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Last Son of Krypton: A SUPERMAN Marathon
From time to time, the TDZdaily staff will participate in what we call ‘marathons’. Sometimes these marathons will delve into the diverse oeuvre of a controversial auteur director and other times they’ll focus on a franchise that we collectively love. What you’ll read aren’t reviews; there are no set requirements, universal points of view, or scoring rubrics, nor are we focusing on achievements from a strictly critical standpoint either. And if you’re looking for someone to tear down a film in these marathons to shreds for the sake of hyper-criticism, I can point you in the direction of many an online community that will happily oblige you, if they haven’t already.
These marathons are about embracing a series of films, blemishes and all! They’re about re-experiencing movies with the same level of excitement and optimism as we did when we first saw them. Do we consider them perfect? Of course not; nor were they ever intended to be (unless we’re talking about Stanley Kubrick, naturally). Cinema (or any form of art) isn’t inherently about perfection as much as it is about conveying emotion, escapism and storytelling. There’s nothing perfect about art other than its ability to affect you as an observer and participant, and the message behind each piece can be as poignant as a commentary on existentialism or a simple notion for you to kick back and go on an adventure.
Each TDZdaily writer has their own respective approach and stance on these films, so I’ll let them speak for themselves on why these specific movies resonate with them so significantly.
“Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son.”
- Jor-El, Superman (1978)
Superman started his silver screen career as the hero of nickelodeon serials in the 1940s. Audiences have watched the character for seventy years on the big and small screens, constantly reinvented for new generations.
For the last thirty years, Superman has been on a turbulent flight to find his identity. After the huge success of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie followed quickly by the troubled but overall enjoyable sequel, Superman II, the Man of Steel found himself flying over uncharted territory searching for his true-self. Superman III journeyed into near self-parody, while Superman IV: The Quest for Peace tried to right the ship, ultimately it was denounced as “too little, too late, too boring” by audiences who had grown sour to the Last Son of Krypton’s cinematic adventures. So, like oh so many comic books, Superman was shelved; left to wait for the next time he would be needed.
When comic book films were on the upswing following the success of X-Men and Spider-Man in the early aughts, copyright and DC Comics-owners, Warner Brothers, decided to try again. This time the studio courted X-Men and The Usual Suspects director, Bryan Singer, to leave Xavier’s School for the Gifted behind in lesser hands and resurrect Superman. Singer’s approach was initially met with enthusiasm from fans and featured the greatest of intentions: ignore the flawed stories of III and IV entirely and make a film that picks up where the ‘real’ story left off after Superman II. However, Singer’s 2006 release of Superman Returns, would fail to attract the box office needed to sustain another go at a full-blown series. Superman Returns has since been lauded by many as a creatively bankrupt experiment that may have created a more human Superman but clearly forgot why the character was charismatic and fun. Ultimately, it would take a Caped Crusader to bring the Son of Jor-El back from the dead.
After the mega-success of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, the WB realized that they needed a new marquee comic hero to take the silver screen crown after Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises finished the trilogy in 2012. After a pitch presented to Warners by Nolan and Dark Knight & Blade scribe David S. Goyer, Warners realized it was time to resurrect Superman with Nolan at the creative helm as producer. The producers would eventually crown 300 & Watchmen director Zack Snyder as the man to direct the rebirth of Superman and lead the re-introduction of the American icon to a new generation of audiences in Man of Steel.
From his not-so-humble beginnings as a comic book character in the 30s, a staple of the silver screen serial in the 40s, a man audiences could believe could fly in the 70s & 80s, his venture to television with Lois & Clark and Smallville, his appearance in Bryan Singer’s ill-fated love-letter in 2006, to his visually arresting resurrection in Man of Steel in 2013, Superman has remained a dramatic force in the world of comics, the pinnacle of heroism in Hollywood film, and a cultural symbol of American patriotism & the innate goodness of humanity in entertainment. From Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh, and Henry Cavill, there’s no other superhero we’re more honored to celebrate than Superman — through the ups and downs of his career in film — with a TDZdaily retrospective.
Join us this week as we look back at the tumultuous journey on the big screen of the most famous comic book superhero of all time and celebrate the release of the highly anticipated Man of Steel.
Superman: The Movie, in many ways, is the first “origin story” comic book movie. The film begins with the infant Superman on the planet Krypton (inexplicably pronounced “Crypt-in” by Marlon Brando as Jor-El, but it’s Marlon Brando, so he can do whatever the hell he wants). Three criminals are locked away in what looks like a postage stamp from the TRON universe, although they won’t be important until the next film.
The plot of Superman II is such: the trio of criminals from Krypton that were imprisoned for eternity in the first film are released because Superman releases a hydrogen bomb, that was meant for the Eiffel Tower, into space, and it sets the criminals free (go with it). Then Superman accidentally reveals himself to Lois Lane and so he’s all, “F*ck being Superman, I’m committing to this barely existing relationship.”
It could have been a fun excursion for the comic book legend. But with Superman III, instead of keeping their technological limitations in check, the filmmakers opted to add more ‘funny’ to the plot banking on one of the greatest comedians of all-time, Pryor, to bring the pain (unfortunately it was a literal addition to the film), and begged the audience to just go with it.
Superman IV unfortunately does not have the weight to do its concept justice. But starting the year before in 1986 and concluding along with Superman in 1987, the serialized publication of Watchmen did. What this goes to illustrate is that Superman IV was onto something much bigger that either the special effects, budget, or maybe only the creative talent of those involved, were not ready to pull off.
Everyone involved in making Superman Returns deserved better and Bryan Singer has proven that he is capable of better. It is probably unfair to dump all of the blame on Singer alone, but it was his vision of Superman that ultimately created many of the film’s problems. That is not to say it is a poorly-made film, in fact quite the opposite.
Man of Steel may be the Superman film that many have been waiting more than thirty years to see: a worthy sequel to the first time Christopher Reeve donned the red and blue tights. That doesn’t mean it’s entirely perfect, as changes to the traditional canon and the shift to a darker, more emotionally deep-rooted tone, no doubt borrowed from Christopher Nolan’s successful Batman trilogy, may turn some audiences away from the reboot. (Read more)