Staging a comeback is challenging, even for someone as heroic as Superman. Five years ago the superhero (Brandon Routh) disappeared after remnants of his home planet were discovered. Now he's back on Earth and facing a civilization even more in need of his help. But despite the splashy front-page headlines and adoring public, saving the world isn't always as rewarding as it appears. In fact, not everyone is glad he turned up.
Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), for one, has moved on with her life. The intractable reporter now has a son, a live-in boyfriend (James Marsden) and a Pulitzer Prize for an article entitled, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), recently released from prison, is also unhappy with the unexpected return. Having discovered Superman's secret ice palace, he taps into the source of the alien hero's extraordinary powers and plans to use them for his own purposes.
For the film's director Bryan Singer, the challenge of Superman Returns was introducing new faces to well-known characters. Donning a pair of tights and the big red "S" might be intimidating but fortunately Brandon Routh, a relative unknown in the business, embodies both the strong, noble characteristics of the Man of Steel as well as the bumbling, awkward actions of reporter Clark Kent. While motherhood has done little to soften the tough-minded Lois, Kate Bosworth brings another dimension to the woman who is simultaneously angry and thrilled to see Superman. And even though Lex Luthor's diabolical plot remains relatively undeveloped in comparison to the love story, Kevin Spacey manages to play his character with a nasty kind of glee.
Although Superman's suit might be updated, his compassion for humankind is as old-fashioned as ever. However, for younger audiences, the film includes some graphic depictions of violence. While weakened from exposure to kryptonite, Superman is brutally beaten by Lex's henchmen who also hold the caped crusader's face under water and push him to the edge of a cliff. In an attempt to take the bullets for a pair of bank security officers, the superhero is repeatedly shot in the chest and also hit in the eye. When Lois tries to escape from Lex's yacht, she is thrown to the ground, kicked and hit by one of her captors. The movie also includes the portrayal of other perilous situations, some sexual innuendo, discussion surrounding an illegitimate child and tobacco use (with an anti-smoking message).
Recent films have explored the dark side of classic superheroes, focusing on their foibles and faults. While this Kryptonian has emotional struggles and must face the consequences of his past actions, he doesn't lose sight of his mission to help others. Some may consider this superhero too good to believe, but in an era of cynicism, narcissism and everyday road rage, society should be thankful he's back.