Superman: The Movie
Superman: I’m here to fight for truth, justice, and the American way.
I realize it’s nerd blasphemy to speak ill of the original Superman movies, but I don’t really care. The fact is, despite how much we all love Superman as a character, his movies have always blown cock. The biggest problem is these come from an era before superhero films treated their source material with respect. As far as I can tell, the first superhero movies to take their characters seriously were Blade in 1998 and X-Men in 2000. Prior to that, the main goals of superhero movies were to ramp up the cheese factor and sell as many toys as possible. The problem with Superman I is it’s campy as hell, and appears to be loving every minute of it. That might work in a non-superhero B-movie, but in a movie starring one of the world’s most famous superheroes, it becomes a detriment.
So, yeah, the movie is incredibly cheesy. The dialog is horrendous, and the acting is atrocious. People deliver their lines like they are reading for a high school play. There are numerous stupid visual gags. Perhaps worst of all is that Lex Luthor, the villain, is treated more like a comic relief than a menacing threat. When your movie doesn’t even have a worthy villain, there isn’t a lot for your superhero to fight against.
One of the other major issues is the movie is incredibly unfocused. It begins on planet Krypton and we see Jor-El condemning General Zod and his minions to prison in the Phantom Zone. After that, we learn Krypton is going to explode, and they send little Kal-El to Earth in a spaceship. Roughly, the first 45 minutes of the movie is dedicated to time on Krypton, seeing Kal-El as a baby (plus we get to see baby wang – I’m sure pedophiles loved this movie), and seeing Clark as a teenager. As an origin story, you want to take your time showing how the hero became a hero. But it is handled clumsily. We don’t see any natural progression from baby to Clark Kent to Superman. No, we see baby, then angsty Clark, then his dad dies, then he’s suddenly Superfuckingman. Where did his suit come from? How did he choose to be a reporter? Why did he decide to fight for truth, justice, and the American way? There must be a reason for his unbreakable moral compass, but we aren’t privy to any of those details. It’s glossed over as unimportant, but these are the things we want to know about.
Superman isn’t treated like a real character. He’s treated like an action figure. His only purpose is to rescue people in danger. He doesn’t show any character progression, and the only real emotions we know he has are sadness when his dad dies (which is quickly forgotten), and a crush on Lois Lane. That’s it. Otherwise, he’s completely one-dimensional, and that is a damn shame. And since I mentioned Lois Lane, Jesus Tapdancing Christ, where the fuck did they find Margot Kidder? She has to be the worst Lois Lane of all time. All she does is fucking scream, her voice is shrill, and she couldn’t act her way out of a wet paper bag. Not to mention that Superman could find someone way hotter. And how is it that she affords a giant rooftop apartment in Metropolis on a reporter’s salary? Sigh.
As the movie reaches its conclusion, it realizes that it needs to have some kind of dramatic climax. Until this time, it had been fucking around, not really doing much of anything. So, it decides Lex Luthor should blow some shit up with nuclear missiles. Before he does, he plots to take out Superman with some Kryptonite, even though before this time Superman had never heard of Lex Luthor. Essentially, the criminal mastermind invites his future nemesis into knowing all his plans so he can stop them. Sigh.
Then we get a bunch of cheesy model effects and Superman saves the day. I’m not going to rag on the special effects, because this movie was made in 1978, and obviously the special effects would have looked good for their day. But the model work is horrendous. Everything looks exactly like models, and I know they could have done better. Sigh.
But there must be at least one positive thing I can say, right? Well, yes, there is. Christopher Reeve was great as Superman and Clark Kent. He was perfect as the meek, bumbling Kent, and he was goddamn perfect as Superman. He looks like he stepped right off the pages of the comic book. Plus, he is completely believable as the incorruptible Man of Steel. He is the only person in the entire production that does any decent acting. As an aside, how is it that the star of the movie gets third billing behind Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman? I realize he was a relative unknown, but he was still the main fucking character. Sigh.
This movie can eat it.
General Zod: Kneel before Zod!
Originally, it had been decided that director Richard Donner would direct Superman I and II back to back. This was a really ballsy and unheard of move, since there was no guarantee that the first movie would make any money at the box office. He shot the first movie, and then shot about 75% of the second movie before conflict with the producers got him shitcanned. Another director, Richard Lester, finished the movie.
Despite having two directors, and tons of behind the scenes conflict, Superman II is a better movie than the first. While I wouldn’t exactly say the film is focused, I would say that it has more focus than the original. It moves along a natural trajectory with a setup, central conflict, and appropriate climax. It didn’t just fuck around because the writers were clueless about what to do with the characters.
