Bryan Singer got hooked on Superman as a kid not by reading comic books, but by watching the campy black-and-white TV show with a pudgy George Reeves as the Man of Steel.

Singer, 40, says he wasn't so much attracted to the not-so-special effects as he was to the show's earnestness and the main character's honesty and integrity. As director of the highly anticipated Superman Returns, which opens Tuesday, Singer tried to bring those traits—and more—to his new film about his all-time favorite superhero.

Singer was so hungry to helm this project that he abandoned the successful X-Men franchise after directing that trilogy's first two films. He was on board to direct the third film, The Last Stand, but bolted when this super opportunity arose. In Superman Returns, the protagonist, who has disappeared without a trace for years, returns to Metropolis to find that the city has moved on without him—including Lois Lane, the love of his life, who now has a fiancé and a child. And Lex Luthor is still around, stirring up big trouble.

Though he calls himself a "secular Jew," Singer is keenly aware and appreciative of the Superman-as-Christ-figure mythology that has grown with the character through the decades. And though he didn't necessarily intend to make a "messianic movie," he hasn't shied away from such imagery either, especially in his choice to "resurrect" Marlon Brando's character—Jor-El, father to Kal-El/Superman—from the 1978 classic, starring Christopher Reeve in the title role.

Most tellingly, Singer chose to retain one key line of dialogue from that '78 film, the line where Jor-El tells his son, "Even though you've been raised as a human being, you're not one of them. They can be a great people, ...

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