Newcomer Brandon Routh channels Christopher Reeve in Superman Returns . And that's a good thing.
As the Man of Steel, Routh has the whole package – the great charismatic looks, the split personality (a socially inept Clark Kent, a quietly assured Superman), and a way of moving that's both manly and gracefully balletic. Sometimes you are almost fooled into thinking he is Christopher Reeve.
The movie around Routh, though ... well, that's another story. Director Bryan ( X-Men ) Singer's take on the venerable DC Comics superhero is polished and slick and sometimes visually beautiful.
But the movie has a bad case of Hulk syndrome. That's when a filmmaker takes a comic book so seriously that he squeezes all the fun out of it.
The premise has Supe returning to Earth after mysteriously disappearing five years earlier. Seems that astronomers discovered what's left of his home planet, Krypton, and he simply had to go pay his respects.
In doing so, though, he left his fledgling romance with Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) high and dry. Lois was so angry at being jilted that she wrote an editorial about why the world doesn't need Superman and won a Pulitzer for it. Now she's living with a Planet editor (James Marsden) and together they're raising their young son, Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu).
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has used Superman's absence to rebuild his criminal empire. Looking for advanced alien technology, he's even burgled our hero's Fortress of Solitude. There, Luthor is treated to a multimedia presentation featuring the late Marlon Brando as Superman's papa.
Singer recycles Brando footage and vocal tracks left over from the 1979 Superman . But then Superman Returns is crammed with nods and borrows from that Richard Donner film, including the streaking blue intro titles and John Williams' theme music.
Before it's over Luthor will use crystals from Krypton to create his own continent in the middle of the Atlantic.
Virtually none of this is played for whimsy or post-modern hipness. It's all terribly sincere.
Sometimes that's good, as when Superman hovers above the Earth, closes his eyes and is inundated with the sounds of millions of human conversations. Clearly, being God-like has its down side. It would have been nice if the film had more deeply mined our hero's status as a resident alien, committed to mankind but never allowed full admittance.
Too often the film gets so bogged down in its own plot machinations that we lose sight of Superman. We spend way too much time with Spacey's Luthor (who isn't all that interesting). Bosworth's Lois is pretty bland. The usually perky Parker Posey is subdued as Luthor's girlfriend Kitty.
Hard-core DC geeks will be arguing for years over Singer's dabbling with the Man of Steel's mythology – like, if Superman can fly between planets, why does he return to Earth in a flaming spaceship?
And one cannot argue with the production values. Superman Returns is often beautiful to look at, with great flying sequences and some seamless special effects.
But when it was all over, something was missing.
Oh, yeah. The fun.