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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 25.23%
Average: 6.31%
Pretty Bad: 1.8%
Total Crap: 2.7%

4 reviews, 87 user ratings

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by David Cornelius

"I believe a man can fly."
5 stars

“Easy, miss. I’ve got you.” “You’ve got me?! Who’s got you?!”

Is there any piece of film music more rousing that John Williams’ theme to “Superman?” Every time I hear it, I feel a swell of emotion inside, and for just a moment, I think that maybe, just maybe, I just might be the Man of Steel. It’s the kind of hummable, pomp-heavy overture that brightens my day, makes me stand up straight, and fools me into thinking everything’s going to be fine with the world.

It’s the perfect fanfare to begin what still remains the single best superhero movie ever made. Richard Donner’s “Superman” is a brilliant combination of high adventure, Biblical epic, and comic action. It knows exactly when to take itself seriously and when to kid itself.

The film is essentially split into two parts. The first is the 70s-era “origin of Superman” legend, presented with all the pageantry of an overproduced widescreen epic of the 1950s. Here, Supes becomes one part Moses and two parts Jesus as Jor-El (Marlon Brando) spares his son the fate of dying on his home world by sending him to planet Earth, where his superpowers will make him into a savior of sorts.

These early Krypton scenes come complete with faux-Shakespearean dialogue and a larger-than-life plot, the kind of material you would find not only in a DeMille film, but also in the comics of the day. In addition, the design of the planet, an ice planet powered by crystals, showcases an imagination eager to stretch to new limits. Unwilling to settle with just some generic “snow world,” the filmmakers present a world unlike any we’d ever seen on film before. As a result, Krypton becomes a feast for the eyes and a treat for the imagination.

Moving on to Kansas. Here, the facts of the Superman legend - found as a baby by Ma and Pa Kent, raised in Smallville, forced to hide his powers while he struggles to understand them - are presented with a solid earnestness. It’s here we get our first impression of Superman as pure Americana, with Donner giving us sweeping widescreen shots of Kansas farmland. It’s as if young Kal-El/Clark Kent landed smack dab in the middle of a John Ford movie.

Of course, it’s here young Clark learns the American Way of Life at its best (and its cheesiest). Work hard. Be honest. Help others. And when Pa Kent (Glenn Ford) dies of a heart attack immediately after dispensing some homespun wisdom to his adopted son, Clark then must take his voyage of discovery, leaving home, learning about his past, confronting the ghost of his home world (literally), and finally emerging as a man - as Superman, in fact, costume and all. All of this is once again given near-Biblical importance, the filmmakers understanding that Superman is our modern myth (or even, to some, our modern religion). The subject matter is given a kind of awestruck respect befitting a true icon, a move unexpected in the days in which four-color characters were still looked upon as figures of childish silliness.

Now, a movie has to be quite ballsy to be about Superman and not show the hero in his full blue-and-red-tights glory until the fifty minute mark. And even then, it’s just a brief glimpse; the hero’s real debut comes another twenty minutes later - almost halfway into the movie. By holding its main character back, by presenting so much exacting detail into his past, the producers make their movie more than just another cheap comic adventure. By doing this, they get the audience to take the character seriously. That way, when we get to the film’s second half (and the complete change in style that comes with it), we’re ready to accept it.

The film’s second half comes with the arrival of Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) in Metropolis. The tone lightens, the cast and crew have more fun with the material, and there’s more room for comic relief. It becomes, in Donner’s words, “a comic book.” The mood is lighter, the jokes broader, the atmosphere breezier.

It’s also here that we finally get to the “real” plot. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), the self-proclaimed “greatest criminal mind of our times,” is busy planning Superman’s demise while also working on a scheme to destroy the California coastline. Meanwhile, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) finds herself falling in love with the Man of Steel, and vice versa.

While the first half of the film contains some memorable scenes - the Krypton high council, the destruction of Krypton, baby Clark holding the truck, teen Clark chasing the train - it’s the Metropolis segment that gives us the movie’s key images. The helicopter disaster that introduces Superman to the world. The midnight flight with Lois. Supes’ meeting with a cat burglar. The rescue of a school bus. The makeshift railroad track. The reversal of the planet itself, which, despite insanely faulty comic book science, is one cool move. The “Superman” movie has given us some of the most indelible sights of modern movie history (most of which work thanks to the groundbreaking special effects which, for the first time, showed completely believable human flight).

