Man of Steel

Our DCEU: Man of Steel

Our DCEU: Man of Steel
Screen Heroes

 
 
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It’s time to being a brand new segment on Screen Heroes, Let’s ReWrite It. We’re going to be re-writing movies starting with the DCEU. And what better place to start than where it all began, with Superman in Man of Steel. We begin with our news segment covering things like the backlash against Star Wars actors, the massive changes coming to the leadership at DC Comics, and some speculation for Suicide Squad 2, among other things. Then we take on Man of Steel in an attempt to provide Superman a better introduction into the DCEU. We look at tone, style, characters, plot points, action sequences, and more. You don’t want to miss the kickoff of the SHCU… the Screen Heroes Cinematic Universe.

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Our DCEU: Man of Steel

Is the Modern Superman worthy of Mjolnir

This is a thing I often ask myself, certainly Superman could right? Sure, if any character is worthy to wield Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir , then its certainly comic book’s greatest hero Superman? Many other great heroes fall short of this, though because it tests a person’s virtue, how heroic the character is. Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, all of them are great heroes and are some favorites but are they worthy? Only a select few of characters have ever wielded it.

In fact its a very short list of people who have wielded the hammer. The Vision as shown in the Age of Ultron and on one very special occasion Captain America have even wielded it in the comics. We even see Cap nudge it a bit in the movie. But what makes those few who have wielded Mjolnir worthy exactly? It’s selflessness and compassion, plain and simple. These are the two traits that make you a hero, not your powers. That is the lesson that the egotistical Thor learned while he was exiled to Earth in the first Thor movie. His purpose was to serve those weaker than himself, to be selfless and to have compassion for others. Being King isn’t about having people serve under you, it’s about serving your subjects. After coming to this realization Thor regained the right to wield Mjolnir. Story ends, credits role, we have ourselves a bona-fide hero.

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Not many other characters could wield Mjolnir even if they wanted to. Brute force doesn’t work with it. The Hulk with all his might was unable to use the hammer. Sure in comics he could lift it but not wield it. The Hulk couldn’t swing it at a person like Thor does. Like putting Mjolnir in an elevator and taking it up to the next floor above. The elevator is lifting it up, not using it as a weapon. Neither Hulk nor the elevator is actually wielding it. In the seemingly paradoxical joke situation, the elevator is not worthy, you can’t cheat Mjolnir . Either you’re worthy or you’re not. It sees into your soul.

 

What If?
But as a nerd I like to often stretch my imagination, picture in my head Superman picking up Mjolnir . He is often considered the most heroic character ever imagined. No one is more selfless than he is, or even as compassionate. But what of this modern iteration of Superman? The one from the films Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman. He has been reinvented for the modern era and is no longer your Christopher Reeve’s Superman.

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Henry Cavill has done a respectable job in the role, as far as acting is concerned, but the character has played a much more different role in modern movies. He has been portrayed totally different than what came before him, for better or worse. Grant me this small consideration, I’d believe the older versions of Superman could definitely wield Mjoneir but is Henry Cavill’s Superman worthy to wield Mjolnir ? I’d say no, he is not.

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The Modern Superman
It’s not so much how Henry Cavill acts. True, he plays Superman as cold and distant, one could say even say it’s alien. I’m fine with that. But I’d bet this is what Cavill has been asked to do or in other words directed to. It’s more of the situations Superman is put in and how he deals with them than anything else that speaks to his character. It’s how he reacts to the situations. It’s the plot and dialogue that troubles me.

Man of Steel
Take for example a scene from Man of Steel where Zod takes Superman aboard his main ship. Superman passes out from the stress of adjusting to the Kryptonian atmosphere and the two of them share a telepathic vision. Zod shares his plans of rebuilding Krypton here on Earth and in a very visually stunning way shows the pain and suffering terra-forming Earth would be like. (Or I guess Kryptoforming). Billions of people will die. In a metaphor imagery, Superman is seen in a pile of human human skulls that he slowly starts to sinking into it, like some macabre quick sand. It’s a great scene but it’s Superman’s response that is a let down. It hints at the kind of person he is.

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Superman Knee Deep in the Dead

 

At first all he has to say is “Zod, your plan, I can take no part in this.” Not anything like “I’ll stop you” Or “you’ll never get away with this.” A normal person would be revolted by the idea of so many people dying. Even if you took an ordinary person off the street and put them in this situation they would be appalled and scream out in protest or defiance at least. Imagine if Spider-Man were drowning in skulls, he may call Zod a monster. Even a villain like Lex Luthor would be disgusted by such a vision if not for the wanton destruction. Genius after all has more finesse than Zod’s brute force approach to domination. Instead Superman is cold and distant, aloof as so many other viewers have described him. He does eventually cry out in protest but it comes as too late.  As with many of the other scenes, it’s Superman’s cold distant reaction to the tragedy around him that defines him, it speaks to his virtue and worthiness of wielding Mjolnir.  He shows no compassion at all, if he does it’s too late. He has no compassion to compel to act quickly and suddenly.

