sits up in the low atmosphere listening to the groans of humanity and yearns to ease its pain. He can save them, but he’ll never be one of them. And when he dies (if he dies), it will be for them (in fact there’s way more evidence than this, but I don’t want to spoil the film—you’ll get what I mean). Singer does his very best to push these parallels to the surface, especially where Superman’s son is concerned.
In the end, this approach to the Superman franchise adds depth to a story that can, at times, tend towards the camp and vapid. It’s not every day that you think about the qualities of mythic narratives at the local Silver City. That said, Singer’s approach puts too much emphasis on the child actor playing Superman’s son. The director’s camera is forever turning to this kid’s stunned and vacant expression, as though hoping to find meaning there. Child actors are obnoxious at the best of times, but it doesn’t seem like this one has been given any direction beyond “Look cute and confused. Now hug Superman!”
The film is beautifully shot, well acted and intelligently written. Though it takes itself a tad more seriously than its predecessors, and though newcomer Brandon Routh seems more like a Christopher Reeve impersonator than a Superman in his own right, this latest installment works.
Superman is now playing at the Beach Cinemas (1651 Queen St. E.), the Paramount (259 Richmond St. W.), the Rainbow Market Square (80 Front St. E.), Silvercity Yonge (2300 Yonge St.), and the Varsity (55 Bloor St. W.).