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Superman Returns: Good Trumps Evil with Charm and a Little Cheesiness

Look, up inthe sky. It's a bird! It's a plane! No! It's a summer blockbuster!

SupermanReturns bringseverything you'd expect from a major summer flick based on a comic book aboutan alien superhero: Tremendous visual appeal, respectable acting performances, goodtrumping evil, and the cliched reminder that a kiss can solve even the biggestproblems.

Instead ofstarting from scratch, this latest installment of the Superman series picks upfive years after 1980's Superman II. This is a wise move by directorBryan Singer (X-Men, X2) for two reasons: First, those first twoSuperman movies were so good it would be foolish to ignore them, and secondly,who wants to see another "origin of Superman" movie when it's alreadybeen done so well?

The filmopens with a fresh-out-of-jail Lex Luthor, expertly played by Kevin Spacey,Anna-Nicole-Smithing a tremendous fortune from a dying woman. Just in case youforgot, this is the guy you're supposed to hate. Meanwhile, Superman (BrandonRouth) crash lands on his Smallville farm after spending five years in spacesearching for signs of his birth planet, Krypton.

Unfortunately,the only person Superman told where he was going was his mom, leaving the worldwondering where its protector vanished to. This also ticked off Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), the woman who was smitten with Superman, but never gave hismild-mannered alter ego, Clark Kent, the time of day. When Clark returns towork at the Daily Planet, he finds out Lois has a son and a fiance, RichardWhite (James Marsden), the nephew of Planet editor, Perry, and has won aPulitzer for her bitter editorial titled "Why the World Doesn't NeedSuperman." But, though the lady doth protest, she clearly still has athing for the Boy Scout in red underpants.

Loissoftens her anti-Superman stance a bit once Superman gets back to his job ofsaving lives and taking her on moonlit flights. But it's when her journalisticnose lands her and her son smack dab in the middle of Lex Luthor's dastardly planthat she really welcomes her hero's return. Superman bursts on to the sceneswinging, but tricky 'ol Lex has Kryptonite on hand, the one substance that canbring our hero to his knees.

Two of thebiggest questions heading into the movie were how real will the flying sceneslook, and can the new Superman/Clark Kent act. First of all, the film isvisually stunning. Not only do Superman's fight and flight sequences jump offthe screen, Singer has created a Metropolis with today's flat-screen and cellphone technology, but the fashion sense and architectural style of the 1950's.It's a great feel that combined with several iconic scenes creates the illusionthat the story is unfolding in some timeless setting.

Secondly, Singerhit the jackpot casting the relatively unknown Routh as the last son ofKrypton. Routh aptly fills both the Man of Steel's tights and Clark Kent'sdorky glasses, and while he doesn't make us forget the great Christopher Reeve,he plays both roles with the same believable ease that made Reeve's performanceso memorable. This Superman is also tougher than Reeve's, a reflection of howthe character has changed personally over the last few decades in the comicbooks.

Casting hasalways been a strong suit for Singer, who was spot on with Spacey playing thecalm but maniacal Lex Luthor and Frank Langella as the hard-to-please PerryWhite, editor at the Daily Planet. (Also, in one of the film's more excitingscenes, a certain British entrepreneur with space visions of his own makes acameo.) But perhaps the most inspired casting decision was to hand JimmyOlsen's bowtie to Sam Huntington, another relatively unheralded actor. Huntington plays Jimmy, the Daily Planet photographer and Superman's bestest pal in thecomics, better than any actor before him, doing all the little things and providingcomic relief at every turn.

Lois havinga son creates a bit of a wrinkle with comic book lore, but it's the type of riskthat Singer and his writing team of Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris were wiseto take. The move allows Singer to focus on the personal relationships betweencharacters, particularly the uncomfortable Superman-Lois-White love triangle,and is the true grist of the story in between all the action sequences. With akid in the picture, there's no way Superman would dare try to break up Lois'family. Right? How Superman, Lois, and her son get out of this bind sets thestage for 2009's sequel.

Of course,in the end, Superman triumphs even though the odds--and physics as we knownthem--are stacked greatly against him. But that's what makes him Superman, andit's exactly why Superman Returns is a greatly entertaining film despitesome of its classic cheesiness.

One word ofcaution, however: Skip the 3D IMAX version. Although the "enhancedexperience" only takes place for 20 total minutes scattered throughout themovie, several of the scenes where it's used make the viewer feel like they'reriding the Puke-o-tron 3000 at a county fair. This is Superman, two dimensionswill do you just fine and you can spend the extra five bucks on gummy bears.

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Bjorn Carey
Bjorn Carey is the science information officer at Stanford University. He has written and edited for various news outlets, including Live Science's Life's Little Mysteries, and Popular Science. When it comes to reporting on and explaining wacky science and weird news, Bjorn is your guy. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his beautiful son and wife.