Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie is one of the first major superhero movies to be a major success. The movie was released at a time where they hardly ever came out and if there were any superhero movies, they mostly sucked. Well, this 1978 feature began to change how these type of movies would be made, but it would be many years yet before a consistent track record could be made. Firstly, I enjoyed this movie very much. In introducing people this character, I always tell them to watch this film first. It really captures the essence of who Superman is. The movie has a fair amount of action, but I like how the film is built upon characterization. We learn of the different world where Superman is from, why he is sent to Earth, his childhood where he learns he is not normal, and the meaning of his existence. Director Richard Donner and screenwriters Mario Puzo and David Newman were able to successfully incorporate these themes into the movie and it really created something special. Now the DC comics featuring Superman were huge in the 40’s and 50’s, so it was a good moment when Superman got the proper treatment he deserved.
Jor-El (Marlon Brando) fails to convince the people of his world that their planet, Krypton is about to be destroyed. He resorts to his last measure in order to save his species-by sending his son, Kal-El (Christopher Reeve) to Earth. Being raised on Earth, Kal-El or known by his Earth name, Clark Kent will grow powerful skills where he will use them in the name of truth and justice. Clark Kent is raised on a farm by his elderly Earth parents (Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter). When he becomes an adult, Kent becomes a bumbling, awkward newspaper reporter at the Daily Planet located in Metropolis. He also creates an alter ego which is called Superman, whose feats impresses the denizens of Metropolis. Superman/Clark Kent also finds himself a newspaper reporter to fall in love with-the hotheaded Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Meanwhile, “the world’s greatest criminal” Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and his henchman Otis (Ned Beatty) are up to no good as they plan the greatest real estate swindle of all-time. Can Superman save the day or is Lex Luthor really the world’s greatest criminal?
Part of what makes this film so good is the cast. Christopher Reeve is the quintessential Superman. No one can capture the image or persona as Reeve did. This is how Superman is supposed to be in my mind. He also makes a damn fine Clark Kent. With his charm, the overlarge glasses, his klutzy body, well it’s just perfect. He channeled Cary Grant when doing this role, so he gave Superman a golden-age charm. Marlon Brando is one of the most difficult actors to work with and this film proved to be no exception. After all, he originally pitched Jor-El as a green talking suitcase. He was only on in the beginning, but his scenes were really powerful. Margot Kidder makes for a good Lois Lane, although it took me awhile to warm up to her. Someone please tell the lady to spell words correctly! Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty made for a fine duo of criminals, living in the underground lair at Metropolis. They added many of the humor, but sometimes the humor would go into campy territory. But these are two fine actors, so I really can’t complain. There are also fine supporting turns from Jackie Cooper (who played Perry White, the hot-tempered editor of the Daily Planet), Valerie Perrine (who plays Luthor’s love, Eve Teschmacher), and Terence Stamp (who cameos in the beginning as super-villain General Zod).
Keep in mind that this film was made in 1978, so everything was made with practical effects. But the look of this film is beautiful. From the looks of Krypton to the arctic caves where Jor-El imprinted a memory of himself that would explain everything to his son-it just looks beautiful. The production design team did a wonderful job with Metropolis, turning it into its own unique city. When Superman is flying, it looks very realistic and that was one of my main concerns before I was able to see this movie.
Another highlight to me is another iconic score by John Williams. He seems to create many iconic scores, huh? Just like Star Wars or Jaws or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he really created something special. Something that you can relate with when thinking about the film. It wasn’t a serious score because of the film’s tone, so he adapted something that was light-hearted. Good job, Maestro Williams!
Overall, Superman:The Movie is one of the first good superhero movies ever to be made. It is fun, action-packed, and full of wonderful performances. The film does not take itself too seriously, which added to its sense of fun. The casting of Christopher Reeve is pitch-perfect as Superman. Rotten Tomatoes perfectly sums up this movie, “Superman deftly blends humor and gravitas, taking advantage of the perfectly cast Christopher Reeve to craft a loving, nostalgic tribute to an American pop culture icon.” I whole-heartedly agree. Superman is one of the characters defined with America, and this is a perfect film for that.
My Grade: A