I was a little surprised to find this in the top 500 as it never really received a great deal of critical acclaim upon its release and hasn’t been talked about in particularly high regard in the years since. In recent years it has all but faded from memory as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and Marvel’s cinematic juggernaut have both reshaped expectations when it comes to what superhero movies can offer. Zac Snyder’s 2013 offering Man of Steel was a clear reboot of the Superman character shaped by the sombre and ‘darker’ tone of Nolan’s work and while this isn’t the place to compare the two (personally I much preferred Snyder’s offering, but there we go) watching Superman Returns did highlight just what a sharp tonal shift this new breed of superhero movie embraces.
Superman Returns is very much a bright and shiny traditional superhero blockbuster movie and is seemingly a direct follow on of sorts from Richard Donner’s first two Superman films. There are some very deliberate links to those much loved outings, including a brief performance from beyond the grave by Marlon Brando as Supes’ father. The plot is fairly run-of-the mill however, Lex Luthor plans to commit a heinous crime, Superman flies to the rescue but is hindered by that cursed Kryptonite along the way. While it was solidly entertaining for the most part and Spacey shone as a despicable Luthor (even Brandon Routh is perfectly fine as Clark Kent/Superman), the film is just too damn long for its own good. At two and a half hours, it feels bloated and doesn’t really have the plot to warrant its runtime.
I’ve watched some of the early Marvel superhero movie efforts of late too, the likes of Daredevil and Fantastic Four, and it should be stressed that compared to those disasters, Superman Returns is a perfectly serviceable and competent blockbuster. The big set pieces are effective, with the perilous aeroplane disaster at the film’s outset looking particularly impressive. It’s only crimes for me are simply that it’s overlong and a touch on the dull side. If this top500 was compiled today, I’d strongly doubt Superman Returns would make it in.