Directed By: Richard Donner
Written By: Mario Puzo (story). Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, and Robert Benton, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (creators)
I have never really been a big Superman fan but I have deep respect for this movie. It’s been almost forty years since this film came out and it still manages to be influential in an industry that can’t stop pumping out comic book films. This is a legendary movie and the real first comic book movie blockbuster.
The only time I really like Superman when I’m reading a comic is when he’s getting his ass kicked by Batman. Yes they fight frequently and the Caped Crusader always manages to best the impervious pure of heart hero. I’ll get to why Batman always wins in a minute but I’ll start by explaining why I don’t like Superman. He’s too super powered for his own good. He’s an all powerful superhero and that’s totally lame. He has all the damn powers, it’s too greedy. In this movie he even reverses the rotation of the Earth and travels back in time. I’m willing to look aside from the mere fact that the whole thing doesn’t even make sense in the movie (he reverses time but the earthquake still stops?). It’s still just too much.
What makes a hero badass is the fact that he overcomes obstacles, odds, and weaknesses. Superman doesn’t overcome anything, he overwhelms every thing with his sheer power. As long as the sun rises in the morning Superman is going to be just fine and win the day. Even with Doomsday there is no doubt, and certainly none in this movie as he wrangles cat burglers and cats. I know, I know there is some thing about heroes saving cats from trees but Superman doing it is merely a waste of his (and our) time. It’s no accident that Lex Luthor is his main bad guy. He’s just a man but that doesn’t matter because anybody can beat Superman, so long as you outsmart him.
Batman vs. Superman
Now I’d like to talk about this at some length. Let’s first discuss the two:
A) Batman-Just a man but an intelligent and skilled man. He’s a fighter who knows many different forms of combat. He’s a tactician who plans ahead and knows his enemy. He has the equipment for any problem that arises, even once breaking out the “Shark Repellent Bat Spray.” He is a man who overcomes the odds, a hero in the truest sense.
B) Superman-An alien from the planet Krypton. On Krypton everyone is the same but the sun is red. Put one of them on Earth with its yellow sun and the power of a God is granted. On Earth Superman has super speed, strength, stamina, motherfucking everything. Oh and he also has the power of flight, laser vision, frost breath, X-ray vision, and apparently according to this film the power of time travel. There is a catch though. A rock from his homeland makes him vulnerable, albeit completely vulnerable. Also rays from his native red sun render him average. There is also a villain that somehow holds the surviving people of Krypton hostage and uses it as leverage against him, but that’s beside the point and not in this movie.
Now you put these two together and things should be pretty simple. The super powered alien pummels the costumed human into dust but it never works out that way. Being the badass he actually is Batman is always prepared and he figures out a way to level the playing field. Be it Kryptonite or somehow utilizing the rays of a red sun he depowers Superman. Without his powers Superman is nothing but a guy who doesn’t know how to defend himself. He becomes chump change for Batman, who doesn’t just beat him but beats the shit out of him.
I remember it being a hot topic of debate when Batman VS. Superman came out a couple of years ago. How could Batman ever fight Superman? I’ll admit once as an outsider in the comic world I would have been perplexed as well and agreed with the naysayers. Now I know better though and I always ask them name the vulnerabilities of both. Batman may be just a man, but nobody would ever accuse him of being vulnerable. While Superman falls to his knees in the presence of a green rock. Of course the gazillionaire Bruce Wayne/Batman has Kryptonite. The man literally has all the resources imaginable at his fingertips. Oh the Kryptonite didn’t quite do the trick? Here are some red sun rays for you. Not enough? Here are some of the most super powered weapons available to man to hit you with. That didn’t do anything but weaken him? Batman is more than willing to roll up his sleeves and duke it out with a guy who knows nothing of fighting because he relies solely on the power that’s been taken away.
