Greetings from the Odinson,
This past weekend, the Odinson took an afternoon to revisit a classic movie and one of his all-time favorite comic related films – Superman: The Movie (1978). I cannot quite put into words the effect this film has had on me over the years. It’s one of the earliest movie-going experience in my memory, and to this day every time the John Williams score kicks in, goose-bumps run up and down my arm. Williams is the composer behind such legendary films as Jaws, Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, so it should come as no surprise that the theme for Superman has become equally as legendary. Along with the first Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Superman: The Movie is not only a great comic book movie, it is darn near a perfect movie.
Right up front let me address the nearly universal single complaint about this film – Superman flies around the Earth and reverses time. That along with the new super powers that the Man of Steel displays in his Fortress of Solitude showdown with the Kryptonian villains in Superman 2 seem to be the loudest complaints I continue to hear about these films. Here’s the Odinson’s take on these jeers.
As for his unexplained new super abilities, I believe one day it will be revealed that part of Superman’s arsenal of super human abilities will be that he can do whatever he thinks he do. This was hinted at once in the Brian Azzarello/Jim Lee tale For Tomorrow when Father Leone asks the Man of Tomorrow if he can cure cancer. With a slight moment of reflection Superman replies, “I don’t know. I’ve never tried. And I won’t.” This shows that Superman is well aware of his god-like powers but has absolutely no intentions of becoming a god to the humans he has sworn to protect. His Kryptonian father, Jor-El, told him through the miracle of the Kryptonian soul crystals that it is forbidden for Kal-El to interfere with the course of human history. While his adoptive Earth father, Pa Kent, also told him that he was put here for a reason. This brings me to the infamous flying backwards around the Earth scene. I don’t take this as Superman literally reversing the rotation of the planet. I see it as a clever visual representation of the Man of Steel using his immense super speed to travel back in time to prevent the disaster before it happens. That’s how I interpret that scene.
Now onto the greatness.
Superman: The Movie can be broken down into three definitive acts. Act I is his origin. To this day, from the destruction of Krypton to Clark Kent’s formative years in Smallville, no movie, cartoon, TV show, or comic has shown this part of Superman’s life better than this film. In fact, it is this part of the film that inspired the long running television series Smallville. Act II is the introduction of Superman to the world. And, Act III is the showdown with the man who will become his greatest enemy – Lex Luthor.
The other aspect of this film that makes it an all-timer is its respect for the Mythology. Everything is here – doomed Krypton, Smallville, the Fortress of Solitude, Metropolis and the Daily Planet, Lois Lane, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and, of course, Lex Luthor. In the way Tim Burton’s Batman film captures the gothic, dark intimate feel of the comics starring the Dark Knight Detective, Superman: The Movie feels like a Superman movie. It’s big in scope, broad and epic in feel. When I go to a Superman movie I want to see Superman doing Superman things. So it should come as no surprise that my two favorite sequences in the film are the Man of Steel’s introduction to the world and the epic climax of the film when Superman prevents the west coast from falling into the sea.
When Lois Lane is dangling out of the wrecked helicopter and only moments away from plummeting a hundred stories to her certain doom, the audience sees for the first time on the Big Screen that iconic moment when Clark Kent rips open his shirt to reveal the immortal “S” and Superman explodes into action. Not only does the Man of Steel save the girl and the gathering crowd below from the falling helicopter, but over the course of the next ten minutes or so, the audience is treated to a day-in-the-life of a superhero. From catching a cat burglar to capturing bank robbers to saving Air Force One, this series of scenes beautifully illustrates the awesome spectacle of the super hero. Superman even takes a moment to get a little girl’s cat down from a tree. This montage is simply wonderful. The climax of the film is even more spectacular!
Superman unbelievably chases down a nuclear missile and prevents it from destroying Hackensack, New Jersey, but despite what How it Should Have Ended has shown us, the Man of Steel cannot be in two places at once. The second missile slams into the San Andreas Fault and California begins to fall into the sea. What happens next is, to this day, the most spectacular Superman sequence of heroics I have ever seen. First, the Man of Steel dives into the molten magma that lies below the Earth’s crust and like the immortal titan, Atlas, who held the weight of the heavens on his mighty shoulders, Superman unbelievably lifts the entire west coast back into place. Dealing with the aftershocks of the earthquake, Superman saves a busload of kids from plummeting into the San Francisco Bay. He prevents a speeding locomotive from crashing. And he takes a moment to not only save his pal Jimmy Olsen from certain death but like the legendary Hercules, Superman changes the course of a mighty river before it can flood and wipeout a small hamlet. Now that’s the kind stuff I want to see in a Superman movie.
The cast and crew for this film was top shelf. It was written by Mario Puzo, the man who wrote The Godfather. It was produced by Alexander Salkind (The Three Musketeers) and directed by the great Richard Donner (The Goonies, Lethal Weapon I-IV). From Marlon Brando (Jor-El) to Terrance Stamp (General Zod) to Glenn Ford (Pa Kent) to Jackie Cooper (Perry White), the cast is full of A-List stars of that time who all brought their A-Game. Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane is sexy, feisty, and inquisitive and always seems to be right at the center of trouble, just like her comic book counterpart. And, Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor is smart, arrogant, arch, and funny without being an over-the-top parody. In fact, the humor in the film is part of its charm, especially the chemistry between Hackman and Ned Beatty’s Otis. Try not to laugh when you hear the word “Otisburg?!”
However, the absolute heart and soul of the film is, without a doubt, the late great Christopher Reeve (Superman). Reeve’s portrayal of Superman is so picture perfect that it brings a tear to my eye. He has the utter joy and twinkle in his eye of a Curt Swan Superman and the lean, heroic modern build of a Neal Adams Superman. The way he transforms his posture and mannerism between his mild-manner Clark Kent persona and the stalwart Man of Steel are absolutely brilliant. This is a performance emulated by artist Frank Quitely in the pages of All Star Superman. And the Superman costume is bright and beautiful and unapologetically loyal to the source material, and it works, red shorts and all. Christopher Reeves will forever be Superman to me.
I love this film. Nearly forty years later it still grabs me and has an effect on me like few movies. Every time that John Williams theme kicks in and Clark Kent rips open his shirt to reveal the iconic “S,” I’m a kid again. Even if you can’t get past the whole reversing time angle, revisit this film and enjoy the magic. The special FX hold up, the acting is top notch, the origin is perfect, the humor is wonderful, and the mythology is respected. Superman: The Movie is fantastic!
Odinson Rating: 5 out of 5 Hammers and a Thunderclap.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell