Superman Returns (12A)

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The Independent Culture

Superman does indeed return, after a two-decade break from cinemas, and he picks up roughly from where he left off at the end of Superman II.

The Man of Steel (Brandon Routh) has been away on an intergalactic sightseeing trip for five years, and when he touches down on Earth, he finds that Lois Lane is now a Pulitzer Prize winner with a fiancé (James Marsden) and a young son - even if, as played by the peachy-faced Kate Bosworth, she looks as if she's on her first day of work experience. As for the other "LL" in Superman's life, that follically challenged scoundrel Lex Luthor (played puckishly by Kevin Spacey) has located Superman's "Fortress of Solitude", the crystal palace in the Arctic which holds all the secrets of his Kryptonian heritage.

There's not much of a showdown between these two arch-enemies, though.

Bryan Singer also made the first two X-Men films, but despite having three superhero blockbusters under his utility belt, the director still shies away from action sequences. All Superman does is catch things and lift things. Sometimes, under extreme circumstances, he catches things and then lifts them. But he doesn't do much else. The most dramatic set piece in the film is the wrecking of a toy trainset.

But even with its severe shortage of blaams and ka-pows, Superman Returns is still one of the most satisfying superhero films ever made, principally because of Singer's deep love and respect for the character. There's no campness or mockery here, never mind the blue long-johns and the Speedos. Superman is presented with misty-eyed, open-mouthed veneration, and Routh emulates Christopher Reeve in revealing the gentle, guileless heart beneath the big red "S".

More than anything, Superman Returns is a film about how strange and elating it would be if a human - or humanoid - could ignore gravity and take flight, and if we could glimpse him as a silhouette, flitting overhead along a twilit street, or see him floating angelically to rest on a rooftop, with no sound but the rustle of his cape. Referencing the Bible and ET in equal measure, Singer wants to elicit oohs and aahs, not cheers and screams. You won't believe a man can fly, but you will believe that, if a man could fly, it would be a wondrous sight to behold.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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