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Superman Returns (2006)

A religious-like approach to this sequellian rehash meant to follow the first two Superman films (pretending, rightly so, that Superman III and IV never existed in the first place) both justifies the existence and limits the potency of Superman Returns. Spearing head-on the thought that Superman’s god-like strength makes him an inaccessible, and thus, irrelevant superhero (no more so than in Lois Lane’s emotional abandonment of Superman), Bryan Singer’s reverent film looks at a world that, for five years, has had to go on without the Man of Steel, he having temporarily returned to his home planet of Krypton in order to search for any remnants or survivors of the once great world. The customary world-dominating villain tactics, handily supplied by Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor, are more a mundane necessity than the tension-inducing focal point of the film, which, by distancing the audience from the characters by means of a deliberately arms-length approach, sacrifices some of its emotional potential in turn for the ability to more prominently flex the muscle of its main characters’ iconic mythology. Thus, Superman Returns is a film intrinsically in conflict with itself. At times, the film seems less about Superman than about the audiences’ relationship with the character, a reminder of his importance, both literally and figuratively, in a post-9/11 world. Meanwhile, the action set pieces are genuinely enthralling, although, while the CG work is scores better in terms of realism than its 1978 and 1981 special effects counterparts, it lacks the gee-whiz imagination of those first two films. At the end of the day, however, Superman Returns succeeds – albeit slightly – in that it looks not at how much Superman owns as it does why we want him to in the first place.