Superman Returns

It has been nearly twenty years since Superman graced the silver screen. This fact is outstanding when you consider that numerous attempts to revive the franchise and two successful television series have occurred in the nearly two decades since 1987’s “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”.

Amidst much speculation and rumors of a soaring budget that is reported to be over $250 Million, Superman Returns has arrived.

Under the direction of Bryan Singer, who successfully launched the first two films in the “X-Men” series, Brandon Routh dons the tights and capes of the late Christopher Reeve, as the man of steel and his mild mannered alter ego Clark Kent.

As the films opens, it is explained that Superman has been gone five years as he has traveled to what astronomers believe are the remains of his home planet Krypton which was destroyed when he was an infant.

Soon after his return, Clark visits his adopted mother in his hometown of Smallville before returning to Metropolis and his job at the Daily Planet. His happy homecoming is short-lived when Clark realizes that his beloved Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is now a single mom with a fiancée named Richard (James Marsden).

As if this is not enough, Superman is shortly thereafter called into action to save Lois and the passengers of a plane and space shuttle encounter a deadly situation when a press conference goes awry.

In a spectacle of action and visual brilliance Superman not only saves the day, but makes a highly visible and triumphant return that signals to the world that he is back.

As happy as the majority of the world is to have their champion back, Lois is very conflicted about his return. She believes he abandoned humanity and left her without even saying goodbye. Such is the extent of Lois’s anger toward Superman; she has written a story entitled “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman” for which she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

As upset as Lois is about the return of Superman, there is one individual who is seething mad over his return and that is Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) who plans to use his recently acquired wealth to hatch his latest plot and end the threat of Superman once and for all.

Lex plans to use the crystals and knowledge he has pilfered from Superman’s arctic Fortress of Solitude to craft a new landmass, where he will rule supreme. The fact that billions of innocents will be killed in the process is of no consequence to the power mad Luthor, setting the stage for several high tech action sequences and daring adventures as Superman sets out to save the day.

Despite numerous concerns I had over the film, I am happy to say that the series is in great hands, and the combination of Spacey, Bosworth, Routh, and Singer have not only produced the best film of Summer 2006, but have paved the way for what looks to be a series of films that, while true to the source materials, is not afraid to push the envelope to modernize Superman.

Routh was solid, not only looked the part perfectly, but handled the dual roles of Clark and Superman with and easygoing charm and manner that is highly effective. His ability to portray Superman as a being with deep emotions as well as power is key to the film as the audience is given a chance to see more than just the man with the muscles. Bosworth is also to be commended for her portrayal of a strong and capable Lois who is anything but the stock damsel in distress. The chemistry between Routh and Bosworth is good which is vital, as this is much more than effects and action.

The humanity and compassion that drives the film is an unexpected bonus. Despite the amazing action sequences, this is a story with deep emotional and psychological themes that are rarely seen in films of this nature.

If I had to find fault in the film, it would be that Spacey was not allowed to really let Lex be truly evil. Sure he talks a good fight, and in a few sequences is not above getting his hands dirty. But, for a film as grand as this, the diabolic plot Luthor is trying to hatch just does not seem diabolic enough.

One could also say that at a running time of nearly two hours and forty minutes that perhaps 20 minutes or so could have been trimmed towards the end to help the pacing of the final segments of the film.

That being said, the impressive mix of action, humor, romance, and cast gives Superman Returns a highly winning formula.

4 stars out of 5