Sman Skulls Zod

Errr aaa I can’t take part in this … …

 

Batman vs Superman
In the much more recent Batman v Superman, things haven’t changed. Superman is still cold and distant. In one scene Superman is called to testify to the government. He walks through the halls ignoring everyone in a very robotic alien manner, perhaps in an almost stuck up attitude. He is god like after all. After Superman arrives, tragedy strikes and innocent people die. Afterward he just stands there, being invulnerable. He doesn’t assist in the rescue efforts or mitigate the pain and suffering in anyway. He could’ve used x-ray vision to help search for victims or used his super breath to put out the flames. Not even an angry shout or furled brow can be found on his face. Just a cold distant stare.

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I just saw Superman but he didn’t see me …

I don’t know, but if I just saw something like a car wreck, I’d at least pull over and see if everyone was okay, maybe give some first aid. My capabilities pale in comparison to Superman’s. Even compared to a doctor or just some ordinary medic, I don’t have much to offer. But it’s not the capabilities that matter it’s the willingness to act that matters, it’s the willingness that makes you heroic. Compassion making you forget any hesitation.

In some respects the modern Superman is shown doing acts of good. Rescuing people and saving the day. In Batman v Superman he is shown pulling a stranded boat, rescuing a space launch, and saving flood victims to name a few. But its his reactions and his emotional connections that are telling. He is cold and distant, alien. I can understand this approach as he isn’t human after all, he’s the orphan immigrant from Krypton. But there is more to it than that.

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And then I just flew away

The Cold Distant Alien
He still has some emotional ties to Earth, people he cares about. He grew up in the Midwest after all and has adoptive parents that he obviously loves. You can take the boy out of Kansas but not the Kansas out of the boy right? Not to mention his connection with Lois Lane and his mother. When these select few people are threatened he does indeed have an emotional response, usually just flat anger. The love and compassion is hard to see if it really is  ever there. Maybe Superman is just faking it all? Even his romantic scenes with Lois Lane are hard to swallow and come off as being more physical than emotional. What often is described as a lack of chemistry by viewers is more to blame on Superman’s aloofness than on the acting. It’s hard for a cold and distant character to fall in love.

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Superman is mopey

 

I could understand the argument that this new Superman is an outsider, an alien. He has trouble connecting to ordinary people who are not his girlfriend or family, I guess. He is invincible after all. In many ways the new Superman is like Dr. Manhattan from the Watchmen. Cold, distant, and aloof from the pain and suffering of ordinary people not so much because the center of his brain was removed or anything ridiculous like that. It’s because Dr. Manhattan just can’t relate to humans, he can’t sympathize with the fragility of human life because he is invincible. He is above us. He couldn’t anymore relate to humanity than we could relate to termites.

Dr. Manhattan
Take one scene from the Watchmen in particular, the one where victory is declared in Vietnam and the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan are at a bar, celebrating. The Comedian is confronted by a spurned lover and the Comedian kills her and her unborn child in an exaggerated act of self defense. But Dr. Manhattan does nothing. He could have intervened and saved her life but he hesitates. That ability to empathize has left him indecisive. Where real heroes would’ve acted out of compassion without thinking, Dr. Manhattan hesitates because it doesn’t compute.

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A caring super hero would act without thinking. Dr. Manhattan had no such emotional compass to guide him so he hesitated and just let her die. Much like the modern Superman, he can’t relate to people, he can’t empathize with anyone. He doesn’t jump at the chance to save people from an emotional source, he does so out of some obligation. Manhattan doesn’t do it because he cares, he does it because it’s his job. In many ways the modern Superman behaves like Dr. Manhattan.

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Looking more and more alike

The Vision
Although a being can’t empathize with humanity it can still react with compassion for life. Take for example The Vision from Marvel. Though he is artificial, aloof, cold, and logical, he still can feel compassion for suffering people. He has sympathy for life. When something evil around him happens he doesn’t sit and ponder it. If you showed him a pile of human skulls he wouldn’t say something lame, he would be compelled to act immediately. He wouldn’t just say he couldn’t participate like what Superman said to Zod. The Vision would fight without hesitation. The Vision would be a hero. Because of his empathy and selflessness the Vision is able to wield Mjolnir but I’m not so sure about the modern Superman.

vision hammer

Sure the modern Superman is selfless but he is far from caring. He is cold and aloof, alien after all. The only humans he cares about are those the ones he knows personally. Nothing wrong with this, a lot of people in real life are like this and it doesn’t make them evil exactly. But it’s this combination of selflessness and compassion that defines heroism and the modern Superman is only half of this equation. He is incapable of empathy and is far less heroic for it. They took one of the best parts of Superman out. Left it discarded on the movie making floor, a relic of a bygone era.

