THE ORIGINAL superhero is back. Following the recent remakes of Spiderman and Batman, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood found another Superman, this time in the unknown quantity of Brandon Routh.

Superman is a hero, blessed with the power of flight, x-ray vision and superhuman strength, and his strong beliefs in truth and justice compel him to ease any suffering he encounters. However, rather than providing us with yet another overblown remake, this film tries to provide a logical progression for the franchise, after a 19 year absence from the cinema screen.

Superman (Brandon Routh) is not given the iconic entrance during the opening credits that one would expect from such a film, which in a way is surprisingly refreshing. As he returns to his mother, after discovering that there is nothing left on his home planet of Krypton, Superman learns that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has a five-year-old child and is living with her fiancé, who believes the child is his own (although coincidently Superman has been gone for five years). Another coincidence is the re-emergence of Clark Kent, who immediately gets his job back at the Daily Planet.

If things were not looking good for Superman’s love life, then things get much worse when he realises that Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has been released from prison. Luthor has also discovered Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, where he manages to steal some crystals, which have the power to “grow” useful objects such as buildings and vehicles. Lex formulates a plan to “grow” a new continent in the Atlantic, powerful enough to wipe out North America, and has also obtained some Kryptonite in order to weaken Superman’s strength.

Meanwhile, Superman has saved Lois and her son Jason from a space shuttle about to crash into a football stadium, re-emerging into the public eye as a hero. He and Lois begin to rebuild their relationship, but seeing as Lois has just won a Pulitzer Prize for writing a book entitled Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman, things are a little difficult.

Superman Returns focuses strongly on the damaged relationship between these two, and there is far more emotional complexity present here than in earlier films. Kate Bosworth put on a very different Lane from that which we are used to and, whether it is convincing enough, is up for debate.

Director Brian Singer (X-Men) made a very clever move casting an unknown as the part of Superman, as any big name would have brought too much baggage to the part. Routh’s striking similarity to Christopher Reeve is quite unnerving at times, but he does a good job playing a difficult role. His portrayal of Clark Kent does leave a little to be desired, but the writers have given the character very little dialogue to work with.

Kevin Spacey provides a convincing portrayal of the conniving Lex Luthor, although you think he might have had a bit more fun with the villain role, as he does remain a bit bland and monotone at times. The film is well cast overall, with great supporting roles from James Marsden as Lois Lane’s fianceé Richard White and Parker Posey as Lex Luthor’s amusing partner in crime, Kitty Kowalski.

Another thing to watch out for is the religious imagery running throughout the film, at its most obvious when Superman falls through space in a crucifixion pose. The inclusion of Marlon Brando’s Godlike voiceovers as Superman’s father are also cleverly tied into the plot, offering us a reminder of his role in the earlier films.

There is still a lot to be explored in this adventure, especially the subplot involving the possibility that Jason is Superman’s son, an area left relatively untouched by the film writers. Maybe this is a hint that another Superman movie is in the making, but for now, this installment is a worthy and welcome return for all superhero fans.

RATING: * * * *

*   missable

* *   reasonable

* * *   entertaining

* * * *   very good

* * * * * outstanding