Was he ever really gone? Sure, the film franchise has been inactive for almost 20 years, but the Man of Steel has been going strong in comic books uninterruptedly since 1938 and he’s starred in many animated series and live action TV shows, notably the ongoing Smallville. In any case, the big guy is back on the big screen and he’s as great as he’s ever been… maybe too great.

You see, personally, I don’t like Superman that much. He’s certainly an iconic figure and there’s undoubtedly a thrill to seeing him fly faster than a speeding bullet in his blue and red tights to the sounds of the classic John Williams theme. But the guy is so powerful that there’s just not that much suspense or drama to his extraordinary accomplishments. Whereas Spider-Man and Batman have profoundly human failings and troubles that fascinatingly contrast with their super heroics, Superman is an alien god who only pretends to be human. That whole Clark Kent thing is kinda dull, really – the only way it’s sorta interesting is in how it set ups the romantic triangle between his two identities and Lois Lane. That said, “Superman Returns” is pretty damn cool within these perceived constraints.

So, from where does Superman (Brandon Routh) return? The ruins of Krypton, towards which Kal-El took a five-year journey, without even saying goodbye to his beloved Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth). Once he’s back in Metropolis, he discovers that she has moved on, hooking up with her boss’ nephew (James Marsden) and giving birth to a son. He barely has time to stomach the news that he’s back in action, safely landing out of control planes, getting machine-gunned at, catching people falling from buildings and, as always, engaging the wrath of Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey).

Aww, Lex Luthor. As boring as Superman can be, his arch-nemesis is utterly enjoyable, especially in this incarnation. When we catch up with him, he’s been schtupping a rich little old lady, Max Bialystock-style, in order to finance an expedition to the Great North. Luthor has somehow found out where Superman’s Fortress of Solitude is located, and he intends to use its high-tech crystals to sink the United States and grow a new continent to rule over. But that’s just the straight stuff. What’s so awesome about Lex is the weird little touches like his collection of wigs, that scene where he’s walking around in a bathrobe with a toothbrush in his mouth, his Pacinoesque dramatic shouts (“WRONG!”), the way he says “krrryyyyptonite”… I can’t do it justice, you have to see it. Also hilarious is Parker Posey as daffy Luthor accomplice Kitty Kowalski.

Bryan Singer has delivered a picture as well crafted, thoughtful and entertaining as his X-Men flicks, even though the characters aren’t as fascinating. There are three or four kick-ass set pieces, the sentimental storyline mostly works (though the way Superman uses his super-hearing and his X-ray vision to spy on Lois and her boyfriend is rather creepy – “I’m always around”? Super Stalker!) and there’s a surprisingly hefty but welcomed amount of humor. “Superman Returns” is hardly the best super-hero movie ever made, but it might be the best Superman movie yet. In the words of Sufjan Stevens: The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts!