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BY STEVEN D. GREYDANUS
IV: The Quest for Peace, PASS
Fantasy action and disaster peril; mild sensuality and innuendo; minor
profanity. Superman II: Much
super-powered comic-book violence; an ambiguous morning-after bedroom scene;
A classic tribute to an American
pop-culture icon, Superman is the first
great comic-book movie and a nostalgic ode to the ideals of a more innocent
time. Combining epic, portentous 2001-style
sci-fi mythmaking and Adam West “Batman”-style camp, the Mario Puzo-scripted movie embraces both the Christological
resonances implicit in the Superman myth and the over-the-top cartoon villainy
of Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor and his buffoonish henchman Otis (Ned Beatty). The
first film is largely concerned with establishing the fundamental constants of
the Superman mythos: his escape as an infant from the doomed planet Krypton,
his all-American upbringing by a Kansas farm couple, his move to the big city
and a great metropolitan newspaper, the dual relationship that develops between
Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and Clark Kent/Superman (Christopher Reeve), his
vulnerability to kryptonite.
Superman’s debut in Metropolis is
handled with whimsy, excitement and nostalgia; a simple sight gag — Clark looking bemused at a kiosk-style payphone —
suggests how much has changed since stories of Superman were first told.
Dialogue and storytelling choices emphasize the echoes of the Christian story.
A father in the heavens (Marlon Brando) sends his
only son to earth. The son’s earthly father dies. The son leaves home to do the
work he was meant to do, to become a savior. John Williams’ swashbuckling
score, one of the most rousing themes in Hollywood
history, completes the grand experience.
was originally intended to be filmed back to back with the first Superman and —
despite behind-the-scenes difficulties that led to a change in directors and
the loss of Brando as Superman’s Kryptonian
father Jor-El — the two films still form a reasonably
cogent whole. Where the first film established the pieces of Superman’s world,
the sequel gives him more formidable villains and super-powered action worthy
of his powers and abilities. It all starts in the first film’s ominous
prologue, in which three Kryptonian criminals are
exiled to the alternate dimension known as the Phantom Zone, and go to their
fate swearing vengeance on Jor-El and his
The sequel unleashes these three
villains, each as powerful as Superman himself, on an unsuspecting Earth. If Hackman’s Luthor, entertaining as
he is, is a bit lightweight opposite the Man of Steel, the scenery-chewing
Terence Stamp’s General Zod more than makes up for
it, abetted by Sarah Douglas’s Ursa and Jack O’Halloran’s Nod. At the heart of Superman II, though, is the fundamental dilemma of Superman and Lois Lane. Superman
loves Lois, but he can never give himself to her without turning his back on
the world that needs him so much.
Unfortunately, after two entries
the Superman franchise descended into mediocrity and beyond. Superman III is a hodgepodge of bad
ideas, from Richard Pryor as a computer genius, to Robert Vaughn as a low-rent
rip-off of Hackman’s Lex Luthor, to an incredibly silly variation on the comic-book
device of “red kryptonite,” which has unpredictable effects on Superman.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Reeve’s final outing in this role,
is the worst of the lot. Despite the return of Hackman’s
Luthor and an attempt to give Superman a
super-powered opponent to fight, the film is unwatchably
bad, unworthy even of straight-to-video distribution. If not for the presence
of Reeve and Hackman, the film would never have seen
the light of day.