Unable to convince the ruling council of Krypton that their world will destroy itself soon, scientist Jor-El takes drastic measures to preserve the Kryptonian race: He sends his infant son Kal-El to Earth. There, gaining great powers under Earth's yellow sun, he will become a champion of truth and justice. Raised by the Kents, an elderly farm couple, Clark Kent learns that his abilities must be used for good. The adult Clark travels to Metropolis, where he becomes a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet...and a caped wonder whose amazing feats stun the city: Superman! Meanwhile, Lex Luthor, the world's greatest criminal mind, is plotting the greatest real estate swindle of all time. Can't even the Man of Steel stop this nefarious scheme?
Directed by: Richard Donner
. Starring: Marlon Brando
, Gene Hackman
, Christopher Reeve
, Ned Beatty
, Jackie Cooper
, Glenn Ford
, Trevor Howard
, Margot Kidder
, Jack O'Halloran
, Valerie Perrine
, Maria Schell
, Terence Stamp
, Phyllis Thaxter
. Music by: John Williams
Before the Man of Steel hit the big screen back in the seventies, courtesy of Producer Illya Salkind, Director Richard Donner, and Warner Brothers, we were assured that we would believe a man could fly. I am not one to doubt studio promotions, but just like everybody else I was game to find out if it was so. Did I come out of Superman: The Movie believing that indeed the son of Jor-el also known as Kal-el also known as Superman also known as Clark Kent could take to the airways without benefit of plane, hot air balloon, rocket pack, or zeppelin? Nahhh...of course not, but Christopher Reeve looked a lot better faking it then any of his predecessors such as George Reeve and Kirk Alyn. The truth is that Superman: The Movie has a whole lot going for it besides the flight abilities of Reeve. It also has a multitude of things that work against it.
Unless you're some kind of a vampire who has been locked away in a casket for the past hundred years or so, you pretty much know the story. The Planet Krypton which has a Red Sun was spinning around out there in the far reaches of space somewhere. Jor-el (Marlon Brando) had come to the conclusion that Krypton was going to explode wiping out all Kryptonians. Unable to convince anyone else of his findings, and not having a spaceship available that would carry him and Mrs. Kal-el (Susannah York), he packed up his only begotten son Kal-el along with his pampers and blasted him off towards Earth. Since Earth has a yellow sun, this would somehow increase the density of Kal-el, giving him super powers far beyond anybody but the publishers of DC comics could ever imagine. After being adopted by a farm couple known as Ma and Pa Kent (Phyllis Thaxter & Glenn Ford), Kal-el became young Clark Kent. Later in life he took a job as an ace reporter at the Daily Planet ran by Editor Perry White (Jackie Cooper), which he used as a secret identity until he was needed to get down and get funky in his identity of Superman, protector of truth, justice and the American way. It was at the Daily Planet that he met the love of his life, Ace Reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Lois had the hots for Superman too as long as he was Superman and not Clark Kent. When he was Clark, Lois wouldn't be caught dead in a Honeymoon Suite at Niagara Falls with him. But that's another story, as you well know.
Before dispensing with the well known back story, Superman opens with a sequence where three criminals are banished into The Phantom Zone in order to set up Superman II. You just have to give it props for that instead of waiting until just before the credits role to tack on the obligatory sequel setting end as most film makers have a penchant for doing. Of course it helps when you know for sure there's going to be a number 2 before your number one makes it onto the big screen. Marlon Brando is okay as Jor-el but I can never seem to shake the feeling that I'm watching Brando in a white wig our forefathers would themselves have been proud to wear, and his delivery amounts to giving some kind of lecture to the Continental Congress. Krypton itself is not at all like one would imagine having read the comics, as it is displayed here as some kind of eternal homage to cubic zirconium. It's pretty to look at but has no substance.
This movie version doesn't spend much time with Clark as a boy, but they are some of the best moments in the film in spite of the fact that Jeff East who plays young Clark had his dialog dubbed by Reeve. Other than near the end of the film, it's the only time the film shows some real heart regarding Superman or anyone else in it. One almost hated to see SupermanClark grow up.
In the comics that I grew up with in the sixties, Clark was always portrayed to be somewhat of a coward by Superman, in order to help protect his secret identity. In Superman: The Movie, Reeve's Clark is not only a "girly man" but is pretty much a bumbling idiot. While it strikes much more of a contrast between Clark and Superman, it is overplayed and overdone to the point that it ends up making us dread the moments when Superman does become Clark. That being said, when Reeve does put on his cape and takes flight, his portrayal as Superman is without peer.
I don't have much of a problem with Margot Kidder's portrayal of Lois Lane as it seems to be right on the mark as the character was written for her. The problem is not with her characterization but not for one minute do we believe in Superman's sudden infatuation with her or why he is even attracted to her. The only concern Lois seems to have is where is her next big story coming from and how long it is till her next cigarette. She seems to be the epitome of a liberated woman, so the fact that she would suddenly go ga-ga over Superman doesn't quite hold water even if he does take time out to rescue her early in the picture, and later give her flying lessons. The relationship is never developed in a way that makes any sense at all.
Gene Hackman is way over the top also as Lex Luthor but at least he does it with a bit of style and fun. Not so Ned Beatty who plays his henchman Otis. Otis is supposed to be comic relief, but the only relief you'll get is if you pop a couple of antacids in order to be able to stomach the character. We do not for one minute believe that Lex Luther would keep a total dunce such as Otis around for any reason, as there would just have to be less excruciatingly painful criminals in Metropolis willing to run errands for him. The character of Otis is more than just an annoyance as every scene he is in drags the story down to a mediocre level. Valerie Perrine's Miss Teschmacher is kind of a dumb bulb also, but her character is at least kept in check to the point where she is even likeable. And alas, just as most of the characters are in this film, Perry White is played by Jackie Cooper as a simple minded goof ball.
What is good about Superman are the flying sequences. As a matter of fact when Superman is zooming around performing various rescues ranging from a cat to a president and capturing criminals, the film as a whole takes flight. The special effect all around are well done, especially Superman's rescue of Lois from a helicopter, and later as he races around California to repair the damage being done during an Earthquake. The scenes where he takes to the sky with Lois for a romantic interlude are almost lyrical.
John Williams give us another one of his no holds bar musical scores. Its well done for this kind of film, and apparently the producers and director thought so too as it plays over top of some of the longest running opening and closing film credits known to man. In other words, when the film starts you'll have plenty of time to still pop another batch of popcorn, run to the bathroom and make it back to your recliner before we come close to reaching the planet Krypton.
Besides Otis, the biggest problem with Superman: The Movie comes near the end. In order to resolve a plot situation which if left as it was would have caused major problems for the subsequent sequel, the writer, director or somebody has Superman perform a stunt that reeks of lazy film making. It opens a plot hole as wide and as deep as the Grand Canyon. Usually in a film based on a comic book character, one can overlook such devices, but this one is so glaring and obvious in its ineptitude that it one will be forced to mumble a certain word pertaining to bull droppings. I haven't felt this cheated since my first girlfriend dumped me for another guy.
Superman: The Movie is highly watchable in many aspects. With a little more thought and consideration in how to bring the classic characters to the screen, it could have been one of the great comic book films of all time. Unfortunately, when you can only make me think of what might have been or could have been, I have no choice but to give you my grade which for Superman: The Movie is a C+.
Review by clydestuff from the Internet Movie Database.