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Review Mash-Up: Superman Returns vs. The Road to Guantanamo

The Truth About Superpowers


Review Mash-Up: Superman Returns vs. The Road to Guantanamo
Blame the heat. Blame the mind-warping apparition of Christopher Hitchens on the sidewalk outside the screening, drink in hand. Blame the jumble of hype, snark, and infinite cross-linkage that floods our browsers and grinds everything into the same RSS-stuffed sausage. Blame the soulcrushing dullness of watching the Man of Steel burst forth through yet another layer of clouds while the fanfares of John Williams' triumphant score soar around him. No matter: something about Bryan Singer's Superman Returns put me in the mind of The Road to Guantuanamo, Michael Winterbottom's rabble-rousing docudrama that won the Silver Bear at this year's Berlin Film Festival.

This summer, you'll have the chance to pick between the chest-thumping pop myth and an incendiary recreation of a story that was ripped from the headlines by one of the most versatile directors working today. One film features a hero in a latex costume with fluttering CGI cape, the other has orange jumpsuits and men in chains. Superman is invincible (unless there's Kryptonite) and infallible (unless he's wearing glasses), a picture of perfection and valor. The Tipton Three, English Muslims who were arrested in Afghanistan and spent two years at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, are men full of ambiguities who may or may not be telling the truth. Both movies are about superpowers.

Michael Winterbottom, director of such very different films such as 9 Songs, 24 Hour Party People, and Tristram Shandy, is a protean innovator. (Singer's script just blathers on about Prometheus.) Superman Returns isn't simply infantile--that much is expected. The real surprise is that Winterbottom's film is superior entertainment, harrowing but gripping. Filmed in the same quasi-documentary style as his 2002 immigration drama In this World, The Road to Guantanamo make a news story come alive with eye-opening intensity. The drama of attack dogs and black hoods, shaved heads, authority, submission, humiliation, and release is far more engaging than anything Singer has to offer.

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