 

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Outdated, perhaps

It has been said that the Modern Superman is a product of our times. The old Superman as portrayed by Christopher Reeves could never be accepted by people today. Maybe this is true but he was far more heroic. He never hesitated, and his compassion was as formidable as his strength. The classic Superman could probably wield Mjolnir but not this cold modern one we are left with.

Captain America
True, a character sometimes has to evolve with the times, to represent society. But sometimes it more fun to buck the trend. To be a rebel, to be different. Just take Captain America as an example. He is such a fish out of water, a product of the nationalistic times of World War II. But after the culture shock of the Vietnam War, a much more gritty and realistic kind of character started to take hold on the American conscious. Just think of characters like the X-men and the Punisher. Heroes like Captain America lost their relevance. It wasn’t until much later that he was revived and reincorporated in to the comics and later on into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that people started to love him again. Sure he’s outdated and old fashioned but he still has character with out losing what makes him a great hero. There isn’t a moment of cold hesitation or alien aloofness in Captain America. He charges in with out hesitation because he cares for people and the fans love him for it. Even if he just some fossil, he’s a loved for having some character.

Cap and Supes

Now just who is more heroic?

 

In the films Captain America is portrayed as the most heroic of all the Avengers. Often he puts the safety of innocents above the current objective. Like when he instructed the police to evacuate people during the Centauri invasion. Or when in the sequel he put safety of people in the path of the out of control train as the team’s top priority . He still had compassion for innocent people during hectic battles. When danger happens, he charges in because he is both selfless and compassionate. The modern Superman, not so much.

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Even when the modern Superman gives up on the patriotism of his”Truth, Justice, and the American Way” Captain america holds true. During the Marvel Civil War, when his government enacts laws that are against the country’s principles he still holds true to his ideals of liberty and freedom of the individual. He becomes a patriot with out a nation, a Ronin with out a master. Because of this he is far more heroic than the modern Superman who has sacrificed his virtues for the sake of being just as popular as Batman. And you know what, Captain America has wielded Mjolnir.

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Is it 7 Eleven or America he stands for?

 

Kingdom Come and the rejection of Modernization
Superman’s whole shift of his character away from compassion and consequently heroism reminds me of the Alex Ross story, Kingdom Come. The story alludes to Superman doing something wrong and stops being a superhero. In the end it is revealed that a new hero arises, one who kills a criminal. This new hero doesn’t have the compassion to “take him in alive” in the way the good old heroes used to. There is a court hearing and this new violent superhero is acquitted. But more, the people accept the idea of a hero killing a criminal. This heartless hero is accepted by the people. Superman gives up and leaves in disgust but I believe the real moral of the story of Kingdom Come isn’t that Superman failed to evolve, to become more stern and gritty. But instead that society failed Superman, they chose the wrong hero and things got worse because of it. This new hero they chose was neither selfless nor compassionate, he certainly could never have used Thor’s Hammer.

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Superman and his fellows

And that’s the sadistic part of the modern portrayal of Superman, he is less heroic. He lacks compassion and sympathy. D.C. Comics, trying to modernize itself in Marvel’s gritty realistic image isn’t without a price. Superman has become less heroic and in no way do I think he could ever wield Mjolnir. It doesn’t make Superman more interesting, it makes him a hero with less character; it diminishes him. It was Superman’s heroism that defined him, it’s what made him special, not is powers. This was why so many people loved him, they didn’t care how strong he was. Superman was the most heroic character ever, now he’s just another over powered being.

I want to hate the modern portrayal of Superman, his coldness and aloofness, his lack of compassion and humanity, but it’s not his fault. This is what society wants, a more realistic character that they can relate to I suppose. But I can’t stand him. It’s not the powers that make someone heroic, its the willingness to do good and the new Superman just isn’t that man. He has no compassion. He isn’t worthy Mjolnir, he isn’t worthy of being the greatest hero any more. They took that from him, we took that from him by modernizing him. We are to blame for Superman’s failure.

