Caught Superman Returns last week and I didn't know what to expect. But as soon as the retro title sequence fired up I had a good idea, and thoroughly enjoyed the remainng 2.5 hours of it.
This is old time cinema, with a blend of action, romance, and humor -- and that makes sense because the film fit perfectly in as the third movie in the trilogy that should have been, instead of the trilogy that we actually got. When they sell box sets of Superman DVDs in the future they should just include this one and drop the original 3 and 4.
One impressive thing about this is the suppression of ego required to make a sequel that both builds on, yet is continuous with the themes and stories from the original films. This requires the writers and director to admit that someone else actually did something right, that someone else had a good idea and maybe I should shape my work around that -- not at all a common thing to see anywhere, let alone Hollywood.
James Cameron did a great job of this in Aliens. He took the Ripley character and used the movie to explore her in depth. Why was she such a cold-hearted hard-ass in the first film? Because she needed to keep distance from people. But her dealings with the marines, and particularly Newt, breaks through that.
If the people who made Alien 3 and Terminator 3 understood what Cameron and Singer know, I'd own two more DVDs.
To wrap up, one more thing I appreciated about Superman Returns was how immersed it was in Superman-as-boy-scout (to use the Dark Knight's term): helping cats out of trees, telling people that flying is still the safest way to travel. In a world of Jack Bauers, where the people in charge of America are saying that torture's actually got some things going for it, where cynicism seems to rule the day, it's nice to see a film where the hero aspires to a higher ideal -- despite the fact that it makes him a goofball.
Another point I thought interesting: when Clark Kent expresses those ideals and acts that way in the film, people see him as a quaint nerd. But when Superman expresses them, they're ideals to respected. I think the subtext here is that we should respect the Clark Kents of the world a little more.