I’ve talked before about how I’m a huge Superman fan. Have been for a long time. And I think it’s time I finally confess something. It’s going to sound weird coming from me:
There isn’t a single Superman movie I like all the way through.
No, not even the first one. They all have enjoyable and/or memorable moments (yes, even III and IV), but as a whole, they’re all lacking.
Superman: The Movie
I think the first one is a drag until it finally gets to Metropolis. When I watch the movie, I tend to skip right past Krypton and most of Kansas.
Christopher Reeve is a revelation in the role, of course. He embodies Superman with grace, power, and respect that no actor has been able to capture. I do partly like his take on Clark Kent as a wide-eyed bumbling fool, but I think it’s almost TOO bumbling.
But the helicopter scene and him flying around doing various stuff? Top notch. I love the almost humble confidence he brings to Superman. Or how he toys around just a little with the criminals, but too much that it would cause a danger to them or anyone around him. I liked all the stuff like breaking into Luthor’s secret headquarters and dealing with the Kryptonite.
Flying backwards around Earth to either turn back time or go back in time (depending on who you ask)? Not so much. It felt like a contrived excuse to hit the reset button.
And as much as I love Gene Hackman, I’m not a fan of his Luthor. Much like Jack Nicholson in Batman, it feels like Hackman playing as Hackman but everyone calls him Luthor. Still a great performance, just not a good Luthor. And there was the whole real estate thing. Blech.
This one is…messy. With director Richard Donner getting the boot and Richard Lester jumping in, it got messy. For what could’ve easily been the Empire Strikes Back of the series, it’s very cheesy and hokey.
Terrance Stamp is absolutely wicked in the role of Zod, hamming it up left, right, and center. Any time he’s on the screen is a joy.
The movie also had the great moment with Superman returning to Metropolis and delivering this line:
And it also had this, where Superman defeats his enemies not through brute force, but by out-witting them. I love when he crushes Zod’s hand as the music slowly strums up.
(And no, he didn’t kill Zod. No bodies, no death. It’s far too vague to be sure. There’s also a deleted scene where it shows the trio being arrested. It’s sure as hell not as visceral or blatant as Man of Steel.)
Only redeeming things in the movie:
Well, it was nice to see Christopher Reeve play the role one more time.
The movie is flawed. I will fully admit that. It spends far too much time regurgitating or referencing things from Richard Donner’s movies. Kate Bosworth – while doing a pretty good job on her own – still feels completely out of place in this movie.
The special effects, though, are phenomenal. The absolute highlight of the film is the plane rescue. The movie was worth it just for this, alone:
Brandon Routh, for what little he had to work with, did a great job and it’s a shame he didn’t get a second chance. And personally, I liked Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor. He wasn’t as goofy as Hackman. He stead he brought a needed serious tone to the character. Heck, Frank frigging Langella as Perry White in what I would call the most perfect casting ever.
Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen what Bryan Singer could have done with his own Superman movie that wasn’t so tightly bound with Donner’s films.
Man of Steel
It’s funny. I actually gave the movie a positive review right here on this blog. And it has some good things going for it. The special effects are great, the action is bigger than any Superman movie (and many superhero movies), and it’s a clear departure from the Donner films. Henry Cavil and Amy Adams are great casting choices and they do well with what they’re given. Michael Shannon is a phenomenal departure from Stamp’s Zod, but he controls the scene almost as much as Stamp (though nowhere near as much scene chewing)
But the more I’ve thought about it, the less I liked it. Warner Bros seems to believe that if Batman is a huge success, then they should turn all their superheroes into darker, grittier, brooding heroes. Except that’s not Superman. Nor should he ever be. Man of Steel is colour washed and gritty. They’re trying to bring realism into the movie but seem to forget that it’s about a flying alien who shoots heat from his eyes.
Most people are rightfully bothered by him being Necksnapper McMurderson near the end of the movie. I’m right there with them. Superman shouldn’t kill. Please note that didn’t say he hasn’t killed. I’m saying he shouldn’t kill. Not my idea of Superman. The only canonical villain he killed was the Kryptonian criminals. But that was written by John Byrne and many people disagreed with this story. One could argue he killed Doomsday, but you could also argue he did it by giving up his own life, as well, so killing Doomsday killed him, too.
Honestly, you know what scene bothered me almost as much as him killing Zod? This one:
I remember turning to my friend Corey in the theatre and saying, “So, Superman’s a bully now?” Maybe not the right label, but it’s close. The Superman I know wouldn’t resort to petty revenge and ruin one man’s livelihood over this. The scene should have ended with him leaving the bar. Now, before you say, “This was before he was Superman!” I say this: it wasn’t before he was Clark Kent. And Clark Kent was raised to be kind, respectful, and honest. Even if that sexist pig deserved some punishment, he didn’t deserve to have basically his entire livelihood destroyed over petty revenge.
Superman The Animated Series and Justice League (& JL Unlimited)
These series weren’t films, but they were, in my opinion, the best rendition of Superman I’ve seen outside of the comics.
He’s the country boy who just wants to impress and maybe date the girl from the office.
He’s the leader of the world’s greatest heroes and even invites one of them home for Christmas (where his folks wrapped the presents in lead so he couldn’t peek).
He says things like, “Nice one, Clark” to himself because he thinks of himself as Clark first and Superman (or Kal-El) second.
While he will get angry, he’s afraid of that anger.
He has a sense of humour, but knows when to be serious.
“He’s the Nietzschean fantasy ideal all wrapped up in a red cape. Superman.”
But the Animated Series doesn’t count as a film, so it doesn’t really count in my final point, which is this:
As much as I love parts of the Superman films (even Man of Steel), the wholes of them is not greater than the sum of their parts. There are many superhero films out there that I can confidently say are great as a whole. I…can’t really say that about the Superman films. Each of them (some more than others) have far too many problems for me to say I enjoy them fully.
If I were to count the straight-to-video animated videos like All Star Superman or Superman vs. The Elite, then I’d be able to say there the latter would be my favourite. But then, Superman vs The Elite is based off my favourite canonical Superman stories.
Sadly, after Man of Steel, I don’t have much hope for future film appearances by Superman. They seem convinced on continuing on this path of dark, gloomy, and gritty films. They’re basically trying to inject Batman into every hero. And I honestly don’t want any part of that.
Guess I’ll go and re-watch the Animated Series again.