The good news is that Superman Returns is a worthy continuation of the first two Superman films (1978 and 1980) and ignores the far less memorable III and IV. Indeed, director Bryan Singer almost seems to channel Richard Donner (who directed the first Christopher Reeve film) in a way that parallels Jonathan Mostow's fannish fidelity to James Cameron's vision when he took the reigns of the Terminator franchise.
Amazingly, Brandon Routh is a worthy successor to Christopher Reeve's sizable legacy in the blue tights and red cape, with the right mix of over the top nerdishness in Clark Kent and boy scout certainty in the man of steel. Complementing Routh nicely, Kevin Spacey is probably the most enjoyable big screen (or small screen) Lex Luthor to date, taking over where Gene Hackman left off. Rather than starting from scratch with the Superman mythos as Christopher Nolan did in Batman Begins, Singer manages to bring a more contemporary feel to the man of steel and reboot the franchise for the big screen.
While Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), complete with fiance (James Marsden) and son (Tristan Lake Leabu), is at times a little wooden, she nevertheless manages to bring a less certain and more complicated Lois to the film. The introduction of Lois' son is handled playfully, leading down a path which leaves some interesting doors open for future cinematic exploits of the world's most famous underwear on the outside fan. Despite the hype surrounding Marlon Brando's synthespian resurrection, the footage and voice-overs from the doubly deceased Jor-El are tastefully handled and heightened the continuity with the earlier films. Of course, the emotional connectivity with the 1978 classic are stirred early on with John Williams' original score again stirringly taking centre stage.
The story itself manages to be both a sequel in some sense and in another a remake of the first film with a plot which simply adds years and magnitude (bigger body counts and ambitions for Lex, smoother special effects for Superman) to a remarkably similar plot. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times argues that "the Man of Steel has been resurrected in a leaden new film not only to fight for truth, justice and the American way, but also to give Mel Gibson's passion a run for his box-office money." In many ways Manohla is right as Singer has certainly layered the Christian (and Ancient Greek) symbols and imagery in a fairly heavy-handed way. Of course, these symbols are so deeply engrained in our popular imaginary that they, for the most part, heighten the films impact rather than diminshing it.
Overall, Singer does for Superman what he did for the X-Men: he's brought a fine film to the silver screen and ensured at least one sequel to follow. It would be nice if Singer's around to direct it.