Pity the poor Man of Steel. He comes back after a five year mission, boldly going where no earth-raised Kryptonian has gone before, only to find that the love of his life has written a Pulitzer-winning editorial about why the world doesn't need Superman. Oh, and she's shacked up with one of the X-Men. Bummer.
Five years ago astronomers reported they had located what remained of the planet Krypton. In hopes of finding others of his kind, Superman (Brandon Routh) left earth in a ship of Kryptonian design. The ship returns as a blazing meteor, crashing to earth on the Kent farm in Smallville. Martha Kent (Eva Marie Saint) welcomes the return of her adopted son, but he reports that his mission was a failure. Krypton is nothing more than a graveyard, and he is indeed the last son of Krypton. Clark resumes his job at the Daily Planet, where he learns that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has moved on. She has a son now, is engaged to Richard White (James Marsden) nephew of Daily Planet Editor Perry White (Frank Langella), and seems to be getting along just fine without Superman.Time has not stood still for Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) either. Luthor has spent several years in prison, but when Superman was not available to testify at Luthor's appeal, the follically challenged arch villain was freed. Luthor still has a passion for real estate schemes, and he plans on builing an entirely new continent with some help from Kryptonian technology stolen from Superman's Fortress of Solitude.
It isn't long before a crisis strikes that requires some super heroic action. A space shuttle piggy backed on top of a 747 full of reporters (including Lois Lane) runs into trouble, and as one might expect, this looks like a job for Superman.
Director Bryan Singer has crafted an exciting and faithful return to cinematic greatness for a character that he obviously has a great deal of affection for. Superman Returns is essentially a sequel to Superman and Superman II, but at times it also functions as a remake of the first film. The action scenes kick some serious butt, but the heart of the story resides with the characters. Superman must come to terms with being the last of his species and losing the love of his life, while Lois must figure out if life without Superman is really what she wants.
I've long wondered if any other actor besides Christopher Reeve could wear that costume without looking foolish. Reeve played the character with a grace and dignity that made you forget you were looking at a grown man in long underwear and a cape. Lois and Clark star Dean Cain never quite pulled it off, playing Clark Kent far more believably than Kent's alter ego. Brandon Routh studied Reeve's portrayal of Superman and seems to be channeling him quite effectively, carrying a similar degree of believability.
The film is peppered with in-jokes and nods that only Superman fans will get. When Martha Kent tells Clark that his father would never have allowed him to go on his Krypton quest, a photo of Glenn Ford, who played Jonathan Kent in 1978's Superman can be seen on the mantle. When Superman picks up an out of control car then lowers it safely to the ground, Brandon Routh strikes the same pose the Man of Steel held on the cover of Action Comics #1 (June, 1938).
So many summer blockbusters have left a bad taste in my mouth that it's easy to forget the formula can actually work in the right hands. As with the first two X-Men films, Singer proves that he understands the right blend of story and eye candy. A great time at the movies, so long as you can overlook the notion that an award winning journalist like Lois Lane would be fooled by a pair of horn rimmed glasses.