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Superman after the trial

Superman as a Friend
To put things another way, having super powers is like being wealthy. Powers and money both give you a lot of ability to do good or evil in this world. Superman, occasionally saving people in the films, comes off as him just contributing the minimum amount to a charity. Like withdrawing funds from his pay automatically or donating at the office, just because he has to. It’s expected of him. Like a moral tithe. But when it comes to Superman going the extra mile, having compassion for innocents around him, he does so reluctantly if at all. Like some rich guy paying a bill at the restaurant and not leaving a good tip. With all of that power he should do more than the minimum, or else he looks like a jerk. He has to do more.

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Superman, You decide

In the end I don’t think I like Superman these days. I don’t mean like being a fan of his or anything. I mean if I was to hang around him I don’t think I’d like him. He’s too much of a jerk. I know it’s real popular these days for characters to be gruff and all but when someone is incredibly powerful and has nothing to lose from having compassion and sympathy he runs the risk of being a jerk if he doesn’t at least try to care. It was that combination of incredible power and compassion that won over people’s hearts. I don’t think I’d count Superman as being a friend and I certainly wouldn’t think he could ever wield Thor’s hammer Mjolnir.

 

Is the Modern Superman worthy of Mjolnir

SH S1E15: Batman v Superman Analysis

The DCEU has officially started with the premiere of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film is bringing the cash along with complex opinions that range from a sub-30% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes to +70% by fans on the same site. People either love or hate this movie with little room for middle ground. With that in mind, we decided to sit down and discuss the main characters, plot points, and expectations for the film and upcoming DCEU movies including Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman. So there are lots of spoilers here! You’ve been warned. We also did a poster give away for our viewers who watched the live stream on Twitch as we recorded! We’re not sure what the next give away will be but keep up with us on Twitter and Facebook to find out and make sure to tune in live next week!

Listen to our thoughts and then let us know yours! What did you think of the movie? Are you excited for the future films? Who was your favorite character and who do you think would win in a showdown between DC’s Trinity? Comment below!

Batman v Superman Analysis Podcast Credits

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Derreck Mayer
Rachel Stewart
Ryan Couture

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Ian Turner

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Nikki Lynn

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Derreck Mayer

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Derreck Mayer

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Michael Wallace (Flying Killer Robots)

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SH S1E15: Batman v Superman Analysis

Top 10 Superman Incarnations in Film and TV

This past weekend Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice premiered to record world-wide box office sales and while I have not yet seen the flick, I can assure you that I’ll be rooting for the Man of Steel. His shield logo is one of the most recognizable symbols in the world and the Metropolis Marvel has set the standard for costumed characters for almost 80 years.  First appearing in Action Comics #1 back in 1938, generations of readers have seen different incarnations of the Big Blue Boy Scout make the journey as a baby from Krypton to Smallville and as a man from Smallville to Metropolis. Last week Derreck brought you his top versions of the Dark Knight Detective while today I bring you my favorite versions of the Last Son of Krypton.

What is my criteria for the order in which I rank these? Personal preference. I claim no sophisticated system. I simply am going to go with what is in my heart. I figure that is what Superman would do.


# 10 Brandon Routh in Superman Returns

Superman Returns: Brandon RouthThe creators of this movie decided to base it in the same world as the Christopher Reeve flicks while pretending that neither Superman III or IV had ever happened (that part was a wise choice in my opinion). Routh was cast to a large degree due to the resemblance he had to Reeve as much as his resemblance to Superman. The issue for me was that having it be a sequel just made it confusing and sad. He left Earth, Lois moved on, gave birth to his son, got a husband, won a Pulitzer and got 15 years younger. Routh and his co-star Kate Bosworth (Lois) just seemed too young physically and too old spiritually for this movie to be cohesive for me. This movie just drained me and I have never watched it a second time. I have enjoyed Routh in his role as Ray Palmer on Arrow and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow far more than I did as Superman.

#09 Danny Dark in Super Friends

This was the first version of Superman that I remember seeing on television. The character was voiced by Danny Dark in basically the same show with different names from before I started kindergarten until after I started high school. My primary issue with the Superman in Super Friends is that to keep the show kid friendly he couldn’t punch anyone. At all. They decided to deal with this by putting force fields everywhere and then Superman would spend 15 minutes slamming into them. Also Kryptonite made up nearly 1/4th of the world’s crust in the Super Friends universe. Still, I was a kid and I ate it up.

#08 Henry Cavill in Man of Steel

I know that this ranking here will cause some controversy because people are so divided on this movie. I actually agree with much of the criticism on this picture but I honestly think it could have been worse without Henry Cavill. My main issue with this movie was the characterization of Jonathan Kent more than anything else. I actually felt that Cavill tried to offer some heart to the role and there are some scenes he has with Amy Adams and with Diane Lane that are really strong. There are a lot of things that I would have done differently with this film but I don’t think casting Cavill was the issue.

