Carl takes a retrospective look at the turbulent big-screen adventures of our beloved Man Of Steel.
“Lookup in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No. it’s SUPERMAN! Faster than a speeding bullet. More Powerful than a Locomotive. Can leap tall buildings in a single bound.”
Those words are famous in both comic-book history, TV cartoons, and the movies for their description of the Man Of Steel. He came to symbolize the hope for all of humanity and pacifically, for the defense of the United States. Lovingly created by Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster back in 1938, the character has been around for over 80 years now, in print, animation, TV shows, and celluloid. He is my favorite character to ever come from DC, narrowly beating Batman to the title. Why? Because he was someone to look up to, to aspire to be, a character who fought for truth and justice in the world.
This article will go into the movies he has graced from the 1978 big-screen version right up to his present incarnation in the form of Henry Cavill. I tip my hat to all those performances on TV by other actors who played him, especially George Reeves who, until his namesake, Christopher Reeve came along, was the version I grew up with. George Reeves brought home to me a character I couldn’t get enough of. Alongside the legendary Adam West as Batman, these were the heroes of my youth. I also tip my hat to all the cartoon versions there have been over the years too and again, especially the Max Fleischer cartoons I remember so well and still watch to this day. And of course, a special mention goes to Warner Bros. and Looney Toons for their fantastic send-up of the character as Daffy Duck took the mantle in the classic cartoon ‘Stooperduck’. Again, I still watch the cartoon to this day and it still makes me laugh out loud. However, through all the many guises throughout the years, it’s the movies that always spring to mind when Superman is mentioned. Everyone has their favorite actor who has played him. Mine is and always shall be the late, great Christopher Reeve. Reeve came into my life as the character and ever since, I’ve never looked at another actor in the role, I can’t when Reeve played the character to perfection. Let us now take a look at his cinematic legacy from 1978 onwards.
Back in November 1974, father and son team Alexander and Ilya Salkind, after a rather long, painful and drawn-out process with DC comics finally managed to snag the rights to make a Superman big-screen picture. Alongside their producing partner, Pierre Spengler, the pair went headlong into casting the film that would, if we are completely honest, begin the DC universe that we know and love today. Many actors were considered for the part of the Man Of Steel including Dustin Hoffman, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Al Pacino, James Caan, and even Muhammad Ali before Christopher Reeve nabbed the role that would define his career. Directors for the project under consideration were George Lucas (who turned the film down due to his commitments on Star Wars), Steven Spielberg (who had to decline due to his commitments on Close Encounters Of The Third Kind), Peter Yates, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, Richard Lester (who went on to direct the second and third films), Ronald Neame and most famously, Sam Peckinpah who lost his shot at the film by pulling a gun during a meeting with Ilya Salkind. Guy Hamilton was hired to direct at one stage before they producers finally settled on Richard Donner, who was coming off of a box office hit with ‘The Omen‘ The contract was for two films, to be shot back to back and ready for release over 1978 and 1979 in what was proposed to be a two-movie arc of the same story. History tells us that it never went the way the producers wanted but we will get into that later.
The film came together with an all-star cast including Oscar winners Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman. At one point Dustin Hoffman was considered for Lex Luthor but the actor turned the part down, giving Hackman his shot at the character. Glenn Ford came on board as the human father of Superman. British film legends Trevor Howard and Harry Andrews joined the cast as Krypton elders. The pieces were all in place. However, no-one could foresee the problems that would hit the production from the off. Those are now firmly etched into legend. Who was at fault? It depends on your point of view. I have mine but I’m staying quiet on that point.
The film opens on a child reading through the pages of a comic-book. In voice-over, he quotes lines from the comic as the camera closes in on the hand-drawn images until we enter the pages and the focus switches to the spinning Daily Planet globe in black and white before we pan up and approach the moon. It is then the credits of the film appear before our eyes. And in what can be described as possibly one of the best things in the movie hits our senses. The score. Originally, the classic composer Jerry Goldsmith was hired to compose the score for the film but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. John Williams starts off slowly but then gives us a thumping start to the credits before he lets his orchestra unload fully and makes the auditorium shake with his now-classic theme. Not since I saw Star Wars and heard the theme blare from the theatre’s speakers had I been completely blown away but rivetted as the music hit from all sides. This was no cartoon. No TV show. This was an event that the audience should feel privileged to be a part of. And that’s exactly what Superman, Star Wars, the James Bond movies, and many other now-classic films were. An event that couldn’t be missed. As the credits and the classic fanfare end, we are introduced to the planet Krypton. An ice-type planet floating somewhere in space. The magnitude of the planet, from its very design and look, grabs the viewer as we are thrust into our first meeting with Jor-El, a highly respected member of Kryptonian society and father to Kal-El, his infant son and soon to become the man we know as Superman. Jor-El is presenting facts to the ruling council of Krypton regarding an attempt to overthrow the council by General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and the mute Non (Jack O’Halloran). After what can only be described as a show trial, all three are convicted and banished to the Phantom Zone where they will remain imprisoned (until the sequel that is).
Jor-El presents the council with scientific facts to show that Krypton will explode within thirty days, destroyed by its own sun. The council reject this and force Jor-El to swear neither he nor his wife, Lara will leave Krypton along with keeping his theories to himself and not panic the planet’s inhabitants. He keeps his word but still manages to send his infant son to Earth before the planet destroys itself and Krypton explodes, killing the entire Kryptonian race. Kal-El lands on Earth where he is discovered by an elderly married couple, Johnathon and Martha Kent who adopt him as their own child. Over several years, the child, now named Clark Kent grows to be a strong young man but has trouble concealing his power, a fact that Johnathon tries to speak to Clark about just before he suffers a fatal heart attack and dies. After his funeral, Clark is awakened by a sound coming from the barn, calling him. He looks and discovers a green crystal shard, placed aboard his capsule by his real father just before he sent him on his journey to earth. Clark realizes he has to leave and to seek out his true destiny. Throwing the crystal as far as he can as he finds a suitable place, the crystal builds an ice palace, a fortress of solitude. It is here that Clark/Kal-El discovers his true identity, his true purpose. Taken on a journey by his real father, he returns twelve years later, no longer a young person in need of answers but as the Man Of Steel. As we are given a blast of the main theme once again, Superman flies towards us and banks off to fly past the camera.
