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Time Warner hopes to reinstate Superman

Los Angeles (Reuters): Look! Up in the sky. It's a bird! It's a plane! Or, is it another big-budget Hollywood movie that's all flash made only for cash? Maybe not. Maybe this Superman is different. After a nearly 20-year absence, Warner Bros, on Wednesday ushers in the latest incarnation of the comic book hero on US movie screens in Superman Returns, with plans to fly it around the world in coming weeks. The movie was made on a megabudget of more than 200 million dollars, features top-notch special effects and can be seen on gigantic Imax theatres in 3-D.

It fields a strong cast, including Oscar winner Kevin Spacey as villainous Lex Luthor, independent movie darling Parker Posey as Luthor's girlfriend, Kitty Kowalski, and Hollywood hottie Kate Bosworth as Superman's love interest, Lois Lane. Then, there is the Man of Steel himself, Brandon Routh, so important he has three names: Superman; Kal El, his given name on planet Krypton; and Clark Kent, his Earth-bound pseudonym. All that bigness, however, comes with risk. Routh is unknown to movie fans, and Superman Returns follows 1987's last title Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which flopped at box offices. Fortunately for Warner Bros., few people remember it.

Then, there was a flurry of Internet and media buzz about the high-flying American hero in the red cape and blue tights being gay. But unlike so many big-budget, comic-book, special-effects extravaganzas Hollywood pumps out, this Superman has a secret ingredient to probable success. ''If you're going to do a movie of this scope, please let us have a good script,'' actress Posey told a group of reporters recently, putting special emphasis on the ''please.''

To get audiences' emotions pumping, director Bryan Singer and writers Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty put some heart under that big ''S'' emblazoned on Superman's chest. The movie ignores the most recent two Superman flicks, Quest for Peace, and 1983's Superman III. Instead, it picks up where hit film Superman II left off. Krypton has been destroyed. Superman spent five years travelling there and back so he could see for himself. When he returns to Earth, Lois has written a scathing essay, ''Why the World Doesn't Need Superman,'' that wins her a Pulitzer Prize. Worse yet, she has fallen in love with another man and is raising a child. Superman is hurt.

''He can save the world, but he doesn't know how to deal with his heart,'' said Bosworth. There is no time for the hero to heal his wounds of love because Luthor is out of jail and plotting to flood the entire Eastern US seaboard. Back at Metropolis' Daily Planet newspaper, Clark Kent and Lois Lane are hot on Superman's trail. Where does it all lead? Can Lois and Superman rekindle flames of passion? Will love conquer all? Inquiring minds can read all about it in the Daily Planet.

Here in the real world, movie critics for the most part have fallen for Superman Returns. Kirk Honeycutt of showbiz newspaper The Hollywood Reporter said it was ''a heartfelt Superman movie that played to a broad audience thanks to an emotionally troubled Man of Steel.'' What about all that gay Superman chatter? ''He is probably the most heterosexual character in any movie I've ever made,'' director Singer told a group of reporters recently. If fans take to the movie, the Time Warner Inc.-owned studio should be able to remove the kryptonite from their film franchise that long ago had all but died.

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