This being the first instalment of CLEAN SLATE, I’ll explain to you what to expect from this column. CLEAN SLATE is where I sit down and watch a movie that I’ve disliked–typically one that I’ve only seen once–to give it a second chance. These will range from movies that are widely hated to movies that are typically loved that I personally don’t like. The point is to give them a second shot and sit down to discuss my thoughts, whether the experience was better or worse.
With David Ayer’s Suicide Squad opening this weekend, it only felt right for me to sit down and watch a film that I haven’t seen since I was a kid. It’s a film that’s typically seen as a classic, but ever since I was a kid I thought it was lame. If you haven’t guessed it from the title, the film I’m talking about is Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie. I haven’t liked a single Superman film yet (maybe I’ll have to cover Superman II here as well) but my worry is that young me just didn’t respect it for what it was, so I’m hoping for the best on this re-watch. This’ll be my first time watching the film in about a decade, so has it aged well? Let’s see.
It should be noted that right off the bat I’m pissed off because I just looked at the back of the Blu-ray and apparently this movie is 151-fucking-minutes long. That’s the same length as the fucking Dark Knight. Goddamnit….
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Superman: The Movie the story follows Clark Kent (Christopher Reeves), a being from the planet Krypton, who is sent to Earth during the final moments of his planet’s existence. He grows up to use his alien abilities for good, becoming the superhero Superman, a hero who embodies hope and safety for the people of Metropolis. Superman must defeat Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and his goons in their latest plot.
First off, watching a Superman movie with color and charm was jarring. This being my first viewing of the film in over a decade, I couldn’t help but compare it to Man of Steel and Batman V Superman the entire time, so that’ll definitely be a major factor here. Being so accustomed to the dark, brooding Superman, the incredible visuals in this film are noticeable right from the opening scenes on Krypton. The sets on Krypton are so creative and amazing to look at, especially in Blu-ray (which you should nab if you’re a fan), although I do have to say that it was hard to take any of the conversation on Krypton seriously because everyone is in highly distracting fluorescent outfits. I don’t know who came up with the idea for these fucking outfits, but they are comically distracting.
Like, look at this shit
How are you supposed to listen to dramatic doomsday conversation while looking at this silly shit?
But the silliness aside, the Krypton segment of the film really showcases the incredible technical achievements of Superman: The Movie, something that definitely saves the midsection of the film. As I said above, aside from the silly suits, I actually do like a lot of the Krypton stuff, especially Jor-El confronting Zod. Things start to change when we get to Earth though, when we finally see Clark growing up and dealing with his origins. The young-Clark-finding-himself storyline takes up a big chunk of the first half of this film and it’s just not terribly interesting. Luckily though, Richard Donner proves himself as a great visual storyteller here by providing us with plenty of gorgeous shots of the Kent farm and of Smallville. Even if I was getting bored, at least it was something pretty to look at.
Eventually we reach the part we’re all waiting for: Adult Clark Kent becoming Superman. The thing with Clark in this is that he is a very geeky character, with Reeves perfectly embodying the 30’s Clark Kent. The film coasts A LOT on Christopher Reeves nailing it as Superman/Clark Kent. One of the big problems with Man of Steel was deciding to take a deeper, more methodical look at Superman, but they did this by stripping away all personality and character. In Donner’s film, we may not get deep into Clark’s psyche, but he’s likeable. That’s what makes him an interesting character, he’s likable, charming, heroic, flawed, pure. He represents all of the morals and ideals set forth in the comic book and does it with a lot of charm—something majorly lacking in Snyder’s incarnation.
When I saw this as a kid, I remember saying that it was cheesy and lame. Well, is the film cheesy? Silly? Yes, it absolutely is, but it’s a 70’s adaptation of 30’s Superman, so it’s kind of hard to knock it for being accurate to the source material. Nowadays it may come off as cheesy, but it really captures the heart and soul of the book.
When I sat down to watch this,I didn’t expect to be praising the love story, but it really is the most interesting part of the film. Not only does Reeves perfectly embody Clark, Margot Kidder also makes the perfect Lois Lane. She’s the same animated, persistent reporter that we know from the comics, plus her and Reeves have amazing chemistry together. The interview scene is easily the highlight of the film, getting some actual characterization from both our hero and his love interest, something that you see missing from a lot of Superhero films nowadays (I don’t want to yell Man of Steel again, but…) which helps give the film some emotional stakes. This section of the film is the most entertaining, between the romance and seeing Clark’s bumbling, I found myself smiling through a lot of this. But, sadly it didn’t last.
It’s also at this point in the film that we are introduced to Gene Hackman’s villainous Lex Luthor, who really serves no purpose in this film other than to provide Superman with someone to defeat during the climax. Hackman himself is great as Luthor, chewing up the scenery at every turn. First problem with his character are his sidekicks, especially Ned Beatty who plays a bumbling fuckhead of a human being. Second off, he just doesn’t serve a purpose to the story. This film actually makes a lot of mistakes that superhero origin films still make today. It does so much focusing and setting up on Superman that it has to inorganically integrate a villain just to lead up to a third act finale, but I don’t really care about or know the villain enough to give a shit. This makes for a totally boring finale that consists of me looking at my watch and waiting for it to end because I can feel how forced and expected it is. The Amazing Spider-Man, Man of Steel, Green Lantern and Iron Man are just a few recent examples of films that commit the same crime. Sadly, because of the lame Lex Luthor character and his mind-numbingly stupid plan, the last 30-minutes of this film are a total bore.
Plus, the whole time travel element? Wow, they pulled that right out of their asses.
I also want to add that although I loooooove John Williams’ ‘Superman Theme’, the rest of the film’s score is pretty bland. It’s all typical John Williams music, specifically very Star Wars-y. That Theme is amazing, but it’s the only virtually interesting piece of music on the soundtrack.
Now, for the big question. After giving Superman: The Movie a second chance, did it prove me wrong?
Well, yes AND no.
I hate to do this on the first instalment of CLEAN SLATE, but this is a tricky flick. Superman: The Movie is a very problematic film: it’s overly long, too stupid for it’s own good sometimes, the villain is lame, the climax is lame, and the young Clark Kent stuff is pretty dull. But that being said, the technical aspects of the film are amazing, Donner directs the film well and the cast is great – especially Christopher Reeves as the charming Superman. I respect this film more than I actually enjoy it. It’s a product of it’s time, but one that still has some merit and captures the heart of its source material perfectly. I may not love the film, but I can definitely see why some still look back on it fondly. It’s certainly a Superhero classic. But a timeless classic? Ehh…