Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review
|Special Comment on the Superman Movie Series|
I have a confession to make: Superman is my all-time favorite superhero.
Hands-down, no doubt about it, he is the icon that I wish I could be. I wished I could do the things that he could. He could fly, he travels super-fast, he’s super-strong, and nothing except kryptonite could hurt him! Okay there’s also the whole X-ray vision thing too, but that was when I got a little older and I also wanted to see what color Lois Lane’s underwear really was.
That’s why, when I give my reviews of Superman movies, I have this tendency to give him higher marks in the “capes” category, because he will always be the iconic model.
Unfortunately when the Superman movies came out from the late-1970’s through to the late-1980’s, Superman was relegated to being a cartoon joke along with all of the other TV superheroes. Sure he was super-serious in ABC’s Saturday Morning series “Super-Friends”, but he really wasn’t the star of the show. It was about “Wendy, Marvin, and WONDER DOG!” Or it was about “The Wonder Twins AND GLEEK!” Anything to stick in lame-ass bumbling kids and goofy cartoony animals pretending to be heroes. Superheroes of the time followed the lead of the campy 1966 “Batman” movie and TV series. Everything was campy and cheesy and about as serious as a Marx Brothers marathon.
That is why “Superman: The Movie” stood out. It stood out because Warner Brothers and Alexander and Ilya Salikind DID NOT play around with this film. They kept one word in mind through the whole process: EPIC. They wanted this to be one of THE BEST films of all time, and they spared no expense to make it so. They brought in the best actors, some of the biggest names of the time, including Glen Ford and Marlon Brando. They had celebrities like Rex Reed come in as cameos appearances, but they weren’t done for the sake of having them. They cast their lead character appropriately, especially using a relative unknown for the title character. They had a superb original and POWERFUL score by one of the BEST in the business. And they spared no expense for the special effects! They utilized green-screen and wireworks, which at that time were state-of-the-art. Bear in mind this was decades before computer-generated digital effects would be possible, never mind affordable, and certainly not realistic. Their Academy Award for special effects in 1979 was well-earned.
But most importantly, they kept the cheese factor contained. Sure, some of the scenes were done for laughs, but that didn’t mean that the whole film was.
The film’s running line was “You will believe a man can fly” and they made us into believers!
Unfortunately, as with all other things Hollywood, too many people in charge lost track of the little things that made a movie like that into a hit. “Superman II” was marred by a change in directors. “Superman III” was shoved into being a Richard Pryor comedy vehicle. “Supergirl” had a non-existent story. “Superman IV” had bargain-basement executives giving bargain-basement budgets and story. By the time “Superman IV” came out, everyone just wanted the whole thing done and over with, and, yes, that included the actors AND the audience.
And don’t tell me that the magic couldn’t happen again after that first movie; because the Salikinds proved that premise wrong with their “Superboy” TV series. If the suits don’t give a care, then it should be no surprise that their finished product is going to be shoddy.
When talking about the whole Superman series, there are two key questions that need to be asked.
(1) Does “Supergirl” count as part of the series?
(2) Where does “Superman Returns” fit in?
The answer to the first question is simple and to-the-point. YES, “Supergirl” DOES and SHOULD ALWAYS be considered part of the whole “Superman” movie series, no matter how bad it really was and how far it strayed even from film canon. Ilya Salikind had every intention of including “Supergirl” as part of the whole movie cannon, including bringing in Christopher Reeve for a quick cameo as Superman. Since Reeve passed on the idea (remember this came right after “Superman III” flopped), Salikind use a poster of Reeve as Superman and had Marc McClure come in as Jimmy Olson. So that pretty much cements the movie as being part of the whole cannon.
“Superman Returns”, on the other hand, is tricky. This movie operates under the premise that everything after “Superman II” didn’t happen. It takes the best of the first two movies, strips away ALL (or almost all) of the cheese, re-casts EVERYONE, and then makes us forget that we ever heard of Gus Gorman (Superman III), Selene the Witch (Supergirl), or Nuclear Man (Superman IV).
Is it part of the movie canon? No, but it should have been.
“Superman Returns” is how the series SHOULD have progressed if it didn’t take twenty years and a complete cast change. Lex Luthor is out of prison and still fixated on land grabs and on killing Superman by any means possible. He remembers the Fortress, and he knows how to get there. Lois Lane bears the fruit of her little journey from the second movie, even if she doesn’t “remember” how it came about. There is no “god-gaze” superpower where Superman could just stare at something and it gets better. You even get to see bullets bounce off him. He has great powers without the producers relying on that stupid “god-gaze” cheat. All of the things that would have been a great tie-in to the whole story were there.
So now the new challenge for Warner Brothers is to come up with a whole new Superman movie series. And here they are running into the same problems as the last film. Shifting directors, shifting directions, and now the executives want to do a complete “reboot” of the whole film canon.
Further complicating things is the fact that Warner Brothers had the “Smallville” TV series running for ten years before FINALLY putting it - and the continual teasing on the audience - to an end. That in and of itself warrants a special comment, but reconciling the Superman lore of the series with any future movie will be a challenge.
However this new “rebooted” series progresses, if at all, credit still needs to be given to the Salikinds for proving over thirty years ago that you could do a big-budget superhero film and have it pay off. They were the ones that set the standard that other superhero series, and indeed other superhero series from other publishers, have tried to keep even to this day. Just remember that when you promise the audience that they will BELIEVE a man can fly… then you better make sure that by the time the end credits roll, that you make believers out of them all.