Superman Returns has had a difficult time getting to the screen. From the cancelled Tim Burton version with Nicolas Cage, to the dubious choice of directors (like McG and Brett Ratner) this movie has been gestating in Hollywood for a long time. It finally sees the light of day, and with thankfully accomplished results.

Bryan Singer, known for helming The Usual Suspects and the first two X-Men films, builds a fitting companion to the earlier Christopher Reeves Superman films, directed by Richard Donner and Richard Lester (we’ll skip Superman 3and Superman 4 – The Quest for Peace, which is luckily what Singer appears to have done).

Superman Returns begins by introducing us to the current whereabouts of the title character. Superman (Brandon Routh) has been gone for five years, in a quest to discover whatever the remains are of his home planet Krypton. On his return to Earth, he finds out that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has moved on with her life, and is now together with Perry White’s nephew, Richard (James Marsden), and has a small boy. He also learns that his nemesis, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has been released from jail since Superman failed to show up in court and sustain the accusations that Luthor was charged with. Luthor in the meantime has managed to get hold of Krypton’s technology and plans to create chaos and destruction.

Superman Returns updates all the elements introduced by Richard Donner and Richard Lester in 1978 and 1980. However Singer not only remains faithful to the spirit of those films, but he surpasses them by creating a film that is not only visually stunning but has a maturity and rhythm unlike any other comic book adaptation so far (with the possible exception of Sam Raimi’s take on the Spider-Man franchise). The script allows time for Superman/Clark Kent to try to adjust himself to the life he once had on Earth; but he is still the alien in the midst of a new reality, dominated by the fear of terrorism and war. He still stands for good, honest universal values, but curiously no longer the “American Way”.

The film also allows for the dynamics between the main characters to develop. Lois, Clark and Richard form an interesting love triangle, which, for a change, does not include a buffoon in one of its sides. It would be easy to make James Marsden’s Richard an unpleasant character; however, the filmmakers went in a totally different direction, and in doing so, managed to explore the relationship between these people as realistically as possible, bearing in mind that one of the trio is a super hero from another planet…

The action set pieces that Singer has choreographed are extraordinary and staggering: the visual effects are present to enrich the story rather than being the focus of the movie. And as far as flying is concerned, Superman has never flown so incredibly realistically.

Brandon Routh turns out to be a great casting choice for Superman. From his looks, to his voice and presence, he’s just perfect in the part, and the same can be said for Kevin Spacey’s twisted take on Lex Luthor. Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane turns out to be quite different from the spunky Margot Kidder. She’s far too young to be believable in that role, and her character doesn’t come across as strong as it should. Still, she manages to imbue her character with a fragility that makes sense within the context of the story. All the other actors create small but memorable parts, from Eva Marie Saint’s Martha Kent to Parker Posey’s funny Kitty Kowalski.

Against the odds, Singer‘s love for the super hero genre, and Superman in particular, has created a film that dares step out of the shadow of Christopher Reeves’ interpretation. Die hard fans will appreciate the efforts to continue the movie franchise, while remaining true to the comic book origins and updating it to meet the concerns of a twenty first century audience. Cutting edge visual effects and very human centre propel this movie forwards, making this one of the genuine summer blockbusters this year.

Superman Returns (2006)
Dir. Bryan Singer
Stars: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Eva Marie Saint, Frank Langella, Parker Posey
Genre: Action, Drama

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