Random Acts Of Movie Watching: Andy Burns on the Superman Trilogy

Over the past week or so, The Queen and I have been having our own little Superman viewing party. I’m not exactly sure what inspired me to start rolling out the film versions of The Man Of Steel, but I must say that looking back on his film career, it’s to be reminded of how solid and timeless the best Superman films are.


When was the last time you watched Superman:The Movie? For me, it was back in 2006 when all the Warner Brothers films were released in a snazzy tin canister. Sure, it includes the dregs of the franchise with Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, but it also has the original film, directed by Richard Donner, the second film which focussed on General Zod, Ursa, and Nod in both its original cut and a brand new Donner version (long story short if you don’t know – Donner was filming the first and second movies back to back but was fired before the later was completed because of arguments with the producers; Richard Lester reshot and completed what became Superman II).The box also features Superman Returns, the 2006 film staring Brandon Routh and directed by Bryan Singer, and which has become one of my favourite all time comic-book adaptations.


Back to Superman: The Movie. Sometimes when I think about watching this film I have a moments pause and think, isn’t this one a little slow? Don’t we spend to much time in Smallville? Doesn’t the flying scene with Lois go on way too long? But before long, those thoughts are gone and instead I marvel at cinematography, the way that Smallville is so picturesque and the way Metropolis is truly bustling at all times. I watch the brilliant performance from Gene Hackman, whose Lex Luthor is sometimes considered too campy but upon closer examination is devious and megalomaniacal (though there is still no reason why he would surround himself with Otis). And no matter how many times I watch Superman: The Movie, I can’t help but miss Christopher Reeve. More so than any actor before or since, he truly embodied the Man Of Steel. That’s why Bryan Singer chose to have Brandon Routh as his Superman; it really can’t get much better than Christopher Reeve so rather than reinvent, Singer paid homage to greatness. The poise he shows, the strength in his face and his body – how can anyone come close?


As great as Reeve is in the first film and the sequel that originally made it to theaters, I think you find some of his greatest moments in Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, which contains previously unreleased scenes between Reeve’s Kal-El and Marlon Brando’s Jor-El. There’s real power between the two, as the dead image of his Kryptonian father tries in vain to convince his son not to sacrifice his power and responsibility to the people of Earth for life as a mortal man and the love of Lois Lane. Seeing Reeve’s Superman in street clothes and minus Clark Kent’s requisite glasses, you get the sense of how complex the character actually is. There’s the nerdy Clark, the heroic Superman and then someone in the middle. That’s the depth of Reeve’s ability in these films – he can play them all.


I’ve espoused about the virtues of Superman Returns before, and I really can’t add much more to it than that I hope Christopher Nolan at the very least considers casting Brandon Routh once more as Superman when he gets his reboot off the ground for 2012. It would definitely be nice to see him throw a punch or two, and whatever the film’s failings may or may not be, I don’t think they were ever because of Routh’s performance. I’d love to see what he could as The Man Of Steel one more time.


These three films – Superman: The Movie, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, and Superman Returns form a superb trilogy, one that’s sometime ignored by the geek community. They’re also an ongoing reminder of an actor who truly embodied the character he played, whether through his own work or the tribute performance from another.

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