MOVIE REVIEW- Super 'Superman': He's baaaaaaack....

We don't need another hero, but we still need the old ones, judging from Superman Returns, which confirms the superhero status of Bryan Singer, the ex-director of the X-Men series.

We didn't need another Omen or Pink Panther, to cite a couple of recent unnecessary remakes, but the question of whether we need another Superman is addressed early on in Superman Returns. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has won a Pulitzer Prize for her article, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." It was her way of exorcising him from her life because he left without saying goodbye.

Richard White (James Marsden), the nephew of Daily Planet editor Perry White (Frank Langella), grabbed Lois on the rebound; and while she hasn't committed to more than a "prolonged engagement," they've been living together and he's been raising her son, Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu), as his own, although he probably knows as well as we do who his real father is. (Hint: "He's a little fragile, but he's going to grow up big and strong, just like his dad.")

The first few minutes lead you to wonder whether this film will find its own identity or is strictly a rehash of earlier versions. Jor-El (Marlon Brando) speaks to his son from beyond the grave as John Williams' familiar score swells and Krypton explodes with upgraded effects. When we meet Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), he's scamming a dying old woman (Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in 1940s serials and the 1950s TV series). 

Having spent five years in space searching for his roots where Krypton used to be, Clark Kent/Superman (Brandon Routh) drops in on the Kansas farm to visit his adoptive mother (Eva Marie Saint) before returning to Metropolis and getting his old job back because someone just died.

Jason, who treats the office like a daycare center, is quick to spot the resemblance when Clark stands next to a TV monitor showing Superman, but the glasses (on Clark) and spitcurl (on Superman) fool everyone else– except maybe Richard, who's smarter and more heroic than the usual guy-who's-destined-to-lose-the-girl. Too bad he's facing a Superival.

It doesn't take long for the world's need for Superman to manifest itself. Luthor engineers a blackout that threatens a new space shuttle, which has Lois along for the ride. Lex has found some Kryptonite and learned of Superman‚s vulnerability to it– well, actually he's stolen it from a museum while Superman was distracted by Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey), Luthor's assistant, or moll, or whatever.

So you have two stories going as Superman battles Lex Luthor, who's building a new continent for himself that will replace North America, and tries to tear down the emotional wall Lois has built during his five-year absence.

The special effects are amazing, if many scenes overstay their welcome to give us more time to enjoy them. You can't say you're not getting your money's worth (unless you buy popcorn and soda).

Routh, a 26-year-old unknown, fills the role and the tights admirably, although he's hardly Oscar bait. He looks enough like his predecessor that he'll probably film "The Christopher Reeve Story" (this film is dedicated to Reeve and his late widow Dana) on a break between Superman movies. Bosworth, who wasn't so impressive in Blue Crush or Beyond the Sea, captures Lois's emotional conflict well enough to make this a superhero movie women can relate to.

Spacey, whose breakthrough role was in Singer's breakthrough, The Usual Suspects, starts with relative subtlety and accelerates as he goes, until when his continent disappears you suspect it's because he ate it.

For such a big, long (154 minutes) spectacle, Superman Returns uses a surprisingly small number of actors. Kal Penn plays one of Luthor's henchmen but rarely if ever gets to say anything.

The screenplay by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris makes sure this is a continuation of the story (even though most of the characters look younger), not a remake. They work in familiar catch phrases ("It's a bird. It's a plane...," "Great Caesar's ghost!"), sometimes varying them (Superman now stands for Truth and Justice, but "the American Way" is dropped because too many international viewers aren't fond of the current American Way); and come up with clever lines of their own (Lois blushes after Perry tells her to write about Superman and she says, "I've done Superman!").

Who hasn't done Superman? But few have done him as well as Bryan Singer. Superman Returns is the best superhero movie since Spider-Man 2.