Superhero Month: "Superman" Review


Superhero Month: "Superman" Review

-- Rating: PG (peril, mild language)
Length: 143 minutes
Release Date: December 15, 1978
Directed by: Richard Donner
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

"Superman" was the first well-received movie centered on a comic book character; although the Adam West "Batman" film came before it, "Superman" is more widely acclaimed. It would be hard to find a pop-culture figure better known than Superman. He's been around since the 1930s and inspired an entire genre of literature as well as legions of copies. It's only natural that at some point, he would come to the silver screen after a wealth of comics, radio dramas and theatrical shorts. Despite many of Superman's perceived storytelling weaknesses, the filmmakers managed to create an uplifting tale of superheroism.

The story starts out with a flashback, which takes place on the doomed planet Krypton, Superman's home world. Jor-El, his father (Marlon Brando), is speaking to the Kryptonian leaders about imprisoning three criminals who have been accused of trying to overthrow the Kryptonian government. After they're sent to the Phantom Zone, Jor-El is able to alert the leaders of Krypton's destabilizing orbit. This orbit will send it into the sun and destroy the planet. However, nothing can be done to stop this, and Jor-El is forbidden from telling the population for fear of panic. They instead send their son Superman, real name Kal-El, to Earth in a rocket ship where he is found and adopted by the Kents.

Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) grows up on the farm and learns about his powers, but he's forbidden from using them to show off. When Clark is in his teens, Pa Kent dies of a heart attack and encourages Clark to use his powers for the good of the world. Sometime later, he heads to the North Pole and begins construction of the Fortress of Solitude. Jor-El had sent Clark a holographic crystal that's used to educate him about the universe and his role in it.

Some years later, Clark ends up in Metropolis, getting a job as a reporter for the Daily Planet. There he meets Lois Lane, the top reporter, and they begin a relationship, juxtaposed with Superman spending the first few nights in Metropolis flying around and saving people from injury and getting cats out of trees. Later on, they learn about Lex Luthor's plan to divert a pair of nuclear missiles to destroy the West Coast of the United States, and the rest of the film is devoted to their efforts at stopping Luthor and the burgeoning relationship between Superman and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder).

Even though Superman succeeds in saving the West Coast from slipping into the ocean, Lois Lane is killed in the ongoing disasters. Then, the most famous scene of the film occurs-Superman takes off into orbit and flies faster than light-speed, causing time to reverse itself so he can save Lois and avert the crisis again. Luthor and his henchmen are imprisoned, and Superman ends the film by flying into the sky to patrol the planet.

"Superman" takes several of the most well-known story elements of the mythos without basing itself on any particular story, unlike many comic book films do today. The main basis of the story is Silver Age Superman, who's considered one of the most powerful characters in comics. Despite Superman's power, he wasn't portrayed as omnipotent-after all, he couldn't prevent Pa Kent from having a heart attack, much to his dismay. However, science buffs will make fun of the scene in which Superman reverses time by flying so fast. Even for a Superman story, this act is seen as a deus ex machina because he had never revealed or discussed this ability before. Aside from this scene, Superman is presented as a vulnerable hero. His main weakness, kryptonite, is explained and exploited by Luthor. Humans are also portrayed as being helpful; in the same scene, Luthor's girlfriend helps Superman escape the kryptonite trap in exchange for his promise to save her hometown first from a missile. Without her help, he would've been trapped and possibly killed by the kryptonite exposure.

Even outside the story, "Superman" is one of the most well-known works in cinema and across multiple forms of media. The music, composed by John Williams, evokes a sense of heroism. The main fanfare is almost instantly recognizable. The film was so popular that it went on to spawn several sequels of varying quality. The franchise is scheduled for a reboot in the form of "Man of Steel," which is set to be released in the summer of 2013. Time will tell if Superman's cinematic legacy holds for a new generation.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5