Up until recently, my wife had never seen Superman. She had seen episodes of the cartoon as well as the Justice League cartoon and Man of Steel, but she had never actually seen the first Christopher Reeve film in it’s entirety. Being that it is one of the my favourites of all time, we sat down and watched the 2003 edit of the movie. It holds up well. The ending is a little wonky but over all, the movie is still as great as my memory maintains that it is.
But it was while watching Superman that an interesting thought popped into my head. Two thoughts, actually.
The first was that Krypton was not a very baby-friendly planet. I don’t have kids myself but a lot of my friends have toddlers and I have seen what you have to do to “baby proof” a house. For all it’s high knowledge, Krypton is a world just filled with points and sharp edges. I imagine only one out of every ten children survive and out of them, a number are are blind or missing an eye by the time they hit the age of ten.
The second thought pertained to the film and it’s legacy. Superman is a case where it has entirely informed on almost every adapted version of the character since it hit the big screen 1978. Which is an amazing feat if you think about it. The film is nearly forty years old yet it is still used as a marker for every Superman that has come afterwards.
Part of that reason is Christopher Reeve.
Christopher Reeve IS Superman. For all of the film and television work he did after he hung up the tights in 1987 (and make no mistake, Reeves was a solid actor. Watch him in The Remains of the Day if you have any doubt), Reeves is the Superman that everyone recognizes and that every Superman is judged against.
This is a rare thing in the universe of comic book films. Take Batman for instance.
Batman has now been played by numerous actors in different decades and formats. If you ask ten people who their favourite Batman is, you will probably get seven to ten different answers. Many prefer the Adam West version while both Michael Keaton and Christian Bale will probably make appearances in some folks’ answers. If you asked people like me, Kevin Conroy, the voice of the Animated Series Batman will get the nod. But if you ask fans about who the best Superman is, I would be willing to bet you will hear Christopher Reeve’s name more then anyone else.
He just seemed to be Superman. The looks, the hair, how he moved. It was as if Superman was peeled out of the best of the comic books and slapped on to the screen. That’s not to discredit the film itself. Richard Donner and his crew created a perfect Superman film for it’s time and that still holds up. In fact, maybe they made it too well.
The Donner film with Reeves’ performance has informed every Superman adaption after it. For a while, the adaptions would crib things from those films. Both the Superboy tv series, the Animated Series are guilty of this. The ultimate example is Superman Returns which is essentially a sequel to Superman II. Superman Returns gave us hope that it was going to be a modern update on the Donner/Reeves films and it was to a certain extent. Brandon Routh did an amazing job capturing the essence of Reeve’s Superman but ultimately, he was let down by a script that was just… well… boring. There’s no other way to really put it. The action sequences were great but by the end of the movie, you really wanted Superman to punch someone… anyone. Darkseid, Luthor, some goofball who wouldn’t pick up his dog’s poop. ANYONE. Instead, as someone funnier than I once put it (I think it was Kevin Smith), Superman Returns’ main battle is Superman versus an island and the island nearly wins.
The other side is that after the failure of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (and then subsequent Superman Returns backlash), many versions of Superman tried to get away from the Reeves version of the character. He was too hokey, not edgy enough, not modern enough. If you look at the various scripts that have popped up over the years for purposed Superman films, many of them try for a darker version of the character. In many ways, Man of Steel was a complete reaction to the Reeve Superman and to Superman Returns.
It has a ton of action beats as well as a darker version of the character and his universe. We see Superman kill. Superman lets his father die which if you watch the 1978 Superman, completely opposite from the character Reeves portrayed.
Is this the right way to go? In someways, I feel the filmmakers didn’t have much of a choice for Man of Steel. In the eyes of the studio, they already did another Christopher Reeve Superman film with Superman Returns and they didn’t get the returns they were looking for. Judging by what we’ve seen for Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, they’ve decided to continue down this darker road.
Which is fine I suppose but what if they had taken up the challenge for a Man of Steel 2. Superman sees what he has done by fighting Zod as reckless and endeavours to be better. You build that in to a sequel and by the the time the Justice League movie rolls around, he is the Superman that many of fans clamour for but updated for the modern audience. The audience has grown with Superman and seen him as he’s learned from his mistakes to become the hero that was embodied in that first film.
I think that might even bring back the fans that hated Man of Steel.
But in the end, no matter what, Christopher Reeve made us believe a man could fly and it’ll take a lot for someone else to make us believe something like that again.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!