Finally, the biggest superhero of ‘em all gets the respect he deserves! The earlier Superman films, while definitely enjoyable and entertaining, were light-hearted affairs. They were almost children’s films that maintained the feel of the comic books. Bryan Singer, fresh from helming another set of superheroes in X-Men and X-Men 2, injects a shift in tone, making Superman Returns the sort of grand, epic film that the Man of Steel deserves.
Superman is definitely the most simplistic of the superheroes. He is really ‘super’ and so, barring kryptonite, has no physical weakness (Batman and Spiderman, on the other hand, are essentially human, which puts limits to their strength). He has only 1 popular villain, Lex Luthor, and pines for Lois Lane in a very old-fashioned way. So he has very little emotional baggage. All this makes him unsuitable for the current trend of angst-ridden, dark superheroes. So Singer sends him off on a quest to find the remains of Krypton and starts the movie with his return to Earth after 5 years. Naturally, he finds a number of changes, the biggest of which is that Lois Lane has a boyfriend and a son. His arch enemy Lex Luthor is also out of jail and this time, its Superman’s fault.
In earlier movies, it was only Clark Kent who pined for Lois from a distance. She wouldn’t give Clark the time of day but cozied up to the Man of Steel. But in Superman Returns, Superman too is forced to long for Lois from a distance. She hates him for leaving without notice and has moved on with her life. So he has to watch from the sidelines (this is illustrated by a great scene where he watches from outside her house as she goes about her chores). This gives the movie an emotional hook that sets it apart from the earlier movies in the franchise.
The action scenes are spectacular and the smoothness with which Superman takes off, lands and lifts everything from an aircraft to a giant model of the Earth, is superb. His flying is completely believable and his speed and power, like in the scene where he flies through the Daily Planet building to save Perry White, have been conveyed effectively. We believe he is actually flying everywhere instead of in front of a blue screen. The special effects also make their presence felt in smaller scenes like the ones where Superman uses his X-ray vision to spy on Lois in an elevator or inside her home.
Brandon Routh slips into Superman’s costume easily and ensures we don’t miss Christopher Reeve and Kate Bosworth makes a feisty Lois Lane. Surprisingly, the most respected actor in the cast is the one who makes a few missteps. Kevin Spacey seems confused about whether to play Lex Luthor straight or over-the-top. He is always good ofcourse but the over-the-top scenes don’t fit in with the sober tone of rest of the movie.