It's also a nice demonstration of how expressive you can be with only half a face. Phooey on those who deride masked superhero, space alien, or other makeup-heavy performances-- they're totally effective if the actor knows what he's doing.
Conversely, there are times when less is more. I saw Superman Returns last night, and it's good. Very good. I'll have to see it again, quite possibly in IMAX 3-D, before deciding whether to upgrade it to great.
But it is completely and aggressively old school. This is a patient, thoughtful epic, not designed for the short-attention-span theatre-jumper or the adrenaline junkie. There is action, and it is breathtaking, but the point-- the purpose-- of this film is not spectacle. It was a much more personal story than I expected, which threw me for a loop initially, but it all works.
Ignore the critics. This movie is not for them. For example, Roger Ebert complains in his review that Superman Returns isn't enough fun, calling it "glum" and "lackluster." Before I say anything else, let me remind you that this is the man who gave "thumbs up" to both Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
I'm just saying.
Anyway, Ebert goes so far as to say:
Now about Lois' kid... he just stares with big, solemn eyes, like one of those self-sufficient little brats you can't get to talk. It would have been fun to [make him] a bright, sassy child, like one of the Spy Kids, and make him a part of the plot.
...totally missing the point of that character, and perhaps the point of the whole movie.
(Aside: I've noticed that Ebert has become very inconsistent in his reviews, sometimes dinging movies not on their actual merits, but because he wanted to see a different story built on the same premise, but at other times giving movies a pass because he thinks the intended audience would find them entertaining.)
Director Bryan Singer had a tough job. He had to answer the question: what is special about a Superman movie? With the character appearing in so many other fictions already-- especially comic books and television-- what story can you tell on the big screen that couldn't be as effective in any other medium?
His answer-- a good one, by the way-- was to use the minimal continuity of the Superman movies to his advantage. Unlike the comics, there isn't a sprawling, soap-opera-like history to keep track of. There aren't a hundred other superheroes and villians running around that he should interact with. It's all about getting back to basics, and Singer gets it right.
I'm now hoping for a Superman/Batman movie. Sure, it would cost half a billion dollars to make, but I guarantee it would earn back every penny. Go ahead, Warner Brothers, prove me wrong!