Correction to This Article
In a June 28 Style review of "Superman Returns" (which was excerpted in the June 30 edition of Weekend), Superman's home state was incorrectly identified as Iowa. He is from Kansas.
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Happy 'Returns'

Can you read my mind? Superman (Brandon Routh) and Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) are reunited when the Man of Steel comes back to Earth after an extended absence in
Can you read my mind? Superman (Brandon Routh) and Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) are reunited when the Man of Steel comes back to Earth after an extended absence in "Superman Returns." (Photos By David James -- Warner Bros. Via Associated Press)

Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), for example, now has a child. She's even won a Pulitzer Prize for her essay: "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." Her boyfriend has great teeth, Daily Planet Editor Perry White has morphed into lounge-lizard Frank Langella, and Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has just exited the slammer, copped billions from the old lady (played by Neill) and started a new shenanigan.

The lack of forward momentum makes room for a lot of pleasant lateral movement. We get to watch Supe rescue Lois in an elaborate sequence in which her plane, trailing flame and shreds of twisted metal, is headed for the dirt. He puts it gently down in Shea Stadium before the thousands of adoring Mets fans who commemorate the return. If only he had a good fastball!

It follows that Lois and Clark deal with buried feelings, and there's even world enough and time for Supe to remember his boyhood in Iowa, where the corn grew as high as an elephant's eye but he could leap as far as a thousand elephants, end on end or on top of each other. (Eva Marie Saint has a nice turn as his mom.)

These sequences, particularly the invocation of tender feelings between Clark and Lois, and Lois and Supe (she has to know, at some level), have a kind of puppy-love innocence to them. They're not sexual, but pre-sexual, full of the awkward romantic gropings of kids who don't really know what happens when the lights go down. Everything is idealized: Since Lois is now living with Perry White's nephew Richard, played by face-guy James Marsden, Clark/Supe is honor-bound to preserve the sanctity of the union and therefore can only pine in private. Lois, meanwhile, is in harsh denial, and we understand that her essay was really not addressed to the world but to her own heart. She has, she tells herself, Moved On, even if she doesn't believe it and we don't believe it.

What's missing? Oh, right, a caper. A plot. Hmm, the movie's an hour and a half old, and nobody's done anything yet.

Here's where I wish the team had done it better. First of all, as great an actor as Kevin Spacey is and as perfect for this part as he seems to be: Nobody could do it better than Gene Hackman. True, it's probably easy to underrate Hackman's turns as Luthor, but they were great pieces of work. He was avuncular, self-parodying, narcissistic, self-amused and evil all at once. They gave such balance to Reeve's square virtue while at the same time providing a lot of comic mileage in interplay with sidekicks Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine.

By contrast, Spacey lacks Hackman's charm, Parker Posey hardly registers as Lex's immorata and the hilarious Beatty has been replaced by three moogs of utter banality.

Worse, the plot seems not nonsensical or lacking in weight, just uninteresting. Having discovered Supe's lair and copped some magic crystals, Lex uses them to -- see if you can stay with me, and pray that I'm able to stay with me -- generate new continents, which, rupturing out of the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, seem fated to put half of North America underwater, while he claims sole ownership of the new land, which will be Luthorville or Luthorania or the United States of Lexatoria or some such. Never quite works, nor do the too many scenes of Lex and his pals playing pinochle in a wet cave that somehow is supposed to represent the Death of the West.

In fairness, the plot is just strutwork upon which to mount ever more elaborate set pieces, as Superman shunts faster than a speeding e-mail from crisis to crisis to undo the effects of Luthor's villainy. It would probably help if you brought a standard dead-tree World Mythological Concordance with you or watched with Treo 700p Smartphone in hand keyed to Wikipedia, for by the end of the film, Singer is looting world symbology for imagery. Atlas bent under the globe? Twice , even! The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus? In jillions and jillions of bright pixels! How about Icarus falling from the rays of the sun, or is that the fall of man, the death of Odin, the last act of Wagner's "Gotterdammerung," the final chorus of Beowulf or the end of Richard Fleisher's "The Vikings"? Or even Will Kane limping out of town in "High Noon." It's all of them, and many more I haven't thought of or don't know in the first place.

But the news is good. It's a myth, not a miss. The bottom line is that Superman has returned and again, you will believe that a man can fly, and that virtue is its own reward.

Superman Returns (154 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for violence (parents should note that, at one point, the Man of Steel gets a tub-thumping beating).


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