DVD Release Date:  November 28, 2006
Theatrical Release Date:  June 28, 2006
Rating:  PG-13 (for some intense action violence)
Genre:  Action-Adventure
Run Time:  154 min.
Director:  Bryan Singer
Actors:  Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, James Marsden, Eva Marie Saint, Marlon Brando

Superman returns in Bryan Singer's film of the same name, but the editor of the Daily Planet wants to know:  Does he still stand for truth and justice?

A better question, from a Christian perspective, is: Does he stand for Jesus?

Yes, he does, if you're willing to think in broad strokes and to not scrutinize every jot and tittle of the script, which is wanting. Still, Superman Returns is the answer to many Christians' prayers - a major studio franchise, reinvented and re-imagined to appeal to Christian audiences, with the backing of a multi-million-dollar promotional campaign.

So it's worth asking: Is this it? Is this what we've wanted, what we've hoped for? If so, we need to think long and hard about what it is we want out of Hollywood. Film studios have heard us. They've seen us. They've counted our money. They're ready to cash in.

The filmmakers make it clear that Superman (Brandon Routh) is a Christ figure. He came earlier, left again to return to his home, but now he's back, descending from above to save the misguided souls on Earth.

It's a Second Coming of sorts, but Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) - "left behind" after his previous encounter with Superman - is still scheming to bring massive destruction and misery to the other tortured souls on planet Earth. He wants land, lots of land. His own continent. And North America can't stand in his way. That's why it, and millions of people, will be obliterated when Luthor executes his lethal plan, aided by secret knowledge intended only for the Man of Steel.

Upon Superman's return from his sojourn to his home planet (it was a "graveyard," he tells his earthly mother, Martha Kent [Eva Marie Saint]), he reintegrates into daily life on Earth. Re-assuming the identity of Clark Kent, he's soon back on the beat at the Daily Planet, where he finds former flame Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) now engaged to Richard White (James Marsden). She's also won a Pulitzer Prize for her Daily Planet rumination on "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman."

Not so, Superman explains to Lois. "Every day, I hear people crying for [a Savior]," he says. So he goes about saving people - not from their sins, but from plummeting airplanes, sinking ships, and out-of-control cars. By taking on Luthor, he ultimately saves entire populations that would have been otherwise doomed by Luthor's ambitions.

If this were the crux of the story, the film might work as a (weak) Christ allegory. But in an effort to win the hearts of women the world over, the filmmakers have decided to make Superman a lovesick puppy, longing to win back Lois. Why must Superman - whose stated mission, repeated early in the film, is to "show the way" to humans, who "lack the light" — be tied down by such concerns? It's not entirely clear. Could it be that the filmmakers think that not only Christians, but young females, are key to the box-office success of Superman Returns?

Maybe Lois' young son is the key to the film. Superman is not divine. He's susceptible to kryptonite, and his weakness is again exposed here (isn't it always?). Has he grown weary? As he ponders the mission handed him by his father, is he looking to pass the baton to the next generation?

Routh is fine in the lead role, but even by superhero-movie standards, his part is underwritten. He's left to stare longingly at Lois through Clark Kent's glasses, or to grab her, as Superman, for a quick flight above Metropolis, in between a few spectacular rescues. Bosworth brings some moxie - but not quite enough - to the role of hard-bitten journalist Lane. Spacey has fun hamming it up as Lex Luthor, while Parker Posey generates a few chuckles as Luthor's cohort, Kitty Kowalski.

With Bryan Singer behind the camera, the parts were all in place for a successful rebirth of the Superman franchise. Why, then, is the final product so unmemorable? With the many bones thrown to religious viewers, why is the film so rarely uplifting?

If Superman Returns makes enough money to justify a sequel, let's hope the creators spend a little more time concentrating on a rewarding story and a little less time catering to desirable demographic groups.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord's name taken in vain; "hell"; "holy s---" (cut off); a few other profanities.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Beer drinking; smoking.
  • Sex/Nudity:  A previous intimacy between Lois and Clark is all but spelled out.
  • Violence:  Human endangerment, but little carnage; massive property destruction; two seemingly friendly dogs are reduced to one, by grotesque means; Superman deflects rapid gunfire; a car's brake lines are cut, sending the vehicle careening out of control; Lois is thrown down, violently; Superman, rendered powerless, takes a beating.
  • Marriage:  Lois is raising a son, but doesn't like the prospect of marriage.
  • Religion:  Explicit Biblical concepts are used to paint Superman as a Christ figure; Luthor holds forth on his idea that "gods" are "selfish beings."