In a far off galaxy on a planet known as Krypton, a baby named Kal-El (Christopher Reeve) is sent from his home just before the planet comes to its untimely demise. The child lands on Earth with superhuman abilities and is taken in by a farmer and his wife. Once he grows up, he sets out to discover his true identity and become the hero that he is destined to become: Superman.
Being the first superhero film ever to be made with the intent of its lead being taken seriously, it is understandable to think that Superman would have some flaws here and there but ultimately stand as a prime example of the genre. This movie does have its flaws, most definitely, but those flaws are so strong that they weigh the film down, making it an overlong mixed bag of really lame humor, poorly developed characters and quite possibly the worst ending ever filmed for a movie. It really feels as if the movie was developed simply because somebody realized nobody had ever made a Superman movie before (other than the publicly denounced serials of the 40s). It doesn’t feel like there was a whole lot of intention to do the character justice, just to get the movie out there.
Christopher Reeve really is good as Superman. He’s able to pull off that overgrown boy scout attitude while making it feel genuine and humble. Christopher Reeve as Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent, however, is a bumbling doofus who serves for not much more than utterly pointless slapstick. Kent doesn’t seem like somebody who could honestly survive a day in the real world, which makes him not only unbelievable but rather annoying. Just as if not more annoying are the villains, Lex Luther (Gene Hackman) and his lackeys. They spend most of the movie underground just talking about what’s going on above ground as well as how evil they are. They’re supposed to serve as some sort of comic relief, but that utterly backfires when the only relief I feel is when the film cuts away from them. Add this to Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), who is completely pointless, and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), who is just an awful, useless romantic interest, and you have a cast of unlikable, uninteresting players that make what is already an extremely boring and dull movie all that much harder to watch. The only character that I really do enjoy watching is Perry White (Jackie Cooper). Cooper’s giving it his all as the hot-headed editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet, so he at least provides something worth watching.
The first half hour or so of the film is just the establishment of Superman before he ends up in Metropolis. Marlon Brando gives an expectedly good performance as Superman’s father, Jor-El, but getting him to play the character was kind of unnecessary. The dialogue in this section of the film is nothing but very poorly written exposition desperately trying to explain absolutely everything about Superman instead of just showing it to us. The next hour of the film is mostly just Kal-El becoming Clark Kent becoming Superman, and by that I mean it’s practically a one hour montage of nothing but Superman saving people. It gets very monotonous very fast, much like just about every scene in the film. There’s also an allegedly romantic scene between Lois Lane and Superman as they fly through the night sky together, but this is completely ruined by a bizarre poem recited by Lois’ thoughts, or something. Whatever the case, it almost ruins the scene. I say almost because the scene ruins itself before this by going on far too long to the point that it loses all romance and just becomes tiring.
And then there’s the ending, which I won’t spoil of course, even though by this point you most likely know what happens. For those of you who do know, regardless of your feelings on it, I can assume you understand why it frustrates me so. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let’s just say that something very dark and very emotional happens at the end, but it’s utterly ruined by what immediately follows. With the themes established throughout the film and the way things are filmed, it almost seems as if it was originally intended to end completely differently, but the studio decided to change it at the last minute. This is speculation of course (as I’m apparently far too lazy to research it).
While it seems as if one of the writers really was trying to get the Superman story right, there were three other writers working on the project as well. But even if they had gone for the darker ending or just changed the ending altogether, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that the rest of the movie doesn’t know what it wants to be or do and ultimately just feels like a hollow cash-in. The biggest problem is that this film doesn’t capture what Superman stands for. It just tells us what he stands for and then spends the rest of the film as underwhelming spectacle.