Monday, 12 October 2015

Superman (1978)

"I have sent them you, my only son."

This is, perhaps, the first of the current era of superhero films. The 1966 Batman film was a TV tie-in, while all the others were either movie serials or of that world. This film sets a precedent, and at first it looks like being a good one; Superman is, after all, bloody good.

It isn't a good precedent, though, for the simple reason that the film is an origin story. It happens to work here, yes, but it doesn't in general. Origin stories just mean that you spend most of the film without the title character being able to do any of their usual cool stuff. It works here because Superman's origin story is epic and cool, but generally speaking origin stories are to be avoided.

Still, it works here, and the film is superb. Oh, there are flaws- Gene Hackman is miscast, playing Lex Luthor for broad humour rather than the more camp performance the character needed. Luthor six written like a villain from the Batman TV series; he should have been played as such. Also, there's a glaring continuity error. Jor-El tells Kal-El in the Fortress of Solitude that he's been dead for thousands of years. Yet Kal-El took twelve years to reach Earth and he crashed into Kansas, we're told, in 1948. (So Superman is thirty years old.)  Oops. Also, I'm not sure there's any real logic to the way Luthor infers the existence of Kryptonite. Still, it's necessary to the X plot. Oh, and why is Superman so stupid as to tell Lois one of his weaknesses, namely that he can't see through lead, knowing full well that she's going to write a full page article about it?

All that said, though, the film is epic, huge, looks awesome and Christopher Reeve is perfect casting. It's a triumph, and here are some particular nice touches. The film commemorates thirty years of Superman, so the tribute to Action Comics #1 at the start is an extremely nice touch. Also a nice touch is that all the Elders of Krypton have  different symbol on their chests, and Jor-El's just happens to look like an "S" in the Roman alphabet. Also, well, Marlon Brando. Sadly, though, I must confess to my fellow Doctor Who fans that I failed to spot William Russell in these scenes.

Also s nice touch is the young Clark Kent running faster, literally, than a speeding train. These little touches keep us entertained as the film whisks is through Superman's origins and, this being pre- Crisis on Infinite Earths and the film being moderately faithful to the comics, his takes a good long while. 

Interestingly, though, Jor-El says the line "I have sent them you, my only son". This is a blindingly obvious Christ allegory and I'm not sure that's appropriate; Superman was created in 1938, the year of Kristallnacht, by a couple of Jewish nebbishes. The character is, in spirit, Jewish. He's also essentially a liberal wish fulfilment figure: Superman in his early years would go after wife beaters or put Hitler and Stalin on trial. Here, though, he's a resolutely conservative and all-American figure, his liberal, Jewish origins forgotten.

Nothing dates the film so much as the scenes at the Daily Planet, with typewriters everywhere and not a single PC. Metropolis is very obviously New York here: there are trains to Buffalo and Syracuse.

Sadly, the climax to the film is a bit of a letdown; if Superman can just turn back time so that Lois doesn't die then all future dramatic tension is gone. But this is a film that rises above its flaws by dint of simply being awesome. 

There. After loads of Marvel stuff I've finally blogged something by DC!

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