Reviewed by: Christopher Heyn
Are you tired of all the recent films based on dark or violent comic-book characters such as “Spawn”, “The Crow”, and “Batman”? Hungry for some wholesome good vs. evil storytelling featuring a moral, upstanding hero? Then run to your nearest video store and rent “Superman: The Movie”, arguably the best comic-book adaptation ever made, and a surprisingly effective film 20 years after its initial release.
“Superman: The Movie” is, as we all know, the story of Kal-El, the last survivor of the doomed planet Krypton who is sent to Earth as a baby. Discovered by Ma and Pa Kent on their way home from church, the Kents name the mysterious boy Clark and decide to raise him themselves. Eventually, Clark leaves Smallville for Metropolis, where he becomes a reporter for the Daily Planet; that is, when he’s not his alter ego Superman (Christopher Reeve), defending the innocent in the name of “truth, justice, and the American way.” Oh, and he really has a thing for the paper’s star reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), too.
Complicating matters is the evil Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman, in a very funny Oscar-nominated performance), who wishes to bomb California’s San Andreas fault with two stolen nuclear missiles in order to send half the state crashing into the sea. By doing this, Luthor will have created a new West Coast in the world’s most amazing land swindle. Superman must find a way to stop him, of course, before millions of people are killed.
Boasting a star-studded cast (besides Reeve and Hackman, the film also features Marlon Brando, Glenn Ford, Ned Beatty and Terence Stamp), a witty and charming story by “Godfather” scribe Mario Puzo, and taut and exciting direction from Richard Donner, “Superman: The Movie” also has a strong moral worldview which gives the film much of its power.
Clark Kent/Superman is shown as a man that honors his parents, treats his coworkers with respect, is sexually chaste as far as romance is concerned, and genuinely cares about the welfare and safety of others. In many respects, this telling of the Superman story can be seen as an allegory of the life of Christ, although that comparison breaks down at the end when Superman disobeys his father’s commands for the sake of love. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to spend time in a world where sin has consequences, evildoers are punished, good is rewarded, and traditional moral values are seen as good and honorable.
“Superman: The Movie” is rated PG for mild comic-book violence and an offscreen death in a subway station. Luthor’s female assistant has a tendency to wear clothing that accentuates her bustline, and there are a few moments that may be scary for very young children. However, the film has no profanity, no sex, no nudity, and nothing that would make very inappropriate for family viewing. Although “Superman: The Movie” was followed by three sequels, none of them ever matched the original in storytelling or moral tone.