Superman (1978) Review

Rating: 2 Stars

The following review contains spoilers.

This review is for the Theatrical Cut of the movie.


No one believes Jor-El when he says the planet Krypton is going to explode, and he’s forbidden from trying to evacuate himself or his wife because that could incite unnecessary panic. But they forgot to forbid him from evacuating his baby son – loophole! – so he puts little Kal-El in a star-shaped starship and sends him to Earth, a planet far, far away.

At some point either three years or thousands of years later, depending on when you ask, toddler Kal-El crashes in Kansas, USA, and is found by a kindly childless couple. They name him Clark Kent and raise him as their own, and they teach him to keep his incredible alien powers a secret lest he be taken away from them.

But after Clark’s dad dies of a heart attack, Clark decides unprompted to take a green crystal from his old starship and hike to the arctic. Once there, he throws the crystal away, and it turns into the Fortress of Solitude. Nice result! Once inside, his real dad explains who Clark really is, and tells him that Jor-El sent his only son to Earth to guide humanity to a better place (Jesus alert!) and that he should never interfere with human history, though these objectives seem to be mutually exclusive. 12 years later, Clark finally leaves the Fortress and gets a job at a major newspaper, despite not having a college degree or any job experience.

When Clark’s coworker, Lois Lane, is hanging from a broken helicopter on the roof of their building, Clark changes to Superman to save her. He looks for a phone booth to change clothes in, but since he can’t find one he changes in a revolving door. Later on he can change clothes mid-flight simply by wishing his clothes to change, but I guess he hadn’t discovered that power yet. Anyway, now that he’s come out as Superman, he does lots of good deeds, attracting the attention of master criminal Lex Luthor, who decides to kill Superman because he thinks it’ll be an interesting challenge.

Can Superman stop Lex Luthor’s evil plot to nuke the country and kill millions? No, he can’t actually.

Best Parts:

Christopher Reeve is perfectly cast as both Clark Kent and Superman. He can play both sides of the character’s personality very well. There’s a scene where he’s considering telling Lois Lane his secret identity, and he takes off his glasses and stops slouching, and it works. It’s believable that he could disguise himself like this and get away with it.

Margot Kidder is also pretty good, though she has some rough moments where her shrillness gets the better of her.

The scenes at the Daily Planet are enjoyable and fun.

Superman’s first scene rescuing Lois Lane and the helicopter is legitimately thrilling. And then it’s great to see a polite, happy Superman flying around stopping criminals and taking kittens out of trees (though the little girl is definitely slapped in the face by her mother for “lying” about Superman saving her cat, which is a weird moment). For that early sequence, this is Superman as he’s meant to be.

I liked all the glowing white jumpsuits the Kryptonians wear.

“Easy, miss. I’ve got you.”
“You’ve got me? Who’s got you?”

“I hope this little incident hasn’t put you off flying, miss. Statistically speaking, of course, it’s still the safest way to travel.”

Worst Parts:

I’ve talked about this in other reviews, but the way to make Superman interesting is not to take away his powers, and it’s not to make a villain as strong as him so they can just punch each other forever, it’s to present him with a seemingly unsolvable problem (or moral dilemma) and see how he solves it. Superman gets that right, at first, when it challenges Superman to stop two nuclear missiles flying simultaneously to opposite coasts. But then, bafflingly, Superman fails to stop the missiles. The thrill of Superman solving the unsolvable problem is completely absent because he just can’t solve it.

The earthquakes start, the Hoover Dam (which is pretty far from California) explodes, and Lois Lane dies when a crack opens up underneath her stalled car. Superman stops the earthquakes by flying into the fault and just pulling it back together (accomplished on screen by showing the same effect we saw earlier of the fault widening but now in reverse, so all the dirt and rocks just zoom back up into place), stops the flood by making a little rock pile dam that looks nowhere near strong enough to actually stop it, and saves Lois by reversing the rotation of the Earth and thus reversing time and bringing her back to life.

Now Superman is a pretty powerful dude, but come on. Not only is this nonsensical on a “reality of the movie” level, where the rotation of the Earth is not the reason time exists, and reversing it would just kill everyone probably, but it’s simply bad storytelling. The hero saves the girl because he can apparently reverse time whenever he pleases. There are now and forever after this moment no stakes to any stories told in this universe because Superman can simply use his omnipotence to force the world to bend to his will.

And within even these few scenes, the storytelling makes no sense. Lois dies because her car stalls out and she falls into a pit, but after Superman lets time resume its normal course, he doesn’t move her to another location nor does he take action to stop the pit from forming. He simply flies in, has some banter with her, and flies off. He doesn’t even move her from the same spot she died in a few moments ago.

The first 45 minutes of this movie could be cut and it wouldn’t change anything. You could skip everything up to the introduction of Metropolis and Lex Luthor and it wouldn’t change anything. You don’t even see Christopher Reeve until like 48 minutes into this movie. It’s all simply prologue and is irrelevant to the rest of the story.

Superman agrees to give an interview to Lois Lane. He reveals one of his only weaknesses (he can’t see through lead) and she puts it in the paper. She tells him that her friend Clark Kent says Superman’s a figment of someone’s imagination “like Peter Pan”, even though in the previous scene Clark verbally acknowledges Superman’s reality and speculates as to whether he’d participate in “cheap promotion schemes”. They then proceed to literally fly around exactly like Peter Pan and Wendy from the Disney film, down to Lois wearing a dress that resembles Wendy’s. Lois, while they’re flying, recites a long poem in her head that she apparently just made up and it’s completely insane. After Superman leaves, Clark Kent immediately shows up (which I liked) to take Lois on their scheduled date. There is no scene leading up to this that establishes Clark asked Lois on a date or that she accepted, we see nothing of their date, and it’s never mentioned again. Now, keep in mind, there are no major cuts within the interview scene, so the implication is that we have witnessed 100% of the Lois Lane-Superman interaction.

The next day, Lex Luthor reads the interview in the paper. Lex says the interview states the exact location of the galaxy where Krypton is located, and gives the exact year that Krypton exploded. This is 100% not part of the interview we saw. Then Lex concludes that meteorites from Krypton must have landed on Earth three-years after Krypton exploded, and that they will obviously be radiated in such a way that they will kill Superman. While his conclusion is correct, in the sense that it’s always been true in the comics that Kryptonite are remnants of Krypton and hurt Superman, the logical leap he makes to get there is completely absurd.

These things are not nitpicking like pointing out that someone’s watch is on a different hand from one cut to another in the same scene. This is consistent carelessness about the story being told and whether it flows from one scene to the next in a sensible way.

I hate Otis. He is the “comic relief” henchman, which is fine in theory, but he’s never funny. His big scene is screwing up reprogramming the missiles, and this scene has no consequences and is therefore meaningless. Lex Luthor never feels like a threat to Superman because he and his entire gang are fundamentally ridiculous.

“Do you know why the number 200 is so vitally descriptive to both you and me? It’s your weight and my I.Q.”

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