Often forgotten amidst the thrilling action set pieces, the giddy comedy, and the epic storyline is a fantastic performance from the movie’s star. Reeve is essentially playing two roles here: the sincere, dreamy, bigger-than-life Superman and the frumpy, klutzy, nerdy Clark. This double act may not make sense to modern viewers, who are used to the revamped Superman legend that presents Clark as a normal guy, not as a geek. But at the time, this was how Clark was, and for a good reason. Who would ever suspect mild-mannered Clark Kent, who fumbles his way through life without an ounce of grace, could possibly be the suave, confident Superman?

For all those who joke about how glasses alone turn Superman into Clark Kent, watch Reeve at work here. The actor has created two fully realized, fully separate characters, and it’s stunning to watch him alternate between the two. In one scene, Clark removes his glasses to reveal himself as Superman; the body transformation is remarkable. With a shift in body language and a quick inflation of his chest, Reeve turns himself into a whole different character within just a few seconds. That’s some piece of acting, taking arguably the silliest of the comic’s contrivances and making it look like it could actually work.

With such a serious take on the character, “Superman” builds itself into a fully believable chunk of fantasy. It works because it believes in itself. Despite its comic leanings in later scenes, not once does the film ever become camp. It’s as honest a picture you could want about the world’s most powerful Boy Scout.

But above all, it’s just a great time. The action is exhilarating, the comedy is delightful, the characters warm and likable. This is movie entertainment in its purest form. Donner and his filmmaking crew grab hold and take you into their own wonderful world, a place where, for two and a half hours, you honestly believe a man can fly.

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originally posted: 06/18/05 09:57:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.
DC Characters: For more in the DC Characters series, click here.
Trilogy Starters: For more in the Trilogy Starters series, click here.

