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''Superman Returns'': The True ''Superman III''

By RD Heldenfels Published: July 2, 2006

Close viewers of the ''Rocky'' saga will note that a great deal of ''Rocky III'' goes along as if ''Rocky II'' never happened. Aside from his winning the title at the end of ''R2,'' Rocky has put aside all the problems he was facing -- from poor financial wisdom to functional illiteracy -- as ''R3'' begins. Hollywood sometimes doesn't pay attention to its own history.

I bring this up because, after taking care of some yardwork this morning, the Family Heldenfels went to a matinee of ''Superman Returns.'' Most enjoyable, but also a movie that picks and chooses from the Man of Steel's onscreen history. Even that nod to the George Reeves era (courtesy of cameos by Noel Neill and Jack Larson) is window dressing. This is a movie that remembers Christopher Reeve's first two Superman movies -- and skips over the woeful third and fourth ones.

This thing is awash in homages of ''Superman'' and ''Superman II'' including: Brando's Jor-El, the photograph of Glenn Ford on the Kent family mantel, the arc of Parkey Posey's character being so close to Valerie Perrine's and, most important, putting Clark and Lois's relationship in a place that fits nicely with where they were in ''Superman II.''

I didn't entirely mind this, either. ''Superman Returns'' was made for an audience that has not lingered much over the comic books and graphic novels, ''Lois & Clark'' and ''Smallville'' and animated series. It's more for people who haven't watched a Superman saga since ''Superman II'' in 1980. Indeed, as I watched, I thought that this was the movie I had been waiting a quarter-century for.

The only pang of pain came from the absence of Christopher Reeve; I wish he had had a chance at this script, to complete a ''Superman'' trilogy, instead of the third and fourth films he made.

Oh, Brandon Routh is fine as the new Superman. But you can see Reeve in his performance, and even hear Reeve in Routh's intonations. 

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