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I’ve never been a Superman fan. There’s just something too clean-cut about him, something a little too frat boy.
What I’m saying is: I didn’t have high hopes for this summer’s biggest blockbuster, “Superman Returns.” However, this is a Superman for a new era. Beneath the impenetrable skin and cocksure swagger, this Superman is vulnerable and tormented; a Superman who finally grapples with what might be his biggest foe: the knowledge that he can never be, no matter how hard he tries, like us.
In what is roughly a sequel to 1980’s best-of-the-Christopher-Reeve-era “Superman II,” “Superman Returns” opens with Superman (newcomer Brandon Routh) returning to earth from a five-year journey to the shattered remnants of his home world, Krypton, where he had searched for other survivors (like the three Kryptonian villains he vanquished in “Superman II”). Since he left Earth, the world has become a completely different place, with his old girlfriend and love interest Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) bitter at Superman’s abandonment, Lois has married another man, birthed a child, and written a Pulitzer-winning story called “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.”
Also newly back on the scene is villain Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey, superb as always), recently sprung from jail and now a billionaire thanks to some Anna Nicole Smith-grade deathbed shenanigans with a wealthy widow.
After discovering the location of Superman’s fortress of solitude in the arctic, Luthor steals six Kryptonian crystals, like the one originally used to create Superman’s fortress. With these crystals, Luthor threatens to create a vast new continent, killing billions. Can the man of steel stop him in time?
As befitting the film’s reported $300 million price tag, “Superman Returns” looks great, full of massive, intricately designed set pieces and an art-deco Metropolis that has to be seen to be believed. Too, the level of computer-graphic technology that “Superman Returns” brings to the table is a marvel, including a harrowing near plane crash that will have you perched on the arm of your theater chair like a canary.
As with any film, however, it’s the actors who have to sell it. Though I thought they could have found someone a bit more substantial than Bosworth to play the now-flinty Lois, newbie Brandon Routh is sure to become a star in his own right, perfectly balancing the dream and nightmare of actually being Superman, the ultimate outsider.
“Superman Returns” pays off handsomely after months of hype. Full of action, suspense, thrills and genuine human emotion, it sends the long-dead franchise soaring into a new era.
“The Devil Wears Prada” captures the feel of Lauren Weisberger’s roman a’ clef about a journalism major fresh out of college whose first job is as an assistant to a fashion icon editor who resembles Cruella DeVille (if not Vogue’s Anna Wintour, for whom Weisberger actually worked from 1999-2000; she wrote the book in 2003).
You sense the frenzy of the fictitious Runway magazine staff trying to please a boss with insane demands. That boss is Miranda Priestly, played marvelously by Meryl Streep. In a role that could have been taken over the top, Streep plays it understated and perfectly cool.
Emily Blunt, as Miranda’s first assistant, also nailed her fearful, frazzled role while humorously putting down the film’s heroine, Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway), who steps in unknowingly to journalism hell, with the hope that something better awaits in a year.
Hathaway is well-cast, entering Runway looking fresh off the campus in dowdy clothes, then suddenly transforming into someone pretty enough to take the runway herself. Stanley Tucci also stands out as Miranda’s editorial assistant. Adrian Grenier, as Andrea’s live-in boyfriend, and Simon Burke, as a suitor/journalist, do well with what they have to work with.
In the frenzy of the fashion magazine world, where Miranda is a unfeeling bitch and her assistants take care of her ridiculous whims (including getting the unpublished galley proof of the next “Harry Potter” novel for her twin daughters), the movie soars. Andrea’s personal life away from the office is far less moving, and eventually the story moves toward morality play. Still it was plenty fun.