#07 Vin Diesel in The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant: Vin DieselOkay, I know I’m cheating here but it is my list and I don’t care. The Iron Giant features many of the same plot points as a Superman show – super-powered alien comes to Earth and ends up falling in love with and defending his adopted home and family. The Iron Giant takes some time to figure out his role and Hogarth is in a sense his Obi-Wan, teaching him the meaning of a hero…showing the giant that he is more than just his programming. I am not ashamed to admit that the end of this movie gets me every time. When the Iron Giant closes his eyes and says “Soo-per-man”, it is over for me.  Not one of the other movies on this list makes me tear up like I do every time at the end of The Iron Giant.

#06 Tom Welling in Smallville

Smallville: Tom WellingA lot of folks would put Welling higher on this list and I probably would have as well if I had stuck with this series. The show suffered for me from ‘freak of the week’ syndrome. Each week someone would get powers from Kryptonite (except Lana Lang who wore a Kryptonite pendant). After a while I left the show so I missed Supergirl, Lois and an early version of the Justice League. I guess I can still go out there and watch them but I haven’t found the time or motivation yet. Obviously the show found a great following, as superhero shows don’t generally stay on the air for 10 years. I also have a hard time accepting Welling as a nerdy high school freshman when the show premiered since he was actually 24 and a model.

#05 George Reeves from Adventures of Superman

Superman: George ReevesFor my father’s generation George Reeves was Superman. Reeves was reluctant to take on the crimson cape and a television series as he was worried about how it would affect his movie career. In that sense he was probably correct in that the show made him a household icon and ‘the’ face of Superman for a couple of decades. Reeves’ Superman is older and more sure of himself and his Clark Kent is as well. This Clark pretty much relied on the hat and glasses to do the disguise work rather than any other characterization. Physically, George isn’t a guy that you would cast as Superman today but he isn’t far off of the Superman that we saw in the comics in the forties and fifties. We also didn’t see any angsty business with Superman getting all misty about being an alien. This Superman knew that being Superman is awesome so stop moping and fight some bad guys!

#04 Dean Cain in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

The Adventures of Lois and Clark: Dean CainCain’s version of the Metropolis Marvel borrowed a lot from the Modern Era of Superman started by writer/artist John Byrne. Clark’s parents are both alive in this show and I think the way that they are a part of his life is a very big reason that I enjoyed it so much. I always felt that the Kents are the main reason that Superman is who he is. Their acceptance and adoption of this visitor from another world is what fuels the character’s fundamental characteristics of hope and selflessness. Cain’s Clark Kent was opposite Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane and their chemistry really came through. I really liked Clark and Lois married both in the comics and on TV.  To my knowledge, this is the only version in television or in movies where they tied the knot.

#03 Bud Collyer in the Fleischer Studios Cartoons

Max Fleischer's SupermanThe Fleisher cartoons still stand the test of time in my opinion. These short features were shown in front of movies (whereas now we get advertisements) and for millions of people this was their first introduction to the character particularly overseas. One of the first episodes “The Mad Scientist” cost $50,000 to produce in 1941! The great sci-fi themes, the musical score, and the physical sense of Superman’s strength still get me going. I probably shouldn’t give Collyer too much credit here as the animation is really the star. In fact, Collyer doesn’t even speak much as Superman. By far most of his dialogue is as Clark Kent which he does as very mousy and high pitched. Lois is as intrepid as ever here although she does need Superman to bail her out frequently. You also have this series to thank for ‘faster than a speeding bullet’.

#02 Tim Daly in Superman: The Animated Series

The Adventures of Superman: The Animated SeriesProducer Bruce Timm had a great feel for what people wanted to see in his animated series. Superman here is confident and heroic with a much brighter tone than the excellent Batman animated series that preceded this one. The series showed us a Superman generally supported by the community and while he had super-strength, he had to strain to move large objects like trucks or ships. Unlike on the Super Friends, Superman didn’t push the Earth around to find his lost keys or make it become Friday sooner. The show had a rich cast of fleshed-out other characters and some great villains. This show also remembered (sometimes) that Superman had super-speed. In one episode, a guy was pointing a kryptonite ray gun at Supes and he was half way through gloating over the ‘alien’ he was going to shoot when Superman disappeared and then reappeared with the gun. Super-speed is seriously a great power. You could probably make a whole show about a guy that had super-speed as his only power. Maybe.

