We are just a few weeks away from the release of the much anticipatedMan of Steelmarking Superman's return to the big screen after a dismal showing in the relatively lacklusterSuperman Returns. There is a lot of pressure on this production not only to revive the Superman franchise but also show that DC can make as strong a showing in the film world as Marvel has of late. Most critics agree that this will be the litmus test for whether or not the long rumoredJustice Leaguefilm gets a green light.
As a major fan of all things Superman I was admittedly skeptical about the new film when the first glimpses were released but now I am completely on board from the further developed trailers that have been released and I cannot wait for opening night. That said, I decided this would be a great week to look at the Man of Steel's cinematic history and select his greatest moments on the big screen. One disclaimer, I purposely excluded any and all references to the absolutely dreadfulSuperman IV: The Quest for Peace. I refuse to give the spotlight to a film who's major villain's powers include feather hair and growing his finger nails. I did include a scene fromSuperman IIIhowever as I am somehow a fan of that one, Richard Pryor & aluminum foil looking supercomputer and all!
The opening credit sequence ofSuperman the Moviestill stands up today as one of the best there has ever been. It gives a scope and breadth to the film to come in a way none has since. It is so simple also, the neon names flying through space, but it is the score playing over them that builds the excitement and power of the moment. When you are watching these credits you are assured what to follow will be epic. You will believe a man can fly. And we did.
The selfless act of Jor-El & Lara setting their child free into an unknown universe where he will grow to be a champion is the crux of the Superman origin story and it was played out with a deft hand inSuperman the Movie. Getting Marlon Brando to play Jor-El was a stroke of genius in my opinion. At this point in the late 70s there really hadn't been a lot of superhero films and they had to do something to get audiences to buy right into this one. Having a megastar like Brando show up in the first few minutes definitely set a tone for what was to come. The speech Jor-El gives as they are sending Kal-El on his way is a powerful piece of cinema and lays out exactly who that child would someday become. It may seem corny or hokey by today's standards but as a kid watching it at the day I was truly in awe.
It is the only scene fromSuperman Returnsthat made the cut this week and it is one that I felt I needed to include. In this scene Superman hovers over the Earth, first in silence and then we as an audience are given a glimpse into what he is hearing. There are hundreds (well millions, billions, etc.) of voices crying out for help, different accidents occurring, etc. He is observing life in general on Earth and in a flash he takes off to address one particular happening. I loved this scene because it brought us into the responsibility side of having the powers of Superman. Not only is he hearing everything that is going on but he must personally choose which incident to address first. He cannot be in a million places at once. This has always been a concept I have enjoyed seeing the writers address in the comics and I truly loved seeing it brought to life on film. It is not easy being Superman with the pressure of those decisions on your shoulders!
InSuperman II, Superman makes the decision to give up his powers in order to live a normal life with Lois Lane. This was clearly a rash decision on his part as he did not know that the Phantom Zone criminals (more on them soon!) were already attempting global domination. My favorite aspect of this choice was not the larger implications for the world or his responsibilities though; instead it was that we got to see the Man of Steel as a vulnerable human being, if only for a few minutes. When Clark & Lois return from the Fortress of Solitude (Let's not discuss how they did this, your head will hurt!) they stop in a diner, as a couple in love is want to do, and Clark ends up in a fight with several of the rougher patrons. The outcome is not what you might expect. Powerless Clark does not rise to the challenge and show that even without his powers he is a super fighter. Instead he gets his butt kicked and actually bleeds. As a kid, seeing Superman bleed took my breath away and it still does to this day!
InSuperman IIIour hero is exposed to a Kryptonite substitute that was missing some ingredients and the end result is a dark turn on his part that involves booze and women. To me, this seemed like a nod to the Red Kryptonite of the comics that always caused an unpredictable result. Whether it was or not it led to one of this film's most interesting sequences. Superman basically goes on a bender and ends up in a junkyard where he splits into two people, the dark Superman and Clark Kent. The two go on to battle it out tossing the junkyard garbage around like a child's toys, and just as it seems that the jerky Man of Steel might triumph Clark stands strong and the goodness in Superman is restored, thankfully.
