Starring Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, and Parker Posey. Rated PG.
Through nearly 70 years of publication, Superman has become an integral part of Americana. Cruelly abused by the last cinematic outing (1987's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace), the character's screen return is a major gamble of assets and prestige by Warner Brothers and DC Comics. To their certain relief, not to mention the pleasure of fans, Superman Returns is a superior popcorn entertainment, a lavish and respectful tribute to an icon.
Brandon Routh is a Superman of laudable poise and confidence, not to mention superior build and a marked resemblance to the late Christopher Reeve. To all of the technical flash one would expect from a summer extravaganza, Superman Returns adds a poignant love triangle and a rather enormous development in the character's evolution. Led by Kevin Spacey's embittered, decidedly uncampy Lex Luthor, the supporting characters are mostly well-drawn and aptly cast.
Director Bryan Singer (X-Men) conceived the movie as a semi-sequel to Superman and Superman II. Singer pays specific tribute to the vision of Richard Donner through such stylistic devices as slit-scan credits and three-piece suits. He has gone so far as to commission a score that incorporates John Williams's famous musical cues and to digitally resurrect Marlon Brando as Jor-El, progenitor and mentor of the Kryptonian foundling, Clark Kent.
Jor-El's portentous narration (“I sent them you, my only son” ) resonated in the film's trailer, early notice of Singer's theological intent. Another clue is a recurring image of Superman in orbit. He hovers above us and waits for misdeeds, and the audience is left to ponder the magnitude of the responsibility he has undertaken. The voluntary burden, combined with slight spreading of the hands, invites us to compare Superman to Jesus. As he is essentially invulnerable, his suffering must be on the inside. Lonely and well aware of his alienness, this Superman is a pensive creature.
Interestingly, Superman was originally meant to represent the devil's side. According to Don Markstein's Toonopedia.com, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster initially drew him as a villain. This makes sense, as an omnipotent being makes a good nemesis. Maybe we should be sympathizing more with Lex Luthor, a man without magical powers. Though the hapless Luthor pities himself as a modern Prometheus, the comparison is more overtly made to Superman. His liver is safe but his heart is eaten daily while chained to a prison made not of rock but of the mortality of lesser beings.