Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins is probably the smartest super-hero film ever made, a complete reinvention of the Batman franchise, taking out the dumb parts (e.g., Robin), and seriously attempting to answer the question, “Why would a grown man dress as a bat?”
By way of contrast, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (from the same studio) adds little or nothing to the Superman mythos. It has Marlon Brando as Jor-El, literally performing the role from beyond the grave, and in Brandon Routh, a Superman who looks and acts like a CGI version of Christopher Reeve. Once again, we hear the familiar John Williams score. This is not reinvention; it is resurrection, a virtual photocopy of the 1978 blockbuster, Superman: The Movie, following the same basic plot outline (Krypton introduction; rocketship landing on Kent farm; Clark’s arrival at the Daily Planet; Luthor’s scheme to annihilate half of America; Lois in danger; Superman saves the day).
And, as in Superman: The Movie, we get a Third Act “miracle” that not-so-subtly links our favorite illegal alien (Superman) with Jesus Christ. In Superman: The Movie, the Man of Steel literally turned back time to resurrect a dead Lois Lane. In Superman Returns, he dies and, after an appropriate period (not quite 3 days), is resurrected himself!
Kate Bosworth is a major liability. While she was more than adequate as a pouty Sanda Dee opposite Kevin Spacey’s Bobby Darin in Beyond the Sea, she lacks the personality and charisma to make a convincing Lois Lane. Kevin Spacey was born to play the part of Lex Luthor, yet because the film’s conception of Luthor is more or less identical to Gene Hackman’s version, Spacey also disappoints.
The most original aspect of Superman Returns is the suggestion that Superman has a son – linking it oddly to The DaVinci Code, where Jesus is similarly provided with a spouse and progeny. Not much is done with this plot line, but it raises some interesting issues for the sequel.