Superman: The Movie often gets called the Grandfather of the superhero movie and 35 years after its initial cinema release, does it still hold up? Is it still as relevant today as it was back in 1978? Well, lets delve into the Richard Donner classic.
The film begins with a beautiful narration from Marlon Brando, “This is no fantasy – no careless product of wild imagination.” This isn’t just a plot point to the trial of General Zod (setting up the sequel already), this is a nod to the audience that this isn’t a comic book, this is real. You’re really seeing a Superman movie. Let me just say off the bat that Marlon Brando is perfect as Superman’s father Jor-El. A perfect example of this is when he talks to his wife, Lara-El, played by the stunningly beautiful Susannah York, where they talk about what life will be like for their child Kal-El on Earth and you can see in his performance he doesn’t want to let go of his son but he has to because of his duty as a father. It is a beautiful scene.
As great as the scenes are on Krypton, my favourite moments are those in Smallville, the 10 minutes here between when John and Martha Kent find the little baby Kal-El, to when Jonathan Kent (Glenn Ford) dies of a heart attack. This has more emotion and back-story than 10 seasons of Smallville had. Robert Ford is a fantastic father figure for the young Clark (played by Jeff East, with his voice dubbed by Christopher Reeve). The way Jonathan naturally tells Clark that he is meant for so much more and that his time will come, and then seconds later he dies still brings a tear to my eye.
The next time we see Clark, he’s wandering to the North Pole, as he throws his green crystal (which confused me as a kid and confuses me now. Why is the green crystal green? When Kryptonite is green?) and we see with stunning (for its time) effects The Fortress of Solitude. Clark finally meets Brando’s giant head as Jor-El tells him who he really is and we enter to another transition that lasts in the film at least eight years and as it finishes we cut to a scene which, from a filmmaker’s perspective, I can’t stand! This is of Clark, fully dressed as Superman in the fortress, and is seen flying off screen towards Metropolis and the Daily Planet. I really didn’t like that small scene. To me it felt like they were jumping the gun in a big way there (I think the first time we see Superman should have been when he saves Lois in the helicopter). However, it was probably a pretty impressive scene back in the 70s.
Christopher Reeve is to me the perfect embodiment of Superman and Clark Kent. As Clark he is this bumbling fool, beginning every other sentence with, “gee Lois” or “that’s swell” constantly pushing his glasses up onto his face. But as Superman, he’s strong and confident in the way he projects his voice. I still believe to this day that he is Superman. The helicopter sequence is still a great scene. We get to see Superman properly for the first time in all of his glory, even making a reference to him traditionally getting changed in a phone booth.
The flying sequence between Lois and Superman is another great iconic sequence from the film, however another gripe I had was the “Can you read my mind” speech from Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane. It goes on and on and I just wanted to pick up my remote and skip through it.
While Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor isn’t quite the brilliant evil industrialist from the comics, he’s more of a James Bond villain, menacing and memorable. It is fantastic to watch how effortlessly Hackman can switch between calculating evil to comedic moments with Ned Beatty. Although, as much as I loved the chemistry between them, it does switch the tone of the film and it doesn’t feel like a natural transition.
The evil plot of Lex destroying the west coast with two nuclear missiles to create more beach-front real estate is something directly out of a Bond movie, something you’d expect Blofeld to come up with post You Only Live Twice. Tricking Superman into finding the Kryptonite he planted in the lead lined box was cheesy and cliché’ but works as Kal-El is thrown into Lex’s swimming pool and left to drown. The chemistry again between Hackhman and Reeve is really good and believable as you really get the feeling that they are destined to do this forever (well at least in three more movies).
Superman eventually gets out of his tricky situation and manages to save the world by destroying the two missiles, but at a cost… Lois has died in an avalanche so Supes does what is by far the most AWESOME thing in cinema history and flies around the world backwards reversing time so that he can save Lois. Now don’t get me wrong, it is stupid, impossible and a massive cop out, but it fits the theme of the movie. When daddy Kent died Clark said, “all the things I can do, all these powers, and I couldn’t even save him” This has moulded Clarks morals as Superman as the protector of Earth, yet the woman he loves has died and he can’t let this happen again. So it makes sense to the narrative, but it doesn’t stop it from being silly. Lois is alive again, Lex is thrown into jail, Superman flies into space, gives the camera a wink and a smile, and soars off into the credits.
That’s Superman: The Movie for you. In my opinion it still holds up today and I’d consider it the ultimate family movie. It has everything: action, story, romance, comedy, iconic characters played by great actors and to top it all off the greatest film score of all time.
So what do you think of Superman: The Movie? Did you believe a man could fly? Or is it very much outdated and of its time?