Of course, all of this is telling us the backstory we need to know ahead of the rest of the film. It is a wonderful origin story that gives us all the information regarding the character and his background. And we haven’t yet seen the main man in action. It has been deliberately set up this way as we build towards the big reveal. And when it comes, its a doozy! Lois Lane is in peril due to a helicopter crash on top of the Daily Planet building. She is left hanging from a seatbelt outside the copter, staring certain death in the face. Down below, her reporter’s cap falls to the ground in front of Clark, who looks up and sees the danger above. Buckle up viewers, it’s finally time. The music kicks in, low to start with but begins to build. What makes the scene so good is a nod to the comics. Clark approaches a phone booth, sees its no good for his purpose, and runs off to look for a more suitable place. In the comics, Clark always dove into a phone booth to change into his muscled alter-ego. Here, it is updated for modern times but still acknowledges its roots. The music reaches its crescendo as Clark runs across the street to a pair of revolving doors. It is here that the music and action on screen fit like a hand to glove. As Clark rips open his shirt as he runs towards the camera, revealing the ‘S’ logo we all know and love underneath, the theme blasts out from the speakers, matching the footage we are seeing. With a nice little joke and nod to the 1970s ‘Pimp’ mobile, Superman has emerged and flies to the rescue. Lois falls and it looks certain she is going to die. But here comes the man in blue, his red cape fluttering behind him as he zooms up the building and catches Lois in mid-fall. The danger isn’t over though as the wreckage of the downed helicopter tips over the edge and falls towards the ground. Unfazed, our hero catches it in midair and returns both it and Lois to safety. We have had our first encounter with the last son of Krypton.
The rest of the film zips along at a decent pace until we come to the big finale, the set-piece the film has been building towards. An earthquake strikes Metropolis and our hero is called upon to perform incredible feats to save the people and to avoid a catastrophe all orchestrated by his arch-enemy, Lex Luthor. Luthor is played brilliantly by Gene Hackman. In fact, his portrayal of the evil character was so over the top, so enjoyable that again, It is hard to see another actor in the role. Hackman is enjoying himself here and it shows in his performance. Of course, Superman saves the day but not without loss. While he saving the rest of Metropolis, Lois Lane suffocates inside her buried car. Superman reaches her but its all too late. She’s gone. A devastated Superman cradles her dead body in his arms as night falls before he gently lays her body down. Angrily refusing to accept her death, he flies out of Earth and proceeds to fly around the planet, causing the Earth’s rotation to reverse. On the planet’s surface, time reverses itself. When he feels it has reversed enough, he flies around the planet the other way, bringing the planet back to its correct rotation. As he lands by Lois’ car again, it is found she is alive and berating him for not being there when she needed him. He flies off again to catch Luthor and his sidekick and bring them to justice. He delivers them to the prison yard, speaks briefly to the Warden, and then takes off again. It is here where, for the very first time, we are shown the ‘Earth Flyby’. It is so simple but effective. We see the character fly out of Earth’s atmosphere and fly past the planet with the theme blasting out alongside the sequence. With a final look around, Superman smiles into the camera as he flies out of shot. Sheer brilliance. That one scene has lived in my memory for over forty-two years and still gives me goosebumps now. And I’m nearly hitting my half-century! It is something that lives on in the mind long after the film has ended, the credits have scrolled up and the music has come to an end.
The film has several versions of it floating about. Of course, there is the original version of the film as seen in movie theatres. There is also, made for the DVD release of the film, a special edition that re-incorporates several deleted scenes and gives the sound a good polish up with newly added soundtrack elements which make the film that much better. Then we come to the television version. This version clocks in at a weighty three hours. It was designed and created to be shown over two nights on American television. To be honest, it pads the film out a bit too much and is only designed for people like myself, completionists. If I was to pick the version I prefer, I would have to go for the special edition version of the film. It can be found on DVD and Blu-ray from many different outlets if you haven’t seen it or haven’t got a copy of it.
It may come as a surprise to many people to discover that the end of the film was actually intended to be the climax to the sequel. The film was supposed to end on a cliffhanger instead of being resolved in this way. Many people complained that the end of the Richard Donner cut of ‘Superman II‘ was the same as the original film. Considering it was supposed to be ‘Superman II‘s ending, not the original film’s finale, you could argue that these people have nothing to really complain about. But I have to listen to the complaints with a sympathetic ear. They don’t know the behind the scenes problems that almost destroyed the project. Director Richard Donner constantly clashed with the Salkinds from almost the start of the production. And it is worth knowing that 75% of ‘Superman II‘ was shot and directed by Donner before the first film hit the screen. The Salkinds didn’t care though as they famously fired Donner during the break-in production. Donner did say during the halt in production that if Spengler remained on board for the second film, he wouldn’t be, due to differences that couldn’t be repaired. The Salkinds went along with Spengler, Ilya’s childhood friend and so removed Donner from the sequel. The producers decided to bring in Richard Lester, one of their original choices to finish the second film in Donner’s place. But with Donner already filming most of the second film, Lester went in to reshoot a lot of the footage already shot. By doing this, the Salkinds could change just enough of the film to give Lester the director’s credit for the film and deny Donner.
This didn’t go down too well with a lot of the cast, with almost all speaking out in Donner’s defense. Marlon Brando refused to have the scenes he shot for the sequel to be used due to the way Donner had been treated, leading to the producers having to resort in bringing back Susanah York to film new scenes as Lara Jor-El, Kal-El’s mother to replace Brando’s footage. Gene Hackman refused to return to complete his scenes as Luthor, forcing the producers to bring in a stand-in for the actor’s scenes to be shot from behind and using an impersonator to mimic the actor’s voice. Margot Kidder also spoke out against Donner’s firing and launched a verbal tirade at the Salkinds. She, however, was essential to the film so they placated her enough for her to return to finish filming her scenes but secretly decided to get their revenge in another way. Kidder, like Reeve, was contracted to make three Superman films. While in ‘Superman III‘ Reeve kept his starring role, the Salkinds got their revenge on Kidder by almost completely removing her character from the script and relegated her to a mere cameo role. Original writer Tom Mankiewicz, out of loyalty to his friend Donner, declined to return for the sequel leading the producers to bring in the first films co-writers David and Leslie Newman to come up with a new opening and ending to the film. Editor Stuart Baird also refused to return once more over the treatment of Donner.
The original plan for ‘Superman II‘ was that, at the climax of the previous film, Superman launched one of the missiles Lex Luthor has sabotaged for his plan into space where it collided with and destroyed the Phantom Zone, releasing the three criminals imprisoned there from the start of the film. However, as the missile wasn’t referred to in the climax of the first film (Superman turns the world back to after the missile was sent into space and the other actually hit), they couldn’t use it as a plot device anymore. So, after a brief recap of the events of the criminals’ imprisonment at the start of the original film, the credits once again start to roll. The credits are interspersed with footage from the first film to recap viewers on the current events. The music this time keeps the themes of John Williams from the original film but Williams was replaced by Lester’s frequent composer Ken Thorne after Williams and Lester had a disagreement over the music for the sequel, which Williams was contracted to compose and score. The argument came about after a screening of the film for Williams, Ilya Salkind, and Lester. When Salkind left the room, Williams and Lester fell into a heated discussion. When Salkind returned, Williams told him point-blank that he ‘could not get along with this man (Lester)’.
Suddenly, Williams was off the sequel, and Thorne was in. Thorne wrote minimal music for the film and his score was heavily based on Williams’ cues for the first film. Also, the score was performed by a studio session orchestra and not the London Symphony Orchestra that performed the score for the first film. And you can tell. Whereas the LSO score sounds like an epic and grand score, the sequel and ‘Superman III’s sound extremely lacking in scale. There is one blast of the score during ‘Superman III’ which ALMOST matches the grandness of the original score, it still comes across as sort of bargain-basement instead of the top floor.