User Comments

2/21/17 morris campbell overlong but solid 4 stars
12/11/12 Linda A classic, best fantasy movie of the 70s. 5 stars
6/21/10 Sarah Webster This is a classsic. The people who call this boring are idiots. Not enough explosions? 5 stars
2/08/10 art THIS WAS overrated!,super 2 WAS MUCH BETTER! 1 stars
10/21/08 Shaun Wallner Very Boring! 2 stars
7/07/08 art ONLY FOR FANS OF THE COMIC BOOK 1 stars
6/21/08 David V Very cheesy and over-rated. 3 stars
3/02/08 Pamela White Super movie 5 stars
1/12/08 Eric Best ever 5 stars
1/05/08 Shailesh Palande Tittle Music is mind blowing 5 stars
11/22/07 Ernesto Catalan The comic hero adaptation to beat. Spidey was close, but no cigar! 5 stars
10/08/07 mr.mike Superman Returns made me appreciate Reeve and the movie more 4 stars
10/01/07 Andrew Kercher Reeve is definitive Superman; this is best. Believable Kent alias. Kidder is great Lois. 5 stars
3/21/07 dude Superman Returns was better 4 stars
2/03/07 Vip Ebriega Superman is the greatest. Proves that he's better than Spidey. 4 stars
1/06/07 David Cohen Liked it 4 stars
12/26/06 johnnyfog Coulda used more Clark Kent. And SOMEONE get rid of the S-shaped hair PLEASE. 5 stars
11/20/06 Noel I honestly took a nap during the movie ! I know he's Superman, but PLEEAAASSSEEE!!!!! 1 stars
10/22/06 David Pollastrini great! 5 stars
10/20/06 MP Bartley Opening credit music is the BEST is uneven though. 4 stars
7/19/06 Michael First great comicbook film. Best Luthor film. Watch it with Batman, trust me. 5 stars
7/11/06 Dez Awesome!! 5 stars
6/05/06 drydock54321 great film, other than the time reversal- too easy 5 stars
5/14/06 K. Pearlman Except for the campiness of Luthor, this was a great movie! 5 stars
5/13/06 Joel Whelan The film is so special to me. An outlet and a source of inspiration. 5 stars
3/28/06 Chris Bordeman Puts the I-can-barely-remember X-Files movie to shame. 5 stars
3/24/06 Dethbyhashi You Will Believe a Man Can Fly!!! 5 stars
12/29/05 tony Great film! I could spend years on telling everybody how good it was! 5 stars
12/27/05 Ronin Very entertaining. Recommended. 4 stars
10/21/05 rachel amazing film 5 stars
8/29/05 ES Reeves made superman, though the film is geared more directly at teens than adults 4 stars
7/19/05 Brandy Harrington One of the best comic book films ever. I can't wait for Superman Returns! 5 stars
7/14/05 Ronald Newbold This should be the model for all successful comic book adaptations 5 stars
7/05/05 shannon huard superman ,the godfather of comic book movies 5 stars
6/23/05 azpinoy One of my favorites of all time! 5 stars
6/22/05 Carolyn Rathburn I enjoyed this movie, I felt Chris Reeves did a good job as the man of steel. 5 stars
5/11/05 Indrid Cold Solidly done, but misses classic status by quite a bit. 3 stars
4/15/05 Raymond Montoya the first the best.. reeves is great. 4 stars
3/26/05 Denise Great 5 stars
3/23/05 Suzanne Butler Excellent movie 5 stars
3/16/05 Chris Stephens Great movie for it's time. 5 stars
2/24/05 brett creswell perfection 5 stars
1/20/05 Laurian Diaconescu Reeve can't ever be replaced, I won't even go see the new sequel they plan to release soon. 5 stars
1/17/05 t-1000 first 30 minutes or so is BOOOOOOOOOOOORING 4 stars
10/25/04 Evan Best of the series by far 5 stars
9/04/04 T.B. A another best movie 4 stars
7/29/04 American Slasher Goddess Awesome comic book adapation, Hackman is great as Lex Luther. 5 stars
4/21/04 Daveman It's sad that such a well made film has dated so badly. 4 stars
3/04/04 Víctor Ayala Christopher Reeve is Superman for me!, He's awesome in that character, he was made for it!! 5 stars
12/07/03 john it's phenomenal! 5 stars
6/16/03 Jon Lyrik This is a Supermovie! 5 stars
5/23/03 SAURABH SHARMA An Epic movie 5 stars
5/03/03 Allen Wilkerson This is why I love going to the movies! 5 stars
3/22/03 Jack Sommersby Choppy, uneven adventure only sporadically thrills. The cast, though, is spot-on. 2 stars
2/20/03 Dave Rivals Batman and Spiderman as the best of the superhero movies. 4 stars
11/25/02 Bizop Spectacular movie, great performance by Gene Hackman, and nice foreshadowing to the sequel 5 stars
10/14/02 Charles Tatum Fun then, but awful effects sink it now 3 stars
9/05/02 Justin Cool! 5 stars
9/02/02 B.Roopkumar All time great movie 5 stars
8/16/02 Shaun a fun popcorn movie 4 stars
7/12/02 kmk awesome movie well made wb try to top this/ batman vs superman movie in 2004 well see!!!! 5 stars
5/13/02 T^im Great flick, best comic book adapt ever 5 stars
2/20/02 Xaver a fine film...keep an eye out for all the Marlboro placements. 3 stars
11/22/01 anju thaper old time classic 5 stars
11/04/01 Shams Huque Best Comic Book Adaptation Ever. An Epic. 5 stars
9/28/01 Andrew Carden Boring Film, Overloaded With Special Effects. 3 stars
9/23/01 Larry Smith "He's Lex Luthor the greatest criminal mind of the century." 5 stars
9/09/01 Butterbean The second Superman beats this one, but this established Reeve as THE Superman! 4 stars
8/09/01 E-Funk Cool take on famed DC comic book hero. Reeve is great as Superman. 5 stars
8/07/01 Mr. Hat Lex Luthor is really really evil and slapstick funny at the same time..... 3 stars
7/29/01 Turtle This is one of those rare comic book films that are actually BETTER than the comics. 5 stars
7/28/01 Henry Ginsberg A bit corny ,but entertaining non the less . 4 stars
7/14/01 Dana Shelley Just plain fun! 5 stars
5/31/01 aka satan When the earthquake comes, I wanna be in Otisville. 4 stars
5/26/01 Edward Shandis it should be called HANDI-MAN 4 stars
5/09/01 y2mckay Still fun, even after 20 years. John Williams' score was inspired. 4 stars
3/24/01 Alex I want to fly now 5 stars
2/01/01 Big Isil Christopher Reeves cant die, man, hes Superman! Applaud after seeing for the first time 5 stars
1/21/01 fifu it may be weird but you have to like it 4 stars
1/07/01 R.W. Welch Catches the spirit of the comic strip almost exactly, much better than the sequels. 5 stars
1/02/01 Terry A classic film. Everything about it is superb! 5 stars
12/27/00 Turtle Eat your heart out, Batman! 5 stars
10/14/00 Jed A perfectly alright movie that is as good as the original batman movie. 4 stars
1/24/00 Cheezman An above-average film with very few imperfections. 4 stars
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  15-Dec-1978 (PG)
  DVD: 28-Nov-2006



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