It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
It's no fun being Superman. Your life is a lie, there's nobody you can confide in, you're in love but can't express it, and you're on call 24 hours a day. But it can be fun being in a Superman movie. The original "Superman" (1978) was an exuberance of action and humor, because Christopher Reeve could play the character straight and let us know he was kidding.
"Superman II" (1980) was just about as good, but "Superman III" (1983) was a disappointment. "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace," with Reeve, bombed in 1987, and then the series was quiet for 19 years. Now the Man of Steel is back in Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns," which, like its hero, spends a lot of time dead in the water.
This is a glum, lackluster movie in which even the big effects sequences seem dutiful instead of exhilarating. The newsroom of the Daily Planet, filled with eccentricity and life in the earlier movies, now seems populated by corporate drones. Jimmy Olsen, the copy boy, such a brash kid, seems tamed and clueless. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has lost her dash and pizzazz, and her fiance, Richard White (James Marsden), regards her like a deer caught in the headlights. Even the editor, Perry White (Frank Langella), comes across less like a curmudgeon, more like an efficient manager.
One problem is with the casting. Brandon Routh lacks charisma as Superman, and I suppose as Clark Kent, he isn't supposed to have any. Routh may have been cast because he looks a little like Reeve, but there are times when he looks more like an action figure; were effects used to make him seem built from synthetics? We remember the chemistry between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) in the original "Superman" movie, and then observe how their counterparts are tongue-tied in this one. If they had a real romance (and they did), has it left them with nothing more than wistful looks and awkward small talk?