The film starts after the opening credits with Superman’s flight to Paris to help Lois and to stop terrorists from detonating a hydrogen bomb. During a botched attempt to end the standoff and to capture the terrorists, the French Police inadvertently manage to start the bomb off. Of course, Superman makes it in time, saves Lois, and manages to send the bomb into space where it explodes, shattering the Phantom Zone and releasing the three criminals who after destroying a joint US/Russian mission to the moon and murdering the cosmonauts, head towards Earth. Meanwhile, Lois has discovered Clark’s secret identity as Superman. He takes her to the fortress of solitude where after consulting his mother, abandons his powers and persona to become human so he can be with Lois. Zod, Ursa, and Non have arrived in America and are tearing a path directly to the White House door. After a futile fight against the three Kryptonians, the President surrenders to Zod live on TV. Meanwhile, a now very human and normal Clark loses a fight with a trucker at a truck stop and is beaten badly. He sees the President’s address on TV and realizes he has to try and regain his powers to combat and defeat the three criminals. The Kryptonians are aided in their quest by an escaped Lex Luthor, who has discovered the fortress of solitude and its secrets and gives them the news that the son of their jailer is on Earth and known as Superman. He gives up the information that they can get Superman’s attention by attacking the Daily Planet and in particular, Lois Lane which they do. At the moment of victory, however, Superman returns and takes on all three in a fight for Metropolis and the world, which he has to flee from to save the citizens of Metropolis but not before giving Zod and Non the fight of their lives, using his powers against them as well as using his environment to his advantage.
After taking Lois and Luthor prisoner, the three fly to the fortress to confront the man of steel one final time. He is waiting for them. After a battle between them once more, Zod gains the upper hand by using Superman’s desire for Lois for his own advantage. Luthor betrays Superman’s plan to rid the villains of their powers, leading to Zod making him enter the chamber once more to lose his powers. As Superman is forced to kneel before Zod and swear loyalty to him, the big switch is revealed. As Superman crushes every bone in Zod’s hand, it is revealed that the chamber had been switched. Superman was protected inside while outside, the three had their powers stripped. All three are quickly despatched and dealt with and Superman takes Lois home while leaving Luthor to his fate. The following morning, a tearful Lois confronts Clark. After giving Lois a kiss, she starts to lose all memory of Clark being Superman, thus keeping his secret safe once more. After confronting the bully trucker once more and dishing out an act of welcome revenge on him, Superman flies to the White House with a new roof and American Flag, apologizing to the President for not being there when he was needed. And then we get a repeat of the flyby once again as the film ends.
Many people think ‘Superman II‘ is better than the original. In this, they are partly right. Some of the film is better than the first, mainly due to there not having to need an origin story this time around. The battle of Metropolis is a wonderful sequence. We cheer for ‘Supes’, we boo the villains and marvel at the events as they play out. The Paris scene is another worthy inclusion, one that DOES set up the events to come nicely. On the other hand, though, the film shows a slapstick side to it that is totally un-needed or necessary. This is due to Lester’s desire and background work in comedic films. The mismatch of styles is evident in the film that you can almost see what is Donner’s footage and which is Lester’s, making for an uneven mix of styles. Also, due to the time between films, there are several continuity errors. For example, Reeve looks less bulked up in some scenes than he does in others, proving that the scene was shot near the beginning of the shooting of the two films. Also, Margot Kidder’s hairstyle, physique, and make-up change several times during the events in the film, once again highlighting the differences in shooting times and obviously showing that the scenes have been reshot later.
Having said that, though, the film is still a completely enjoyable sequel and keeps some of what made the original so successful and enjoyable. Lester, to his credit, did reach out to Donner and offered him a co-director credit on the film which Donner angrily turned down. We did think that Donner’s version of the film would never see the light of day. But thanks to Michael Thau and a rummage through the vaults at Warner Bros, some of Donner’s footage still remained, leading to Thau and Donner collaborating on an alternative version of the film over twenty years later. Most of the footage was used to make the television extended version of the film that was broadcast in 1984. This version of the film named ‘The Donner Cut’ made its way onto Blu-ray and gave the world a slight hint at what might have been. A lot of Donner’s footage was either lost or destroyed so to make up for this and to exorcise almost all of Lester’s footage, Donner used screen test footage to make his version. Is it any better than Lester’s? It’s up to the individual viewer to make up their mind. All I will say is that the Donner Cut is an interesting look into what could have been. For a start, the opening to the film is completely different from Lester’s as is the ending. And the Brando footage that was taken out of playback in 1980 now fits in seamlessly and makes the film that much tighter and more in line with the original than before. Brando’s footage was regained from his estate by Warners back during the production of ‘Superman Returns‘ as they wanted to use some of it for the Bryan Singer film. When the footage became available, Thau and Donner used it in their cut of the film.
In the summer of 1983, the world was still reeling from the release of ‘Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi‘ in May of that year. During the trailers before the film started, ‘Superman III‘ was one of them. The film looked like it could be a good follow up to the first two movies. And then the film came out. And we all saw how wrong we all were. Although the film isn’t terrible, it most certainly is not in the same league as the first two entries in the franchise. In fact, it isn’t even the same sport as the first two films. If the first two films are the Superbowl then ‘Superman III‘ is in the minor leagues of Baseball. It took what made the first two movies successful and threw it out into the garbage, replacing it with stuff that even the most unknowing of moviegoers could rip to shreds.
Once more, the film stars Christopher Reeve as the superhero and despite everything, still turns in a magnificent performance in the film. But even he knew the film was nowhere near the quality of the original pairing. He privately said that the film was terrible and was glad that his contract to play Superman was up after the third film. Sadly, he didn’t know that he would play the character once more. Gene Hackman had refused to even consider coming back as Lex Luthor and so a new villain was needed. Hackman publicly stated he couldn’t return due to other commitments and that bringing Luthor back again was like a serial killer returning from the grave after their demise in the previous movie. The Salkinds also denied Hackman refused to appear and claimed that Kidder wasn’t punished for her outburst after Richard Donner’s firing before ‘Superman II‘ could complete filming. They publically stated that they just wanted a new love interest for Superman this time around and Lois could return further down the line. Kidder refuted these claims and its funny to find both she and Hackman returned for the fourth movie which had no involvement from the Salkinds. Take from that what you will.
