Superman: The Movie (1978)

Countdown to “Man of Steel”!

One of the many aspects of the Superman lore that director Richard Donner and screenwriter Mario Puzo touched on that really helps “Superman: The Movie” rise in to the pantheon of one of the best Superman representations is the dilemma of massive power. Superman or Kal El, is brought down to Earth and is stranded, left to the mercy of Earth’s denizens. It’s only by a miracle that he manages to come across a humble farm couple that not only discover him but take him in, in spite of his horrifying powers that allow him super strength and a plethora of other amazing abilities. What becomes one of the stumbling blocks in “Superman” is that Kal El, now Clark Kent, is tasked with the dilemma of being a God.

Everything around him can crumble at his hands, and when he retreats to his Fortress of Solitude, he has to learn about his limitations and what he has to avoid. It’s a burden to discover that Kal El has to do more evasion and tricky task mastering on Earth, pretending to be human, more than he can relax and be himself. The only people he can truly be himself around is his mother and father, and in the opening we watch one of his two remaining confidants in a scary world fall prey to mortality. Superman can be a hero, and he can save the world, but only with limited functions. He can be a superhero, but can’t become a God. Which is difficult, when you have abilities that can literally change the course of the world.

Superman can bring the world to its knees with a simple flick of his thumb, so most of “Superman: The Movie” is spent exploring a superhero who has to display amazing restraint in the face of temptation and mortal emotions. When he begins to realize his feelings for the daring and bold Lois Lane, Superman is faced with a true dilemma when Lois is killed during an avalanche caused by Lex Luthor. Finally given the human emotions he’d always craved, Superman breaks one of the cardinal rules of being a super human on Earth. He not only changes the course of human events by spinning the Earth backwards, but he plays God, but not only defying mortality, but preventing Lois from being killed. Depending on varying degrees of belief, perhaps Lois Lane was fated to die in the avalanche, and Superman defies the rules of his father for a selfish reason.

And that sets the course for the journey of a powerful but flawed being who takes on Lex Luthor and attempts to save the world from his attempts to conquer the underworld, and rule the world with his own assorted cadre of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. As Superman and Clark Kent, Christopher Reeves lends to him a humility and gentle charm that make him a hero that can ensure the trust of the world around him, but can also easily lose all notion of good in the face of temptation. Superman has the advantage of being raised as a moral being, so the thin thread of his parents in Kansas is what ultimately keeps him from attempting to conquer the world. Director Richard Donner’s adaptation of “Superman” is still every bit the marvelous and awe inspiring fantasy that the comics influenced, and as Superman, Christopher Reeve makes the character of Superman his own, while also reminding us of why we love the character.


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