Superman Returns! Returns from what? It took me by surprise that this installment of the Supes movie saga sort of continues from where the old Chris Reeves version left off. I thought we'd have to sit through the entire re-telling of the modern myth we all know so well already.
Instead, Supes makes his return from a 5-year sabbatical and finds that though the world is still pretty much the same as he had left it, his personal life has a few new wrinkles he has to get used to. And that's just it, isn't it? It's not so much the duty of saving the world every 5 minutes that matters, but fighting the monsters of ostracism and loneliness that plague him throughout his whole existence.
This installment isn't about him saving the world yet again -- although there is some of that against his arch-rival, Luthor -- but about his friends and family saving him when he's in trouble, and continuing to assure him that he isn't alone in the universe.
Director, Singer, keeps reminding us how "iconic" a figure Supes is in depicting him in visuals that parallel Atlas bearing the world on his shoulders, Christ at his crucifixion and resurrection, and Superman himself as he appeared holding a car over his head in his very first comic book. Yet the man is always either on a solo mission to find the remains of his home, taking refuge in his Fortress of Solitude, or hiding behind a "secret identity," both making and not making an effort to blend in with the crowd. That is a guy in conflict with himself.
Sadly, Luthor, his nemesis has no such conflict. The Luthor in "Smallville" is a much more interesting character seeing how divided his loyalties are, but in the movies he's just another loony tune with big ambitions but severely lacking in follow-through.
The version of Supes on TV's "Justice League" is my favourite of the non-print portrayals of the man-of-steel, though. This guy's a slightly edgy fascist, violent when riled with a dangerous dark side to boot. He doesn't always smile and wave at the crowd, not the boy-scout he's usually seen as.
As Lois Lane writes, "... the world doesn't need Superman," as our world seems to get along peachy without him. It's Superman who needs the world more. The wackos give him a sense of purpose, his friends and family make it worthwhile.