In the comic-books, the Salkinds had many different villains they could choose from to be the man of steel’s new nemesis. Instead of that, they chose to make the villain a rich billionaire and his sister seeking world domination. So far, so James Bond. They then made the biggest mistake of their lives. They hired Richard Pryor to topline the film with Reeve. With Richard Lester once again filling the director’s chair and with a screenplay by Davis and Leslie Newman and catered to Lester’s kind of film, what should have been a superhero action film that could shatter the records its forebearers had set, it became a slapstick comedy with only brief pieces of serious storytelling. Adding to the film’s woes, the previous supporting cast along with Kidder was relegated to bit parts and was the brunt of slapstick. With Pryor in place, the filmmakers cast veteran actor Robert Vaughn as Ross Webster, the main villain alongside Annie Ross as his sister, Vera Webster, the brunt of many tasteless jokes and Pamela Stephenson as Webster’s assistant and girlfriend, Lorelei, written as a dumb blonde klutz who in reality was pretty brainy and intelligent. They threw all into a mixer and threw the result up on the screen. And except for one part of the film, made a complete mess.
The only part of the film that worked in reality and mainly due to Reeve’s great acting and desire to throw himself into what little good material he had was when Superman is corrupted by synthetic Kryptonite. The scenes of the main character getting drunk in a bar, flying off to a junkyard, and having a nervous breakdown before his personality splits into the corrupted superhero and his clean alter-ego, Clark Kent. The battle between both halves of himself was entertaining and thrilling to watch. Of course, Kent is victorious as he strangles the evil Superman to death, causing his destruction and becoming whole again. The scene is completed with a fantastic shot of Kent looking up while the main theme plays, standing and ripping his shirt open to expose the ‘S’ on his chest, signifying the Man Of Steel is restored.
You can see from the start of the film exactly where its tone is going and exactly what the film is aiming for. Although the opening sequence in Metropolis is amusing at times, it plays out as a desperate attempt to get the audience on its side. And it fails miserably. When someone is drowning (in a car, don’t ask) and the hero stops to destroy incriminating photographs of himself before saving his life, you know the film is in trouble. Things don’t improve as we travel with Clark and Jimmy on a coach towards Clark’s hometown of Smallville which is interrupted by a large chemical plant fire. Jimmy is injured trying to get exclusive photographs of the disaster, breaking his leg and being virtually sidelined for the remainder of the film. He does reappear later on sporting crutches and taking photographs of the Daily Planet competition winners who have won a trip to Columbia, which turns out to be a vital plot point but that is almost the last we see of him. The same goes for the chemical plant fire itself. This seemingly throwaway sequence does hold a plot point that will come in to play at the climax of the film. A scientist informs Superman that the canisters he is monitoring are concentrated acid that if heated up, will create a cloud that will destroy anything it comes into contact with. Superman saves the day by freezing a lake, picking up the ice shard it has created and flying over the plant, releasing the ice shard, and putting out the fire with the water it contains, thereby cooling the acid down again. All the while, Gus Gorman (Pryor) has discovered an unknown talent for manipulating computers to do things they are not supposed to. By using his skill, he manages to swindle $85,000 from his employer, Ross Webster. This brings him to Webster’s attention. He has been looking for someone like Gus to aid him in his plans to conquer the Columbian coffee market, making him the biggest retailer of coffee on the market. Columbia has refused his advances and so, with Gus’ help, decides to take control of the US satellite, Vulcan to turn the weather against Columbia and destroy their coffee harvest and market. Gus travels to Smallville to one of Webster’s smaller offices to hack into the satellite and take control of it, which he does. The ensuing storm he creates decimates the country or so he thinks. Webster celebrates the success that Gus has given him only to find that Superman has flown in and saved the day.
Angered by this setback and the threat to his plans of controlling the world’s oil supply, Webster instructs Gus to create Kryptonite that will destroy the man of steel and give him free access to complete his plans. Gus attempts to do this but finds that Kryptonite contains an unknown element in its structure. Gus changes the unknown element to tar and creates the Kryptonite. the substance doesn’t kill Superman but instead corrupts him into no longer caring about his duties to humanity and turns him evil. We are then treated to scenes of Superman blowing out the Olympic flame just as it arrives for the games and straightening the leaning tower of Pisa. He also punctures an oil carrier out at sea, causing the tanker’s cargo of oil to leak into the ocean. Gus blackmails Webster into building him a supercomputer in compensation for carrying out all of Webster’s plans. Webster agrees and has his crew build the gigantic computer in a cave inside the Grand Canyon. The world has gone into meltdown due to the oil crisis Gus has created for Webster. Superman is seen getting drunk inside a saloon. After seeing himself in the bar’s mirror and hating what he sees, he leaves, insulting the crowd outside that have gathered to witness his antics. Taking to the skies, he flies to a junkyard where he has a nervous breakdown. It is here that his personality splits and the aforementioned battle between him and Clark Kent takes place. Of course, Clark is victorious, and in the film’s best scene stands and opens his shirt, revealing the logo underneath and taking to the skies once more to reverse the damage he has done starting with the oil tanker.
As he flies towards the Grand Canyon to take on the villains in a final showdown, Webster fires numerous rockets at our hero, culminating in Superman being shot down by an MX missile. Regaining his strength, Superman flies into the cave where the villains are holed up and is immediately assaulted by the villains culminating in being shot with a Kryptonite ray. Gus realizes he will become the man who killed Superman and switches sides, pulling out an essential part of the machine and shutting it down, saving the man of steel. However, the computer takes over control of itself and drains power from across the United States to keep itself alive. Gus attacks the machine which in turn retaliates and injures him. Vera is attacked by the machine and transformed into a robotic extension of the computer and then proceeds to attack her own brother and his girlfriend, who she has no love for. Superman flies away from the machine only to return sometime later with a liquid canister held behind him. The computer scans the canister and decides it has 0% danger to itself. Of course, the canister contains acid which heats up and ends up splashing itself onto the mammoth machine and destroying it. Superman then flies away with Gus, leaving him in a small town with a mining crew, allowing him to go free. The film ends with our hero resetting the leaning tower of Pisa to its rightful state before flying out of the atmosphere and making his traditional flyby.
Some of the film is enjoyable but the majority of it is a desperate attempt at bringing levity into the series, which is not what we, the audience wanted. The film did make a profit at the box office but wasn’t near the heights the first two films hit. The blame for the film has to lie solely at the feet of Richard Lester. It was his call to make the film as lighthearted and comedic as it is. And in all honesty, it was, in reality, a vanity project for Richard Pryor. Pryor did bring a good sense of comic timing to his role and did genuinely give the audience a few decent belly laughs but it was all in vain. With the lack of a villain, we could believe would be able to defeat Superman or a real sense of danger and threat, the film rings hollow. Although enjoyable in places, mainly due to the junkyard fight and some of the scenes of Clark and Lana Lang in Smallville, to my mind the film was an afterthought and was certainly not the way to bring the Christopher Reeve movies to an end. The television version, although cutting all the profanity from its transmission did include extended scenes that made the film slightly better than the cinematic version. However, there wasn’t that much they could do to improve the film. Little did I or the world know that worse was to come.
