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Chris graduated from Georgia State University in 2009 with degrees in Journalism and Creative Writing. He has spent a lot of time working with the media. From engineering radio broadcast for most of Atlanta’s major sports teams to shooting high school football games behind a camera, Chris has a lot of media experience. Besides that, he loves soccer, detective shows, and a buffet list of 'nerdy' things that would embarrass his wife.

Plan of Steel: Learning From Its Predecessors

As a fan of comics and a fan of movies, it’s not hard to imagine that the “recent” influx of comic-book movies has me looking forward to summertime even more than I did as a child. Forget going on vacation or staying up late, now I get to see my favorite superheroes and villains fighting it out on the big screen! And while I’m not exactly what you would call a big “Superman guy”, the new Man of Steel movie has me counting down the minutes until I take Poppa Hill to the cinema for Father’s Day for a 2 and a half hour geek-fest.

However, before I can truly submerge myself in the joy of seeing the Superman mythos brought to life before my eyes, the cynic in me has to say: “again?” The Man of Steel will officially be the 6th movie featuring the “Last Son of Krypton”, and the second try of the ever fashionable “reboot.” Will this movie be successful? I think so. Will there be more movies with Henry Cavill’s Superman? We can discuss that later. The main question I have is: Will this movie be better than it’s predecessors?

Image Credits: Warner Bros

Image Credits: Warner Bros

First, I’d like to clarify that when I say predecessors, I mean only the first movie of every set. This means that TV series like the 50’s show, Smallville, and…well, that other one that shall go unnamed, are thrown out along with the likes of Superman 4: Quest for Peace (Thank God that I don’t have to talk about that). I’m only looking at Superman: The Movie and Superman Returns.

Second, I think it’d be worth narrowing the scope of how we would judge the movies for the sake of comparison. How about we break it into three categories? Let’s start with story, because nobody wants to pay these augmented prices only to walk out saying “What the Hell was that about?” The next category is character development because, after all, if I don’t connect with a character then why should I care if they win or lose? Finally, forego the endings and look only at the climax of the films. If the movies succeeded in their other two parts, then this will be the BEST part of the movie and a true measure of its quality.

Superman: The Movie (1978)

Starring: Marlon Brando, Christopher Reeves, Gene Hackman, and Margot Kidder

Directed by: Richard Donner

Story: The story for this movie came straight from the comics and into the theaters. Superman’s Kryptonian father, Jor-El (Brando), saves his infant son from a dying world by shuttling him off into space right before the planet explodes. The ship carrying the boy crash lands in Smallville, Kansas where an apparently infertile couple, the Kents, adopt him as their son, Clark. He eventually finds out his true origins/superpowers and “builds” a secret hideaway (The Fortress of Solitude) in which the consciousness of his real father, Brando, is able to appear and “guide” him to greatness/his destiny. Fast forward, and now Clark (Reeves) is a reporter for the Daily Planet in Metropolis. It’s here that he tries to blend in by making himself look feeble and clumsy, or “more human”. Unfortunately, this persona he displays doesn’t do much to generate feelings from his partner and secret love interest, Lois Lane. Another unfortunate thing is that said love interest is very, very danger-prone and is one of the people whom Superman saves throughout the movie.

Now enter our bad guy, Lex Luther (Hackman). He wants to make money. Simple. How does he plan to go about this? Luther buys up a bunch of cheap desert land in California and hopes that a megaton bomb, two missiles, and the “right point” along the San Andreas Fault line will help him get rich(er).I’m not going to spoil the rest, in case you haven’t seen it…35 years later.

Verdict: B+

I would actually had to grade this story on a curve. After all, it’s hard not to drink from the nostalgic Kool-aid from time to time. The story itself has some great parts though, such as Clark’s origins and his fascination with Lois. Also, the missile thing is actually done well and a very interesting plot device later on (watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean).The only downside is that you really don’t

Character Development: This movie does a very good job of showing us the two sides of Clark. There is one side that has a responsibility as a super powered being as designated by Kryptonian father; and the side that longs for to be more human, like his Earth father. Superman is honest, brave, and a true leader while Clark is humble, sweet natured, and a romantic.

The woman that he loves, Lois, is head strong and has an insatiable appetite for a story. As Clark, the interactions between the two are platonic at best. Lois sees Clark as weak and someone who will slow her down. Conversely, she is drawn to everything about Superman. You can see the intrigue in her eyes in every scene between the two. You almost get the idea that she wants to find trouble if not to just have Supes save her.

Then there is Luther seems like a respectable businessman, but is actually a cruel and heartless megalomaniac. He very smart, villain-wise, and knows exactly who his main threat is. He spends most of the movie trying to accomplish the two things every movie villain wants: succeed in evil scheme while vanquishing the good guy.

Verdict: A

The internal conflict that Clark has, mixed with the supporting cast has this movie’s characters very relatable. Reeves, Kidder, and Hackman do a phenomenal job playing into their personas and interacting fluidly with one another.

Climax: Uh oh! The missiles are fired and are heading to two different places in the U.S. Superman had been earlier tricked by Lex Luther but has managed to get free (I won’t say how). Now he has to choose which missile to go after first, but he can’t stop both of them. As for Lois? You remember how danger-prone she is? Well guess what stretch of road she just happens to be driving along…

Verdict: A+

This is (in my own opinion, of course) the best series of events in the movie. As a viewer, this climax had me on the edge of my seat. If you haven’t seen this, I bet you’ll never guess what happens.

