Superman: The Movie is the superhero movie that started it all. Just as Superman is the superhero that started it all. Without Action Comics #1, modern superhero media simply wouldn’t exist. At least not as we know it today. If there’s one part of fiction I’ve consistently loved my entire life, it’s superheroes. I cannot stress enough how big of a fan I am (just look at my avatar). Throughout the years I’ve practically become an expert of all the major superheroes. Which is why I have the utmost respect for Superman. Although DC comics were always my second favorite superhero universe, I have my parents to thank for my introduction. Specifically my mom who told us all about Superman and why we needed to see the movie when I was about 7.
First created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman is as old as 1938. The image of him holding a car over his head made the Man of Steel an instant icon. Redefining comic books and pop culture in general. Sparking film & radio serials, a TV show, and it’s own independently made lesser known feature. So the idea to make a genuine movie adaptation was daunting to say the least. Superman was nearly a campy mess, but director Richard Donner knew the character needed to be taken seriously. You know it’s serious when Marlon Brando takes part. Although A-listers as big as Steve McQueen or Dustin Hoffman could have played Superman, it’s so much better that they went with an unknown actor that looks the part and has the acting chops. Christopher Reeve is the greatest actor to ever wear the cape…
Superman recounts the famous and very well-known origin of this “Strange visitor from another planet.” It all started on his home planet Krypton. The 1978 science fiction depiction was often imitated with its heavy crystal aesthetic. Although often mispronouncing the planet’s name, Marlon Brando portrays Jor-El with complete sincerity. Jor-El is a High council scientist that foretells Krypton’s inevitable demise. No one believes him and so Jor-El and his wife Lara send their only son to Earth in a spaceship. When a red sun destroys the planet, baby Kal-El becomes the Last Son of Krypton.
On his journey, Kal-El rapidly grows into a very naked toddler. He crash lands on Earth where he’s discovered by sweet older farm couple Ma & Pa Kent. They quickly realize that this is no mere child. For their adopted son that they name Clark Kent, while under the yellow sun has “Powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.” We then see the old fashioned 50’s style upbringing of Clark Kent in his hometown of Smallville. It’s here he discovers he’s “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” Only Clark wasn’t powerful enough to save his adopted father. The hero’s journey begins with a trip to the Arctic, where all is revealed in the crystal Fortress of Solitude.
Where Christopher Reeve finally dons the iconic costume. With a bright red cape, boots, trunks, blue tights, yellow belt, and House of El symbol that leaps right off the page. It shouldn’t work, but Reeve pulls it off with his terrific honest to goodness performance. Although not dramatic by today’s standards, Reeve got into the best shape he could to play the Man of Steel. Equally important is his take on Clark as a “Mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper.” When the glasses go on, Reeve flawlessly sells his alter-ego. In Metropolis, Clark Kent/Superman makes a name for himself protecting the city and working at the Daily Planet. Where he meets his true love, reporter Lois Lane. Margot Kidder has just the right witty spunky attitude that more than captures Lois Lane. Marc McClure and Jackie Cooper also bring their respective roles to life as photographer pal Jimmy Olsen and Editor-in-chief Perry White.
Superman couldn’t really be labeled an action movie. As it’s more of a showcase for the superheroes best traits and many superpowers. Specifically strength, invulnerability, heat vision, x-ray vision, and flight. The latter of which was brought to astounding life with optical effects that truly make you believe a man can fly. Made even better with John Williams inspiring theme. The absolute greatest moment is of Superman’s heroic entrance that includes a symbol reveal, using a phone booth, and rescuing Lois. Other great moments include catching a mugger’s bullet, stopping crime on a busy night, and of course being interviewed by Lois. It’s a perfect back and forth with a beautiful romantic flying sequence. Of course this wouldn’t be Superman without his archenemy.
Gene Hackman brings impressive range to Lex Luthor. Even if he’s only bald in one scene. Luthor plans to sink California by launching missiles in opposite directions. Along with Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine as his bumbling assistant Otis and sexy accomplice Miss Tessmacher. Lex gets plenty of screen time considering Hackman’s status. The two rivals come to a head when the diseased maniac threatens him with Kryptonite. When freed, Superman stops the missle, but fails to save Lois. His pained scream always gives me chills. In a bizarre (semi-absurd) decision, Superman turns back time by flying around the Earth. Effectively saving Lois and restoring peace to his adopted home planet. Superman may be slower and less action-packed, but that’s not the point. Superman is a big blue boy scout who stands for truth, justice, and the American way. Even in a 70’s setting, Superman: The Movie perfectly delivers this message with a hero that inspires.
Followed by: Superman II