I admit I was one of the unbelievers who really didn? see the point in yet another film version ?or indeed, any version ?of the exploits of the most famous superhero of all time, the Man of Steel. I mean, as far as the big screen is concerned, the late Christopher Reeve defined Superman so effectively and so completely that it was hard to imagine anyone even trying to fill the red-and-blues which fitted him so well across the four feature films of the 1970s/1980s. Superman has been alive and well ever since the woefully-misguided final feature, SUPERMAN IV ?THE QUEST FOR PEACE. There?e been countless TV series (LOIS AND CLARK, SMALLVILLE, countless cartoons) and the inevitable never-ending stream of comic books. Do we really need another Superman? Is the character even relevant to modern cinema audiences in this grim post-9/11 climate? Fortunately Bryan Singer, who transformed the X MEN series from cult comic book to powerful feature film franchise, is an avowed fan of all things Krypton and has crafted, in this thrilling new adventure, a beautiful love letter to America? best-known hero. He? created a film which may or may not be important in the greater scheme of things, and undoubtedly its legacy may not linger the way Reeve? ground-breaking first movie did, but he? at least given a much-needed boost to this year? rather so-so summer of blockbusters.

Wisely ?and thankfully ?Singer hasn? pressed the rest button on Superman. This is no reimagining or reinvention; SUPERMAN RETURNS is clearly part of the Reeve series of films and the characters and settings remain the same, even if the faces playing them have changed – not always for the better. Superman? been missing for five years, off on a Galactic trip to explore the debris of his lost homeworld. In his absence the human race has been getting on with things, coping well enough without him. His friends have moved on too. Long-time admirer Lois Lane (Bosworth) has hitched up with an up-and-coming young executive and she? got a five year-old son too. When Superman? alter ego Clark Kent returns to Metropolis, coincidentally (and unnoticed by everyone) on the same day Superman reappears, he finds that far more has changed than he might have suspected. Some things remain the same though; Lex Luthor (Stacey) is out of prison and he? planning on using pilfered Kryptonian science to pull off a remarkably-insane real estate scam?n

From the moment SUPERMAN RETURNS?credits kick in, John Williams?legendary score reassures us that we?e in friendly, familiar territory. For the first hour or so Singer captures almost unnaturally the light, frothy style of the original movies. Superman? back and within minutes he? doing what he does best, saving the day as a massive power blackout caused by Luthor? experiments with Kryptonian crystals plunges a shuttle launch being covered, predictably, by Lois Lane into deadly danger. This is, curiously, the most spectacular sequence in the film and the only one to really display Superman? awesome power. Superman tries to rekindle his romance with Lois, in a pace-slowing flying sequence which again apes the original film maybe a little too closely and when our boy realises the world needs him, it? uncomfortably obvious that Superman is being depicted as a small-scale superhero. High above the Earth Superman hears the sounds of humanity in distress; but the film doesn? tackle the thorny issue of Superman putting paid to international terrorism or warfare (probably conscious of the hash the last film made of the twee notion of Superman towing all the world? nuclear missiles into space) and he rushes back to Earth to foil bank robberies, save people from falling off tall buildings and putting out big fires. It? a difficult line to cross and maybe Singer was right not to try to make Superman a political animal but it? hard not to imagine that a tougher American audience can no longer cope so easily with the idea of a super-powered quasi-American putting all the worlds wrongs right.

Having happily re-established Superman? place in the world and apparently almost effortlessly recreated the feel of the Reeve movies, Singer takes the film into somewhat darker territory in its second half. Luther? peculiar plan kicks in as he uses the stolen crystals to grow a new land mass in the sea, Lois is kidnapped and, of course, Superman loses his powers as he? irraditated by green Kryptonite. There? a lot going on in this half of the film and the pace rarely slackens. Oddly there? no real climax and the absence of a really big set piece finale does seem to jar in a film about a hero as big and iconic as Superman. But SUPERMAN RETURNS is more of a character piece and these are the moments that really inform the film.

SUPERMAN RETURNS, at two-and-a-half hours, is a long movie and yet it reallyUer?lies by. Whether you?e a fan of the caped one or not, there? undoubtedly a real thrill in seeing him flashing across the sky (the effects are, of course, absolutely faultless throughout) and new boy Brandon Routh is pretty much perfect in the lead role, even if he? clearly playing up to the standard set by Reeve. The supporting cast are generally good too. Stacey is superb as a far more vicious and sadistic Luthor than the bumbling sub-BATMAN baddy played by Gene Hackman in the original movies. Particularly startling is the scene where Luthor and his thugs lay into a weakened Superman and Stacey also excels in his menacing face-off with the captured Lois Lane aboard his yacht. If there? a casting flaw here it? Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. Here we?e supposed to empathise with a jaded, experienced newspaper hack, a Pullitzer prize winner (who, in one odd scene, enquires how many ?? are in the word catastrophe) but Bosworth looks about nineteen and there? none of the world-weariness and experience you? expect evident in her features. Her performance is fine, she? just too young for the role.

SUPERMAN RETURNS is great fun, despite the weight of the legend it carries. Singer has given us a wonderful reinvention/continuation of the Superman saga but there? a nagging sense that he loves the old movies too much to let go and do something new with the character. But maybe that? a problem with the character. Superman is what he is and it? hard to do anything with him which won? risk turning him into something else. A rollicking yarn, stunningly-filmed, it? still hard not to feel that Superman? a bit of an anachronism in the cold, deadly 21st century, a super-hero whose real glory days were when the world existed in just four colours.


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