DC comics, the publishers of 'Superman', describe 'Elseworld' as certain dimensions or planes of reality that have existed or might have existed and others than can't, couldn't or shouldn't. Elseworld is a time or a place created during the storytelling of a superhero that takes the approach of what is referred to as Retroactive Continuity; this approach is widely used in comic books and graphic novels because each book or story arc is written by a different set of writers and artists who mould the large histories of each character in their unique vision. If that same analogy were applied to the 'Superman' movies then Richard Donner's 1978 film and its sequel were the first cinematic story arc of Superman while Bryan Singer's 'Superman Returns' is the second. In this world, the third and fourth films never existed.
The use of this innovative mechanism allows a few things to happen. It purges from the history books the errors of previous filmmakers, yet also allows Singer an opportunity to start afresh. Superman's return follows his hiatus of five years spent surveying the remains of his home planet Krypton after word got out that it had been discovered. Finding nothing he returns back to an Earth where Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has found closure during his time away and moved on with her life, balancing a Pulitzer Prize winning career as a journalist and a family with her son Jason and his father Richard (James Marsden). Returning to his former employer, the Daily Planet, under the guise of Clark Kent (Brandon Routh), Superman learns that his arch nemesis Lex Luther (Kevin Spacey, returning to top form) has also gone back to his old habits of world domination having concocted another diabolical scheme of possessing valuable land available to him in the form of a mini continent created out of crystals found from the fortress of solitude. Superman of course has to stop this, but he also needs to come to terms with all the changes that sprouted during his absence.
Singer has reverence for the character and the original film and his overall method is careful, intelligent and respectful because of it. He understands and knows that a superhero is only as appealing to us as his vulnerabilities and Superman has always had Kryptonite, but during the course of the film we discover another, an Earthly susceptibility, that is sure to linger during possible sequels. Fuel for fan speculation has been the casting of newcomer Brandon Routh in the tile role, who looks remarkably like Reeves both in and out of costume, and makes a fine, distinct Superman character all his own. The nerdy Clark is absent, replaced instead by someone more steadfast. Its not the first time Singer has triumphed by picking a relative unknown for a major role (he did the same with Hugh Jackman in his successful stint as director of the X-men movies) and it seems his instincts do him good once again. Many will be concerned with the answer to a different question though. Is this Superman any better than the first? What is forgotten however is that when the first Superman was released (way back in 1978) as movie watchers and fans, our frames of reference were different (even restrictive in some ways). We had nothing to compare one superhero film to. This situation has changed and under present circumstances (where a best of list already exists for Superhero films, both inspired by comics and originals) and 'Returns' fares admirably well against all of those. It is very clear during viewing that this film isn't just made for the present generation – it also has to contend itself with fulfilling the needs of both long time fans and those that will surely walk away as believers aided in no small amount by the use of such iconic imagery as Superman rising high into the heavens to regain his strength from the sun as well as a superb sequence featuring eye popping effects where he saves a plane from crashing into a stadium full of people.
On the downside, all the situations, including recurring themes and even the use of older dialogues, will encourage people to make comparisons with the first film even more strongly. It is an inherent weakness of Singer's technique (that of making his film more a continuation rather than a complete revision) that people will be forced to look back at everything that made the original uniquely satisfying and point out those elements as missing from this film. Running time, though not necessarily the pacing, are sure to also raise eyebrows. At a little over two and half hours, the last son of Krypton overstays his welcome but that could just be the result of the over eagerness of the filmmakers in finally bringing the superhero back to life for the big screen. Superman really is back, and one half of the word 'Superhero' is again rightfully in reference of him. - Faizan Rashid