#01 Christopher Reeve from Superman: The Movie and Superman II

Superman: The Movie - Christopher ReeveChristopher Reeve will always be Superman for me. The way he carried himself as the Last Son of Krypton and the way that he took on a completely different appearance, posture, and tone as Clark Kent was a perfect reflection of the Bronze Age character. This Superman was noble and optimistic. He chose to see the best in people and always encouraged them to do the right thing before just throwing a punch. Reeve’s Superman was about inspiring people to do the right thing and not just inflicting justice on wrongdoers. Superman: The Movie is absolutely not a perfect movie. The Lois Lane voice over in the flying scene makes me cringe every single time. So much more was right though – the relationship between Clark and Pa Kent, catching Lois and the helicopter, using his own body as a missing train rail. Those were some of the best cinematic moments I have ever experienced. The 2nd movie had hiccups as well but I liked that Superman used his brains to defeat the Phantom Zone villains and didn’t just rely on punching them. Anticlimatic? Perhaps, but appropriate nevertheless. He also ‘runs away’ from the bad guys so that instead of duking it out in Metropolis he takes the showdown to an unpopulated area. Crazy, crazy idea. I believe that Reeve’s later paralysis hit people so hard because people really thought of him as Superman. Reeve continued to inspire us after the cameras stopped rolling as as he did during.

Notes:

  • Thanks to Derreck for inviting me to do this guest piece. I may do something like this for comic versions of Superman over on my site: worstcomicpodcastever.com so give us a look and listen if you have a chance!
  • I didn’t include the JL or JLU animated versions because I saw them as somewhat of an extension of the Timm animated show even they were voiced by a different actor.
  • Sorry to the live action Superboy of the 90’s as I never watched it.

Do you have a different favorite Man of Steel? Who made your list? Comment below!

Top 10 Superman Incarnations in Film and TV

Superman with the Kids – Review

Superman is one of the most iconic characters ever created. I can remember him being a part of my life since watching Super Friends as a kid (just don’t re-watch it now, it’s painful). My father never really cared much for comics, but went out and bought the Death of Superman comics in 1992. I think he was trying to hold on to those as a collector’s investment, but I found them and couldn’t put them down. It was really my introduction to the world of comic books.

I’ve seen every Superman movie made I think. I’ve slogged through Superman and the Mole Men from 1951. I’ve mourned as the Christopher Reeve era of Superman films started strong and ended poorly. I liked Brandon Routh as Superman, though Superman Returns just sort of fell flat for me. I’m of two minds on Man of Steel: it started strong, and I liked the ways they changed elements of his origin, but hated the last third of that movie. So much. I’ve even seen the recently released documentary “The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?”, which would have been an interesting/insane take on Superman, and worth a watch. I just really like Superman as a character, and even the bad movies tend to have memorable moments.

As a father now, I’ve had to be selective about how to introduce my kids to these types of movies. We tend to be more than a little protective in what we allow our kids to watch, so a lot of the more action-filled movies have been off-limits. My kids are starting to get older now, so this weekend I decided it was time to introduce my children to Superman, Richard Donner’s 1978 origin story for the Man of Steel. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times, though I prefer Superman II, but this time, I wanted to see what it was like for my children to get to experience this for the first time. My son, the older of my two kids, has read enough of the kid-oriented graphic novels from the library that he knows Superman’s origin and backstory, and has a passing knowledge of Superman’s key antagonists like Lex Luther and Doomsday. As those familiar elements were presented, you could see the moments of recognition in his eyes. My daughter, however, didn’t really know much about Superman, and so for her this was all new.

Before I dig into specific elements of the film, there are a couple of things I realized while watching Superman this time around. First, this movie was clearly made with kids in mind. Many of the elements that don’t work for me had them laughing and engaged the entire time. I don’t know why I’d never really considered that before, but seeing how wrapped up in the movie they were, it struck me what a good job was done making a really family-friendly film without being obvious about it. Second, I really, really miss this version of Superman. The Clark Kent persona gets a lot of flack for just being a pair of glasses and a slouch, but in this film there’s a pronounced difference between the two personas, and it speaks to the identity that is trying to be crafted for the character. Both Clark Kent and Superman feel likable and real, and it’s a testament to Reeve’s acting that he pulls it off so well.

— Superman: The Bad —

Since I prefer to end on a positive note, let me get the elements of this film out of the way that just don’t work:

Superman Flying Around the World Backwards

No. Just No.

Reversing time by flying around the world backwards

This is the single largest criticism of this movie. It makes no sense logically, though one thing that struck me was that they foreshadow this possibility early on. Jor-El clearly explains at several points earlier in the movie that it is forbidden to tamper with human history. Was this previously a problem for Kryptonians when they would travel to other planets? Interestingly, my kids had absolutely no problem with this, though they were at first confused about what Superman was doing, but then just excited that Superman could save Lois.

