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       Subscribe: Digital / Home Delivery     Log In     Register Now     Help       HOME PAGE     TODAY'S PAPER     VIDEO     MOST POPULAR     TIMES TOPICS  Search All NYTimes.com Movies        WORLD    U.S.    N.Y. / REGION      BUSINESS    TECHNOLOGY     SCIENCE    HEALTH    SPORTS    OPINION     ARTS    STYLE    TRAVEL    JOBS    REAL ESTATE    AUTOS Search Movies, People and Showtimes by ZIP Code   More in Movies »    In Theaters      Coming Soon      Critics' Picks       On DVD      Tickets & Showtimes      Trailers      ArtsBeat   MOVIE REVIEW Superman Returns (2006) Warner Brothers Pictures and Legendary Productions Brandon Routh dons the cape and tights in Superman Returns. 'Superman Returns' to Save Mankind From Its Sins By MANOHLA DARGIS  Published: June 27, 2006 Jesus of Nazareth spent 40 days in the desert. By comparison, Superman of Hollywoodlanguished almost 20 years in development hell. Those years apparently raised the barfearsomely high. Last seen larking about on the big screen in the 1987 dud Superman IV, the Man of Steel has been resurrected in a leaden new film not only to fight for truth, justiceand the American way, but also to give Mel Gibson's passion a run for his box-office money. Where once the superhero flew up, up and away, he now flies down, down, down, sent fromabove to save mankind from its sins and what looked like another bummer summer.  More About This Movie  As nutritious as a box of Cracker Jack and just as yummy, Superman was at once a goof and a self-conscious bid at modern mythmaking. Years later, what resonates aren't Mr.Donner's action scenes, which look crude compared with what he would do later inthe  Lethal Weapon  series, but how fluidly he changes tones from the iconic (as when the supertoddler lifts a truck off his Earth father) to the playful (as when the souped-up adultrealizes that the closetlike phone booth is a thing of the past). Mr. Reeve worked the tonalchanges with similar ease, delivering a superhero whose earnestness was strategically offset by his fumbling, bumbling, all-too-human twin, who was just the ticket for the post- Watergate, pre-Indiana Jones moment.Mr. Singer's Superman, played by Brandon Routh, is a hero of rather different emotionalcolors, most muted. Like Christopher Nolan's  Batman Begins,  Mr. Singer's effort reworks the legend against a vaguely modern, timeless backdrop that blends the thematically old with the technologically new. The story opens with some necrophiliac wizardry and Brandonewly arisen as Superman's extraterrestrial father. Well represented even from beyond, thedead actor receives billing for his spectral turn, squeezed between Eva Marie Saint, whoplays Superman's earth mother, and Tristan Lake Leabu, who plays Lois Lane's young son.The Daily Planet's star reporter is in turn played by Kate Bosworth, whose glum mien andcurtain of brown hair suggests that blondes really do have more fun.Lois, however, doesn't enter the picture until after the filmmakers have laid the story'sOedipal foundation, which finds two men saying goodbye to the much older women who will, intentionally or not, shape their destinies. In one corner, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey taking up the role played by Mr. Hackman) bids cold adieu to the crone who will make himfantastically rich; in another, Superman again digs a fiery trough into the Kent family farmupon crash landing. This time, it's the grown man who brings tears to his mother's eyes and who stares at the sinking Kansas (actually Australian) sun, weighing his responsibility tohumankind after a five-year hiatus crossing the galaxies to visit his srcinal home.It's too bad that Mr. Singer and his colleagues don't really do anything substantial with thegood-guy-bad-guy routine. Superman may be a super-creation, but it's his villains ratherthan his dual identity that have usually given him a kick. Unlike his brooding and angst-ridden rivals in the superhero game, his alter ego is only as interesting as the comic book artist or the actor adding shades of gray to Clark Kent's business suit. Part of the charm of Mr. Reeve's interpretation was that a guy this impossibly handsome, who literally towersover everyone in the office, could hide behind a slouch and oversize eyeglasses. It was  absurd, but then so too was the idea that a powerful extraterrestrial would hang aroundEarth to take the kind of abuse perennially heaped on his human half.That identity allowed Superman to walk among us, but mostly it allowed him and, by proxy,generations of geeks both creating and consuming the character, to engage ritualistically ina sadomasochistic relationship with Lois Lane. A variation on the high school homecomingqueen who sails past the shy guy in glasses on her way to a back-seat tumble with thecaptain of the football team, this trouble-seeking reporter has always brought out what ismost human, vulnerable and identifiable in Superman. He gives her headlines; she giveshim a broken, or at least bruised, heart. In  Superman II,   which was directed by Richard Lester (and an uncredited Mr. Donner), she gave him a bit more, too, thereby transformingthe world's most powerful virgin into a one-night stud.Near the end of the second film, Superman, realizing that he and Lois have no future, wipesaway their boudoir encounter with an amnesia-producing kiss. Mr. Singer expends muchmore time and many more resources to do pretty much the same, erasing part of the past tocreate what is essentially a new and considerably more sober sequel to the first two films,one that shakes the earthiness off Superman and returns him to the status of a savior.There's always been a hint of Jesus (and Moses) to the character, from the omnipotence of his father to a costume that, with its swaths of red and blue, evokes the colors worn by the Virgin Mary in numerous Renaissance paintings. It's a hint that proves impossible not totake.Intentionally or not, the Jesus angle also helps deflect speculation about just how straightthis Superman flies. Given how securely Lois remains out of the romantic picture in Superman Returns, now saddled with both a kid and a fiancé (James Marsden), it's nosurprise that some have speculated that Superman is gay. The speculation speaks more toour social panic than anything in the film, which, much like the overwhelming majority of  American action movies produced since the 1980's, mostly involves what academics callhomosocial relations. In other words, when it comes to Hollywood, boys will be boys andplay with their toys, whether they're sleeping with one another or not, leaving women to weep, worry and wait to be rescued.Every era gets the superhero it deserves, or at least the one filmmakers think we want. ForMr. Singer that means a Superman who fights his foes in a scene that visually echoes thegarden betrayal in The Passion of the Christ and even hangs in the air much as Jesus didon the cross. It's hard to see what the point is beyond the usual grandiosity that comes whenever B-movie material is pumped up with ambition and money. As he proved with his
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