"Superman Returns" is both an homage and a faithful sequel to the Christopher Reeve films. In fact, it not only features John Williams' classic theme music but also snippets of leftover Marlon Brando footage and a similar "flying" title sequence.
Some may have a problem with this comics-based adventure seeming as much like director Richard Donner's 1978 film as it does an effort by Bryan Singer; Singer brings a distinctly lighter tone to this film than he did the first two "X-Men" pictures.
"Superman Returns" is also not quite as action-packed as some audiences will expect, especially following the heavy-on-action, low-on-character third "X-Men" film.
But from this corner, this continuation of the Superman saga is the first of this summer's movies to really deliver the goods, with more than a few "gee-whiz" moments of joy.
While the film is set in the present day, "Returns" actually picks things up about five years after the events of 1980's "Superman II." The Man of Steel (Brandon Routh) has been missing for five years, having gone into space to explore after scientists discover what appear to be remnants of his home planet Krypton.
When he comes back to Earth, Superman finds that things have changed a lot. His former love Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) now has a son (Tristan Leabu) and a fiance, Richard White (James Marsden), the dashing nephew of Daily Planet chief Perry White (Frank Langella). She's even won a Pulitzer Prize for writing a column: "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman."
Our hero is still reeling from those revelations when he uncovers yet another, world-threatening scheme by the megalomaniacal Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), who's been released from prison early and has managed to locate Superman's Fortress of Solitude, and advanced technology he's planning to use for criminal purposes.
Singer and screenwriters Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty are smart in contrasting the film's melodrama and derring-do with humor (most of it originating with Sam Huntington's Jimmy Olsen and Lex's girlfriend, played by Parker Posey).
The film is reverential in tone, both to the Donner film and to the comics. For example, there's a very specific homage to the cover of 1938's "Action Comics" No. 1, the comic book that featured the first appearance of Superman.
As the title character, relative newcomer Routh impresses he's clearly trying to channel Reeve. And Spacey is obviously having fun playing a villain and is considerably more menacing than Gene Hackman was in the same role.
"Superman Returns" is rated PG-13 for some strong scenes of action violence (gunplay, a stabbing, disasters, vehicular violence, explosive mayhem and some violence against women), scattered use of profanity (mostly religion-based), some suggestive language and brief drug content (use of an asthma inhaler, as well as hypodermic needles). Running time: 154 minutes.