Overall: A

This movie was one of the first of its kind and it definitely was a good film and great comicbook movie. You’ll have to remember the period of acting that these actors came from when you watch it though. Otherwise, this movie was a success and definitely warranted a sequel (which is a good thing, because Superman 2 was almost completed before the first movie ever came out).

Superman Returns (2006)

Starring: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Story: Let’s me start by saying that this movie is meant to take place after the events that took place in Superman  2, and yes, Superman 3 and 4 were completely ignored because they were just that bad. Bring on the “reboot”! Anyway, Superman has been gone for 5 years. Nobody knows where he went or why he left (watch the movie to find out). Fast forward, and Clark (Routh) returns to the Daily Planet to find that Lois(Bosworth) has a fiancée, a 5-year old son, and a serious grudge against Superman.

Meanwhile, Lex (Spacey) gets out of Jail because a certain caped key witness didn’t show up in court (Super-legal loophole?) and is up to his old tricks again. He inherits a rich-old woman’s fortune and looking to get back into the land business, if you know what I mean.

Verdict: A

The story is actually better than the original movie’s story, in my opinion. Here we see Superman explore more of his human traits. The reason he leaves, while very extraterrestrial physically, is very human in nature. He wants companionship but after what happens in Superman 2, he knows it will be difficult and dangerous for any mortal being he chooses to care about. The real kicker is that when he returns to Earth, feeling empty and alone, he ends up finding that the one woman he loves has turned on him. This is probably the better of the two emotional points between this movie and the original.

Singer did a great job of picking pieces from the original series and making it work for his film. However, the one slight downside to this story is the evil threat, which I will get into later.

Character Development: Well, this one is tricky because while this was an attempt to reboot the franchise, it was also considered to be a sequel. The director assumes that you know Superman’s motivations and assumes that you understand the relationship between Clark and Lois, Lois and Supes, Luther and Supes. However, there is one relationship that has yet to be explored and that is the relationship between Clark and Lois’ new guy (James Marsden).The viewer knows that if he wanted to, Clark really could kill the guy. But the viewer also knows that killing isn’t Superman’s style. So there is this subtle tension between the two and between Clark and Lois throughout the film. To add to this, the Luther featured in this movie seems to be a little more hardened and sadistic than the Luther from the first movie.

Verdict: Perhaps even more tricky than the actual analysis, but I have to give this a C+. Unfortunately, this has little to do with the script and more to do with the acting. Since this film was meant to be a faux-sequel to the original series, you expect the same kind of quality from the cast.

Routh and Bosworth are pretty unconvincing as Clark and Lois. Saying that there is tension is one thing, but showing there is tension is the key, and they couldn’t do it well enough. The biggest problem for me was that I couldn’t help but feel as though Routh was acting like Reeves instead of acting like Superman. I can’t get into a character who is acting like another actor instead of his own character.  The one saving grace(s) though, were Kevin Spacey and James Marsden. These two played their roles perfectly, in my opinion. While it was easier for Marsden, as his role was one that wasn’t in the original; Spacey delivered a very good villain – possibly even better than Hackman. Why do I say this? Because even though I had seen this “evil real-estate” scheme before, I believed that THIS Lex would do it again.

Climax: Superman must stop Lex from executing his evil plan, but we all know that Lex is prepared. The Kryptonian is seemingly defeated and now it’s up to Lois to save him.

Verdict: C+

Yep, that’s it. Interesting twist of events, but the lead up to the moment really isn’t spectacular. I just wasn’t into Routh’s character enough to really care. In fact, I was sort of cheering for Luther at this point.

There was no real threat to me and while this part is still the better part of the movie, I just can’t substantiate any real reason to sit on the edge of my seat.

Overall: B-

While this movie is far from terrible, it could have been infinitely better. If this movie had came out right after Superman 2, then there would have been no problem. But unfortunately, as a stand alone film this movie needed much better character development.

So I am hoping that Man of Steel takes note of what worked in the past, while making it their own film. The movie needs to have a great story, great character development, and a killer climax for this comic-book moviegoer to give it an A+ .

I’ll be sure to revisit this subject in a later article, but be sure to check back because next up is Tania with a review for the Man of Steel.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Forging Steel with Humanity: Superman Reborn in “Man of Steel” | The Hudsucker - June 28, 2013

    […] Unlike its predecessors, the Man of Steel is a genre story without the cartoon-like elements seen in past superhero films. With Superman being preserved for over 40 years on-screen, audiences have never really had the chance to understand who the man behind the suit really is and the potential for greatness that he can achieve. It takes great courage and conviction for a human to rise up in becoming a super human. The Man of Steel is human in one sense that he laments his lost childhood, but at the same time acquires the human attributes of love, compassion, fair play, and justice from his adopted parents. He shows some sensitivity but also learns to manage his anger and recklessness, with the innate strength, resoluteness and determination that he was born with on Krypton. On the other hand, just like a blade of steel which serves the dual purpose of defending and protecting, it can also be used to bring justice. This enables Superman to forge such gentleness with decisiveness and in doing so, has resurrected him to save the planet Earth from forces of evil and ensure its preservation. […]

  2. Comparisons of Clout: DC’s Man of Steel Enters the Gaunlet of Marvel’s Iron Man | The Hudsucker - July 21, 2013

    […] of Superman into something more than just a recycled Christopher Reeves. The director learned from past mistakes and made a movie that could stand on it’s own and as long as DC does that, then they can only set […]

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