Richard Donner’s Superman is often presented as a more upbeat and hopeful film than more recent Superhero efforts. And, in a lot of ways, it is a brighter view overall. Donner opens the film with life on Krypton. His version of Krypton has influenced countless versions of Superman. It became a ruling vision. And I get it…it is a society and world at it’s end. But the severely antiseptic frozen tundra look is actually unpleasant and does not really speak of an advanced society. Jor-El is introduced presiding over the trial of General Zod and his army. Well, him, Ursa and Non. Not really an army. What stands out was that in the middle of this trial, Zod tries to convince Jor-El to join him. And then they are zapped by a giant reflective record sleeve. Then, they never appear in the rest of the film.
Jor-El declare the planet is soon to die and is mocked by his fellow scientists who make him commit to staying on the planet. We all know the story, found by the Kents, young Kal El is raised as a typical Kansas kid. These moments are great. They show the thought the Kents have tried to install in their son. Clark’s struggle to not use his powers for only his gain is evident. Clark wants to be the football star and get dates with cheerleaders. But he also knows it would be a cheat to use his powers to succeed in that fashion. And when Pa Kent dies? Glenn Ford is barely on screen for any meaningful amount of time…and yet it is a real gut punch.
The Fortress of Solitude used to be a giant cave with a giant door. Now it is a spiky crystal building with no doors. Here he learns from holograms of his father. When he enters the world, he is ready to be Superman. One of the things Donner did right is that he fills the film with Superman…an it is Superman saving people over and over again. Sure, he stops crime as well, but saving people is his main gig.
Lois Lane is shown as a tough reporter (who cannot spell) who has little notice of new Reporter Clark Kent, but then swoons when Superman appears on the screen. This is not a negative, for one thing, she still follows her instincts when Superman shows up for an interview, clearly smitten with her. Kidder and Reeve have terrific chemistry in the film and Lois is fun and daring.
We are introduced to Lex Luthor via his bumbling lackey Otis. Ned Beatty is entertaining, though a bit over the top in his mindlessness. Hackman’s Luthor is a change from the comics of the time. He is still brilliant, but instead of super armor, he is simply a criminal mastermind. It is a bit over the top, but Hackman makes it work. The third spoke in the wheel is Valerie Perrine’s Miss Tessmacher. I am unsure exactly what her purpose is. I mean, Perrine is undeniably sexy in the role and appears in a variety of revealing outfits. But she seems distant for a girlfriend, and yet a lot of what she does is lounge around. She does play the role of “distraction”in part of Luthor’s plan. Oh, and that plan…
Luthor is planning to make a land grab…this becomes a running thing for him in the movies. He plans to blow California off the map and sell land. I do not see how this really would be an effective plan. Seriously, the guy who stole two missiles from the army and used them to blow up a sizeable chunk of land is going to be able to own and sell land?
Superman is a pretty fun movie with a really impressive cast. The weakest moment is the weird “Superman spins the earth to Fix Things. This was actually meant for the sequel, which Donner was already filming alongside this film. But the studio wanted him to use it to give this a big bang of an ending.
But all in all, Superman the Movie is a fun film for kids of all ages.