Superman Returns is better than Batman Returns, but not as good as Batman Begins. It's also not as good as X-Men 2, but it is better than The Fantastic Four and is about a third as good as both Superman and Superman II combined. It's not up there with Blade, but it's twice as good as Daredevil and five times as good as Catwoman. It would take all the combined good parts of Elektra, Batman and Robin, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze to equal half of Superman Returns, but Superman Returns would have to be twice as rad to equal The Incredibles or Spider-Man 2. Having said that, I'd say it was a little better than X-Men 3 and four times as good as Superman III and IV (separately.) It's no Swamp Thing, though.
I hope that clears thing up.
As a fanboy, I enjoyed Superman Returns, but as a regular moviegoer I was vaguely disappointed. I found it overly reverential to Richard Donner's Superman and Superman II, the movies that launched the modern era of superhero cinema. Superman Returns plays as a sort of sequal to those first two movies, completely blowing off Superman III and Superman IV, which were utter shite, as my British friends say. Director Bryan Singer emulates the vibe and design of the first two movies to a fault, and as a result it doesn't show us anything we haven't really seen before in Donner's films.
"Superman rescued the f$%* out of that space plane!"
-Chris Sims's nine-word review
I had some issues with the plot and general narrative drive of the movie as well. So much is going on that the film feels a little unfocused and rambling. It needed a stronger story spine and clearer sense of direction. The triumphant ending felt anticlimactic, and any impact it has is blunted by an overly long denouement - it goes out Return of the King style.
Plus, some stuff just didn't work for me, a nerd with a pretty clear idea as to what the classic Superman mythos should be. Kate Bosworth didn't convey the chutzpah and brashness I associate with Lois Lane, and being saddled with a silent five-year old boy didn't help. Don't get me started on that frickin' kid. Plus - (SPOILER! Swipe Inviso-Text at your own risk!) I had a really hard time with them killing Jimmy Olsen like they did, with a big crystal stalactite through the chest. It was just gory and unnescessary. (end SPOILER)
However, when the movie clicks it really clicks. The high point of the film for me was a fantastic sequence where Superman has to rescue a malfunctioning space shuttle and a plummeting passenger jet at roughly the same time. It's a gripping, masterfully done scene that ends on a F$%# Yeah note that was pitch perfect.
The thematic focus in Superman Returns is the idea of Superman as world savior, a sort of post-modern secular messiah. That means that nearly all of the action sequences involve Superman rescuing normal folks from impending doom or Superman lifting progressively heavier objects rather than Superman destroying things, which is what I really want. Singer goes WAY overboard on the Jesus imagery, and after a while it becomes a running joke. I'm challenging somebody out there to start the Superman Returns Christ Metaphor Drinking Game.
I hope it does well, because I feel like Singer and Co have it in them to do a really good Superman movie. I just hope the next one has a tighter focus: Superman punching shit.