The Salkinds, after the mixed-to-negative reactions to ‘Superman III’ believed the series had run its course and as such, turned their eye to another superhero, Supergirl. They went headlong into bringing her to the screen and in 1984, the film opened to completely disastrous reviews and box office. Christopher Reeve was due to make a cameo in the film, reprising his role one final time but decided to bow out early in production. Superman did make an appearance in the film, as a poster on Lucy Lane’s wall. Superman was said to be on a peace mission to another galaxy as a way to explain Reeve’s absence from the movie. Composer Jerry Goldsmith, originally hired to score the very first film, got to score Supergirl and paid tribute to John Williams by briefly including a motif of his score during the film. Star Helen Slater, although the film was a flop, was asked if she would reprise the character again to which she replied only if the film was a Superman/Supergirl team-up, something Reeve had no interest in at all. The Salkinds then decided enough was enough and sold the rights to Cannon Films two years later. And enabled Cannon to unleash something completely terrible on the world.
Cannon couldn’t believe their good fortune in acquiring the rights to Superman and plowed straight in on making the fourth film in the series. Reeve was approached and agreed to do the film if he could have an input into the storyline of the project, which was quickly agreed upon. The rest of the cast was put into place and the film went into production. Alarm bells should have rung from the start. Cannon was famous for making low budget entertainment. They had managed to get the rights to the ‘Death Wish‘ franchise and had churned out two sequels already with a fourth film on the way. Star Charles Bronson wasn’t interested too much in making the films but saw them as an easy payday and as such, signed up with Cannon and made many films with them. Cannon had produced some hit movies with Chuck Norris, the biggest one being ‘The Delta Force‘ and had success with ‘Runaway Train‘, a long-forgotten Jon Voight film that surprisingly was nominated for a few Academy Awards. By gaining the rights to Superman, the company saw a chance to hit box office gold. And, to their stupidity, they decided to copy the formula they employed on ‘Death Wish 3‘ and to shoot most of the film in England, which was to stand in for New York and other places around the globe. Reeve mentioned in his autobiography that the film ‘Received no special consideration’ from the studio, noting that in the script, Superman was supposed to land on 42nd Street and walk down to the United Nations Building. If Richard Donner had been involved, the filming would take place on 42nd street with the walk to the United Nations being shot on location in New York. Instead, the scene was filmed with the actor walking down a rainy street in England with a few hundred extras and some pigeons thrown in to add to the atmosphere.
Wes Craven was due to direct the film but he and Reeve didn’t get along too well which led Reeve to demand another director be brought in. Up stepped Sidney J Furie to make the film and so the abomination that was to become the fourth film in the franchise began. Throughout filming, the budget was continuously slashed, various scenes that were due to be filmed had to be abandoned and the special effects department was given almost no money to accomplish the various shots that were needed for the film. Watching the film, you can see how many times the same effect was re-used to fill the void the slimmed-down budget forced them into. The effects were so poor in relation to the previous three entries that many of them were laughed at by the audience (or at least, those who bothered or dared to go and see it) and showed how low the once glorious franchise had fallen. If you get the film on DVD or Blu-ray, you can see a whole lot of deleted scenes from the film. Originally, the film had been aiming for a two-hour runtime but after the cost-cutting and studio meddling, the film was released in an 89-minute cut. Many of the scenes that were due to be in the film are included in the 1987 novelization of the film that came out to accompany it. This novelization gives the world a glimpse into what could have been and what the film should have been.
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace opens with (Cinematically at least) the Cannon logo overlaid with a blast of the main theme. We are then thrust into the film itself with the opening credits flying through space to disappear behind Earth with John Williams‘ score overlaying them. For only the second time, Christopher Reeve gets top billing in the film with Gene Hackman taking second billing, reversing the billing from ‘Superman II‘. We see the ‘S’ logo as it flies behind Earth as the film’s title is revealed. For the comic-book fan, it is a nice touch as the film’s title is made in the same style and font of the comic-book it’s based on. The Salkind’s get a mention for starting the motion picture saga for some reason before we go through the rest of the cast. The music is, of course, the John Williams classic score but this time, it has been arranged and adapted by Alexander Courage, he of ‘Star Trek: The Original Series‘ fame. To be fair, Courage has adapted the theme quite well, much better than Ken Thorne’s adaptation for the previous two installments. As the credits come to an end, we remain in outer space and we meet a Russian crew working aboard a small space station. One of the cosmonauts is outside the station singing a Russian version of ‘My Way’ to which his crewmates poke fun at him good-naturedly. A satellite suddenly strikes the station, knocking it into a spin and sending the man outside flying into space with no chance of rescue. Of course, Superman flies in to save the day, stopping the stations spin and rescuing the cosmonaut from his certain fate, delivering him back to the station and safety.
Superman then returns to Earth and lands in Smallville where he once again finds himself at his childhood home. He enters the barn and discovers the ship he came to earth in and the final crystal from Krypton. Once removed, the ship will grow cold and he will finally be alone. He removes the crystal and places it in his jacket pocket as a real estate agent arrives to speak with him. He has put the farm up for sale with the hope that a real farmer will be interested in taking over the place. He has had an offer for the farm, site unseen which he refuses point blank, stating he isn’t interested in selling the place to a developer, a decision that is laughed at and ridiculed. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor has his nephew, Lenny break him out of prison so he can return to Metropolis to continue his plans to destroy Superman. Media tycoon David Warfield and his daughter, Lacy have managed to complete a hostile takeover of the Daily Planet, much to the annoyance and anger of editor Perry White. A young child named Jeremy has written a letter via the Daily Planet to Superman asking him to rid the world of nuclear weapons due to the escalating crisis between the United States and Russia. While Clark Kent is considering the request and giving it serious thought, Warfield uses Jeremy. He sets up a press briefing where Jeremy tells the world he wished Superman had said yes. Warfield uses the statement to print an outrageous headline saying Superman had told Jeremy to drop dead. This forces Clark to give some serious thought into what his next move will be.
At the United Nations, Jimmy Olsen has been instructed to get some publicity shots of Jeremy so Warfield can continue his untrue stories on the man of steel. To everyone’s surprise, Superman appears and faces the whole United Nations, proclaiming that with immediate effect, he will be ridding the world of all nuclear weapons. He then proceeds to start his mission by collecting all nuclear missiles fired during tests and throwing them into the sun. Luthor meanwhile, has stolen a strand of Superman’s hair from a museum and combined with other elements, has constructed a device that he will attach to a nuclear missile that Superman will intercept and destroy in the same way he has been doing and that is the case. However, the device Luthor has attached to the missile gives birth to a new enemy for Superman to face, known as Nuclear Man (no, really), who gets his power from the sun. Luthor is making a fortune restocking the world with nuclear weapons and, like the original movie, invites Superman to his lair. The man of steel duly obliges and is introduced to Nuclear Man. The two fight around the globe with Nuclear Man starting off disasters and Superman foiling them until Nuclear Man scratches Superman, poisoning him and causing him to fall.
