There is only one word that can describe Superman Returns: iconic.
That's what Superman is to people; an icon for all that is good. And I think that Superman Returns captures that in its purest form. I went into the movie expecting it to be great; not excellent, but okay. I came out from an awesome experience that left me nearly breathless. It was way better than I expected.
Spoilers are ahead.
The best parts of the movie were by far the parts that showed Superman's humanity. That was really the true conflict; summarized by Lois Lane's article "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman". But the world does need Superman, and as this film shows, Superman needs the world.
Both Viv and I expected Lois' fiancé, Richard, to be a jerk. We expected him to be overbearing, arrogant, over-compensating in the face of Superman's return to Lois' life...and we could not have been more wrong. When I think back to everything that happens to Richard over the course of the film, he emerges as a mature character. He knows his wife still loves Superman (even if she doesn't at first), and I think he realizes the truth about her son's father. ;) Yet he shows humanity's best side when he follows Lois back to the Krypton continent to rescue Superman. And it was quite big of him to let Lois go into the hospital to see Superman near the end of the film.
Lex Luthor? Boy that man has a complex. Throughout the movie he is obsessed with Superman--it's comic, in a way, and I think that this was a good choice because it helps contrast the ruthlessness that he displays at times. He can be a very cold character, for example when Kitty asks if billions of people will really die, or when he stabs Superman. So the comedic, almost Saturday-cartoon villain obsession he has with defeating his arch-foe helps lighten that.
Superman's "defeat" and return? Awesome. The movie would not have been the same if Superman just beat Lex Luthor easily, nor would it have been the same if Lex Luthor weakened Superman, left him for dead, and then Superman mysteriously returned. But the ending was a combination of those that had one important element: we humans. In the end, it isn't the world who needs Superman, it is Superman who needs the world. Lois saves him once, and then after he foils Luthor's plot nearly at the cost of his life, she saves him again, in a different way--you need to watch it to see it. I cried during those scenes with Superman and the hospital and...
It is definitely worth the money to go see it. Oh, and the music! The opening credits were a trip of a lifetime. Honestly, if someone had pulled me out of that theatre after just those credits, I would have been a happy man. To hear that theme pumped out through the movie theatre speakers, to feel that electric charge running through my body, that's why Superman Returns was so great. It captured lightning in a bottle.
Tomorrow I'm going to see Pirates of the Caribbean: The Dead Man's Chest with my dad (and maybe my brother). That's back-to-back movie-going. :D