Superman: The Movie
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Starring: Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Margot Kidder


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Spider-Man caused a bit of a ruckus between my friends at The Amazing Colossal Website and myself. You can check out "The Vaults" there and find the interplay. There were a couple of people who thought it was a piece of crap, and a few, like myself, who thought it was really cool and just about all we could have hoped for in a Spidey movie. One of the main anti-Spidey arguments was that it somehow ripped off "Superman: The Movie." I didn't feel equipped to argue against this, because I hadn't seen it since I was a youngster, and all I could really recall of it was the absurd ending. Now, however, upon further review, I think whoever came up with that argument is on the crack.

This is the story of an alien baby named Kal-El, who is sent in a rocketship from his dying home planet of Krypton by his father, Jor-El (Marlon Brando) because the Head Council In Charge on Krypton thinks Jor-El's theories that the planet will explode in a month or so are bogus and won't let him leave. So a baby hurtles through space toward Earth, because Jor-El has studied Earth and knows they'z good people. Ma and Pa Kent come across him after he crash lands and they raise him on their farm like their own son, even though he's got some serious extra-terrestrial abilities, and they name him Clark. He grows up with these powers, yet must hide them lest he be abducted by the same government stooges that took ALF away. This pisses him off, because apparently hiding his powers means he has to be a tool.

So... this is where it starts to get weird. Suddenly, after Pa Kent dies, Clark stands out in a field and realizes "He Must Leave." This, of course, means he must wander to the North Pole and throw a shiny green crystal from his spaceship into the snow and see what happens. I am going to be kind here and assume that this was something he was compelled to do because of what he was told by Jor-El subliminally as he sat for three years in a spacepod zipping to Earth, rather than figuring that this was just completely ridiculous. Then, naturally, the shiny green crystal becomes a huge crystal fortress that he hangs out in, talking to some floating image of Marlon Brando's head and absorbing all knowledge in the universe for twelve years. ALL KNOWLEDGE IN THE UNIVERSE - or, to be fair, just a lot of galaxies. Also, Marlon Brando's floating opaque head can hold full conversations with Clark, even though it's just a simulation. I am going to be kind here and just chalk this up to amazing Kryptonian technology which, I suppose, is a comic book staple.

So after learning everything in the universe there is to know, he emerges from the Fortress of Solitude as Christopher Reeve. Apparently, his father has instructed him that he should get a secret identity and also fight crime in his spare time. This causes him to completely play up his 'tool' qualities as Clark Kent, turning himself into a joke as he gets a job as a mild-mannered reporter at the Daily Planet, a major metropolitan newspaper in, well, Metropolis (a town, it should be noted, so far completely devoid of creepy golden female robots). Here, he meets the irksome, grating spelling bee washout Lois Lane (Kidder) and falls in love apparently because he's never been allowed to touch a girl before and she's the only one he knows. When he's not mild-manneredly reporting, he's wearing tights and flying around town putting a halt to crime, being dashing, cracking wise and amazing the townsfolk. Naturally, every chick in the world falls for him, including Lois, the gal he rescues from falling out of a helicopter that's dangling precariously on the top of the Daily Planet building. This leads to Superman giving an interview scoop to Lois detailing all his strengths and weaknesses, which could lead to some dangerous developments in the wrong hands.

Fortunately for Our Man Supes, the only people who think to use this against him are idiot egomaniac Lex Luthor (Hackman) and his stupid assistant Otis (Beatty), who pose no realistic threat, since they are just used for comic relief. Oh, sure, they have missles aimed at populated areas designed to destroy huge hunks of the United States, but that hardly makes them threatening since they go about it in such a "look how clumsy we are" way, not to mention the fact that Luthor explains his master plan to Superman just before "killing" him with kryptonite (how he figures out what it is, where to find it and what exactly it will do to Superman, I still don't know). So Superman escapes and races to stop killer missiles and their devastating after effects, which he manages to do - he saves all sorts of people, zipping around California and being heroic, but after finishing saving everything else, he discovers he's too late to save Lois from getting trapped in her car in a rocky crevice and smothered to death with cascading dirt.

This could have been an incredibly daring move and a really interesting development in a so-far passable-if-shaky film. Superman flies into a rage at being unable to save Lois, tearing off into the sky. Dramatic, compelling. He hears the echoing voice of Brando telling him that he is 'forbidden to interfere in human history.' Um, isn't that what he's doing by flying around, stopping crime and saving people and kittens? Didn't Jor-El TELL him to go do this? What is this sudden distinction? Confusing, perturbing. Superman, however, is enraged and ignores the purportedly sage advice of Jor-El and... um... wait, what's he doing? He's... well, he's flying REALLY fast around the entire world! That's pretty impressive, but what does it accomplish? Oh... Great Scott! He's... reversing the rotation of the Earth on its axis!? Think of the devastation that would cause, the havoc it would wreak on tides, orbit... the entire Earth suddenly reversing direction would send people standing still hurtling all over the place to certain death! Good god man, what are you doing?! One screechy, annoying woman is not worth destroying a whole planet! What? What's that happening on Earth below? It's... GOING BACK IN TIME?! WHO IN TARNATION THOUGHT THIS WAS PLAUSIBLE?! Laughable, pathetic. The undoing of a decent adventure.