Superman and Clark Kent vanish from the world. Lois visits Clark at home where she discovers Clark suffering from what he says is Flu. She returns Superman’s cape which dropped from him after Nuclear Man seriously injured him, telling Clark to return it to Superman if he sees him. Nuclear Man sees a photograph of Lacy and takes a liking to her. Meanwhile, Clark is dying of radiation poisoning but is saved by the crystal he retrieved from his ship earlier. Fully revived, Superman is on hand when Nuclear Man arrives at the Daily Planet looking for Lacy. The two fight once more but this time, Superman gains the upper hand, forcing Nuclear Man into an elevator and pulling it from the building and dragging it into space where Nuclear Man is rendered powerless due to the lack of the sun. Superman drops the elevator onto the surface of the moon leaving the villain in the dark. However, the rising sun hits the elevator, rejuvenating Nuclear Man who attacks Superman as he is straightening the American Flag planted by Neil Armstrong. After another scuffle, Nuclear Man beats Superman and knocks him under the surface of the moon. He then flies to Earth and kidnaps Lacy, flying with her into space. Superman escapes from the moon’s surface and proceeds to push the moon out of its orbit, causing an eclipse that nullifies Nuclear Man and allowing him to rescue Lacy. He then proceeds to take his enemy back to Earth and deposits him into the core of a nuclear power plant, killing him. Perry White has gained a loan in which to wrestle control of the Daily Planet back while Superman makes another statement in which he admits that world peace is a gift he cannot give the world even though he has been partially successful in his mission. He recaptures Luthor and returns him back to the prison gang from where he escaped before taking off one final time to do his customary Earth flyby.
Actor Jon Cryer who played the character of Lenny, Luthor’s nephew admitted that although he enjoyed his time making the film and loved the time he spent with Reeve and Hackman, Reeve told him before the film opened that it was ‘Terrible’. Cryer also claimed that the film was incomplete as Cannon ran out of money during production and ended up releasing an unfinished movie. There were at least 45 minutes of footage that was deleted from the film that the public has still yet to see in any capacity. Most of the deleted footage was cut from the film after a bad test screening in California. A long lost scene showed Clark Kent visiting the graves of his adoptive parents that were to fit into the scene where he returned to Smallville. Cannon completely screwed the pooch with their approach and penny pinching with the film. They could have had a sure-fire hit on their hands if they played it correctly but instead, managed to bury the franchise for nineteen years.
Christopher Reeve came to regret his decision to return for the film claiming “Superman IV was a catastrophe from start to finish. That failure was a huge blow to my career”. However, even though the film was a critical and box office disaster, there were plans for a fifth film starring Reeve, which he described as ‘The thank you and goodnight‘, the swansong to his career as the man of steel. Thankfully, the plans never came to anything before they completely tarnished Reeve’s legacy for good. Reeves’ terrible horse-riding accident in 1995 effectively ended his Hollywood career and led to his sad, untimely death some years later. But we can look back on his legacy as Superman with many fond memories and with the sense that we have seen the ultimate portrayal of the comic-book character, one that will never be bettered or even equaled.
Warner Brothers did keep plans for another film in their minds. After the box office returns for ‘Batman‘, ‘Batman Returns‘, and ‘Batman Forever‘, they thought the world was ready for a new version of the last son of Krypton. Plans were put into place for ‘Superman Lives‘. Several writers and directors came and went on the film including Kevin Smith. The film came extremely close to being made by Tim Burton with Nicolas Cage (A huge Superman fan) in the title role. In fact, costumes were made and behind the scenes footage of Cage wearing the suit in a costume test were shot. The film looked like it was a go. And then ‘Batman And Robin‘ came out. The complete disaster that the film was ended all hopes that a new Superman film could get made. The financial and critical disaster of the film virtually finished the DC stable of movies. And to top it all off, one throwaway line in the film lent the idea that a future film could feature a Batman/ Superman team-up.
With the film being possibly one of the worst films ever made (even worse than Superman IV), the DC superhero franchise was dead. But then, Marvel got into the act to great success with the double deal of ‘Spider-Man‘ and ‘X-Men‘ hitting the box offices worldwide for six. ‘Blade‘ had also made his mark for the fledgling universe and as such, comic-book movies were looking at a bright future once more. After several aborted attempts at bringing Superman back to the world, it fell to Bryan Singer, the director of the first two X-Men films to finally come up with an idea that seemed to work.
‘Superman Returns‘ hit the world in 2006. The idea for the film came to Bryan Singer while he was working on the second X-Men film. What would happen if Superman vanished for five years and in his absence, the world learned to stand on its own two feet and no longer rely on him? That was the main premise of the film. Singer had an idea of exactly how he would bring the man of steel back to the screen and knew exactly how he wanted to accomplish it. Although not a fan of the comic-books, Singer was a big fan of Richard Donner’s original movie and decided to make his film a sequel to ‘Superman II‘ and to totally disregard the third and fourth entries in the franchise. To many fans, the film wasn’t a sequel at all, more like a love letter to Donner and not what they were expecting. However, to me, the film is an underrated classic. Yes, it does share many of Donner’s original work but that’s because it is supposed to. The film is the ‘Superman III‘ we should have got 23 years earlier. It fits into the franchise so well that it is more than worthy of being part of the continuing franchise. Sadly, although the film was a box office success, it didn’t hit the heights that Warner Bros. was expecting it to make and as such, didn’t get the sequel it richly deserved. And that’s a shame as the film was so well made, so well thought out and so in touch with the first two movies, it sent shivers down my spine and made me go back to the days when I was a kid and seeing the movies for the very first time.
The film starts with the classic ‘As time goes by’ that accompanies the Warner Bros. logo on the screen but with a neat little twist as a few bars of the Superman theme are incorporated at the end. As we start the film itself, John Williams‘ Krypton theme starts to play. We are treated to a replay of the destruction of the planet as the words of Marlon Brando sound out over the footage. We watch as the planet explodes once again but this time, we see a space ship flying out along with the wreckage of the planet, flying out into space. The film goes silent for a few seconds. And then it happens. The rolling of drums. THE Theme starts to play one more time as the credits come at us exactly as they did back in 1978 and 1980 and in the exact same style. But this time, we are viewing them as we travel through the ‘S’ logo until it forms up in front of our eyes. Suddenly it bursts forward and following it comes the film’s title followed by the film’s credits as we track Kal-El’s journey through space until we come across Earth at the end of the credits. This time, we start on a stately family home. Many people stand outside the door as the elderly matriarch inside speaks to her much younger husband, telling him she knew there was good in him. As she dies, her husband removes his wedding ring and drops it and walks towards the door. The family outside is mad as hell as the lady has left her entire fortune to this man who they believe has forced her to sign it away, has manipulated her. The man steps into the light and it is revealed he is Lex Luthor, now in the form of Kevin Spacey. He walks away from the family, saying that everything belongs to him.
We now cross over to Smallville where Martha Kent is saying goodnight to Ben Hubbard after an evening spent playing scrabble. As she starts to straighten the place up, the house starts to shake as a loud rumbling is heard. She looks out of her window as something large and on fire thunders overhead. She knows what and who it is and as such, jumps into her truck, driving out as the object hits the ground. Reaching the debris, Martha searches it as a weakened hand reaches up for her. Its Clark, dressed in what’s left of his original Superman suit and needing her help as he collapses. After five years, he has returned home once more. And so we meet our new Superman in the form of Brandon Routh. His facial similarity to the late Christopher Reeve is uncanny and gives the audience a clear impression that this is a follow on from the second movie.
