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Not only is Superman Returns the best film of the summer so far, it's also the most surprising.

I'll explain...

Bryan Singer's film would have you believe (at least from the advertisements) that it's a rip-roaring continuation of the saga that Richard Donner began in the late 70's with Christopher Reeve. While part of that is true, what you get in Superman Returns is far richer and more emotionally complex than anything found in any of the films from the 70's or 80's. While there are action sequences to be found (which are admittedly spectacular), they aren't the main focus of the film and only exist in service of the story. A rare thing to be sure in this age of non-stop digital set pieces.

In this film, Singer is far more interested in exploring the emotional disconnect and unrequited love that exists between Lois Lane and Superman after he returns from a 5-year absence from earth to explore his home world. In the time that Superman was away, the world has moved on and weathered tragedies like 9/11 and the Iraq War (though these events aren't explicitly referenced, other that a few briefs shots on a television.)

In a note-perfect performance, newcomer Brandon Routh embodies both The Man of Steel and Clark Kent as quiet, soulful loners who yearn in vain for something, and somebody, to hold close and call home. More than ever, you really begin to understand the alienation (pardon the pun) of a man who lives in service of everyone, but never receives much more than a thank you in return.

Heavy stuff for a superhero film, eh? In fact if there is one flaw in the film (and there aren't many), it's that Lex Luthor's world domination scheme seems almost silly when you put it alongside the emotional weight that Superman and Lois Lane's relationship carries in the film. This is a very adult, richly-drawn, and resonant piece of work, which is surprising considering the subject matter, and it feels slightly awkward when Singer switches into the mechanics of the plot.

Thankfully, the minor nitpicks don't add up to much when you put Superman Returns up alongside many of the other superhero films that have come down the pike in recent memory. This one is top-tier, and like last year's Batman Begins, has succeeded in establishing a new bar for these types of films. You can easily put Singer's film up against heavies like Spiderman 2, Begins, and the original Donner film. It's that accomplished and that well done.

Aside from Routh, the supporting cast in the film does stellar work as well. As Luthor, Kevin Spacey does double duty, providing both laughs and gasps as Superman's archrival. Spacey has fun with the role, but never takes it into camp territory. When he needs to be, he is truly scary and more than a match for our Boy in Blue.

Kate Bosworth has a more difficult feat to pull off than might have originally been thought. She has to come off has earnest, professional, and slightly bitter, while still making you care about her character. Luckily, the screenplay by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris is quite sharp and provides Bosworth with the right material to succeed. The sub-plot of Lois having a son and a fiancé is also refreshing, and takes the film is unexpected directions.

James Marsden, Sam Huntington, and Frank Langella also do good work as Richard White, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White. Marsden, in particular, rises above the conventions of â"the other guy role" to provide real emotion and weight to his character. After all, it's not easy being the guy trying to hold onto his girl while facing the ultimate competition in Superman.

Superman Returns was a real treat and an unexpected surprise. If you keep in mind that Bryan Singer's heart lies with themes of adoption, loss, and finding your place in the world, then you're in for a rare good time at the movies. If you just want some good action and fancy flying, wait for the DVD and fast-forward to the splashy scenes.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 2.35:1

Subtitles: English; Spanish; French; Closed Captioned

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access.

* Commentary - No commentary available.
* Featurettes -
o "Requiem for Krypton: The Making of Superman Returns" a three hour documentary that takes you behind the scenes of Superman Returns.
+ "Superman on the Farm"
+ "Superman in the City"
+ "Superman in Peril"
o "Resurrecting Jor-El" - How Marlon Brando was brought back for the film.
* Deleted and Extended Scenes -
o "The Date", "Family Photos", "Crash Landing / X-Ray Vision", "Old Newspapers", "Are You Two Dating?", "Martinis & Wigs", "I'm Always Right", "Jimmy the Lush", "Language Barrier", "Crystal Feet" and "New Krypton"
o Another blooper reel follows the closing credits.
* Trailer Gallery - includes the teaser and theatrical trailer for the film as well as two video game previews and a sales piece on the Christopher Reeve Superman boxed set.

Number of discs: - 2- Keepcase Packaging