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Friday, June 23, 2006

"Superman Returns" flies high

I got to see “Superman Returns” at an advance screening yesterday. My verdict? It’s not the best comic-book movie of all time; I’d point to “Spider-Man 2” or “X-Men 2” as a better blend of drama, humor and superhero action. But “Superman Returns” has more than enough super moments to recommend it.

“Superman Returns” is a sequel of sorts to the first two Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve and also serves as director Bryan Singer’s loving tribute to that era. The story opens with Superman returning after a five-year absence, and the fact that he would abandon Earth — and leave Lois Lane without saying goodbye — caused me to really work to suspend my disbelief.

Upon his return, Superman finds a lot of changes have taken place: Most notably, Lois has a child and is engaged, and is a Pulitzer Prize-winner thanks to an essay she wrote on “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.”

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor is up to another nefarious scheme, another rather silly if deadly land grab, as in the first Superman movie. Kevin Spacey’s Luthor is a bit more malevolent - and certainly more vicious — than the Luthor played by Gene Hackman in the earlier Superman movies. But he and his henchmen are still pretty much cartoon figures. Warner Bros. could learn a lesson from Marvel, whose movie bad guys, such as Magneto and Dr. Octopus, are more complex and frightening.

Brandon Routh plays the Man of Steel and is a fine replacement for Reeve. I’ve read complaints he’s too wooden, but I think he handled all the notes — from the mild-mannered Clark Kent to the feeling of alienation as Superman — just right.

At 2 1/2 hours, the movie moves at a perhaps too-leisurely pace. But there are several haunting and beautiful moments that will stay with me for a long time: a young Clark experiencing joy from his powers; the Man of Steel basking in the rays of the yellow sun; a spent Superman falling through the sky. I’m looking forward to seeing “Superman Returns” at the IMAX; there are many scenes that should be perfect for the big, big screen.


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