The film takes its time in building up to the big return of Superman. It deals mostly with Luthor’s quest to kill the man of steel by any means necessary and once again, his desire to become a land baron, this time by using some kryptonite in a rocket that he intends to fire into the ocean, thereby creating a landmass that will destroy Metropolis entirely and making the new landmass Luthor’s private residence. He will also hold all the cards when it comes to living conditions and property for everyone who survives the coming catastrophe. Meanwhile, Clark makes his return to the Daily Planet but is shocked when he finds out Lois Lane, during his five-year absence has become a mother. She has been raising her son, Jason with the help of her boyfriend Richard White, the nephew of Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White. Lois is writing a story on the launch of a new space shuttle when the plane holding the shuttle and the rest of Metropolis suffers a mysterious power outage. This causes the shuttle to become unable to detach itself from the Jumbo jet that is carrying it on its back along with the journalists. All attempts to shut down the countdown to the boosters igniting fail and the boosters fire, burning through the plane’s tailfin, causing a problem that will end in the destruction of both aircraft.
Clark Kent watches the unfolding disaster on the TV at a bar alongside Jimmy Olsen. When Olsen turns his back, Clark slips away, turns down an alley, and rips open his shirt, exposing the logo of his suit underneath. As all hope for the aircraft ebbs away, a large blip is detected on radar. Lois looks out of her window in despair and sees something or someone speeding past. She has to blink. Suddenly, a pair of boots land on the roof of the jet, helping stop the shuddering it has been experiencing. We see Clark’s face up close as he fires heat vision from his eyes at the landing struts of the shuttle, melting them away as we swoop in and witness the return of Superman. He’s back, with a brand new suit! He lifts the shuttle clear of the aircraft and launches it into space safely. Meanwhile, the aircraft is disintegrating in mid-air. Superman flies back down to it to stop it from crashing but is constantly being thwarted by the plane’s destruction. As the plane plummets down towards the ground and in particular, Metropolis baseball stadium, Superman finally manages to fly around and grab the plane by its nose, slowing its descent until his feet gently touch the ground, where he gently lowers the wreckage to the ground.
Flying around to the plane’s exit door, he rips it off its hinges and boards. Lois is stunned into silence as he stands in front of the passengers he has just saved. After asking if they are ok, mainly looking at Lois, he repeats the statement he uttered when he first saved her from falling to her death from the helicopter back in 1978. Waving to those assembled, he steps to the doorway where he is greeted by a huge roar from the crowd. The theme comes up and blares from the speakers of the theatre as the world and the audience welcomes Superman‘s return. And it is to Singer’s credit that he makes the return fit in seamlessly with the first two entries in the series. The theme, the reaction, the goosebumps we get as the theme plays along with the footage on the screen. It’s almost perfect. As the hero flies away into the sky, we are given an exact repeat of Margot Kidder’s fainting from the first film only with her replacement, Kate Bosworth performing as Lois this time around. And herein lies a problem. It’s TOO similar to the original film in some respects. That’s maybe why the fans were not that impressed with it. Instead of taking what the film was trying to do and pay tribute to Donner’s original while advancing the story, they complained that the film was too similar to what they already had.
The world celebrates the return of Superman with the exception of Lois. She acts indifferent to his return. When Lois and he finally meet one on one and face to face, she lets him have it full bore. Lois can’t understand or accept that he left HER, let alone the world. The article she wrote, ‘Why the world doesn’t need Superman’ disguised the hurt she felt at what she feels was his abandonment. He feels that he had to go to see if there were anyone else like him still alive, to discover if he wasn’t the last son of Krypton. Alas, he found nothing and upon his return, the one person who he believed would never turn or reject him does exactly that. All the while, Luthor is coming close to completing his masterplan. Lois gets a lead on the story and travels to the Metropolis harbor to look at a boat that belonged to the late old woman from the start of the film. Of course, Luthor is using the boat for his own needs and even living aboard. Lois is discovered and along with her son, is captured. The boat leaves and heads to the middle of the ocean where Luthor plans to launch his Kryptonite loaded missile into the sea, thus starting his own landmass creation which will destroy Metropolis.
Lois manages to send the ship’s coordinates to the Daily Planet before her plan is discovered. One of Luthor’s henchmen starts to beat and assault Lois in front of her son. Just as he is about to deliver a killing blow, he is hit and killed by a fast-moving piano. Justin has pushed the piano to save his mother. But how did such a weakling child manage to do that? Of course, we realize that he is Superman‘s son, born out of the night Lois and he spent together back in ‘Superman II‘. Lois’ message is received at the Planet, causing Richard to leave to get to his Sea Plane in an attempt to rescue her and Justin. Luthor has launched his missile into the sea and the chain reaction has started. Clark changes into Superman and flies at the speed of sound to save Lois and Justin but sees a crack form under the sea, threatening Metropolis and has to make a decision on who to save. Lois and her son or the entire city? He chooses to save the city and its inhabitants and during an exciting sequence, saves many people, and stops many disasters from happening. All the while, Richard has found the fast-sinking boat and manages to get on board in an attempt to rescue Lois and her child but becomes trapped along with them.
Part of the new landmass strikes the boat dead center, causing it to break in half. Lois, Richard, and Justin are trapped inside the galley, locked in by a large metal door, which has swung shut, knocking Lois unconscious. They sink below the waves and are sinking down to a watery grave. Just when all hope is gone, a pair of red boots land on top of the door, a pair of hands grab hold and the wreckage begins to rise to the surface. Superman has saved the day once more. Holding the ship half with one hand, he wrenches open the door, asking Richard if he’s got hold of his family which Richard says he has. Superman drops the boat wreckage and pulls the three to safety. He flies them to Richard’s plane and aids them in taking to the skies before he flies to the large landmass where Lex Luthor has flown by Helicopter to in an attempt to confront him once and for all. Luthor asks Superman if he sees anything familiar then follows up by saying the place looks a little ‘Alien’.
Noticing a bead of sweat forming on Superman’s head, Luthor punches him, sending him flying. As he looks down at the ground in astonishment, Superman sees the green tinge under the ground, realizing what the mass is constructed out of. Kryptonite, his only weakness. Luthor and his men proceed to give the fallen hero a severe beating before Luthor pulls a Kryptonite shard from his pocket and stabs Superman in the back several times with it, severely injuring the hero. He falls into the sea and is swept away. Justin however, spots the fallen man and guides Richard in to rescue him.
Lois notices the injury in his back and with a pair of pliers, pulls a large piece of Kryptonite from the wound. Superman regains his strength, thanks the trio and leaps from the plane, flying upwards to the sun to regain his power before soaring down below the waves like a guided missile, using his heat vision to burn a hole under the landmass and coming directly underneath it. Above, Luthor notices the mass shaking and makes a run for his helicopter. His friends are all killed as part of the landmass collapses on them, squashing them as Luthor and his muse make it to the chopper and take off. The landmass starts to rise out of the ocean and into the air and as part of it begins to crumble, it is revealed Superman is lifting the mass from the sea and taking it into space to become another asteroid floating out there. Or it could have become New Krypton if they had gone ahead with a further sequel, which I believe was the plan going forward.
