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Superman (1978)

PG 143 minutes

Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman

 · Marlon Brando
 · Gene Hackman
 · Christopher Reeve
 · Margot Kidder

Review by Thom Stricklin

There are a few images in this world that truly seem to embody an ideal or a nation.  Superman easily serves as examples for both.  He is as integral to American culture as apple pie and baseball, and is as synonymous with justice as a set of scales.  No wonder the Last Son of Krypton became the first superhero to grace the big screen.

But how does Superman stack up to the competition that has come along in the twenty-five years since its release? Does the man of steel remain invulnerable, or do it's campy tone and watered-down character adaptations now serve as the film's kryptonite?




There was perhaps so much effort put into adapting Superman for the screen that it's difficult to sum up the artistic merit of the film.  On one hand, Puzo and company added some interesting elements to the story, such as the allusions of Superman to a Christ-like figure.  Another example is the death of Jonathan Kent, the scene of the film in which the audience is most emotionally invested.

However, the writing falls short in some places.  Most blatently, they transformed the menacing character Lex Luthor into a goofy, wise-cracking buffoon.  Also, the resolution of the film, with Superman speeding around the globe to reverse time, was silly.  The film also risks alienating fans of the comic book, altering Supes' origin--leading us to believe that the big 'S' is a Kryptonian family crest--and throwing in that Jon Kent death, which seems very reminiscent of Uncle Ben's death in Amazing Spider-Man, circa the early 1960s.

The acting is acceptable though not extraordinary throughout the film.  Christopher Reeves comes across as a little wooden, but mild-mannered reporters probably aren't the greatest personalities in the first place.  Margot Kidder delivers one of the better performances, giving Lois Lane the curiosity and uncompromising will the character needs.  Although the movie version of Lex Luthor is a joke, Gene Hackman makes the best of the joke, finding a good balance between Luthor's menacing nature and the movie's comic-relief bad guy side.  The film's first-billed, Marlon Brando, doesn't offer much in his limited role...  I'd venture to say George Reeve is the more effective father figure as Pa Kent in this film.




Superman doesn't have much in common with a modern hit.  The mood of the film is very campy.  (In fact, it's understandable why Charlie's Angels director McG was once attached to direct the remake of this film; Angels is one of the few movies of recent times that can compete with Superman in amount of camp.) The characters are flat, unambiguous, and are not very compelling.

The best and most enjoyable part of this film may, in fact, be John Williams' stunning score.  In a few places it sounds reminiscent of his Close Encounters work, but the Superman theme song is among the best film scoring in history, and the love theme "Can You Read My Mind?" is a perfect, more tender accompaniment to the film.



Superman has long stood as a symbol of "Truth, Justice, and the American Way".  So how does Superman: The Movie live up to the legend? Well, it remains reasonably true to the source material, but does not fully do it justice.  Perhaps that's called the "Hollywood Way".

So why do I rate it as I do? Simple.  Superman brings to life the story of a superhero triumphing over a demented villian.  It's a classic tale of good and evil.  Moreover, it set the standards for this breed of classic hero on screen.  Who doesn't like watching the good guy win?

These days, it's still a fun watch, and captivating just to be able to see the red cape zip across the sky.  For a better story or better developed characters, however, there are newer and better films we can turn to.

617 Words Published: 13 December 2002

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