After a two decade absence from the silver screen, director Bryan Singer resurrects "The Man of Steel" in a glorious, epic film; steeped in Superman mythology and an emotional complexity rarely seen in the comic genre. Superman Returns is essentially Superman Three, or what that film should have been. The story picks up five years after Superman has mysteriously disappeared. Intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has had a son with Richard White (James Marsden), the nephew of Daily Planet editor Perry White (Frank Langella). She has won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for the editorial, "Why the world doesn't need Superman". Arch-nemesis Lex Luthor, magnificently portrayed by Kevin Spacey, has been released from prison due to a lack of evidence. Superman was not there to testify against him. Luthor swindles a vast fortune from a dying heiress. He uses his newfound wealth to pillage deadly Kryptonian technology from Superman's hidden respite, The Fortress of Solitude.
As Lex Luthor plots and Lois Lane tries to move on with her life, a crystal meteor hurtles from the sky and smashes into the corn fields of the Kent farm. Martha Kent (Eva Marie-Saint) races to the crash and pulls her long gone son from the wreckage. Her Clark Kent, Superman (Brandon Routh) to everyone else, has returned. Scientists on Earth had discovered distant remnants of the planet Krypton. He traveled back to see if there were survivors from its destruction. He was desperate to find out if he was truly alone in the universe. Martha tells him he was never alone, that his home has always been with her. Clark Kent returns to the Daily Planet to resume his life. He is dismayed by the state of the world and shocked to see Lois Lane, his true love, with a child and another man. Lex Luthor tests his evil plan with catastrophic results. Superman comes to the rescue and is revealed again to the world.
Superman Returns is filled with context. Bryan Singer chose not to re-tell the Superman story, but to carry it on from its high point. He and his production team have skillfully evolved the first two films to a place we are familiar with, but accept that time has passed and everything has progressed naturally. From the Kent farm's sweeping rustic vistas, to the spectacular shots of Superman hovering over the Earth, the attention to detail, whether it's the characters or settings, is tremendous. This was a labor of love for the filmmakers and it is evident in every frame. Their grandeur of vision has resulted in a truly cinematic achievement.
The success of this film rests solely on the shoulders of Brandon Routh. Thousands of actors on three continents auditioned for this role. It is another tribute to the genius of Bryan Singer that he chose this young man to play the most iconic of characters. Routh towers as Superman, but is unsure and heartbroken as Clark Kent. He takes the character to a deeper place while filling the screen with an indomitable presence. His resemblance to the late Christopher Reeve is astonishing. But I do not believe he is playing the character as Reeve or trying to copy him in any way. Both men portray Superman as a mythic, heroic figure. Routh gets the opportunity to take this persona in a new direction. He makes it his own while capitalizing on his famous and beloved predecessor. No one will ever forget Christopher Reeve, but the new Superman has arrived and he is phenomenal.
The biggest surprise in Superman Returns is Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. Her storyline is the lynchpin of the film and could have easily turned into a melodramatic disaster. Lois Lane is a real woman here. She is as dedicated and headstrong as ever, but is a mother to a small child who has changed her outlook on life. Superman's return hits her the hardest. She is forced to address her heartbreak while hunting down the biggest news story in years. They have a tumultuous history that intertwines their fates. Bosworth really hits a homerun here and deserves a lot of credit for pulling it off. She closes out a brilliantly conceived cast that seamlessly took over the reigns from the titans of the first two films.
Superman Returns is a huge special effects film, but not in an overstated way. It has its share of dazzling action scenes, but the majority of the effects are meant to integrate Superman into the real world. There is a great perspective of how Superman functions, particularly in regard to flight and strength. Bryan Singer establishes how immensely powerful Superman really is in comparison to everything else. We hear the sound barrier break when he rockets through the air. We see the ripples of his cape in flight. It is all part of a concerted effort to build up the brains versus brawn showdown with Lex Luthor in the climax. Fans of the comic books will be really impressed. It harkens back to the core conflict of the Superman story, the evil genius against an unstoppable force for good.
I am in awe of this film. It is two hours and thirty-seven minutes of greatness. The cinematic rebirth of Superman could not have been put in abler hands. Bryan Singer has taken us soaring back into the sky, with the John Williams majestic theme accompanying along the way.