Visually, the movie is beyond anything Singer (working with his longtime cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel) has done before, filled with moments of strange and ethereal beauty, from the ripples that shudder through the fuselage of a seemingly doomed 777 upon being stopped by Superman's mighty hands to the haunting image of a kryptonite-weakened Superman falling from the skies and crashing to Earth like Hephaestus cast out of the heavens. As for Routh, around whom so much speculation has swirled, I will defer to the famous Hollywood acting teacher who once told me that "any idiot who rolls out from under an apple cart" can be great in one movie if they're essentially playing themselves. That's a crude way of saying that only time will tell if Routh—a milk-fed Midwestern tumbleweed who projects a sense of innate, unassailable decency—has a career outside of being the Man of Steel. (Reeve, who was a very talented actor, didn't have much of one.) But for now, he acquits himself with aplomb, and he receives able support from Bosworth (giving a more sober read on the role than the wistfully kooky Margot Kidder); the scenery-devouring Spacey (exploding in angry fulminations that are like fists slammed on a piano); and the scene-stealing Parker Posey as Luthor's acerbic sidekick Kitty, who's like a plastered widow telling jokes at her own husband's funeral.
What is finally most surprising about Superman Returns is how unexpectedly moving it is—for its nostalgia; for its yearning for hearth and home; and for its overarching belief in the fundamental goodness of people, come hell or (literally) high water. Sometimes, it turns out, even Superman needs a helping hand, and when he does, it's there for him. In those moments, I was strongly reminded of those hopeful words spoken to Superman by his late father, Jor-El (played, with the aid of a little CG wizardry, by Marlon Brando), in regard to the human race: "They can be a great people. They wish to be. They lack only the light to show them the way." Could the world use a savior right about now? Probably. But while we're waiting, Superman Returns believes, we just might manage to save one another.
SUPERMAN RETURNS WAS DIRECTED BY BRYAN SINGER; WRITTEN BY MICHAEL DOUGHERTY AND DAN HARRIS, FROM A STORY BY SINGER, DOUGHERTY AND HARRIS, BASED UPON SUPERMAN CHARACTERS CREATED BY JERRY SIEGEL AND JOE SHUSTER AND PUBLISHED BY DC COMICS; PRODUCED BY JON PETERS, SINGER AND GILBERT ADLER. COUNTYWIDE.