The first scene is a recap of General Zod and his minions getting sentenced to the Phantom Zone. This was a good thing, as most people probably wouldn’t have remembered this from the first movie. Unfortunately, the next 10 minutes are a recap of all the shit that happened in the first movie. So, essentially, the opening of this movie is a clip reel, which has got to be the worst fucking way possible to begin a movie. There was no need to recap the baby wang (again – pedophiles) or Superman spinning really fast to burrow underground. It was pointless and fucking stupid.
When the real movie actually gets going we see General Zod and his two lackeys escape from the Phantom Zone, develop powers exactly like Superman, and head to Earth to wreak havoc. Having villains with the same powers seems like a cool idea because, let’s face it, Superman is ridiculously overpowered. This levels the playing field. But after watching them duke it out for a while, it becomes apparent that, since everyone involved is invulnerable, there will never be a clear winner. It becomes kind of pointless from then on.
General Zod is much better as a villain than Lex Luthor. Of course, he wants everyone to “Kneel before Zod” and despite the line being cheesy, Terence Stamp completely owns the role. He chews so much goddamn scenery that his shitty acting makes a 180 degree turn and comes around to become incredible acting. He was fucking great, and certainly helped improve Superman II.
There were loads of problems with this movie, too. For example, they make up a bunch of powers that Superman isn’t supposed to have. For example, telekinesis, throwing some weird-ass Superman logo to capture a bad guy, and being able to give Lois Lane amnesia by kissing her. What the fuck is this shit, guys? You can’t just throw out a bunch of deus ex machina because you don’t know how to resolve shit. Figure out a way to write better. Also, this movie cast Sheriff J.W. Pepper from the James Bond movies, and that guy is a grating piece of shit, meant solely to make fun of Southerners and provides nothing of value. Let’s not forget the retarded scene where General Zod uses superbreath to cause destruction around Metropolis. The powerful wind he creates causes a guy to lose his ice cream cone, another guy to lose his toupee, a guy on rollerskates to skate backward, and a brief Singin’ in the Rain parody. This scene goes on and on, seemingly forever. It was completely shitty and over the top, and ruins the tone of the battle. (And why would all those people be hanging out on the street when a bunch of supervillains are destroying shit?) It cements the notion that director Lester is a dumbass hack who finds campy humor more important than anything else.
And worst of all, once again, is Lois Lane. She comes off as an even more superficial bitch here than in Superman I. She is obviously moist in the panties for Superman, and couldn’t give a shit about Clark Kent. Eventually, she figures out that Clark is Superman, and falls in love with him. He is forced to give up his superpowers in order to be with her. A few scenes later, Clark gets his ass kicked by an asshole trucker, and Lois says, “What happened to the man I fell in love with?” He’s the same man, you cunt, he just doesn’t have superpowers any more. This proves that Lois only likes Superman because he’s big and strong, and doesn’t care at all about the personality of the man underneath. She, of course, falls in love with him again when he regains his superpowers. I suppose this is kind of like real life where guys with glasses are considered nerds, and macho guys are the desire of women everywhere.
The interesting thing about Superman is that he is a psychologically complex character. Look at the argument of nature vs. nurture. Is Superman really Kal-El, the superhero from Krypton? Or is Superman really Clark Kent, the mild-mannered guy from Kansas? One could argue that Superman is Kal-El because that is his biology and his true origin, and Clark Kent is his disguise. Or you could argue that Superman is Clark Kent because he was raised as a human, he knows nothing else, and Superman is really his disguise. He presents an interesting dichotomy. Certainly, his “nature” gave him superpowers, but his “nurture” gave him his moral compass and his desire to help people. That much becomes clear as General Zod, with the same powers, is essentially the pure evil opposite of Superman. Superman lives double lives, and that must have a taxing effect on his psyche. Unfortunately, none of this is actually explored, as campy cheese takes front and center over any kind of possible thought-provoking material.
On a random note, why does Perry White have a photo of Bill Cosby hanging on his office wall?
As the sum of its parts, Superman II is a superior film to Superman I. However, it is still a crappy movie. It has all the same problems of crappy acting, crappy dialog, deus ex machina, and shallow characters. But at least it has greater focus, and an appropriate villain. And at least Superman hasn’t yet turned into a SuperStalker as he will in Superman Returns. But let’s not go there.