Monday Movie: Superman, by David Bax
There are, by my count, three perfect superhero movies. I don’t mean to say that they are my favorite superhero movies. I save those slots for personal, idiosyncratic flights of inspiration like Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. No, when I say these are perfect, I mean that they come the closest to capturing sense of mythic folklore that has long surrounded the general idea of the superhero in American minds. The most recent of the three came just last year, with Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. Before that, there was Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 in 2004. And going all the way back, there is and always will be Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman.
Superman was released in theaters in December of 1978, more than a year after the massive successes of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But the film was written well before the former and was already in production before the latter. That’s because it had a massively ambitious schedule consisting of over a year of principle photography due to the plan to save money by shooting Superman and its sequel simultaneously (except that version of the sequel was never finished because of bad blood between Donner and the producers but that’s a whole other article). In any case, the point is that Donner and his cast and crew were not following in the footsteps of those science fiction/fantasy behemoths; they were forging their own path and the results bear that out.
Famously, Superman was advertised with the tagline “You will believe a man can fly.” Ostensibly, this seems to be about the astounding visual effects. The Academy didn’t yet even have a visual effects category but they created a special award that year just to recognize the movie. But that’s not really what that slogan was referring to. All of us believe we have it in us to be the best versions of ourselves and, when we imagine what that would look like, Christopher Reeve’s stern, set jaw and cape flapping in the wind is as good a representation as any. Superman took our deepest hopes and silliest dreams and made them something we can see and feel. He may be a DC character but this film is still a marvel.