Still, the man of steel manages to get the mass into space before the remaining Kryptonite lodged in his back overcomes him and he falls back to Earth landing hard and leaving a large crater. He is rushed into the hospital where mortal medicine cannot do any good for him. They do manage to extract the final piece of the Kryptonite from his wound but that’s about all they can do for him as he lies almost comatose suffering from Kryptonite poisoning. Lois and her son visit him in the hospital where Lois whispers something in his ear. As they turn to leave, Justin rushes back to place a kiss on Superman‘s forehead. Has he heard the secret his mother has been keeping from him? Superman makes no reaction as they leave and Lois and her son have to push their way through the crowds of people which include Martha Kent, who is unable to get in to see her adopted son. She can’t or else his secret identity will be revealed. A nurse goes to check on him only to find the bed empty and the window wide open. Later that night, Lois is sitting at her computer trying to write an article on why ‘The world needs Superman’ but can’t seem to find the words she wants to write down.
In Justin’s bedroom where he is fast asleep, a gust of wind announces Superman is there. He sits by the boy’s bedside and talks to the sleeping child, echoing things his own father said to him many years ago. He heard Lois’ revelation that Justin was indeed his son. The child turns over and Superman leaves. Lois is standing outside, about to light a cigarette when she hears her son say goodbye from his bedroom window. She turns and Superman is hovering in front of her. She asks him if he will be around and he answers he is always around, revealing without saying the words that he knows that Justin is his son and that he will always be there for him in addition to staying on Earth from now on. He wishes Lois a goodnight and flies away as she and Justin watch. He flies over Metropolis, looking at the city he calls home and where his family truly now is before flying above the clouds. The theme starts to play as we follow him as he flies higher and higher before he leaves the atmosphere and gives his customary flyby one final time.
By the time Routh completes his flyby, I was on my feet giving the film a standing ovation. This is what I remembered from my youth, of a time when the world was innocent to me and I could believe in superheroes. Of a time when Christopher Reeve WAS Superman. When the character was used in animated commercials warning kids to say no to smoking while battling the villainous Nick O’Teen (See what they did there?). I sat in the theatre grabbing hold of the sides of my seat many times during the film in sheer enjoyment at what I was seeing on the screen. This was a Superman film and one that I can still honestly say I loved every minute of. It did suffer slightly with a lack of action scenes but this wasn’t what the film was about. It was a film bringing back a beloved character to the screen once more in a film that deserved better box office and audience enjoyment. Sadly, it didn’t break the bank as far as Warner Bros. were concerned and so, the man of steel vanished from the screen once again.
During the time before Superman hit the big screen again, DC had found a new lease of life with Batman, thanks to Christopher Nolan as ‘Batman Begins‘ and then ‘The Dark Knight‘ blew the comic-book movie wars wide open. This was before Marvel got it’s act together and started its own universe with the release of ‘Iron Man‘. Once again, a man could fly on the big screen, albeit with a manufactured suit instead of superhuman powers but comic-book fans flocked in their droves to see the film. Warner Bros, after the disaster of ‘Batman and Robin‘, had abandoned plans for a fifth film that was to be called ‘Batman Triumphant‘, had done the right thing by taking the character back to basics in their new films involving the character. Suddenly, ideas for a ‘Justice League‘ film were flying about as well as an announced ‘Batman V Superman‘ movie to hit the screens in 2008. Sadly, neither of them came to fruition at that time and it would be almost ten years before the films that were planned hit the screen and when they did, they were met with critical and audience derision. But before then, DC and Warner Bros. decided that the time was right for a Superman reboot. The film would hit Marvel where it hurt, in the pocket. It would blow Marvel out of the water. What the film actually did was to take the character and his mythology and turn it into a soulless, hugely underwhelming snooze fest, one that laid the foundation for the DC Universe and could possibly be the reason why the DC Multiverse is lagging so far behind Marvel.
‘Man Of Steel‘ tried and failed to reboot the character for a new generation. It wasn’t the fault of the cast, who tried their utmost to make the film as enjoyable as they could. Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman suited the part pretty well and was believable as the superhero. Michael Shannon made the most of what he had to work with as General Zod, playing a character that Terrance Stamp played so well over thirty years previous. Amy Adams was an extremely good choice for Lois Lane, bringing strength and a core to the part not seen before. Russell Crowe played a version of Jor-El we hadn’t seen before. But despite all this, the film really left me cold. I sat in the theatre waiting for the film to blow me away and instead, as the end credits rolled, I was still waiting for the film to make an impression on me. And I’m still waiting. The film has no heart, no soul, and no redeeming features whatsoever. They took the storyline and completely ruined it. Even the climax, always the big finale to send the audience home talking about the film is a damp squib. And for the part where Superman kills Zod in the end, it was a waste of a character that could and should have moved the story and the franchise onwards. Instead, he was used as a cheap throwaway plot piece in ‘Batman V Superman‘ and ‘Justice League‘. This was an insult to the character. Cavill did manage to make the part of Kal-El his own during ‘Batman V Superman‘ and with maybe the exception of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, was the standout amongst the wreckage of the film. We can forgive him for ‘Justice League‘ as he was hardly in it but Cavill is doing pretty well in the role. But it does go to show that Warner Bros. and DC are unwilling to take a chance on a second solo Superman movie, instead focussing on Batman as their next big-screen hero in the upcoming ‘The Batman‘. Even Wonder Woman has got a second movie with this years ‘Wonder Woman 1984‘. And ‘Aquaman 2‘ has been announced. So where is Cavill’s second Superman adventure? Why has the character been pushed aside? It would be marvelous if, at the end of ‘WW 84‘, Cavill makes an appearance as Superman in a scene set in the modern-day. Hell, we know the character is about after his (Non-Cavill) showing at the end of ‘Shazam!‘. So whats going on with the character?
Maybe one day, we can sit in a darkened theatre once more and watch Superman taking to the skies in front of us again. Maybe they will return to finding a winning formula that will make the film a stand-out and will finally give Marvel a run for their money. Until then, I can sit back and return to an era that defined my love of comic-books and comic-book movies. To reminisce about a time I sat as a child in a cinema in England, surrounded by other like-minded people, and watched something that blew me away and looking up at the skies. For all their faults and double-dealing and backstabbing, the Salkinds did manage to accomplish one thing. They did what the movie poster promised us all back in 1978. They managed to make us all believe that a man can fly.
Until next time.
The Future of the Force. The future of pop culture writing.
Carl Roberts is a Senior Staff Writer and Books and Literature Correspondent for The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!
Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely that of the author and do not reflect the overall opinion of thefutureoftheforce.com, it’s writers or affiliates.