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Featured Review: Superman 

Superman Returns

*** 1/2

Today, the 1978 film version of Superman (directed by Richard Donner) may look primitive to young eyes weaned on PlayStation 2 and new-and-improved Tolkien tales, but it still holds up beautifully, with dazzling special effects, plenty of heart and spunk, and career performances by Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. Director Bryan Singer, the X-Men and X2 helmer who jumped ship to steer this franchise, chose to take the road less traveled. His movie is neither a remake of the 1978 staple nor a direct repudiation of it; instead, he imagined Superman Returns as a continuation of the original saga. For fans of Donner’s ‘78 model, the pleasures begin immediately with a triple play. First, those cool opening credits are back. Second, they’re accompanied by the familiar chords of John Williams’ score (John Ottman receives credit for original music, but so much of Williams’ classic piece is employed that new themes were hardly needed). Finally, Singer made the decision to borrow 1978 footage of Marlon Brando as Jor-El (the Man of Steel’s father) and use it at the beginning of his new picture. Learning that scientists had discovered the remains of his home planet of Krypton, Kal-El (Superman’s birth name) went to check it out for himself, only coming back to our planet after a five-year hiatus. Once again donning his human disguise as bumbling news reporter Clark Kent, he’s able to get his old job back at the Daily Planet, but other chapters of his life have been radically affected. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), now a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer (for an essay titled “Why The World Doesn’t Need Superman”), has tried to suppress her love for Superman: Having moved forward, she now has a young son (Tristan Leabu) and a fiance (James Marsden). Meanwhile, Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is back in play and has ideas on how to assert his authority through unusual real estate ventures while also acquiring a chunk of kryptonite to put the Man of Steel out of business. Singer has some problems with rhythm and pacing -- the 150-minute running time eventually makes its presence known, and the movie has at least one ending too many -- while Bosworth appears too young and delicate to be playing a tough, award-winning journalist. Yet in the central role, Routh manages to command our attention: He’s not nearly as memorable as Reeve, but he’s easily able to hop between his hunky Superman persona and his goofy Clark Kent shtick while making both characterizations believable. Spacey appears to be having a ball as Lex Luthor, and the movie’s flashes of nasty humor (including a startling yet hilarious gag involving a pair of pomeranians) generally can be found in scenes involving his character.

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