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Film review

New hero isn't super

Published June 29, 2006

[Warner Bros. photo]
Brandon Routh looks the part but doesn't match his predecessor's uncanny balance of winking heroism.

Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane wins a Pulitzer Prize in Superman Returns (PG-13), which opened Wednesday, for a column making the case that the world doesn't need a superhero. Lois writes the column as therapy after being abandoned by the Man of Steel before her needs were fulfilled. Comic book buffs may feel the same way about Bryan Singer's movie.

Superman Returns is essentially Superman: The Movie redux, borrowing too much and adding too little to the 1978 film that made Christopher Reeve an icon in tights. Reeve's replacement, 26-year-old Brandon Routh, looks the part but doesn't match his predecessor's uncanny balance of winking heroism and respect for the source. Routh is all respect, and that's dull.

Singer ducked out of X-Men: The Last Stand to make Superman Returns. The films are equals in terms of action, but Superman's goodness and crime fighting simply isn't as interesting as mutant discrimination and hot-button analogies.

Lex Luthor is back as the Man of Steel's arch enemy, although Gene Hackman's campy take on the role in the original film is preferred to Kevin Spacey's detached menace here. Kate Bosworth lacks Margot Kidder's feisty resolve as Lois, making her single mother subplot soapier than anything an action flick should contain.

Superman Returns does feature several rousing sequences - a midair rescue of a jet and space shuttle, Metropolis in shambles - and striking images of Superman on a romantic flight with Lois. Yet the sameness of Singer's version does not compare to the darker risks taken with Batman Begins last summer.

The moment in Superman Returns that sticks with me doesn't feature the superhero but Daily Planet editor Perry White (Frank Langella), as he peppers his staff with story ideas about Superman's return to Earth after a five-year absence: "Does he still stand for truth, justice and all that other stuff?"

All that other stuff, as longtime fans recall, is the American way. Superman's defense of it against Nazis cemented his legacy decades ago. White's and Singer's forgetfulness is odd at a time when the American way is readily invoked in matters of war and national security. Superman Returns could use an edgy topic like that. Then again, "the American way" may not translate well in foreign markets, where there's a lot of money to be made. B-

- STEVE PERSALL, Times film critic

[Last modified June 28, 2006, 12:52:07]

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