I finally saw it yesterday afternoon. I waited a week because my good teaching buddy Brent was away on vacation, and Brent is probably the biggest Supes fan I know.
The flick was definitely worth the wait. Brandon Routh is sensational as the Man of Steel, and it's easy to see why this unknown was selected to play the Kryptonian -- he looks and sounds eerily like Christopher Reeve. But, besides that, he captures perfectly the inner and outer strength of the Man of Tomorrow, as well as the comical aloofness of Clark Kent.
SPOILER ALERT AHEAD! DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU DON'T WANT SOME OF THE MOVIE'S PLOT REVEALED!
"Returns" plays very similar to the 1978 silver screen offering. It takes place five years after "Superman II," (where Supes battled General Zod and his two associates) and Supes has journeyed to the area that used to be the planet Krypton. Earth astronomers had located the [former] planet, and Kal-El had to be sure there was no vestige of life remaining on his home world (or the pieces thereof). He seems to have traveled via a Kryptonian spaceship, most likely constructed by the myriad crystals found in his Fortress of Solitude. Returning, Supes crash-lands near his childhood home, and then eventually makes his way back to Metropolis. He gets his old job back at the Daily Planet, making the overall scenario pretty much as it was in the 1978 original.
But Supes' love, Lois Lane, while not married, is heavily involved with the Planet's publisher's nephew (played by James Marsden, who was Cyclops in the X-Men movies). They have a child together, Jason. But hold that for a sec ...
Lois has won a Pulitzer Prize for her article "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." Clark/Supes is a bit chagrined over this, not to mention Lois' involvement with another guy.
Supes makes his grand re-entrance to the world when a Space Shuttle launch goes awry. Needless to say, the special effects are beyond spectacular. Elsewhere, Lex Luthor played awesomely by Kevin Spacey (at right, who is definitely one of my favorite actors ... plus he can do killer impressions of other actors! Has anyone besides me seen his "screen-tests" for "Star Wars"? I thought I'd choke to death from laughter at his "Christopher Walken-as-Han Solo" test!) manages to avoid major prison time because ... Superman wasn't around to testify at his [numerous] appeals! Whoops! Just like the original flick, Luthor surrounds himself with mentally inferior dopes, notably the Ms. Teschmacher analogue Kitty Kowalski.
From here on out the movie is a cleverly updated version of the Chris Reeve original, with numerous twists. Luthor travels to Supes' Fortress of Solitude (just like in "Superman II") and takes several of the magical "knowledge" crystals from the big "control panel." Marlon Brando posthumously reprises his role as Jor-El, expertly woven in via computer magic. Lex also nabs a big chunk of Kryptonite from a local museum, to be used against you-know-who. (As a diversion, Luthor has Kitty race through Metropolis' streets "uncontrollably" in a classic Mustang so as to get Supes' attention; when Routh sets the car down after his rescue, it's a very clear homage to the cover of the very first appearance of Superman, 1938's Action Comics #1, at left! In addition, right before Luthor nabs the Kryptonite rock, you can read "Addis Ababa, 1978" on the plaque underneath it, another homage to the original movie.)
Luthor has much more in mind for the green mineral than he did back in 1978. Instead of merely using it to weaken/kill the Man of Steel, he realizes the intelligent properties of the crystal ... and plans on creating an entirely new continent smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean! (Supes first arriving at this new landmass is shown at right.) What's more, the new continent is entirely imbedded with Kryptonite, making it virtually impervious to harm by Supes. Not knowing this, of course, makes Superman's first [re]encounter with his arch-enemy a not-so-good one, as Luthor and his henchmen proceed to beat the living crap out of Kal-El in his weakened state! Spacey's Luthor is much more vicious than Gene Hackman's, as he kicks and punches Superman mercilessly, until he finally drives a sharpened shard of Kryptonite into Superman's back!
Saved by Lois, her boyfriend and ... Lois' son, Supes, in a very cool scene, soars up into near-space to "re-energize" himself to save the planet. He zooms down into the sub-oceanic magma and lifts the burgeoning continent up and out into space! But, again, considering the rock of this continent is imbued with the deadly green mineral, Supes barely has enough energy to do the job, and he plummets back to earth unconscious! The sequence of Superman lifting the young "continent" is clearly a throwback to 1978's film, where Chris Reeve flew underneath the San Andreas fault and lifted it back into place, thus thwarting Luthor's exploding of an H-bomb there in order to destroy California.
In possibly the clearest "human touch" of the film, Superman is raced to a hospital after his fall to earth and is given the standard treatments afforded "normal humans" in a similar condition! Comically, needles break on his skin, and attempts to restart his heart short out those electric "heart-jumper" things (what're they called again?). Supes remains in critical condition for some time, and the streets surrounding the hospital are packed with people hoping he'll recover. He does, eventually, but not after a touching visit by Lois and her son.
Which brings me to the situation between Lois and Clark/Kal-El: The film wonderfully portrays the difficulties the two face after Clark reappears on the scene. Lois has moved on, gotten involved with Perry White's nephew Richard, and had a son. Clark still clearly loves Lois, and the scenes where the two have their first "talk" is touching and emotional. Kate Bosworth as Lois is superb -- you can feel how torn she is. After all, talk about a "step down" after you've had Superman! (In a neat little touch, before Supes takes Lois for a "fly," she says "I forgot how warm you are," which should assuage those of us -- like me -- who wondered back when how Lois didn't freeze her ass off in that slinky dress when Supes flew her all over the sky high above the clouds, not to mention up to the Arctic!)
And, don't think I've forgotten (for those who've seen that movie already, that is) about Lois' son. It's clear that his father is Superman, not Richard, as Jason had slammed an entire piano into one of Luthor's thugs to save his mother, not to mention spotted a drowning Superman from the sky while in Richard's plane. This is obviously the biggest "departure" from the original movie, and leaves many questions (and possibilities). Regarding this ... "situation," one of my favorite scifi authors, Larry Niven, had written an article over 30 years ago titled "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex," in which he argues that there's no way Lois and Clark could have a child via normal means, much less merely have ... "relations." He writes (emphasis mine):
The problem is this. Electroencephalograms taken of men and women during sexual intercourse show that orgasm resembles "a kind of pleasurable epileptic attack." One loses control over one's muscles.
Superman has been known to leave his fingerprints in steel and in hardened concrete, accidentally. What would he do to the woman in his arms during what amounts to an epileptic fit? Consider the driving urge between a man and a woman, the monomaniacal urge to achieve greater and greater penetration. Remember also that we are dealing with kryptonian muscles.
Superman would literally crush LL's body in his arms, while simultaneously ripping her open from crotch to sternum, gutting her like a trout. Lastly, he'd blow off the top of her head.
Ejaculation of semen is entirely involuntary in the human male, and in all other forms of terrestrial life. It would be unreasonable to assume otherwise for a kryptonian. But with kryptonian muscles behind it, Kal-El's semen would emerge with the muzzle velocity of a machine gun bullet.
In view of the foregoing, normal sex is impossible between LL and Superman. Artificial insemination may give us better results.
The most touching part of the entire movie for me (and my wife) was the finale: Just like at the end of the 1978 film where Christopher Reeve is shown zooming up to earth orbit and circling the globe, so does Routh. But the clincher was -- just like Reeve did so memorably -- Routh, in the final scene, looking directly at the camera and smiling ... before jetting off for wherever. If you're a fan of Superman, especially the original movies, you'll find yourself fighting back tears at this ... moreso when the credits roll right after, and there's a line stating "This film is lovingly dedicated to Christopher and Dana Reeve."