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Superman (1978) Review

I hate Superman. I hate his smug, chiselled face. His obnoxious smirk as he saves the day in no time whatsoever. A man that can do quite literally anything, can also be made entirely redundant by a green rock if it gets too close to him. But even with this innumerable hatred towards the Last Son of Krypton, I’ve managed to avoid more or less every reference, recommendation or mention of him in the wider media. I know nothing of the character, and my exposure to possibly the most famous face of comic books comes only in the form of an episode of Smallville, an early Xbox 360 game entitled Superman Returns and whatever it was Henry Cavill was doing in Justice League. Whatever the case, I went into Richard Donner’s Superman with an open mind.

The film on the whole feels rather dated. From the exclamations of “golly” and the unprecedented coincidences that follow to the somewhat unconvincing set pieces littered throughout. Lois Lane, reporting extraordinaire, can’t spell “massacre”, and Clark Kent (who I’ve heard is actually a super man) is aimless and completely two-dimensional. Having to shimmy in and out of different outfits daily so he can stop an emergency must be a real pain if he can’t find anywhere to rip his shirt off. How many people have died because Clark Kent couldn’t find somewhere to hang up his blazer and hat?

Christopher Reeve’s leading performance as Superman is actually a pretty good performance on the whole. It takes us a long while to get there, the first forty-five minutes of the movie plodding around, doing its best to avoid crafting an error-prone caricature of D.C.’s most beloved superhero. Reeve has since embodied the look and style of Superman, and to give credit where it’s due, he’s perhaps the best actor to have ever adapted him to date. It’s a far stretch better than Cavill, and I needn’t remind readers of Brandon Routh’s ill-placed confidence. No, Reeve does have what it takes to be the leading man here, but it all falls apart due to some horrific scripting and directing choices.

Donner’s special effects are certainly well implemented, Superman flying off into the distance after saving a cat stuck in a tree looks rather great so many years later, but that doesn’t really matter when it’s stuck in a montage of Superman doing varyingly good deeds for the people of Metropolis. Gene Hackman appears as Lex Luthor and that star power alone is enough to create an interest for myself, it’s just a shame he was so boring to behold. Hackman is one of the all-time greats, so to see him slumming it in Superman is a truly resounding event.

Superman isn’t bad. It lingers on the fence of mediocrity, trying to decide whether to leap into the garden of brilliance or to just keel over and slump into a recognisably dull pile. There are glimmers of hope throughout, but it never comes together in one tangible whole. Nothing completely enjoyable comes from the film, yet nothing remotely bad ever happens either. It’s so unwaveringly dull in its complexity, that it’s hard to recommend you ever watch it, or even to recommend you steer clear of it. Absolute eye candy for fans of Superman I’m sure, and far better than other adaptations out there, but still completely redundant.

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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