A young boy is sent away from the planet Krypton before it’s destruction. He lands on Earth and is raised by a farm couple named the Kents to be an all American boy. Upon learning the lessons of life, he realizes his special abilities make him different. When his father passes away from a heart attack, Clark has a discovery that he must use his special talents to help pass on the values of his father. He journeys north and dawns the suit that will come to represent Earth’s greatest savior….
So, let me start this review by saying that I’m a Batman fan first and foremost. And I’ve always been a Batman fan, even before the success of “The Dark Knight.” Now that being said, it is my belief, that Superman holds the potential for the having the title of “The Greatest Superhero Movie Ever Made.” Keyword in that sentence? “Potential.”Let me start by addressing…
The Story: The script moves very slow, steadily building towards Clark becoming Superman. It’s quite obvious that some of the roles from the comic book mythology are beefed up to support the actors playing the roles, such as Marlon Brando playing Jor-El, Superman’s biological father. A better part of the first act is based on planet Krypton before it’s destruction. This is, by far, the most interesting part of the movie simply because the “good parts” are not skimped over or rushed. The pacing is on beat and the story moves through character development. Once the film moves to Earth and we fast forward to Clark’s teen years, many important “Superman-necessary” elements are glimpsed over vaguely in exchange for the stereotypical “you’re alone” themes. The most disappointing scene is when Clark finally creates the Fortress of Solitude and dawns the suit for the first time. It has such great potential to be a goose bump raising moment and it passes over it. The script then because very repetitive and falls into a lull of random disasters that Superman must stop, including a half baked scheme to sink ½ of California by Lex Luthor.
Now that’s the plot. As far as characterization goes, Superman, Lois Lane, The Kents, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White are spot on. The relationship between Superman and the other characters hit spot on. Sometimes the film takes liberties with the subject matter to expose some exposition, such as the flying around of Superman and Lois and her “Can you read my mind?” monologue. These sequences are somewhat dated with the style of the 70’s, but can easily be enjoyed today once you look at it in perspective.
The only character that, sadly, is astray from his original comic book mythos, is Lex Luthor. Now many philosophers have said, “A hero is only as good as his villain.” This script demonstrates a maddening effect on the audience as Superman is easily built up to be a great hero, and Lex Luthor comes off like a second rate villain. His schemes and rationality are far fetched and “kiddy.” Never once during the film do you feel as though he is a threat against Superman, even when he busts out the kryptonite. It’s because of this that the film fails to hit it’s potential of the greatest Superhero film ever. And once Lex is introduced, the film falls into a campy mess that it can’t escape from, even if you spun the world backwards….
Acting: My God the great acting that takes place in this film. Christopher Reeve may not have top billing, but he steals the show. His performance as Clark Kent/Superman has become the pinnacle of standards that every super hero has to live up to – in film, comics or any other form. Margot Kidder is feisty as Lois Lane and believable as a hard nosed reporter who won’t go away. Marc McClure is great fun as Jimmy Olsen is great at being a bigger nerd than Reeve’s Clark Kent. Gene Hackman is a great actor, and while I don’t particularly agree with his characterization of Lex Luthor, he upholds the acting level to the height it needs to be and still makes for some enjoyable moments. The supporting cast, while smaller roles, contribute greatly to the film. Everyone from the Kents, to the reporters in the office, or the two-bit thugs that Superman has to overcome, everybody is colorful and memorable.
Directing: Richard Donner has done the best job with Superman so far. As director, he finds himself responsible for the whole film and it’s said to know that it was taken out of his hands by the film studio and reworked in a different way. I prefer to believe that the first half of the movie was directed Donner and the studio took over as it starts to fall apart.
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth does a fantastic job capturing Superman and the world around him. The camera work never bothers the viewer and some great affects are created with it. The film, at that point in technology’s time, lived up to it’s tagline: You will believe a man can fly.
Production Design: John Barry is a great production designer and comic book films must be a dream to work on. The creative freedom one can have to create new worlds or to shape the ones we live in to reflect what we imagine in our head. Everything from planet Krypton to the all-American Kent farm, everything is imaginative and well designed.
Editing: The film is pieced together well, if a bit slow at times.
Score: Ok. Now while the film doesn’t grab that title of Best Superhero Movie Ever, John Williams is a man you do not mess with. Rivaled only by Danny Elfman’s Batman theme, John Williams creates the greatest Superhero theme of all time. The music is so uplifting and by the first couple of notes, if the hair on the back of your neck isn’t standing up and there’s not a smile on your face, then check your pulse. You might be dead if you’re not excited.
Special Effects: As mentioned in the cinematography section, at the time these effects were top of the line. The team did a great job in making the audience believe a man could fly. To some extent, the effects still hold up today, implying old school techniques such as stop-motion, flying harnesses and special lenses that, in this reviewers opinion, blow CGI out of the water any day.
In closing: Superman: The movie is one of the greatest Superhero movies of our time. While it doesn’t live up to it’s vast potential, it gets 90% of it’s characters right and when dealing with a subject matter like this, that’s what’s important. That’s why comics have so many issues and so many characters become franchises. The characters keep people coming back for more. When the film allows itself to be the great characters that it’s trying to adapt, the story comes through and shines brightly. Even with all it’s character flaws and spotty 1970’s crazy science theories, the film still stands out as a great step forward in bringing some of the world’s most imaginative characters to life and wanting us to come back for more. I’ll hold my breath for the day Superman gets the villain he deserves. When the day comes where that finally happens, movies like The Dark Knight, Spider-man 2 and Iron man will pale in comparison.