Here's what I think. Briefly.
Superman Returns had some cool stuff to look at. The glaring exception was the principle brackish set-piece island somewhere east of Long Island. It seems to me that originating as it did in a couple of lovely diamond and emerald crystals, it should have been prettier. But even though it certainly can be read as a metaphor for the kind of things that evil brings forth, the set piece was boring to look at for the last third of the movie. But still, all the sequences with Superman using his powers were cool to watch. Like so much of the best part of the summer movies - spectacle is the big studios doing what they do best. Brandon Routh was also lovely to look at. As a set piece.
Unfortunately, he can't act. He reduced Clark Kent to basically a device with which to gaze unseen at Lois Lane. Oh dear, Lois. In this film Lois Lane is completely devoid of charisma. Just a babe with a nicodine addiction and a baby, basically. A diverting question of the film for me was why Superman who, after all can fly, etc., would be so enthralled by this particular lack-lustre Lois. It's like Wolfgang Puck wanting to feast on Cheerios. Of course, the script didn't give the actors much to play, but still.
Cutting to the chase... from a Christian standpoint, the movie fails on two levels. The lesser problem - but certainly the more amusing one - was the laboring the film did to set up as a Christ-figure a fellow whose choices establish him as a basically angst-ridden small town guy who is obsessed with a girl, knocks her up and then becomes a deadbeat dad. I'm thinking that these things - lusting, loving and leaving are really "the American Way" for contemporary global audiences. I'm glad the script here didn't have the courage to call it that though. Here, after "Truth" (what is that anyway?) and "Justice" (like skipping out on your kid and on the court date that would keep a super-criminal behind bars?) , the third part of Superman's vocation is murmured out as "all that other stuff." Rich. Perfect. Anyway, the problem is the biggie for this culture: separating the personal misdeeds from the public heroism as though they are unrelated. Remember the Clinton-Monica mantra that it is possible to be a great good leader and a private cad all at the same time?
Secondly, and more devastating to the picture as a work of art, the triumphant climax of the good in the film never emotionally overcame the shockingly brutal evil in it. It's what I call The Horse Whisperer Problem. That movie opened with a horrific and shocking accident. And then, the ultimate victory in the film was only gentle and subtle. Maybe that is more like real life. Certainly it is. But stories are supposed to be better than real life. In the same way, Superman Returns never felt as good at the end as the middle felt horrible. The stabbing with a piece of sharp Kryptonite was just too much. It wasn't the stuff of a comic book movie. It was the stuff of Reservoir Dogs.
Some of you will recall I felt this way a little in X3. I wanted more fun in my summer comic book movies. Way too much angst and brooding and brutality for the genre. Certainly not suitable for my seven year old nephew for whom the original Superan was certainly not toxic.
I think the problem is that comic book movies are supposed to be for kids. But people aren't growing up the way they are supposed to be. We are staying adolescents way into our sixties by all evidence. So, we are dragging the things of childhood into places where they don't really belong, and then having to make them meatier, which kind of perverts them.
I liked a lot of Superman Returns and give it a thumbs-up for the non-squeamish young adult and adult audience. It isn't for kids. Because basically, I'm not sure it is Superman who returned here.