To sum it up, Batman=badass, Superman=chump. I haven’t even touched their alter egos either. Clark Kent makes it a practice to appear as lame as possible so nobody looks past the glasses. Great disguise Superman. Bruce Wayne on the other hand may be just as cool if not cooler than Batman. He’s super rich, super powerful, and he is just as likely to beat you up as Batman is. While Superman is bumbling around trying to get the attention of Lois Lane Batman is chillin in a hot tub somewhere surrounded by gorgeous ladies, and he only does that for appearances. Clark Kent may kick a football pretty far when no one is looking but Bruce Wayne is the cool guy that drove off with all the cheerleaders.
Getting back to the point…
I don’t love this movie but I respect it. I think it was quite an accomplishment in 1978. It’s written by one of my favorite authors, Mario Puzo, though the experience might not have been great for him. I know nothing about the experience he actually had during the making of this film but if any of his other books are to be taken into account he did not have the highest regard for Hollywood. Still, he wrote a story that was great for the time and groundbreaking in its material. I love how the sequel was set up from the get go with Zod and his cronies being imprisoned in the phantom zone. You know they will eventually get out of it and Superman will have to deal with them.
They don’t get out in this movie and I think that is the problem with the film. Or at least why it doesn’t hold up. Yeah this movie introduced a wider audience to a character and blew them away with special effects. In hindsight though this movie is lacking in excitement. Superman has no foe to fight with. Yeah there’s Lex Luthor outsmarting him at every turn but you don’t want to see a superhero fighting nature i.e. time or earthquakes. You want to see the hero fighting someone who is an equal match, or the counter opposite. In this movie Superman is saving cats for crying out loud. There’s also that bizarre man scaling the side of the building, which is an awful lot of trouble to go through for a robbery. A superhero always needs someone to fight, cats are for the firemen with their ladders and cat burglers are for the cops. Let those heroes do that work and let the superhero fight the supernatural bad guy threatening the world.
I for one think Henry Cavill is a terrific Superman, and I like him in the role. That being said, he will never be the real Superman. That’ll always be Christopher Reeve, just as Michael Keaton will always be Batman, for my generation at least. Reeve wasn’t the most incredible actor but he was an incredible man. The tragic accident that he suffered was really unfortunate. He didn’t give up though and remained an inspiration to people both in a similar situation and outside of it. While Superman may be a lame hero, Christopher Reeve was a true hero in real life. May he rest in peace.
I think special mention goes to Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. I fear I have seen the last movie Gene Hackman will ever act in and that hurts my heart a little. I don’t think this was a particularly good movie but if I had to sound off what I liked about it I’d start with Gene Hackman. I am a big fan of him as both an actor and a person. Several years ago I heard a story about him being in a fist fight, the man was 70 years or more and fist fighting someone! That’s a real badass and I will get more into him as an actor when we reach Unforgiven in the collection.
I don’t know that special mention is really deserving but if you didn’t notice Marlon Brando is in this movie as Jor-El. He wouldn’t want you to miss that, but truthfully the presence of the Godfather is a big deal. Yet Brando caused such a problem on set and in the aftermath of the film’s success that he was cut entirely from the sequel. On set he was reading his lines off the diaper of baby Superman because he refused to learn them. After the film proved to be a success at the box office he sued for royalties. He ended up making an awful lot of money for a short part and even received first billing for what basically amounts to a cameo.
There is little more than “look what he can do!” in this movie and it’s not enough for me. Maybe it’s as simple as I’m not impressed with what the character can do. This was a big hit when it came out but Superman has regularly failed to be a success as some of the other famous film heroes have. He doesn’t rake in the money quite like Batman, Spiderman, or now Wonder Woman. This was the most successful effort as it was the first of four films and a financial success at the box office.
There was a time when I thought this movie should hold a place in the collection. I still think it deserves a place in the collection but I don’t know that it’s getting a ride in the DVD player again. I respect this movie and like some things about it but overall it is not for me. I think this movie is worth your time because it deserves your time, but I don’t think it is worth anymore of my time.
NEXT MOVIE: Superman II (1980)