Some of the greatest moments in the Superman films are the ones that humanize him. At the end ofSuperman the Moviewhen Luthor's plan seems to be succeeding and Lois Lane has been killed, a grief stricken Superman decides to look past his charge to use his powers responsibly and releasing an insanely powerful scream he takes off to turn back time and restore Lois to life. We could get into the hoopla here over Donner's original intentions with this scene, including which film it belonged in, but I'd rather not. I like where it stands originally as a display of the true might that Superman possesses and controls on a daily basis. It is hugely over the top and not at all realistic but it completely in line with something that the Silver Age Superman would do.
That very first moment we get to see Superman flying on screen as he rescues Lois Lane & the helicopter are quite breathtaking to behold and it is Lois' line that captures how audiences felt when this was first released. It was the perfect way to bring us into that moment when the audience & characters on film got to see him flying for the first time. The effects involved were clearly mechanical and simple but they worked and they showed us that filmmakers could make us believe in a live action superhero. The sky became the limit, well not really, as soon as this scene appeared.
For much ofSuperman II, General Zod and friends run roughshod over the world without much resistance. As the tension builds we call keep waiting for Superman to show up and start kicking some butt. When he does finally return to Metropolis with his powers intact, his first volley is verbal and absolutely perfect. Floating outside of a Daily Planet window, the ever polite Superman asks, "General, would you care to step outside?" As polite as he is however, he is making it clear in his delivery what is to come. The battle that follows is pretty epic but it is the moment it starts that is truly the best. This scene also features one of my favorite Lex Luthor moments, when Luthor sees Superman and exclaims, "Superman! Thank God!" and then sees Zod glaring and says to him "...I mean, GET HIM!" This line had a spot on delivery by Gene Hackman.
Clark is not even Superman yet in one of my favorite all time scenes. At the beginning ofSuperman the Moviewe get to see Clark growing up and his powers manifesting. One of the scenes in particular evokes such joy in him and again acts as a touchstone for his humanity even as he is discovering just how different he is. In this scene during his high school days Clark is left behind by his peers who mock his difference, set off by this Clark starts to run and soon realizes he is out pacing a train. As he runs and leaps through the Kansas fields we get to see what it is like to discover that you are different in a very exciting way. Clark makes it home before the jocks who are befuddled over how he could have done this. The scene also features a wide eyed little girl on a train who sees Clark's accomplishment but is not believed by her parents, another great moment in the film.
Zod, Ursa, and Non spend much ofSuperman IIkicking everyone's butts including Superman's. If one Superman is almost a god in the scope of his powers, then three end up seeming nearly unstoppable. The film's climax comes at the Fortress of Solitude as Superman enters the power stealing chamber again after being betrayed, not so surprisingly so, by Lex Luthor. He enters willingly in order to save the planet and it would seem all hope is lost. As a kid I watched this scene with my breath held tight, I had no idea what to expect. As Superman finally kneels before Zod we are treated to one of the film's most amazing moments and the best Superman cinematic moment of all time. Superman takes Zod's hand as if to prove his fealty but soon we hear bones crack, and realize that Superman still had his powers! Turns out he knew Luthor would double cross him and he had previously rewired the chamber to steal the powers of anyone on the outside of it this time. How he had the time and foresight to do this we will never really know, but hey, he's Superman after all! Superman, with an assist from Lois swiftly dispatches the Phantom Zone criminals and saves the day. That is what Superman does, he comes through when all seems dark and hope is lost.
I hope that this Super walk down memory lane got yourMan of Steeljuices flowing and that you are as pumped as I am for the new film. If not, the recently released final trailer for it just might be the kick you need. Check it out here…