Superman Returns

Starring Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth.
Directed by Bryan Singer.
Running Time: 154 minutes.
Rated: Rated M.

We are in treacherous territory here: the return of a classic. To further infuse the hype with tension, it's Superman that 's getting the treatment - the godfather of comic book superheroes. Each modern remake should be viewed with sceptisicm and suspicion - occasionally, as with King Kong, one can be surprised. To generalise further, superhero movies are of poor quality more often than not.This was not the case with the first Superman movie (though the sequels left many cold).

Director Brian Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects) has brought Superman back to the big screen, but while many critics have taken a negative stance on the movie, the audiences have responded in the most positive way: ticket sales are good. However, the biggest endorsement that Superman Returns has on its side is that the die-hard fans whohave suffered much in recent years are not disappointed. In fact, they like it.

Superman Returns has the popular superhero in blue tights returning from a long journey to his homeworld, Krypton, and it soons becomes clear that Superman III and Superman IV have been 'retconned'. For those unfamiliar with the term, 'retcon' is short for 'retroactive continuity', and is a common occurence in the often convuluted epic plottings of comic books which often span decades of different writers' work. To wit, to retcon is to exclude selected material from the continuity that does not fit in with the vision/plot of the current writer/director: Superman Returns pays it respects to the original 1978 Superman, and allows for the inclusion of some plot elements from Superman II, but leaves it there.

The late Christopher Reeve can never be replaced in the hearts of many, but he does have a decent successor in Brandon Routh, who has come from relative obscurity to don the famous mantle. Routh's performance in Superman Returns is better than stock, and he looks the part: his somewhat modernised costume has a 50s comic book style to it, unlike the more garish blues and reds we last saw.

Routh can act, and while I'm surprised that the great Kevin Spacey (superb as Lex Luthor - excellent casting) didn't utterly steal the show, I expected a more interesting backup cast. James Marsden (Cyclops in X-Men) is average as Lois Lane's 'Superman's nicked off to Krypton substitute'; Lois herself (Kate Bosworth) has a little bit of the sass required for the role of the pluckiest Daily Planet reporter in history, but there'sthere should be more chemistry between her and Superman, in my opinion. These are minor points - the real beef I have with Superman Returns is Clark Kent's character, Superman's alter-ego: the writing of scenes involving Clark, Lois, and Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) and chief Perry White (Frank Langella) are weak, and deserve better. Spiderman did it right. The best cameo moment in the film is very early on, where we see Eva-Marie Saint playing Martha Kent, Superman's Earthly mother - I would've liked to her to have a bigger role.

Superman is back in action in a very New York-style Metropolis, acting as if he never left; this movie does wear its post-911 heart on its sleeve, but doesn't overdo it. The threat comes once more from devious arch-nemesis Lex Luthor, who attempts to seize power and wealth in a spectacular and contrastingly banal scheme.Superman's role as planetary saviour is questioned and examined in a very human way throughout the film. In one scene, Lois Lane is about to receive a Pulitzer for an article she wrote during Superman's absence, entitled 'Why the world doesn't need Superman', to which Superman replies: "You say the world doesn't need a saviour; but I hear people crying out for one." Some viewers might find that the murky attempts father-son profundity are forced and annoying - others might overlook this and enjoy the Fortress of Solitude scene featuring the (I feel) respectful inclusion of Marlon Brando as Superman's father, Jor-El.

Superman Returns has some gritty scenes, some fantastic action, but it is not free of a few murky patches. There's one big surprise in store, which no doubt paves the way for a sequel or two - tempted as I am to spoil it, I won't. None the less, it has the fans and the box office on-side, and in this reviewer's opinion this return slash remake is worth the admission fee, and might just return the Superman franchise to our toy stores and cereal boxes for more than a few months. I'm not in the habit of inventing words, but these remake-sequels or 'remquels' are a genre, whether we like it or not: this is one of the better ones.

Gil MacLean is an associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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