Superman Returns picks up, sort of, where the last Superman movie left off. Superman (Brandon Routh) returns to Earth after a five-year hiatus during which he flitted off to Krypton to study up on his ancestry. What he got out of his tenure is unknown, which I guess is supposed to make him sort of mysterious. Perhaps he got a doctorate in Art History.
So right, Superman returns to Earth where he's up against formidable challenges: he must save a 747 from rocketing into space, prevent Lex Luthor from razing the world, and figure out why Lois Lane is so freaking bitter. These things take time to figure out. Two and a half hours, in fact.
There is a principle of robotics called "the uncanny valley": as a robot is made humanlike, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive, until a point is reached where the robot is almost too humanlike, which results in the human being finding it eerie or disquieting. Brandon Routh is lodged solidly in the deepest part of the uncanny valley - - he resembles a waxen version of Christopher Reeve and possesses the most sublimely flawless skin I've ever seen. It's so smooth it's practically vulgar. Routh's skin and muscular countenance render any acting skills unnecessary; anyway, Superman only operates in one of three modes: stoic/pensive, satisfied, and grimacing.
Kate Bosworth as Lois is less successful. She plays Lois with a kind of grim perkiness, not unlike a Pekingese that's been left inside too long. I longed for the feisty tenacity of Margot Kidder's Lois Lane. O Margot, we hardly knew ye.
James Marsden plays Lois' rebound boyfriend. Marsden was also the supermutant Cyclops in the x-Men trilogy; having recently seen him in x-Men 3 and then in this Superman movie was mildly confusing. I kept expecting him to bust out the laser vision and incinerate some buildings. He and Superman could have had a heat vision bake-off.
Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is an adequate archfiend, but his megalomaniacal aspirations seem hokey and well, quaint, after having seen An Inconvenient Truth. Lex Luthor is just not as scary as greenhouse gases.
My boyfriend would like me to mention the special effects. They were rad. There.
The Superman mythos is hardwired into our consciousness so one goes into this movie knowing on a cellular level that Superman can fly, see through clothing, and stop bullets with his abs. He does all of these things and in the kindest, handsomest way possible, but after a while I found his indefatigable virtuousness wearying. To say the movie draws parallels to Jesus is putting it lightly; this thing is Messiahpalooza.
Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy this movie - - on the contrary, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Bryan Singer's direction is dark and funny and yet never cynical; there are sentimental moments aplenty but they never become maudlin. Though it requires hardcore full-contact suspension of disbelief, Superman Returns is a poignant reflection of modern American wish fulfillment: in an increasingly paranoid, chaotic world, it sure would be nice to have a gentle, spandexed savior to save us from ourselves.