Those glasses really do matter.
After his mother and father (Marlon Brando and Susannah York) are killed along with everyone else on his home planet of Krypton, Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) lands on a farm in the middle of Kansas, owned by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter). While he’s on Earth, he finds out who he really is, what his powers are, what he’s supposed to do with them, and what could be made of them. However, those are just ideas and questions juggling around in his head, as he, nor anybody else that knows of his secret powers are quick to give the answers to any of them. So, in spite of the life-saving abilities he has as something that’s not from planet Earth, he decides to join the Daily Planet, a newspaper in the heart of metropolis, where Clark meets the wonderful, but vivacious and ambitious writer Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Though Lois doesn’t really care much for Clark as anything other than a friend, he makes it his life’s mission to save her from harm, any chance the opportunity shows itself. That’s why, when evil mad scientist Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) begins to wreak havoc all over Metropolis, Clark can’t help but rip his shirt off, put those glasses elsewhere, and fly in the sky like, well, Superman.
There’s something so inherently goofy and charming about Superman, that even though it’s incredibly corny and silly, it’s still hard to despise. For one, director Richard Donner knows exactly what kind of material he’s working with and doesn’t make a single apology for it; good guys fly around in capes, bad guys wear ugly wigs, aliens roam the world without any of us knowing, etc. Superman never has, nor ever will be, material that we’re all supposed to take super, duper seriously, which is why Donner gives this a lovely taste of kitschy fun, as well as heartfelt adoration for Superman himself, what he represents, and just why exactly he still stands as a symbol for everything right and good with the world.
And even though it’s been nearly 40 years since it’s release, Superman is still a solid movie, even stacked-up against some of the great, nearly amazing superhero movies we have today.
Then again, it’s very hard to compare the two. 1978 was a very different time for cinema where there seemed to be a shared party between those who enjoyed both popcorn movies, as well as more artsy-fare, whereas nowadays, the line between the two has been clearly struck. Sure, there’s definitely big-time, mainstream blockbusters out there that can also be seen as a “serious films”, but there’s still an obvious difference.
With Superman, it’s clearly not trying to bring out the tears, nor is it trying to change anybody’s life – what it’s simply trying to do is re-tell the story of Superman, to the general mass public again and remind us that superheros such as this, can exist. Okay, maybe not actually exist in real life, but you get my drift. What Donner is aiming at here with Superman is that he is an icon for everything right, powerful and brave about the world we live in and we should be so lucky to have him around, constantly caring for us, saving us from near-death, and grabbing kitties out of trees. He’s the perfect man, if anything, but mostly, he’s the perfect superhero, which is why the casting of the late, great Christopher Reeve, was so pitch perfect from the ground-up, that it’s been nearly impossible to think of somebody else to take his place.
Sure, guys like Henry Cavill and Brandon Routh look an awful lot like Reeve, but it’s less about the good looks that made Reeve such a great Superman; there was this certain balance between earnestness and bravery, without ever seeming naive, that Reeve handled so well. He could, on one hand, be the most charming man alive, while on the other hand, he could also be the one guy you’d trust to kick the hell out of some evil-doer because they stole your purse. Even when Reeve puts on the glasses and becomes Clark Kent, there’s still a certain amount of charm to the way in how he heightens all of his character’s nerdy aspects and traits.
You could definitely say it’s still a tad ridiculous that all he has to do is put on a simple pair of bifocals to blend in with the rest of society, but hey, if the movie whole fully believes it, then guess what?
So do I!
And everybody else in the cast is pretty great, too. Marlon Brando shows up for at least 15 minutes in the beginning and definitely leaves a mark as Superman’s daddy; Margot Kidder seems definitely a lot stronger and smarter than your average damsel-in-distress that we tend to get in these sorts of movies; Jackie Cooper is absolutely hilarious as Perry White and just about steals every scene with every line he drops; and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, well, let me just say that I’ve got a lot to say about him.
If anything, I feel like the movie sort of drops the ball on him. Hackman is definitely more than willing to play along with this character’s sometimes weirder eccentricities, but after awhile, it makes us forget that he’s actually supposed to be an evil, mean, scary and despicable villain. Sure, we see and hear him do bad things, but none of them ever feel or appear to be actual threats; you could chalk a lot of this up to the fact that, with Superman looming in the background, we already get the sense that Luthor won’t achieve his dastardly plan of, uh, destroying the Earth for some reason, but still, with any movie, superhero or not, there should always be that sheer feeling of having no clue what the hell is going to happen next, or who is going to come out on top and save the day. We know that it’s going to be Superman no matter what, but hey, sometimes it’s fun to keep the audience guessing and give your superhero and equally-skilled and matched-up villain.
Consensus: Many years later, Superman still remains a great piece of superhero fiction, that not only balances the heart and humor of the original stories, but gives us an icon with the wonderfully talented Christopher Reeve.
8 / 10