Yes. Superman REVERSES TIME by spinning the world backwards for a few moments, and then spins it back forwards and saves Lois, conveniently ignoring the fact that, if he really did reverse time, all the other people he saved would again need rescuing, and so we assume he leaves them all to die, trading their lives for Margot Kidder's as he just loiters around her car, dreadfully happy to see her. Not so super, man.

This film holds a special place in many a comic geek's heart, ostensibly because it was the first film to take the transfer from comic book to silver screen seriously and tried to make a really good adventure film from the first superhero story ever written. To its credit, it succeeds on some levels. Reeve makes a really good Superman and also does a fine job in creating a nebbish loser out of Clark Kent, as he wisely realizes he's going to need more than glasses to throw people off the scent. He fills out the Superduds nicely and cuts an impressive profile. Brando's entertainingly regal as Jor-El, and watching Superman soar around town (which might be Metropolis, might be New York, might be something else) and saving people was a treat to watch. But then it makes the main villains into pathetic bunglers and stuffs the film so full of preposterous events that it makes the suspension of disbelief required to go along with Superman's story in the first place nigh-impossible, and you wind up just laughing at how stupid it gets at the end.

So, back to the question at hand - the bone of contention that "Spider-Man" ripped off "Superman." For clarity's sake, I'll include an excerpt from Amazing-Colossal Dave's review of "Spider-Man." "Itís the exact same structure: detailed origin, including scenes of hero as a teen outcast, followed by montage of hero in action for the first time, then a more simple plot as hero battles villain. Spider-Man even goes so far as to show us Parker running along side a school bus, just as Clark Kent once did with a train. And what about that Mary Jane? I think Lois Laneís gonna sue somebody." Then there was a further comment: " Kirsten Dunstís Mary Jane was Margot Kidderís Lois Lane all the way, what with her falling for Spidey but not Peter, her dangling from a high place, blah blah blah."

As I said, he must be on the crack. The 'same structure' argument - this is a superhero archetype, basically. Any superhero movie is going to need to start off with a 'detailed origin' and then move on to when he goes into action for the first time, and then battle a villain. It comes with the package. Peter Parker, however, is a GENUINE teen outcast, whereas Clark just had to play the role to hide his powers, and who are you more inclined to feel sympathy for - the guy just pretending to be socially inept but is quietly smug about his super-nature, or the guy who's ACTUALLY socially inept despite his earnest efforts not to be? That's a similarity in the comic origins of both characters, but don't you have to see the childhoods of people with these powers when you're introducing them? That's what 'origin' means, and the first film in any superhero franchise needs a detailed origin. The school bus/train argument is simply silly. What do the two have to do with each other, aside from being vehicles being run next to? Clark Kent runs by a train to show off his powers and use them out of frustration of having to hide them. Peter Parker runs by a bus because he missed it, and he needs to get to school. Then he runs later because he missed it again, but this time he discovers a weird thing about his hand. I saw Ben Affleck standing in the rain talking to Samuel L. Jackson in Changing Lanes, and I also saw Ewan McGregor standing in the rain talking to Samuel L. Jackson in Attack of the Clones. Neither one is ripping the other off.

Then there's the Mary Jane-Lois Lane comparison. They are both Love Interests for Superheroes, and by International Adventure Mandate, they will find themselves in a spot of danger that only the superhero in question can rescue them from. Superman does not have a patent on the damsel in distress idea, and Margot Kidder did not invent dangling from high places. As for the 'falling for Spidey instead of Peter' bit, this is very comic-true in the damselís reaction to a superhero - the superhero saved her life, is dashing and exciting. The secret identity is sort of background in their lives. Not only is it a comic theme, but it just makes sense in REALITY. Whoís a gal gonna flip for - the incredible mysterious public hero or that weird neighbor kid? Margot Kidderís Lois Lane did not invent that dynamic.

There are "homages" to "Superman: The Movie" in "Spider-Man," yes. The tearing open of the shirt, revealing the chest insignia, but that's an obvious joke. There's Aunt May's reference to him not being Superman, and that's a funny joke, too. And yes, the scene where Spidey swings away from the first Goblin attack with MJ made me think of "You've got me?! Who's got YOU?!" This, I will grant. But that's it. Mary Jane Watson is a MUCH more developed character than Lois Lane is, and a much more pleasant character to watch, as well.

What do we know about MJ at the end of "Spider-Man?" She's a cute girl-next-door with a troubled home life that fosters an unfulfilling personal life, searching for human kindness that she never gets at home, which leads her into the arms of men that don't make her happy, and she's struggling hard to make her pipe dreams come true against the odds. Yes, she falls for an enigmatic stranger that saves her life twice under extreme circumstances, but by the third time she gets rescued, she's realized that it's not real, and she discovers she's in love with the only guy that's shown her true personal kindness, only to be rebuffed at the end when she finally confesses it. This is a CHARACTER here, full of angst, woe, drama, conflict and confusion. What do we know about Lois Lane at the end of "Superman?" She's a bug-eyed, obnoxious reporter that falls in love with a guy because he rescues her once, he's a mysterious alien with wowser powers, he looks cute and he's good natured. This is all we know. You may be fooled into thinking this is a real character when you see that she's not a good speller, but that just ain't the case. There's no reason to care about her, and I didn't.

So that's the scoop. "Spider-Man" is a better movie than "Superman." The Man of Steel has his charms, but Ol' Webhead's got him where it counts - better characters, a credible villain threat and a finale that isn't laughably stupid. I do like Supes' theme music, though. Very inspiring.

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