The film is so caught up in keeping the status quo, in making sure that nothing changes, in making sure that at the end of the film the characters are, with the one small step of awareness made in one relationship, in the same place that they were at the start of the film, that it has ripped all the blood out of the film. At the start of the film, you will find Lex Luthor alive, Lois Lane living with and loving Richard, Superman maintaining his ridiculous Clark Kent disguise and saving people in his spare time while being a pretty dodgy reporter... and at the end of the film, there's no difference. Plot wise, the story of Lex Luthor finding Superman's Fortress of Solitude and stealing some crystals, is resolved, though his plan for the crystals is really, really stupid, and there is one small twist. But I have to admit that, as twists go, I might have enjoyed it if it had not happened, because then it would have showed that Lois Lane had really moved on, rather than created an elaborate sham and shadow of a life that she had lived without Superman, and undermined the strong, determined female lead that she is meant to be.
Anyhow, as you can see, I'm avoiding discussing the twist. It's the only thing the film has going for it. This is important, because otherwise, what the film has going for it is Kevin Spacey in his wigs and a few cool scenes of Brandon Routh as Superman doing heroic things. There's not much more.
The set up of the film suggests there will be. Superman returns home after five years in space, crashing down on his mother's home in Kansas, before returning to his job as a journalist in clothes a few sizes too big, and glasses that are just a bit too geeky. I never much thought Christopher Reeves' portrayal of Clark Kent was anything spectacular, but he made it a little more nuanced than Routh's, though they both played an easy, laid back Superman. In many ways, Routh is just ripping on Reeves' Superman, which I tend to think is a mistake because he never actually gives the impression that he has made the character his own. However, this is a complaint of the film as a whole, simply because it is ripping on the previous films too much, and it never feels like a Bryan Singer film, but rather feels like a new bit of franchise product, written to order.
This leaves the film with the whole feeling that you've seen it all before and really, you have. The campy Lex Luthor plans. The confused fawning of Clark Kent. Jimmy in a bowtie. Perry White saying, "Great Ceasor's Ghost." The film can be accused of being designed to hit the buttons that are required within the Superman franchise, and it does these, mechanically. All the characters and motivations and events are, in many ways, designed to bring you to these moments, and thus they're flat, dull, actors speaking bland lines knowing that they're coming up to the moment when they will say their catchline and Superman will save them.
The only moments in which the film actually rises out of its blandness are when Superman rescues someone. The best is the first one, where he stops a plane from plummeting into a baseball field, and everyone sees that, hey, Superman has returned. I have to admit that was pretty cool, though not worth the fifteen fifty I paid to see it. Then there's the stopping of a bank robbery. And the rescues during Lex Luthor's really stupid plan. (Seriously, who let this plan get to the script? It's the dumbest thing.) But considering that Superman Returns is just over two hours fifteen minutes, it becomes a kind of slog about half way through, and you're hanging out for someone, anyone, to do something interesting.
Personally, I could have gone for a bit more of Eva Marie Saint, who played Martha Kent. Or a bit more Marlon Brando. Or maybe I should just watch On the Waterfront.