Otis and Miss Tessmacher

We are supposed to accept that Lex Luthor, the Greatest Criminal Mind of the Century™, would tolerate working with two of the most useless people imaginable. The movie goes out of their way to tell us over and over again how stupid Otis is, and I have yet to understand exactly what role Miss Tessmacher plays aside from eye candy in one scene (that includes the dumbest group of military people to ever be in charge of nuclear assets). Is she his mistress? His secretary? Her plot role in helping Superman escape to stop the nuclear missiles is presumably not her only reason for existing, but why does Lex keep her around? Virtually every moment where either sidekick is on screen is terrible. The best I can figure is that these two are like the cartoon character sidekicks in an animated movie that serve as the comic relief for children. My kids thought Otis was funny, but they can’t find a reason for Miss Tessmacher to be there, either.

We spend far too long on Krypton

When the movie begins by sentencing Zod and Co. to the Phantom Zone, I thought at first I had put in the wrong movie. But no, in contrast to the after credits scenes and teases we’re used to today, this teaser for Superman II happens before you see anything else for Superman. You get this weird scene of giant ominous faces condemning three strangers to a terrible fate (at least we’re supposed to think that flying pane of glass is terrible. We’re never actually told what it is) with absolutely no context.  I don’t even remember if they actually even mention Zod’s name.  Marlon Brando’s Jor-El is the only other person physically present during this scene. This moment is never alluded to again for the duration of the movie. In the next scene, we find out Krypton is doomed, and the Kryptonian governing council was all right there, in person, to be their version of extreme climate change deniers I guess? This whole drama takes so long to play out, with it taking a full 20 minutes or so before young Kal-El is sent through space to earth, that my kids really began to wonder whether there was going to be any Superman in a movie called Superman.

Superman’s sometimes incredibly random powers

Super speed, flight, super hearing (though it’s never really explained how Lex figures out he can do that, since it doesn’t come up in Lois’s interview), and x-ray vision are all present as expected. Heat vision doesn’t show up till the second film, which was the one thing both my kids asked about at the end of the movie (“How come he didn’t use his eye lasers?”). The ability to spin himself fast enough to drill through concrete? Not sure how he discovered that power. Superman admits in his interview with Lois that he’s never clocked himself flying before, but there’s no good explanation at why catching missiles is so difficult, yet flying fast enough to change Earth’s rotation is possible shortly thereafter. Are his super-speed or time travel capabilities only unlocked via heartbreak?

The flying date with Lois
Lois and Superman Interview

Everything is fine, until they take off. Then, let the score and the whispered musings put you to sleep.

It’s corny, goes on way too long, and Lois does far too much inner monologuing. My daughter loved the whole thing and spent the whole scene in excited fits of embarrassment. Guess I’m just not the target audience for this one.

The Special Effects

They’re not all bad, especially given that the film was made 37 years ago, and the green screen flying doesn’t look terrible, but this film definitely shows it’s age.  The most disconcerting effects happen anytime dead Jor-El is communicating with Clark, especially when he first reaches the Fortress of Solitude. The weird Technicolor fade-ins and fade-outs and floating heads are just not something my kids have really been exposed to. I do appreciate that many of the action effects are practical, which helps give the scenes an air of believability, even if they can feel dated.

— Superman: The Good —

Despite those issues, I have to admit, I really enjoy this movie. It’s not perfect, and most of the important side characters and virtually every extra in the movie feel like walking clichés instead of actual people, but it gives the film a very sort of cheesy charm that works. The brief interactions with a wide variety of New Yorkers citizens of Metropolis should feel ridiculous, but for some reason they don’t. Let me touch on some of the best things this movie offers.

Christopher Reeve
Clark Kent vs Superman

While not true for all actors, Clark Kent is more than just Superman with glasses because of Christopher Reeve.

There are not enough good things to say about his performance in this movie. Without his acting, this movie would have failed. There are a couple of great moments that really define why this works for me. First, early after his introduction to Metropolis, Clark and Lois are leaving the Daily Planet and are robbed at gunpoint. Clark plays the ultimate coward, whining and terrified. After he catches a bullet to save Lois, there’s this moment where he looks at the bullet in his hand, and has this look of satisfaction that’s amazing. It’s everything short of winking at the camera, and I love it.

