Film Like all good legends, Superman exists as a collective memory. Since his creation in the thirties, and despite being under copyright of DC Comics, hundreds of writers and artists, directors and actors have interpreted the role and the elements of his story in different ways, yet still maintain the iconography. Smallville. Metropolis. The Daily Planet. Lex Luther. Lois Lane. Of course the mix changes and is adapted -- in the Fleisher cartoon, Superman was brought up in an orphanage; the Lois and Clark television series emphasised the romance and domesticity; there have been Communist and British Supermen, children and even dogs. And then there are the films.

Cleverly, Bryan Singer director of Superman Returns respects this collected knowledge, assumes his audience knows the story and continues from there. But this is not jusst the continuation to the Richard Donner films that some have claimed. It's another interpretation of the legend, the sequel to a film that can exist in our imaginations. Some of the story and characterisations follow on from what was presented in those earlier films, some does not. Even with John Ottman's lovable restringing of John Williams' score it doesn't feel similar. It's a peak into Singer's memory of everything Superman, everything he wants the man of steel to be and that's just right.

So Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane is not the screwball, backchatting, overconfident, overbiting reporter we've seen before. She has a family too with James Marsden giving his best every performance. She's tempered, somewhere between Margot Kidder and Teri Hatcher, funny without being smug, with a snatch of realism that some actresses have missed in their charge to make Lois larger than life. Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor is larger than life, but not the superhuman figure he's appeared elsewhere -- essentially a gangland boss with aspirations of grandeur, a hateful figure who talks a good game but still needs fellow hoodlums to do the really dirty work.

Despite pretentions to the modern world with computers and fax machines and mobile phones, The Daily Planet is publishes from a marble masterpiece that recalls old Hollywood newspaper films rather than the modernist new Hollywood nightmare of the 70s. Metropolis is essentially New York, but it always was, a post-modern mix of old and new with buildings that almost look like recognisable landmarks. Smallville retains its Norman Rockwell stylings, the only element that really copies the Donner films which is as it should be since just as Clark returns to his childhood home, some of us old enough to remember will be hit with waves of nostalgia from when we saw that landscape for the first time when we were young.

But what of Brandon Routh, stepping into the cape and tights. He's been unfairly described as imitating Christopher Reeves since but his presence is entirely different. Reeves was a physical actor, in action and comedy, but there was always something all too human about him, especially as he strained to catch a falling human. There's a placidity to Routh -- as he heads into action there a matter-of-factness, not so much been there - done that, as this is the job I have to do. Watch his deep blue eyes though there's a godliness there, repressed beneath. Even as Clark Kent he has a presence, he simply doesn't fit, as the world passes on around him. That's why he's living out of suitcases and doesn't have a desk as the newspaper, if he had those he'd be settled and he can't. Clark is the mask that he wears to pass within humanity not the other way around.

The movie is two and half hours long because it takes its time to show us this world and the man who flies through it. In places the photography is almost painterly recalling the work of Alex Ross whose art in the comic books Marvels and Kingdom Come brought a unheard of visual realism to the world of superheroes. But so-called high art too is an influence with frames that look like they were storyboarded by Salvador Dali and Peter Blake. The film is not afraid of providing biblical imagery reminding us that this is a god amongst men. But there's also an definite realism to the moments when Superman flies through the city and people simply stand and watch. He's returned but he's not quiet bedded in yet, so people are still surprised to see a man that can fly. I wonder if in the next film he'll be dashing around a Metropolis that is used to his presence and simply carries on with their daily lives.

What makes this a great film, is that Singer understands that stories need room to breath, and the story being told is as iconic as everything else. It's as simple as Luthor has a plot to take over the world, Superman trips over before finally stopping him. There isn't much more here than you would find in a twenty-two page comic book. The execution is almost picaresque reduced to its simplest plot elements without the usual faff, recalling Terence Malik's Days of Heaven. It's actually a bit disconcerting to be suddenly thrown back into a product that favours visuals and thematic concerns over dialogue, with the words that are here being the absolute minimum required and yet still poetry. Superman's final lines are perfectly biblical and yet are just right within context and set-up the events of a possible sequel perfectly. And if that film isn't made then they're beautifully adding texture to the mythology and the legend.

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