"Superman Returns" is so bad I can't even be bothered to write a clever caption here. © 2006 Warner Bros.

Superman Returns

(Reviewed June 12, 2006, by James Dawson)

This unnecessary, pointless and unexpectedly dull exercise in cinematic redundancy is a great Rorschach test that moviegoers can use to gauge whether a given critic is a trustworthy beacon of integrity or a useless quote-whore hack.

An honest critic who fairly evaluates what's on the screen will tell you that this movie gets just about everything wrong. Parts that are recreated from earlier Superman movies were done better the first time around. Brandon Routh (as Superman/Clark Kent) and Kate Bosworth (as Lois Lane) are pretty enough to be Sears catalog models, but they also happen to be charisma- and chemistry-free.

Routh mimics Christopher Reeve's portrayal of a naive and guileless Supes, but is less convincing than Reeve in both the bumbling alter-ego and the bulky superhero departments. Bosworth displays none of the starry-eyed soft center that made Kidder's otherwise all-business Lois Lane so endearing.

Kevin Spacey mostly tries to replicate Gene Hackman's comic portrayal of villain Lex Luthor, but veers too wildly between cartoonish camp and an unpleasant new element of brutally realistic sadism.

Finally, the movie's big surprise ending (don't worry, I won't spoil it, even though I'm sure others will) is so shockingly stupid, inappropriate and just plain wrong that it should kill anyone's desire to see a sequel reflecting Superman's new character-altering circumstances.

A dishonest reviewer, on the other hand, will find it impossible to fault anything directed by critics'-darling Bryan Singer, whose work here is so unimaginative and often boring that the movie's nearly two-and-a-half hour running time feels more like a long weekend. "The Usual Suspects" director Singer left the "X-Men" franchise to do this movie. That led a lot of intellectually insecure fools to say that the third X-Men flick, which ended up being directed by Brett Ratner, was not up to Singer's standards. They couldn't admit that the zero-cachet Ratner actually made what was the best of those three movies, because this inconvenient fact didn't jibe with their preconceived critical worldview.

Similarly, you can bet that a bunch of Singer sycophants will fall all over themselves to praise "Superman Returns," just because of the B.S. credit at the beginning. 'Twas ever thus.

Aside from the aforementioned big surprise, the thing I disliked most about "Superman Returns" was what has become a staple in comic-bookish movies: the "beat the living shit out of the superhero" scene. No exaggeration, the last-act beatdown segment of "Superman Returns" is so unpleasant, graphic and disturbing that it will make parents feel as if they have accompanied their impressionable little tykes to a snuff film.

Yes, I know that General Zod and company didn't exactly treat Our Hero with kid gloves in "Superman II." But there's a difference between tossing a bus at a guy and shoving a foot-long kryptonite dagger in the vicinity of his liver and then kicking him face-first into a puddle. Sometimes, less is actually more.

One last thing: There's a moment in this movie that sums up how thoroughly whatever was left of the real-world America's honor has been destroyed by War-Criminal-in-Chief George W. Bush and his gang of hateful psychopathic thugs. Daily Planet editor Perry White (Frank Langella), upon learning that Superman has returned to Earth from a five-year journey in space, tells a reporter to find out if Superman still stands for "truth, justice, all that stuff." In the 1950s George Reeves TV series, "truth, justice and the American way" were the things Superman was said to represent.

These days, the phrase "the American way" apparently would have too many negative associations for international audiences, who would not want to believe that Superman stood for illegal wars, torture in violation of the Geneva Conventions, renditions of kidnapped suspects to foreign prisons, suspension of habeas corpus for political detainees, coddling oppressive and dictatorial governments, and basic all-around arrogant stupidity on the world stage.

Truth and justice? Only in the movies, folks.

Back Row Reviews Grade: D