Reign of the Supermen #5: Christopher Reeve

Source: Superman, Superman II, Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Type: FilmWhen we think of Superman in live action terms, it's Christopher Reeve we think about. Brandon Routh may have done a more than passable imitation, or we might endeared to the various television actors we've followed over the years, but Reeve remains THE Superman in our mind's eye. He springs right off the page and into our world.

Not to say it's not something of a camp performance. Clark Kent is a real doofus, but he's still believable. It's Superman that's SUCH a boyscout that it takes into the same kind of unreal territory of the 60s Batman series. But in the same way that "Clark Kent" is a performance for the Daily Planet's sake (and Lois' in particular), Superman is also one, this time for the public (and again, for Lois). The real man (let's call him Kal-El) may only be glimpsed when the masks come off in Superman II, after Kal gives up his super-powers and marries Lois. He need not pretend one way or another with her, and there we get a sense of a more rounded character.

I'm not a fan of the films, but if there is something wrong with Reeve's film cycle, it's not his performance. It's Donner's vision (and what followed it). The movie Superman has the kind of power unseen even in the craziest of Silver Age stories. He reverses time by spinning the Earth backwards. He wipes your memory with a kiss. He has Great Wall of China-rebuilding vision. He basically has any power the writers/directors come up with, even if he could often achieve the same effects with his actual powers (fly back in time to before the earthquake, or rebuild the wall with super-speed, etc.). And the world around him is just as silly/indulgent, whether that's Richard Pryor's hacking animating crosswalk symbols or Lana Lang [edit: actually, it's Stacy Warfield - I've been scolded in the comments section - amending memories now] breathing in space. Nonsense to the point of rubbish.

But Christopher Reeve... Christopher Reeve is flawless.


Anonymous said...

For me, George Reeves is the Superman that springs to life. He's not a perfect adaptation (except maybe of the Earth-2 Superman during the Silver Age), but he does two things exceptionally well:

1) A believable Clark Kent who is mild-mannered in the best sense of the phrase: calm but not given to shows of physical force. His friends enjoy his company and respect him, but they also know they can't count on him in a fist fight. That's just how Clark is.

2) A Superman who is so down-to-earth that he wouldn't scare the pee out of you if, say, he landed in front of you and started questioning you about a crime.

As a kid, I was disappointed that George Reeves never fought any giant monsters or superpowered foes (with the exception of the occasional cardboard box "robot"). That doesn't disappoint me nearly as much in my dotage.

Siskoid said...

George will get his due on this here blog in due time. You make some excellent points!

snell said...

Agreement on Christopher Reeve. Brandon Routh showed quite convincingly that looking the part is not nearly enough.

And of course, next to Ned Beatty and Gene Hackman chewing the scenery, licking the crumbs off their fingers and looking for seconds, any camp of Reeve's looks positively restrained.

Siskoid said...

Yeah, I think he's pretty near pitch perfect - comic book caricature meets real person.

De said...

I personally don't think the Earth was literally spun backward. Superman was piercing the time barrier and seeing the planet spin backward was done in order to convey that time travel had occurred without ghostly images of calendars or clocks running backward in space while Superman flew.

Anonymous said...

I agree with De -- the intention was probably to pierce the time barrier. But it's Donner's fault for not being clearer; he really needed to ask some children and adults, "Okay, so what do you think just happened in that scene?"

So what should the special effect have been? How about ... close-up of Superman with intense look on his wind-swept face as he approaches peak speed, and he disappears in a flash of light. Cut to a ground-level scene on earth from an hour or so earlier (could be just about any scene already shown in the film); everything is calm, when there's a big BOOM and a streak of light in the sky, which a close-up reveals to be Superman having busted through time.

Siskoid said...

That would work. It would also remove the impetus for the reverse-time-eye-beams of the fourth film.

Matthew Turnage said...

I don't know... if they intention was simply that Superman was piercing the time barrier, why show him change direction to get the earth spinning in its normal direction again? As much as I'd love to excuse it, I think the real intention was that reversing the Earth's rotation reversed time.

I remember really loving the Donner/Mankiewicz commentary on the DVD, but I don't remember what they say during that scene. I may have to rewatch that bit with the commentary on sometime soon.

Siskoid said...

We can retcon it in our minds - explain it away like we're trying to win a no-prize or fitting all the Batman stories EVER in some kind of coherent timeline - but that's all it ever is.

Reversing the Earth's rotation reversing time as well is perfectly legitimate by the rules of the Silver Age the film is apparently using. Think of the Super-Friends cartoon show which also aired in the 70s. The "comic book science" used there is just about as bad.

In both cases, at least 10-15 years out of date when it came to reproducing the Superman comic for the screen (give or take).

Anonymous said...

In pre-Crisis stories, Superman would travel either forward or backward through time depending on whether he spun clockwise or counterclockwise. FACT.

amrothery said...

I've always been in agreement with De and the others. Plus, what looks like his re-starting the proper flow of time is actually compensating for inertia.

LiamKav said...

It is still very, very silly. I can argue back on forth as to what power-level works best for Superman and whether it makes him harder to write for, but giving him the ability to travel back in time by flying in a certain way is just too much.

Of course, as has been said that's a Silver-Age thing in general, not just limited to this film.

Anonymous said...

I feel the need to mention that most of what you're complaining about happened after Donner was fired. Blame Richard Lester, the Salkinds and Golan Globus.

On the other hand, it's hard for me to defend Donner when his original plan was to have Superman undo the entirety of Superman II by time travel, and that was after the villains were defeated.

Siskoid said...

Personally, when I talk about Donnerization, I mean Donner's continuity as set up in the first film as opposed to the man's work itself.

So the Superman in Superman Returns is the Donner Superman, even if the part was recast, in the same way that Keaton, Kilmer and Clooney all play the same Batman.

Teebore said...

Well said. I've never been a big fan of the Reeves films, as when I first saw them, I was young, but it was a few years removed from the films original release and I was less-than impressed with the effects work ("You will believe a man can fly" I'd heard before I actually watched them; more like "you will believe a man can be suspended by wires that are then erased from view").

I appreciated the movies for what they did at the time, but was never captivated enough to embrace them.

That said, back then and now, I agree that Reeve nailed it, and did a hell of a job.

Think of the Super-Friends cartoon show which also aired in the 70s. The "comic book science" used there is just about as bad.

Are you suggesting that Green Lantern couldn't just shove Earth out of the path of a missile, with no repercussions? ;)

Siskoid said...

You just mentioned my very favorite moment in Super-Friends.

So yes, that's exactly what I mean.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Stacy Warfield breathing in space. Lana was in III.

16 comments and no one notes this? What, there are no Superman IV fans here?! ;-)

Maki P said...

Christopher Reeve is the reason I don't question the effectivity of Superman's disguise.
Routh was ok, but...


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