The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was Superman.
It was December 1978 and my family was in Victoria, British Columbia for my Dad’s sabbatical. I was six-years old and was absolutely captivated by the whole spectacle. Everything was large than life – the scenery (both on Earth and on Krypton), the special effects, the story and the characters.
The cast was a who’s who of Hollywood past and present – Marlon Brando (as Jor-El, Superman’s father), Glenn Ford (as Jonathan Kent, Superman’s other father), Jackie Cooper (as Perry White, editor of The Daily Planet) and Gene Hackman (as Lex Luthor). My Dad absolutely loved Hackman’s interpretation of Luthor and could not stop laughing. I didn’t understand everything that was being said at the time, but in subsequent viewings came to fully appreciate Hackman’s genius. I remember when Superman broke down the door to Luthor’s underground bunker, Hackman replied, “Come on in. The door’s open.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the tandem of Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine who played Luthor’s incompetent assistant Otis and Luthor’s long suffering girlfriend, Eve Tessmacher. Then there was the triumvirate of the versatile Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran who played General Zod, Ursa, and Non (although they would play a far more prominent role in Superman II).
But above all else, Superman made household names of both Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. The duo became synonymous with Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane and became the standard by which both characters are measured. These roles could have very easily been filled by other actors. Imagine if the Salkind Brothers had chosen Lesley Ann Warren, Stockard Channing, or Anne Archer to be Lois Lane? All beautiful women, but none had Kidder’s moxie. Amongst those considered for the title role were Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone, and James Caan. Well, Superman can’t have a mustache nor would he dare say, “Yo, Lois.” As for Caan, well, I mean everyone knows that he can’t take a bullet.
The scene that stays with me is when Superman is unable to stop the West Coast missile (because he promised to save Ms. Tessmacher’s mother in Hackensack first). An earthquake is triggered and buries the car that Lois Lane is driving and kills her. Superman is overcome with grief and anger, which he channels to turn back time to save Lois and not even the voice of Brando can stop him.
About ten years ago, I went to see Superman at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square. This is in the early days of the War in Iraq and anti-Bush sentiment as at its zenith. In the scene where Lois interviews Superman at her apartment, the residents of the People’s Republic of Cambridge laughed aloud when Superman said, “I’m here to fight for truth, justice, and the American way.” Their derision, however, quickly subsided when he told an almost equally skeptical Lois, “I mean it.”
Needless to say, Henry Cavill has some big, red boots to fill in Man of Steel. While no one can fill Christopher Reeve’s large imprint, Cavill more than manages to fill his own shoes. His Superman is stoic, serious, yet sympathetic. Cavill does bear some resemblance to Reeve and for a few moments I thought he had brought Reeve back to life.
Amy Adams, on the other hand, bears no resemblance to Margot Kidder whatsoever. Yet Adams possesses spunk in spades and brings the same feistiness to the role that Kidder did more than a generation ago. A redheaded Lois Lane? Why not?
The most significant difference between Superman and Man of Steel is the absence of Lex Luthor (although the LexCorp insignia can be seen in the latter part of the film). General Zod is the main villain in Man of Steel and is ably portrayed by Michael Shannon. Much of the plot is centered on the efforts of Zod and his crew to capture Superman, kill him and re-create Krypton on Earth. Although despotic, at no time, does he tell anyone to “kneel before Zod.”
The supporting cast in Man of Steel is as stellar as the original. Russell Crowe makes the most of his screen time as Jor-El. I particularly enjoyed his scene with Lois Lane. Both Kevin Costner and Diane Lane lend a weathered wisdom as Jonathan and Martha Kent. Mr. Kent has the difficult task of teaching young Clark not to use his great powers because the world is not yet ready for them, even if it means his losing his own life.
Laurence Fishburne plays the no nonsense Perry White while former Law & Order: SVU star Christopher Meloni (fresh from playing Leo Durocher in the Jackie Robinson biopic 42) portrays Colonel Nathan Hardy, who is tasked with quelling the alien invasion. At first, Colonel Hardy makes no distinction between Superman and General Zod’s crew. His realization that Superman is “not our enemy” is one of the highlights of the film.
However, the fight sequences and the explosions that accompanied them went on far too long and would ultimately detract from the story. Yet in the grand scheme of things, Man of Steel exceeded my expectations. I wouldn’t call it super, but I would say that it is pretty good and if a sequel is made, I would absolutely go see it.
With that said, Man of Steel won’t resonate with me in the same way Superman did. How could it? I’m not six years old anymore and first impressions are the most lasting ones. Yet I am also certain that inside that theater, there was a six-year old boy who was as awestruck by Man of Steel as I was by Superman almost 35 years ago. So when Warner Brothers makes yet another Superman movie in 2048 with another strapping young actor donning the cape and tights, he might very well like it. But he won’t think it’s super.