(2006)3.5Jeremy WheelerDoes the world really need a Superman? Bryan Singer tackles this intriguing question with grand and sincere strokes in Superman Returns, a mega-budget kick-start to a dormant franchise that represented some of the best and worst that big-screen superhero films have had to offer. Here, the director whole-heartedly tries to honor Richard Donner's original vision of the DC Comics hero while lending new emotional complexity to the world of this adopted alien savior. The result is an ambitious picture full of fervent emotion and nobility, yet missing the charming spark and energy that its predecessors had in spades. Of the things that work is the surprisingly wonderful new Man of Steel, Brandon Routh, who embodies the role in an uncanny performance that adds the right amount of depth for the direction that Singer and his young writing team laid out for the picture. As his nemesis Lex Luthor, Kevin Spacey has a ball delivering his own dry take on Gene Hackman's humorous antics that turns exceedingly more and more evil as the film progresses. Most notable is the supporting cast, starting with Sam Huntington, whose Jimmy Olsen nearly steals every scene he pops up in, as well as James Marsden as a human hero of high proportions who easily dwarfs all of his work in the X-Men series. Special mention goes out to Parker Posey, who would have made an incredible Lois Lane herself, which leads to the one contentious casting issue -- Kate Bosworth. Her fresh-faced 23-year-old visage would be more troubling if not for her lackluster portrayal that's filled not with spunk, but a cold frigidness that prevents her from having fun with the role, never mind embodying a nurturing, motherly model for her cute little five-year old tyke (who ends up being a pushover despite his questionable inclusion). If anything, it's the story that dictates much of the character's detriments. By playing up the scorned romance and alienation, the filmmakers lose the sense of whimsy inherent in their beloved film series. Plus, no matter how thrilling the action or sumptuous the look of the picture, Superman Returns falls dead flat in its finale and epilogue, giving added weight to the undue two-and-a-half-hour running time. Add in the Christ-like imagery plus the heavy, late dramatics and viewers are stuck with a false artificiality that uses John Williams' returning rousing score to accentuate what is essentially a downbeat ending for a superhero picture. The world does indeed need a Superman, as Singer has proven -- now it's time to let him soar and do what he does best.