This Superman, played by newcomer Brandon Routh, has really good skin and eerily dark blue eyes (in that weird colored-contact way that seems to be all the rage these days in movies). His various expressions barely flicker across his face (no, he doesn't emote much), and his spit-curl is perfect. Because, you see, I figured it out: Superman is the perfect man. He is like an action figure, right down to the, um, strangely neutered look that you can't help but notice. (I heard that Routh's spandexed Superman always does his heavy lifting with one leg bent to, er, hide his manhood from oggling audiences.) Routh seems nice, which is all you really need to ask for because, gosh, Superman IS a nice guy.
That is until he leaves Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) for five years without even saying goodbye. Bastard.
To fill you in on the plot, Superman Returns is supposed to pick up where Christopher Reeve's Superman II left off (we are politely told to forget that Superman III and IV ever existed, because they sucked). Supe, after gettin' busy with Lois in II (they were totally in love), flew off to see if anything was left of his home planet of Krypton. Apparently the trip takes five years, and he didn't even send a card. No wonder Lois is pissed when Supe's dorky alter-ego Clark Kent shows back up in the office of The Daily Planet, conveniently getting his job back (this IS fantasy, remember?). To Clark's shock, Lois has a steady beau (X-Men's James Marsden, honing his weak acting skills into a halfway decent performance), and a kid that, shazam!, looks like he could have been conceived, oh, I don't know, about five years ago. Clark isn't that good at math, but we are!
In the meantime, Lex Luthor is out of prison and has conned a rich widow into giving him her fortune. It wouldn't be fun at all to have a villian without access to loads and loads of money and fancy toys, now would it? Kevin Spacey plays Lex, and for all practical purposes, it seems like it would be brilliant casting. But Kevin seems strangely toned-down... I read that he wanted to be more evil than smirky (like Gene Hackman's previous Lex Luthor). So call me surprised to see that my beloved Parker Posey (as his sidekick Kitty), single-handedly steals every scene that they share. Good for her! Needless to say, Lex has a plan to take over the world. I could go into a long-ass explanation about how he is using Superman's crystals to make new, pointy continents, but whatever. Let's just say Superman has to stop him.
Superman Returns has a few great action sequences that will make your eyes pop (and it damn well better, considering how much money the movie cost). But at the core of the film is actually the emotional journey of Superman and Lois Lane—or, the story of "How to reunite with the ex you're still hot for, yet try to accept that things have changed." There are moments that are actually quite sad between them, despite the fact that the two actors look far too young to have such a history (and such established careers) behind them. I wasn't blown away by either Routh or Bosworth's performances in general, but I was still moved by their characters' struggles.
Director Bryan Singer obviously has a reverence for the story and the iconic characters. Hardcore fans should be pleased with this adaptation. Most people will note that the film especially plays tribute to Richard Donner's (and Christopher Reeve's) Superman from the 70s. And it is not surprising that Singer brings a depth to the comic book story that other directors wouldn't, just as he did with X-Men and X2. Superman Returns wraps up to be not only an entertaining popcorn flick, but a surprisingly moving one as well.