Superman Returns

Superman Returns breakdown

Mysteriously gone for five years, Superman returns to Metropolis to find Lois has a son with another man and Lex Luthor has another catastrophic real estate scheme.

Many years ago, I did a commentary for this movie.

I’m breaking down movies by their three-act structure. What is three-act structure? I explain it here.

Note: I break the story down into five-minute blocks to make it easier to see the length of each section. Rough time codes follow.


Legend: Superman disappeared for five years (suggesting this is the late 1980s, after Superman 2, but it’s not clear, which causes problems with Lois’s character later, since in Superman 2, she slept with Superman but he wiped her memory at the end). 5

Act 1

A dying woman wills her fortune to Lex Luthor. Superman falls to earth on the Kent farm. 10

Lex finds the Fortress of Solitude and learns the secrets of Krypton (introducing the conflict, sort of, with the villain). 15

In the morning, Clark reminisces about his childhood. 20

Clark and Martha talk. Clark returns to Daily Planet. Lois has a son with a pilot named Richard. 25

Jimmy says Lois might still love Superman (introducing a sub-plot conflict, which make the circumstance of Lois’ long relationship with Richard its villain, not Richard himself). Lex tests Kryptonian tech and causes an EMP. 30

Lex’s EMP endangers Lois’s flight. Clark sees it on the news. 35

Act 2

Superman rushes to aid Lois (even tho he has no conflict with Lex; he’s just being Superman and it happens to be in response to an incidental side effect of Lex’s plan). 40

Superman and Lois meet again. Perry declares Superman the big story. 45

Clark meets Lois and Jason, her young son by? with? Richard White (it’s not spelled out; it’s Superweird). Lex prepares for an expedition. 50

Superman spies on Lois’s home life (which is Supercreepy) then stops bank robbers. 55

Lex steals some Kryptonite. 60

The Daily Planet team discusses the news. 65

Kitty rants at Lex. Lois and Clark work late. 70

Lois and Superman talk. He takes her for a flight (which is Superawkward). 75

Midpoint Crisis

Lois says she’s with Richard now. Superman discovers his crystals have been stolen. (The crisis for the plot and the crisis for the sub-plot.) 80

Lois goes to Lex’s mansion and takes Jason onto his yacht (which is Superdumb), and she and Jason get kidnapped. 85

Lex reveals his plan and puts it into action (introducing a ticking clock, altho only Lois knows it). Clark and Richard search for Lois. 90

Lois faxes her coordinates but is caught and locked up after Jason protects her by killing a guy (which is Superdark), revealing he is Superman’s son (which Lois apparently knew, but how much Jason and Richard know remains a mystery). 95

Richard and Clark get Lois’s fax. Separately, they rush to save her and Jason (still unaware of Lex’s plan). 100

An earthquake rocks Metropolis as the new continent rises (all is lost! except Superman still has no idea what’s going on). Superman returns to save people in Metropolis (which is a turn, but kind of a turn in the wrong direction). 105

Act 3, but is it?

Flying the Daily Planet seaplane, Richard almost rescues Lois and Jason. Superman rescues them all. 110

Richard flies the seaplane. Superman confronts Lex but the Kryptonite makes him powerless. 115

Lex beats Superman and throws him into into the sea. Lois and Richard rescue him. 120

Richard just manages to take off in the choppy seas. Superman recovers. He flies to space to recharge from the sun. 125

Lex flees as Superman flies the landmass into space (resolving the central conflict he just learned about; Kitty has heroically dumped the crystals Lex stole), but it makes him powerless again. 130

Superman falls to earth and is hospitalized. A shard of Kryptonite is surgically removed. 135

Lois visits the unconscious(?) Clark and confesses Jason is his (which only vaguely resolves the sub-plot’s conflict, since the real conflict is that Superman and Lois still love each other and have a child together but Lois is in a long-term, loving relationship with Richard). Lex and Kitty are stranded on an island without helicopter fuel. 140


Later, Superman visits Jason and assures Lois he is “always around” (which is, again, Supercreepy as well as demonstrably untrue). 145

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