There’s a second moment, after Superman has his flying date mentioned above, when he shows up as Clark to take Lois on an actual date. While Lois is in the other room obviously still twitterpated by Superman, Clark takes off his glasses, stands up straight, and you see his whole demeanor change as he is about to tell Lois who he really is. I mentioned above the whole ‘glasses as a disguise’ trick isn’t often done well, and this is where Reeve excels. It’s not just taking off the glasses or standing up straight, or even speaking a little more confidently that makes it clear he’s now Superman, it’s the look in his eyes, the set of his chin. It’s a brilliant scene where he sheds the alias and is both confident and insecure, and he does so much with just body language.

Finally, when Lex tricks Superman into opening the lead case with the Kryptonite in it, there’s a moment of sheer terror when Superman realizes he’s actually in trouble.  The look on Reeve’s face is genuine, and you really believe he’s afraid. It’s vulnerable and real, and such a great performance.

Reeve just does such an amazing job as Superman. Confident, even flirty with Lois, small and timid as Clark, genuine as a hero with a smile on his face and no trace of condescension even delivering some really cheesy lines. He carries this movie.

The Costume

Superman is nothing without the costume.  It’s as iconic as any can possibly be.  This version of the costume feels lifted straight from the pages of a comic book.  It’s classical, with bright colors, and the first time you see Superman flying out of the Fortress of Solitude wearing it, it is just incredible.  I’d love if they explained a little more where he got it from, since everything we see on Krypton seems devoid of color, but that’s a really minor gripe.  My kids excitement was palpable, since it does take a while for Superman to finally become Superman.

The dynamic between Lex Luthor and Superman
Lex Luthor First Revealing Kryptonite

Gene Hackman really shines in these moments when he triumphs, if briefly, over Superman

Gene Hackman is an amazing actor, and, when his scenes aren’t being ruined by his sidekicks, he really steals the show. The entire scene with Lex explaining his whole plan to Superman about the nuclear missiles and California leading to the Kryptonite reveal is incredible. Superman is swaggering about confidence in his abilities, and Lex is just toying with him. The way they interact together here is fantastic, and echoes so much about what I like from this dynamic in the comics.

The young Clark Kent

While I think Man of Steel handles the origins of Superman well, this is the gold standard. The Kents are believable, kind, and loving. When Pa Kent gives the speech about why he has Clark conceal his powers, it is uplifting rather than paranoid, even though the content is nearly the same. Pa Kent’s death is heartbreaking. Everything here was handled perfectly, and covers all the traditional elements my son reminded me had to be there.

The Score

You cannot underestimate the genius that is John Williams’s score and how much it impacts this movie. I bet you’re humming it in your head right now. It’s incredible, and it really adds to the movie.  There are a couple of variations on the main theme to keep it fresh through the film, and the romance theme set that tone perfectly as well.

Margot Kidder as Lois Lane

Again, a fantastic casting choice. She screams a lot, and I’m not a big fan of the flying date scene, but much like Reeve she gives a very genuine performance, and her chemistry with Reeve is visible. She’s confident and assertive and immensely likeable as a character. Watching her get flustered by Superman in their interview is tremendously enjoyable, which, again, was my daughters favorite part of the movie.

The Humor

Remember when superhero movies were funny? There are quite a few moments of well-crafted (or at least well-intentioned) humor in this movie. One of my favorite moments is the obligatory ‘Superman saves a plane’ scene. The pilot, after looking out the window to see Superman supporting the exploded engine turns to his co-pilot and delivers in a perfect deadpan, “Fly. Don’t look, just fly.” Superman also gets to deliver plenty of one-liners, some of which are a little groan-worthy, but not Schwarzenegger level, so it’s fine. Even Hackman gets in on the fun with the slightly terrible line “We all have our little faults. Mine’s in California.” That one did make my son groan. It’s just such a nice change to watch a superhero movie that isn’t bleak and joyless.

— Superman: Conclusions —

So, the final verdict from my kids was that this was a solid hit. My son really enjoyed seeing all the things he knew about the character portrayed well. My daughter really enjoyed discovering one of the great romances in comics. I love coming into the room listening to them talk about it even now, days afterwards. Whether it’s about that silly guy who hit Superman in the head with a crowbar (“how dumb was that, Dad?”), or Clark’s little nod to himself after catching the bullet to save Lois, or even how dumb Otis is, the fact that they are still talking about it just makes me smile. This movie is such a perfect introduction to the character of Superman and what makes him great. It’s definitely more fun than serious, and it’s got plot holes, but it’s aged far better than you probably think it has for being more than 35 years old. If you haven’t seen it recently, especially if you have kids like mine, you can’t go wrong with truth, justice, and the American way.

Have you seen a Superman movie lately?  What’s your favorite Superman film?  If you say Superman IV, then you’re a terrible person.  Leave a comment below and tell me what you think.

Superman with the Kids – Review