“Superman” (1978) Movie Review


Superman has classic written all over it. It’s a movie that I can see myself watching again and again and again, and one day watching it with my kids, and observing them watching it again and again and again. It’s just such an incredible delight, putting it plain and simple. Some may even say it’s the greatest superhero film of all time. While I don’t particularly agree with that statement, I being a faithful fan of The Dark Knight, it is easily a close second, and Reeves is in a tight race for #1 with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man/Tony Stark. I feel that a great movie should be judged on its replay value, and I have a feeling I will most likely never get sick of this one.

Superman begins with the destruction of Krypton, Superman’s home planet. Jor-El, Superman’s father played by Marlon Brando, and his wife, as a last ditch effort to save their only child, send the young Superman into space within a small, crystal lined containment unit. Where is this pod headed? Earth, of course. I have heard that Marlon Brando was paid three thousand dollars for his role as Jor-El, a role that only populates about 15% of the overall movie. It doesn’t surprise me. He was a hot commodity at that point and, in my opinion, it was money well spent. He was the best part of this movie after Superman himself. He made what could have been a throwaway character and crafted a meaningful one, one that we come to even care about and feel his pain. It’s not a lie to say this opening sequence is quite tragic.

After Krypton has had its last day, Superman crashes into a corn field on Earth and is found by an old couple by the name of the Kent’s. Now named Clark Kent, we see Superman grow older in several sequences throughout his life such as a day at his high school and the day his father dies. “I have all of these powers and I couldn’t save him,” he says. His father died of a heart attack. Shortly after, Clark decides to leave his home in Smallville in order to do some good. His mother responds with, “I always knew this day would come.”

Some years later, Clark is working his first day at The Daily Planet, the main newspaper for the city of Metropolis, and we are finally graced by the presence of Christopher Reeve’s Superman. His Superman is mighty, confident, and pleasantly polite. Saying excuse me to fellows on the street and always giving his rescuees a goodbye before he flies away. His Superman may be great, but it’s his Clark Kent that really made an impression. After 2013’s Man of Steel, it’s easy to forget that Clark is quite mild mannered, awkward, clumsy, and a tad goofy, saying things like “swell”, wearing glasses too big for his head, and stumbling over both his words and feet. In one instance, Lois notices that Clark is never around when Superman is. She thinks for a second, then dismisses the thought as the most absurd thing she’s ever thought of. I think you can guess what she was thinking.

This brings us to Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) whom Clark meets during his first day at The Daily Planet and Superman meets when Lois is stuck in a crashing helicopter atop a skyscraper. She continuously seems indifferent towards Clark, never looking at him too fondly, but who would, especially when you have Superman sending you letters asking to meet. Their first meeting is for an interview. Of course, she goes right for “Are you married?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” but soon transfers to questions about where he has come from, what he is, and if he eats. This scene is where we come to learn a little more about Superman. He is from the planet Krypton, but we already knew that, he has X-Ray vision but cannot see through lead, his one weakness is Kryptonite, he stands for “Truth, justice, and the American way,” and, no, he does not have a girlfriend. This then leads to Superman taking Lois for a quick flight through the skies of Metropolis. This is also where they both fall in love.

Watching this movie in today’s day and age is a bit dizzying. It’s a fact that this movie could not be made now. I got quite the laugh out of a scene where a mother scolds and slaps her daughter due to the daughter telling her that a flying man in a cape saved her cat from a tree. My how times have changed. In a post-Dark Knight world populated by dark superheroes driven by realism there is little room, let alone patience, for movies such as 1978’s Superman. Even the latest Marvel outputs haven’t come even close to matching Superman‘s wit. I believe that even the audiences back in ’78 were taken aback by its ability to never take itself too seriously. It’s a huge, epic, blockbuster, comic-book, tent pole movie, it should be riveting, not funny. Well, in this case, it’s both!

Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) is the villain of Superman. This evil-doers scheme is to sink the west coast of California into the sea so he can be sole owner of all of California because he owns everything to the east. The thing is, Luthor knows of Superman’s weakness and puts it into  a little lead box for Superman to open. Sure, this slows Superman down quite a bit, but does it really stop him from ending Luthor’s evil plans. You’ll have to watch to find out.

The effects in Superman, by today’s standards, are nothing to write home about, but I’m sure they were suitably epic on its release. Some are better than others, but they hardly matter when you’re watching because you hardly care. When a movie is this fun, you’re not even paying attention to that stuff, it all just flows. That’s what Superman does, it just flows, like it was my instinct to be enthralled. I didn’t have to force it, I just sat down and watched the screen before me. Can you really blame me for getting lost in it?

4 out of 5