Pop Culture superman-1978-08-g

Published on May 3rd, 2012 | by Fred Betzner


Sharpen Your Pitchforks, I Hate Superman

Have you ever seen a movie that you’re supposed to love, but just can’t stand? Of course, I think most people have. I would consider myself a geek, a lover of cinema and all things comic bookey. But within the greater geek community, such as it is, there are some accepted truths and opinions held amongst members of that community.

Certain movies — Ghostbusters is a good example — are universally recognized as holy works, whose quality speak for themselves. Positive opinions of these films are almost passwords, shibboleths that mark you as a “true believer” (in Stan Lee’s parlance). And it is because of this culture that I write this with great trepidation, for the words I am about to commit to the internet amount to a geek heresy… one which may cause my good friend, and fellow Act Classy blogger, Joe Lyons and his infant son to never speak to me again.

I hate the 1978 Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve.


I know Joe. I KNOW!

Well, OK, hate is a strong word, because I do really like some of it a lot, but in the end, I don’t care for it at all. I know: sacrilege. This is a beloved movie. It was the first of an era. Without it, we wouldn’t have the modern superhero movie, and I recognize that. I understand why geeks hold this one pretty close to their hearts. I still hate it.

“A blogger no one’s ever heard of said what!? Leave the bottle.”

Ok, what did I like about it? Christopher Reeve for one. It’s the part he was born to play, and it may be the most perfect casting in the history of cinema (however one calculates such a thing, I don’t know).  He is genuinely funny as Clark Kent and he radiates such a grace and confidence as Superman and so inhabits that role that he became Superman to at least one generation of kids.  The special effects are, especially for the time, superb. The film’s tagline, “You will believe a man can fly,” is simultaneously schmaltzy studio advertising copy and entirely true. Modern day CGI assisted movie flight may be more agile, Green Lantern can do flips and loop-de-loops against an alien landscape, but nothing has ever equaled Christopher Reeve flying in Superman. This and the newspaper stuff –  Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, the Fortress of Solitude — all great! Even I find it impossible to say otherwise!

Objection! He is clearly ramping up to something.

I know what you’re thinking: “Gee Fred, sounds like you really like this movie, what the frack, man!” Alright! Calm down, Starbuck. Primarily, I have two issues with the movie: Lex Luthor and the ending.

I love Gene Hackman, he’s an exceptional actor. But this take on Lex Luthor, and I lay this at director Richard Donner’s feet, is completely ridiculous. Ned Beatty too. And Lex’s girlfriend. I hate them all. They live in an abandoned train station thing behind a secret door in the New York Subway with a swimming pool, fully stocked library, and FABULOUS wardrobe.

Work that ascot Lex!

The filmmakers go to such great lengths to make Superman himself realistic: the subtle portrayal by Reeve, the somber first half in Kansas, the death of his adopted father. And then there’s this 180-degree turn, and you’re following wacky Lex and his bumbling toady as he tries to sink California into the ocean so he can own beach-front property in the middle of Nevada. I don’t know who would want to live on the site of the most devastating domestic terrorist attack in history that would have killed literally millions of people, let alone pay rent to the madman who pulled the trigger, but then I’m not big on sand castles. It’s too over the top, too campy, and to me it’s jarring. 

And this air of ridiculousness is there throughout the entire second half of the film. I would assume they felt like they needed some sort of comedic counterpoint to Superman, but they already have that in Clark Kent. And really, I could even overlook this if not for the ending. For those of you who may not remember, Luthor launches a missile into the San Andreas Fault to start an earthquake that would cause California to fall into the ocean. Lois lane is caught in this earthquake and falls into a fissure and dies. Superman screams to the heavens and flies backwards around the Earth so fast it reverses the spin of the Earth along with the flow of time. He goes back, stops the missile and saves Lois.

Scientifically sound.

OK, so this is ridiculous on its face, but it’s also lazy and gimmicky writing. Luthor sets it up so that one missile heads to California, and a second heads to New Jersey. Seems like an easy choice to me, but Superman has to stop them both blah blah whatever (suck it, Jersey). It’s a dilemma that forces him to lose either way, and that’s a gutsy thing for a writer to set up; a choice must be made and either way millions die. By making Superman powerful enough to reverse the flow of time, nothing matters! No danger is really dangerous, no tragedy is permanent, and everything that happened is erased. Hell, he could even go back far enough to tell his 20 year old Pa Kent to lay off the Saturday morning bacon, and maybe he wouldn’t have that heart attack 40 years later. It’s a deus ex machina easy out, and it’s awful.

