February 22, 2011

Superman: The Movie

By Robb Witmer Full  |  February 22, 2011


Tights and Capes...

Superman comes from a different time in both American Comics and America itself. Comics were pure kids-stuff then, so most of the characters dressed like clowns to catch the eye of any passing children, not at all unlike modern-day cereal boxes, with the use of big, bright, primary-colored mascots to mesmerize the little scamps.

So, I get why the Tights and Capes, I guess, but it's always been a large hurdle to leap, as it were. Why would Superman dress like such a jack-ass?

Or (at least in the movie version), why would his father dress him like such a jack-ass when he made clear to his son that he should try to blend in with humans. And it's not like the film established at any point that Kryptonians ever dressed like that...

Whatever, I'm over it. For now. But, yes, Superman is kind of silly, and he's exactly the sort of character that for so long mis-defined what comic books could be.

There are no shades of gray in this Superman world, very little humor, and absolutely no irony of any kind. People will smile occasionally.

Superman, for all his other-worldly advancement and wisdom, is so oblivious to Earth reality that he thinks there really are only two sides, Good and Evil.

Perhaps he just loves fascism. At the end of the movie, when he's dropping the Bad Guys off at the prison -- without all the mess of a trail -- he waves at the prison guards and tells them that they're all on the same team.

These same prison guards would happily smuggle drugs and weapons into the prison for the Bad Guys, if the price is right. Who's side are they on then, Superman? What if they're using their ill-gotten gains to feed their family?

And for a guy who is so learned, Superman is still kind of an Aw-Shucks idiot, isn't he? I know, I know, he was raised in Kansas, but small-town values are not the same thing as dopeyness.

The tone of Superman is hard to get right. Maybe this is why any updated version seems so out of place. It operates on a cultural logic that doesn't exist any more, except to be made fun of, and to ridicule it would destroy the whole Superman ethos.

A mid-90's Superman movie, to be directed by Tim Burton almost looked like this:




I'm not making that up. That makes the Schumacher-era Batman movies look like... well, the Schumacher-era Batman movies.

We want Superman to be dorky, and simple, and to wear the the blue and red tights even if they are, as Jon Peters once famously said, "too faggy."

Superman: The Movie gets it mostly right. Does it get too close to Cheese? Yes, dangerously so. Obviously, it's pretty hard to believe that Clark Kent's co-workers, especially Lois Lane, don't get that he's Superman, but at this point if you can't accept that then you are some sort of un-American.

And a bomb that can hit the San Andreas fault right in the G-spot, causing California to fall into the ocean? Even if it were possible, come the fuck on.

Let's not discuss whether or not time will go backwards if the Earth spins backwards.

Christopher Reeve is just un-bland enough to keep the audience awake and Lois Lane interested. Actually, it's hard to understand what she sees in Superman, except for the 6'5", studly, and able-to-fly thing.

Reeve is not exactly Mark-Hamill-in-Star-Wars bad, but I don't see what he brings to the character besides looking just like Superman.

Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor is totally underused in this movie. He spends most of it behind a desk, underground, being about half as interesting as Gene Hackman can be.

Brando, on the other hand, if fucking awesome as Jor-El. The opening sequence on Krypton should have been an entire prequel itself. Who wouldn't want to see a whole movie about a planet that runs on Crystal Technology?

That would have been way too cool, though. The movie we did get is exactly what we need a Superman movie to be. Action-packed, kid-friendly, and most of all, BRIGHT.

Robb Witmer Full has never worn tights; capes occasionally.
@robbwitmer