- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Superman Returns” spends so much time genuflecting toward the first two “Superman” features it nearly forgets to weave a spell all its own.

When it does, the reactivated franchise nearly justifies the hoopla surrounding the Man of Steel’s reboot.

Director Bryan Singer brings the same earthy reverence to the comic-book hero that he did to his two “X-Men” features. Also, by casting unknown Brandon Routh, a virtual doppelganger for the late, great Christopher Reeve, he has found the ideal man to fill out the tights.

Yet no matter how high this “Superman” flies, it may be remembered best for the opportunities it squanders.

It has been five years since the son of Jor-El last flew through town. He has been away visiting the wreckage formerly known as planet Krypton, but now he’s back and ready to return to his terrestrial life.

The planet is as full of strife as when he left it, but plenty has changed with former squeeze Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth). She has a young son and a hunky fella (James Marsden) who happens to be related to Daily Planet editor Perry White (Frank Langella).

Superman’s absence inadvertently helps free supervillain Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) from prison, and His Baldness quickly assembles a fresh plan for world domination. He uses crystals found at Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to create a new continent that will rub out a good half of the United States.

Can Superman stop Lex’s latest scheme? Will Lois and Superman reignite their passions? Does Mr. Singer feel guilty for swiping key elements from both “Superman” (1978) and “Superman II” (1980)?

“Superman Returns” is not a remake, but it’s obsessed nonetheless with the first two, superior “Superman” features. Mr. Singer milks John Williams’ iconic score for all it’s worth and famously brings Marlon Brando’s Jor-El back to life in order to grant Superman some fresh pointers.

Several lines of dialogue come straight from the 1978 film, and they all lack the snap director Richard Donner gave them way back when.

Comparisons between the Supermen of today and yesterday serve “Returns” best in the special-effects arena. This Superman doesn’t just fly — he hovers, glides and soars with singular grace. Mr. Singer knows how to orchestrate an action sequence, too: Witness Superman saving a plane from crashing in the middle of a baseball diamond.

From there, the contrasts favor the earlier films. Young Mr. Routh is suitably heroic and musclebound, but his Clark Kent lacks the bumbling grace of Mr. Reeve. Poor, bespectacled Clark barely gets any screen time, and his scenes with Lois are forgettable.

Where’s the tension that made Superman-Lois-Clark such a novel love triangle?

As for the new Lois, Miss Bosworth can’t carry Margot Kidder’s notepad, lacking both Miss Kidder’s flinty presence and her uncommon beauty.

In the tale of two Lexes, it’s a different story, literally. Mr. Spacey takes a while to make his Luthor tick, but once he does, he’s a menacing villain, one without the buffoonery of Gene Hackman’s Lex.

Ultimately, “Superman Returns” is good enough — but we want so much more, starting with the theme Mr. Singer and Co. never address: What did Superman learn during his extended absence?

Answering that one question alone might have been reason enough to restart the Superman franchise. Without it, “Superman Returns” is a long, intermittently thrilling and perfectly adequate summer blockbuster.

It’s just not super enough for us.

***

WHAT: “Superman Returns”

RATING: PG-13 (Action violence, disturbing imagery)

CREDITS: Directed by Bryan Singer. Written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

RUNNING TIME: 153 minutes

WEB SITE: https://supermanreturns.warnerbros.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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