And you can’t use the excuse that this was a comic book movie, the hero always has to win in comics and they couldn’t kill off Lois Lane. To this I say bulls#*t, because five full years before this movie, Spider-Man was faced with the abduction of his girlfriend at the hands of the Green Goblin and you know what happened? GWEN STACEY DIED! And she stayed dead. In fact it’s implied that it was Spider-Man who accidentally broke her neck while trying to save her. Killing off a major character, now that’s gutsy writing!    

Arm Fall Off Boy is still alive.

“Oh, but this is silly, Fred. That was a one off event, Superman only endangered the fabric of reality because he was blinded by grief at the loss of Lois Lane.”

Until the long-anticipated Richard Donner cut of Superman 2 was officially released a few years ago, I could have bought this argument. Not anymore. Not since Donner ended his version of the sequel IN THE EXACT SAME WAY!!!

Short history lesson, Richard Donner shot a significant amount of footage for Superman 2 before being replaced with Richard Lester at the behest of the producers. Lester re-cut the movie and made it really silly and slapsticky. The geek community begged for years for an official release of the Richard Donner cut, and once it was finally issued on DVD the vast majority of the film had a much more even tone and was, in general, a superior cut. But in the last moments, once again, Superman flies around the Earth, reverses time, and erases the entire movie from existence.

I know, Captain. It would have been much easier to just slingshot around the sun!

Lame. Hella stupid and lame.

Well, so what? Why am I bothering you with this? Frankly, I don’t really know. I have space to fill, and confession is good for the soul I guess. It’s cathartic, isn’t it? Somehow, internet, I feel like if you hear me, maybe I can move on. Get over it. I probably won’t though. This movie really f^&#@$g sucks.

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About the Author

Fred Betzner spends his days silently staring out of windows in his castle, Le Château de Kangourou, and cursing his ill fate in severely broken French. He is considering changing his name to Molly.

  • http://www.actclassy.com/ SweetMonkeyCreek

    BOOOOOO!!!!  OK, while I understand your grievances I fail to see them as enough to “hate” the movie.  The flying around the Earth thing is silly, yes, but it’s totally a Silver Age thing that would happen in the DC Universe.  And yes, had the Donner cut been the final cut, to end Superman II in the same fashion would have been awful, but it wasn’t so it doesn’t count.  The spirit and the emotions that are invoked in Superman far outweigh the faults…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Fred-Betzner/14231967 Fred Betzner

    Hate knows no logic Joe! While the Donner Cut of Superman 2 isn’t the official cut, I think to a lot of people who have followed the history it is the definitive cut, it’s fairly close to what would have been released if the producers hadn’t started messing with things. Therefore I argue for it’s admission. And I just don’t buy the whole it’s straight out of the comics and that excuses it. They nailed the fist half of the movie, it was totally grounded, not crazy or over the top, and then in the end oh, he fixes it with time travel. I get that this was treading new ground, but that doesn’t make me like it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GRG6FEZSWMXC5CTVZQQ42RWSRA David

    Superman and Superman II are the only movies in which I legitimately believe Superman can be defeated — by the scheming “either way you lose” scenario of Luthor or the fact that a trio of Kryptonians show up on Earth and Supes might just get his ass kicked.  Of course, as a kid I loved the double-cross at the end when he made them  normal and dropped their black-silked asses into the deepest crevices of the Fortress of Solitude.  But as an adult, I’m pretty much of the opinion that Superman is the worst superhero of all time.  Sure, I think Christopher Reeve is the very definition of handsome, but the movie has not aged well the same way for me and Fred.  I still love and admire the way in which it was made (the way I admire Mommie Dearest for recreating a 1940s film in 1980) but if you pay enough attention to recognize Superman III and Superman IV as part of the collective, it’s a really, really, super-lame series.  

  • MollyGMartin

    My superpower is being late to a party:  Fred, why do you hate America?

  • S Js1

    what i like about christopher reeve is he is the most best superman  ever

    from samantha jane smith from taunton somerset

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