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Friday Movie: Superman Returns

Friday 16th July at 8.30pm

Superman Returns

Cast: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden

Director: Bryan Singer

Superman returns to Earth after a mysterious five year absence to face a Lois Lane who's moved on and a new dastardly plot by the released-from-jail Lex Luthor. At the same time Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent resurfaces after "travelling" for five years to discover Lois Lane has a child.

For the last 15 years, there have been various Superman film projects in development. Some came very close to being made (Tim Burton's version with Nicolas Cage had sets built) while others never got past the script (Lost maestro J.J. Abrams penned a controversial take on the character) or casting (everyone from Brendan Fraser to Josh Hartnett has been rumoured) stage.

After all this time, it seemed extremely fortuitous that Bryan Singer would end up directing the long awaited project. He displayed a deft handling of superhero theatrics in the first two X-Men films, and has long cited Richard Donner's 1978 Superman in reverential terms.

But questions remained: Can perennial boy scout Superman be dramatically pertinent in an age of cynical and dark superheroes? Can a Superman film be relevant after such stellar comic book adaptations as Spider-Man and Batman Begins? Will the film kick ass?

Yes, yes and heck yes.

Singer nostalgically recalls the 1978 movie, but ups the ante with the help of CGI flying scenes and epic set pieces.

Although fans of the earlier film will feel they are being directly spoken to, you don't need to be familiar with Superman movie history to enjoy Superman Returns. Nothing specific in Superman's cinematic past is referred to - the film is simply set in a world where Superman has been around for a while. This was a much smarter choice on the filmmaker's part than starting again with a new origin story.

Singer knows that the aspect of the Superman character that is most often criticised - his patriotic, goody two-shoes "boy scout" image - is also his strongest feature. Singer acknowledges this and plays off it - Superman makes his return home known to Earth in the middle of baseball game for crying out loud.

Unknown Brandon Routh, the final result of one of longest casting sessions in history, nails the litmus test of such a role - bumbling Clark Kent. His calm, aptly dignified performance as Superman anchors the film, and contrasts with his Clark to just the right extent.

It would've been nice to say that Kevin Spacey balances the comedic and menacing elements of his Lex Luthor, but he leans slightly more toward the former, undermining his evil a touch. But it's an engaging and amusing performance nonetheless. Parker Posey (Dazed & Confused) is a hoot as his vampish girlfriend/minion Kitty.

While some concerns were raised when perennial blonde Kate Bosworth was cast as legendary brunette Lois Lane, she does a decent enough job, making Lois as feisty as we've come to expect.

Frank Langella and Sam Worthington never really get beyond the stereotypes of their characters Perry White and Jimmy Olsen, but there's plenty of time for that. As Lois' beau Richard White, James Marsden (Cyclops in the X-Men films) makes a dramatically interesting romantic rival for Clark/Superman in that we're forced to kind of like him.

While a decent amount of drama is derived from the interaction of these characters, the film mines most of its emotional resonance from how it plays off Superman's iconic status. There's something resoundingly affecting about seeing the Man of Steel soaring through the clouds to save a jumbo jet plummeting to Earth. Plus, it looks totally cool too.

Superman Returns is big Hollywood filmmaking at its finest - it's huge in every respect, but does just enough to get you in the gut.

Highly recommended.