Aside from Odysseus or Beowulf, it's hard to think of any other character who has a more iconic presence in our shared consciousness—Superman Returns deals with the archetypal hero, and in the right circumstances, he's amazing to watch. But as such a hero, Superman's fundamentally flawed. He's so heroic—so strong and brave and good and right—that there's no common ground with which to find him relatable; he can accomplish mind-boggling feats, yet fails to inspire any great affection or interest.
Singer tries to make Supes a bit more relevant here: Returns has Superman coming back to Earth after a mysterious absence, and finding that things have changed: His adoptive father is dead; His girlfriend, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has a new beau and a kid; and Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is readying yet another world-destroying scheme.
All the pieces are here, and in bits, Returns works quite well. Unknown actor Brandon Routh is perfect— fantastic as Superman, and even better as his nebbish alter ego, Clark. Bosworth is plenty capable as Lois, and Spacey—working with Singer for the first time since their excellent The Usual Suspects—is a great, funny, mean-spirited Lex.
There's other cool stuff: stunning production design and cinematography, a score that samples liberally from Williams', and a neat/creepy moment with a (literally) re-animated Marlon Brando. But when Singer combines these elements, his film never manages to gel: The script ebbs and flows with lame plot devices and needless characters; it's easily 15 minutes too long; and it ends with an unsatisfying whimper. And, when all's said and done, Superman remains a distant, untouchable outsider—like Singer's film, he fails to summon much enthusiasm, in spite of all his unforgettable, breathtaking feats. ■