Podcast Reaction: The Christopher Reeve Edition

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I’d like to start off by suggesting, maybe going so far as to assert, that I do exist.  It is true I prefer not to pose for photographs, but I have a couple.  And, furthermore, Watson doesn’t buy gifts.  This is an Established Fact.

And while I would have preferred to have discussed my own rankings for various movies of the Batman or Superman variety, I think I will instead take exception to something Ryan said about how boring a Silver Age Superman movie would be.  I happen to disagree, because such a movie (or two) already exists, and they’re not boring.

I am referring, of course, to the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films.  Superman Returns, which I find is a bit underrated, attempted to do something similar, but when you have a scary guy serial killer with a clown face tattooed on his bald head, you are really leaving the friendly confines of the Silver Age where Superman can take the time to rescue a cat from a tree and fly off with a wave to the camera, perhaps after replacing the ol’ Star and Stripes on the White House roof.

I will start off by actually admitting I’m not much of a fan of the Silver Age Superman.  Silver Age Superman comics tend to have Superman being more inclined to use his brain than his superpowers, but not the way that might make it preferable.  Many a Superman story from this era involves Superman seemingly stuck in an unsolvable conundrum, only to reveal Superman was tricking his adversary the whole time and had everything under control when whatever devious trap he’d set had been sprung.  If he did get into what he termed a “super-battle” (he amended most everything he did with the prefix “super”), he didn’t throw punches so much as let stuff bounce off his chest and throw things.  At most, he might wrestle something close to his strength class.

Superman stories from this era didn’t even have to make sense on certain levels.

Satan had all the women of the multiverse to choose from, and he went with Superman's girlfriend.  Smart move, Prince of Darkness.
Satan had all the women of the multiverse to choose from, and he went with Superman’s girlfriend. Smart move, Prince of Darkness.

Superman was also above all a paragon of decency.  Granted, so were most DC heroes.  DC wasn’t known for giving its heroes distinct personalities in those days.  Superman would help out the less fortunate, be a true American patriot, and really believed in Truth, Justice, and the American Way.  He had some kind of charm.  There’s a reason Superman’s Silver Age stories seem to have endured better than, say, Batman’s pre-O’Neil and Adams.  Maybe he didn’t have the most memorable of villains outside Luthor, Braniac, and a couple others, but that was because Superman wasn’t always about beating back the supervillains.  He was about the spectacle of a man who could fly doing amazing things for the kid readers at home.

This brings me to the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies.  The really brilliant part here is that the movies, while using the Silver Age Superman as a template for what the character would be like, don’t do the same with the rest of the characters.  Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane is not a superficial, helpless thing who wants to trick Superman into marriage.  She’s actually a bit of a cynic, and someone who clearly wants to hop into bed with Superman since she asks him what color her underwear is when he sits down for an interview.

The second movie does imply, by the by, that wanting to sleep with Lois is the big reason Superman depowers himself.  He never says as much, but it looks like someone read Larry Niven’s “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” essay.

Reeve’s Superman actually has a seemingly effortless charm, so the viewer can believe he really means it when he says he believes in Truth, Justice, and the American Way, even as Lois scoffs at it when he first says it.  By contrast, while bombastic, Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor isn’t building giant robots and tanks to commit crimes.  There’s a scene that got edited out of the theatrical release where Superman essentially waltzes through a series of defenses Luthor has set up for his lair, namely a bunch of automatic machine guns, flame throwers, and a really cold blast of ice, but nothing on the scale of the sorts of things comic Luthor would throw together.  He doesn’t wear the green and purple tights either.  Or steal 40 cakes, and that’s terrible.

You might want to look that last reference up.

Consider how Reeve’s Superman deals with things.  Outrunning a train or kicking a football across the county are there for the awe and wonder aspect.  He rescues a cat from a tree and Air Force One from crashing.  He carries a boat full of bad guys to a police station after dropping a cat burglar off in front of a beat cop.  He’s earnest, not inclined to joke around, and keeps his promise to Miss Tessmacher to stop the nuke headed for her mother’s hometown before getting the one headed for the West Coast.

Of course, he didn’t do this:

Much of the Silver Age hokum extends to how he deals with General Zod and Co.  Few punches are thrown onscreen.  He wrestles a bit, throws things, the sort of stuff he did all the time in the Silver Age.  He defeats them in the end with deception, counting on Luthor being a weasel to save the day.  If he needs a superpower, he has it, no matter how ridiculous.

But for my money, the first of these is actually the better movie.  There may not be a Superman throwdown with anyone in his weight class, from the opening with a kid reading a comic book, goes instead for the awe and wonder of seeing Superman fly around and save the day, of spectacle over violence.  Man of Steel offered a very different kind of Superman, one that didn’t seem to care as much about property damage in either of the places he is known to call home, or who seems to bounce back somewhat fast from killing Zod, but the classic original Reeve movie, a movie that probably couldn’t be made today for many, many reasons (see the flop that was Superman Returns), managed to completely capture the essence of the Silver Age in ways that have never and will never be duplicated, and it was far from a boring movie.

tomk74

Defender of the faith, contributing writer, debonair man-about-town.

4 thoughts on “Podcast Reaction: The Christopher Reeve Edition

  1. I can sum up this article, “suck it Ryan”. 🙂 Much like my thoughts on his un-explainable and incorrect love of Dark Knight Rises.

    The other thing that Ryan said that I noted (man, where is all this Ryan hate coming from? Has the Watson well run dry?) is his complaint about Superman 2 The Donner Cut having a terrible ending because it was exactly the same as the ending of Superman. I’ve brought this up to him before, and the reason for this was because it was always the ending to Superman 2 when the first two movies were being shot simultaneously.

    From wikipedia: It was decided to stop shooting Superman II and focus on finishing Superman. Donner had already completed 75% of the sequel. The filmmakers took a risk: if Superman was a box office bomb, they would not finish Superman II. The original climax for Superman II had General Zod, Ursa and Non destroying the planet, with Superman time traveling to fix the damage. In the original ending for Superman, the nuclear missile that Superman pushed into outer space happens to strike the Phantom Zone, freeing the three Kryptonian supervillains. The final shot was originally going to be General Zod, Non, and Ursa all flying towards earth, in an ominous sequel hook moment. The sequence can be seen in its entirety at the beginning of Donner’s edit of Superman II where it was fully restored.

    Donner commented, “I decided if Superman is a success, they’re going to do a sequel. If it ain’t a success, a cliffhanger ain’t gonna bring them to see Superman II.”

    Now, I gotta go back and listen to the podcast and find some mistake Watson made to pick on…

    1. First, I didn’t say silver age Supes would be boring, I said those were the bad elements from otherwise good movies (and ones I still like). So you can suck on telling me to suck it! 🙂

      And I hear you on the ending, but my complaint would be the same. The time travel was a cop out–putting it at the end of 2 instead of 1 would be the same.

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