This, then, is as it should be: An icon brought from the printed page to the big screen by talented people who respect the character but also feel liberated to try new things. Bryan Singer'sSuperman Returns is amazing entertainment, a vital, exciting vision of a pop-culture legend that brings respect for the past and re-invention for the future to the screen in equal measure. Superman Returns isn't just great popcorn entertainment; it's great film making, period, with the look, tone and feel of the final production all perfectly honed to create a bold, engaging, 157-minute long daydream of heroism, bravery and love.
Part of the challenge in making Superman Returns is that you're not competing with this year's light entertainment when making a Superman film; you're competing with the past 60-plus years of light entertainment, including prior iterations of the story you're trying to tell. Unlike Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, Superman Returns isn't a re-boot of the franchise: From the start, we're told that Superman has been away for five years, seeking out the ruins of his destroyed home planet Krypton. Singer crafted the story for this film along with screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, and it's immediately clear that they're selectively cherry-picking from the mythology -- specifically, from the Christopher Reeve films of the 1970s -- and using selected moments as a foundation to rebuild the character while still plunging us into the middle of yet another thrilling adventure. Superman, Lois and Lex all have a shared past, of which it's assumed we're aware; at the same time, the film is agreeably cloudy on specific details -- the sensibility perfectly replicates the feel of lying in a hammock on a hot day reading a random issue of the Superman comic book. We know the players; we know the past. And we truly, sincerely, want to find out what happens next.
Superman (Brandon Routh) is back from his lengthy voyage, and some things have changed: Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is now engaged to Richard White (James Marsden) and raising their son Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu). Some things haven't changed: The Daily Planet is still under the stewardship of life-long newspaper man Perry White (Frank Langella); Superman's alter-ego Clark Kent is still a bumbling, stumbling reporter for the Planet ... and evil genius Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is still plotting to re-make the world in his power-mad image while punishing Superman for the galling fact of his moral and physical superiority over mere mortals.