Superman (1978)

Director:  Richard Donner
Cast:  Christopher ReeveMargot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty
Plot:  An alien orphan is sent from his dying planet to Earth, where he grows up to become his adoptive home's first and greatest super-hero.

Genre:  Action / Sci-Fi

Awards:  Won Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects. Nom. for 3 Oscars - Best Film Editing, Original Score, and Sound. 
Runtime:  143min/154min (extended version)
Rating:  PG for peril, some mild sensuality and language.

I'm here to fight for truth, and justice, and the American way.”

I guess it all started out with Superman.

Arguably the first superhero movie to reach mass audiences worldwide on the big screen back when the Hollywood cinematic landscape was teeming with culturally phenomenal films such as Star Wars (1977), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Superman is standard, old-fashioned entertainment at its best. 

It has slightly aged, but it is still a rousing action-adventure and an iconic example of a classically-styled late 1970s blockbuster.  Making Christopher Reeve a star was what everyone remembered about the film, and yes, that John Williams theme that every fanboy is able to hum.  It is not surprising to note that Williams also scored the abovementioned films.  

Reeve's performance is noteworthy as he portrays both the socially awkward journalist Clark Kent and his alter ego, the strong and confident Superman, with equal measure.Superman does not outshine Clark, thus giving the film a kind of dramatic believability that we can relate to. 

This is a shrewd move by co-writer Mario Puzo (the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Godfather (1972)), who presents Superman not as a man of steel, but a man of malleable steel who is emotionally vulnerable. 

Unfortunately, the film is plagued by a structural problem where the prologue and set up are too long, and the ending a tad rushed.  In a way, the film feels unbalanced, and doesn't engage and satisfy as well as it should.  Running at a length of about 150 minutes, Superman is as lengthy as The Dark Knight (2008), but not as thematically dense.

The action sequences are few.  Most of them appear in the climax, which sees Superman trying to save, not the world, but literally a part of America.  The visual effects are excellent for its time, but what's more impressive are the special effects used to make Superman fly. 

The all-powerful superhero however does not meet his match in the film's villain, Lex Luthor, played by a conniving Gene Hackman.  He is convincing as Luthor, but the character per se seems curiously weak, even though his plans are diabolical.

Directed by Richard Donner, who is known for the horror classic The Omen (1976), and all the 'Lethal Weapon' films, Superman is a decent effort at creating a modern template for future superhero films like Tim Burton's Batman (1989).  Fortunately for us, many of them do not have similar structural issues.

Verdict:  An old-fashioned rousing action-adventure that is somewhat plagued by a long setup and a half-baked ending.

GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)

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