Everyone seems to agree that the 1978 Christopher Reeve “Superman” movie is the best ever. And it is. Or was, perhaps.
“Man of Steel,” opening Friday, may change that; the jury’s still out.
But as of this morning, “Superman” remains the best-ever Superman movie. Although, in context, that’s not really saying a lot.
Don’t get me wrong, I do like “Superman” and its 1981 sequel, “Superman II,” but both films are definitely mixed bags. We tend to forget or forgive those movies’ weaknesses when we haven’t seen them in awhile — but there are plenty of weaknesses. And every time I watch them again, and I’ve watched them many times, I slap my forehead in recognition of all the flaws, some of them surprisingly idiotic.
For baby boomers like me, Superman is more than the first comic-book superhero. He is THE superhero. Despite all the angst the character has been put through, especially in recent years, back in the day Superman was something quite special. Aside from his exaggerated powers of strength and sight and hearing, the character was generally portrayed as idealistic and patriotic and even romantic, all of which was quite appealing in the 1950s and early ’60s when I was growing up.
Today, he’s often written off as a “Boy Scout,” used as a term of derision, not praise. A goody-goody. Not edgy enough for the era of Batman as the Dark Knight and Iron Man as self-loathing and all the others who wonder what they’re supposed to do while wrestling with inner turmoil before finally doing their duty.
Perhaps it’s because Superman led the way as seemingly sunnier and brighter than those other guys that my favorite of the Marvel superhero movies is “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Because he’s from the 1940s and doesn’t have modern-day baggage, Steve Rogers is portrayed in that film and “The Avengers” as the same kind of too-good-to-be-true superhero, especially in his one-upmanship banter with Tony Stark. Of course, he’s also portrayed as naïve, which is excused because he’s from another, simpler time.
But heaven forbid Superman should be portrayed that way in the 21st century.
Not having seen the film at this writing and not wanting to be judgmental in advance, I must confess to being a little worried about “Man of Steel” portraying Superman as brooding and dark, and even the film’s visual look taking on that popular-with-filmmakers cinematography style of gray, dull, desaturated colors.
But that’s just from the advance snippets revealed in trailers. Perhaps we’ll be pleasantly surprised. I hope so.
When I was a kid, I read the comics, I loved the TV series with George Reeves, and as an adult, I also enjoyed much-later TV shows “Lois & Clark” and the first few seasons of “Smallville.”
But when “Superman” came around in 1978, all that had gone before were early, campy, multi-episode theatrical serials (which I saw as a child at a local theater’s summer-matinee series), some theatrical cartoons (which I saw on TV) and the George Reeves series. So the notion of a big-budget, major movie about the Man of Steel was quite exciting to the little boy inside me.
I had just joined the Deseret News and was working on the city desk when that movie came out; I was not yet reviewing anything for the paper. So I saw “Superman” with everyone else, and I was blown away. It was better than I could have hoped, and this new guy, Christopher Reeve, was great. In fact, he was so good, bringing humor as well as heart and heroism, that the film didn’t really need any more comic relief.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers didn’t see it that way.
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