Don't go see "Superman Returns" tonight, see it tomorrow. Rent "Superman: The Movie" and "Superman 2" tonight, sit down and enjoy them. Do this because "Returns" is the most loving homage to a previous filmmaker's work ever made. It's a film worth so much more if you understand the basis for Bryan Singer's direction for this franchise.
Singer has an incredible love for Richard Donner's origin film and its blockbuster sequel, which somehow still stands up to the test of time with the late Christopher Reeves' All-American performance and Gene Hackman's comical yet chilling Lex Luthor. In "Superman Returns," he takes that iconic figure and makes him work again. Singer is coming from a time and place where our heroes don't have to be dark or burdened — they just need to stand for what is right.
It's a wonderful place, and Singer embraces it whole heartily.
Watch the first two films in order to catch the stylistic similarities, clever winks and blatant rips in the new film, but also to catch up on what's happened thus far because "Superman Returns" is technically a sequel to "Superman 2" (thus ignoring the horrendous two sequels that followed originally). After defeating Luthor and General Zod in his Fortress of Solitude in the second movie — and bedding "Daily Planet" reporter Lois Lane — Superman leaves Earth to find his lost home of Krypton. Five years later, he is back and so is Luthor, with another real estate scheme taken to brilliantly over-the-top levels. Meanwhile, Lois has had a child, conveniently 5-years old, and is getting married. Somehow, Jimmy Olsen hasn't aged a day.
The filmmakers didn't woefully miscast Lois Lane as poorly as they did in the first two — Margo Kidder was too abrasive, and never right for Lois. Kate Bosworth surprises with a Lois that isn't as tough but connects with Superman in a more honest way.
Kevin Spacey takes Luthor to a much darker spot than ever before. Most of the comedic feeling is gone, and it has been replaced by a revenge/greed driven maniac. Maybe it's because he ditched those goofy wigs.
The brilliance of the new Superman is that it keeps the same themes and comic book feel that the classic films had while updating the attitude. It is simply a thrill to see a man in a red cape and blue spandex catch a falling plane in the middle of a baseball stadium and believing what you're seeing up there. That is possibly what Singer and actor Brandon Routh (Superman/Clark Kent) do best: make you believe that there is a actually a man flying around to protect us.
Routh does a decent job filling some very big shoes; and while his Superman is spot on, his Clark Kent might still need some work.
One of the things Reeves did best was make Kent a completely different person from Superman, to the point where one might understand why no one can tell that the two are the same man. Routh doesn't quite get there, but his performance as the Man of Steel is strong enough to overlook the flaws. Seeing him around for a sequel wouldn't harm anything.
Action fans, for the most part, won't be disappointed. Theres plenty of exploding, flying and punching including a bank robbery scene where a bullet bounces of Superman's eye. But the addition of the child of Superman — a development all-too-obvious in the plot — is less satisfying. It opens too many doors down the road for lame Superkid spin-offs, not to mention some plot holes created within the context of the second film's chronology.
The real power of "Superman Returns" comes from the mythos and iconic nature of the man himself. The idea that someone who is invincible to everything (yes, except Kryptonite) can still be vulnerable to simple emotions. That the loneliness of being without anyone of his kind — firmly established by inventive use of Marlon Brando's lines from the first film — and the hurt when a loved one turns away can harm a man who can't be harmed.
Superman has returned to a world that thought it had moved beyond him, but maybe we should welcome him back.