Rewind Reviews – Superman: The Movie

Posted on 10 January 2019
By Andrew Siddall
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80 years ago in 1938, comic writers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster introduced the world to the Man of Steel. An alien from the planet Krypton who was stronger than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. 40 years later, in 1978, we saw the release of one of the most iconic superhero movies of all time, Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, starring Christopher Reeve, which made us believe a man could fly.

Superman: The Movie tells the story of Kal-El, an alien from the planet Krypton who is sent to Earth when his planet is destroyed and raised by the loving Kent family. Growing up as Clark Kent, he discovers his roots and puts his incredible powers to good use as the greatest superhero of all time.

Superman/Clark Kent is played by the legendary Christopher Reeve (Village of the Damned) who is still considered the best version of Superman over 40 years on. Reeve does a fantastic job as both the hopeful superhero and the clumsy, mild-mannered reporter. The contrast is wonderful and both sides feel authentic.

Every Superman needs his Lois Lane, and this is no exception, introducing us to a strong willed and determined Lois, played by the late Margot Kidder (Robber’s Roost). She is brilliantly realised and feels like a real person who gets caught up in the events of the movie. She’s a great part of the film and really adds a little extra.

There was only really one villain to choose for Superman’s big debut, and Gene Hackman (The French Connection) does an excellent job as the scheming Lex Luthor. Much more subtle than Jesse Eisenberg’s interpretation, this Luthor is always one step ahead and knows how clever he is. He’s the perfect villain for this movie and provides a real threat to Supes.

There’s also a load of extra characters played by some incredibly talented actors, with Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine as Lex’s sidekicks: Otis and Ms. Teschmacher, Jackie Cooper as the Editor of the Daily Planet, Perry White, and the one and only Marlon Brando as the softly spoken Jor-El, Superman’s father.

The story has a lot to tell, but with no time-limits and a breezy pace, it manages to tell a cohesive story that isn’t too over the top but shows the characters at their best. It’s surprising that the main antagonist doesn’t come into the film until quite some time through, but it still works and fits the story nicely. It’s cleverly told and still has the power to surprise.

At the time, the effects were ground-breaking and even managed to be the recipient of a Special Achievement Academy Award. Today, they don’t hold up as well as movies like Star Wars (1977) but they still look good and the actors and situations help to sell everything. They don’t take you out of the movie in the slightest and shows what the best talent of the 70’s were able to create.

Unlike most of the big comic book movies in recent years, Superman: The Movie is sparing with its action, keeping the focus on the characters and story, but once it starts, it is genuinely thrilling. From the helicopter accident to the huge finale, the film shows the range of Superman’s abilities in a brilliant way and manages to test the Man of Steel to his limits, which is something many recent writers struggle with.

One of the reasons this stands out from the crowd is a genuine heart and understanding of the characters. It isn’t focused on being huge and action-packed or telling a depressing story, it’s hopeful and joyous and shows us that not everything needs to be dark and reflect reality.

This is helped tenfold by the uplifting score created by music maestro John Williams (Saving Private Ryan), which remains one of, if not the most, iconic soundtracks of all time. It is truly inspiring and memorable, so much so it is still synonymous with the character.

The movie changed the filmmaking industry for the better and has recently been inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. The majority of superhero movies, whether directly or indirectly, have been influenced by it as well. Wonder Woman (2017) used several call-backs, the Spider-Man trilogy (2002 -2007) used a similar plot and structure, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe use it as inspiration before starting each new film.

Overall, this may feel a little dated for new audiences, but it hasn’t lost any of its original charm. The characters are well realised in a story that makes full use of each characters skills. And with an iconic score, this is nothing short of one of the greatest and most iconic movies ever made.

Purple Revolver rating: 5/5. An inspiration to all filmmakers.