Superman and Nostalgia

10 Jul
Message of Hope or Greed?

Message of Hope or Greed?

Last night, my husband and I went to the movies, something very rare indeed, but the cinema not far from us has a deal of $6 tickets on Tuesdays — great deal.  We decided to see Man of Steel, primarily because we both loved the Christopher Reeve movie Superman (1978) and we both liked Henry Cavill in Stardust.

Sadly, I was exceedingly disappointed. Cavill does a good job, as does Amy Adams as Lois Lane, but the whole movie lacked a sense of humanity. It missed the opportunity to demonstrate how we are all called upon to work for the greater good — a conversation that seems to be in desperate need of life support in the 21st Century.

Man of Steel made me quite nostalgic for the Superman movie with Christopher Reeve. The 1978 version presents a picture of humanity and develops characters that I feel invested in and want to watch. The movie also had a richness of pathos and wit.  Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor was nothing less than brilliant, and Ned Beatty just adds to that brilliance. I would also argue that the 1978 version is very family friendly — there is not a lot of gratuitous violence. Finally, I’m just not convinced that anyone but our Terrence Stamp (Bernadette from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) can play General Zod.

Henry Cavill does a good job of playing Superman and he is certainly easy on the eyes, but his character lacks the humanity that Superman had with Christopher Reeve. Amy Adams starts off as a wonderfully strong and independent woman, but the character loses all credibility as a strong independent woman with the awful awful line: “What if I have to tinkle?”  Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Jor-El is a bit over the top and certainly lacks all of the humanity that Marlon Brando delivered. Alas, I think the worst crime of this movie was the 35 minutes of non-stop gratuitous violence that does nothing to move the story along, nor does it make us feel more invested in any of the characters.  Rather than watching a movie about the plight and hope for humanity, I felt as though I was watching a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

When I watch the 1978 version of Superman, I leave the movie inspired and hopeful that humans are capable of a transformative experience and that we are dedicated to the greater good for the greater cause.  I left Man of Steel feeling grateful I only paid $10 for my husband and me to see an enormous amount of violence and a rather nasty nationalistic, almost jingoistic message of patriotism.


18 Responses to “Superman and Nostalgia”

  1. I always love and am open to a good review. In this case, an obvious error served you well: “the 35 minuets of non-stop gratuitous violence . . .” I might have to check out the film anyway, just for the minuets!
    Love, as always!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 10, 2013 at 9:42 am #


      Oy! Thank you for spotting the typo. I will have to correct that. If you should see the movie, I would love to know what you think of it. I reflect now that it was perhaps silly of me to expect to be inspired by this movie–the social worker in me never dies.

  2. Christine Noble July 10, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    Ugh… I have yet to see it, and I probably still will considering the comic book loving geek I am, but this is the second bad review I have gotten of the movie. I was already concerned, based on production stills that this would turn into a bit of nationalist propaganda.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 10, 2013 at 9:47 am #

      Christine, I have to admit that I would encourage you to see it. I so value your opinion and you have an amazing perspective of social justice–one that I share–that I would love to know what you think of this movie. One of the reasons why I read your blog is for inspiration, which this movie lacked.

      • Christine Noble July 12, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

        Well, thank you very much! 😀
        I will go to see it. My nine year old niece just watched the Christopher Reeves movies for the first time and wants to go see it.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 12, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

        Christine, if you should go see it, do let me know what you think of the movie. Peace my friend.

  3. Jay July 10, 2013 at 10:13 am #

    I was a big-time movie-goer for many years, and I can pinpoint the event that changed my habits: Star Wars Episode 1, The Phantom Menace. I HATED that movie.

    Nowadays, few things make me sound more like a cynical old man in a foul mood than the suggestion “wanna go to the movies?” Six dollars for a bargain show? Cell phones buzzing and cranky kids bawling? I can’t rewind to lines I missed or pause the action to grab a snack? I can’t fiddle with my laptop during the boring bits? Grumble, grumble, grumble–no. No, no, no. No thank you.

    Now get off my lawn!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 10, 2013 at 11:27 am #

      Jay, Oh my god! You made me laugh so hard reading your comments here. I could picture John McCain, “Now get off my lawn!” Sadly, we don’t go to the movies often at all but we could not pass up $10 for the two of us.

      I, too, HATED The Phantom Menace. Honestly, the last good movie we saw in the theater was Last Exotic Marigold, which was splendid.

  4. villagerambler July 10, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    Hi Michael, my wife and I saw Man of Steel a couple of weeks ago. To be honest I went into the cinema with no real expectations, and as a consequence I probably enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I liked the set-up, but agree that the climactic set piece was well and truly overdone. I read another piece where someone questioned the decision to have Superman kill someone, arguing that Superman’s morality was always black and white and that it went against everything he believes in to choose to kill another. I can accept this action in terms of the story, however I think the film makers needed to show the consequences for such actions – perhaps we will see this if there is a sequel…?
    Like you I will always love the first two Reeve/Donner Superman movies. You are right that we were invested in those characters. It almost feels like modern film makers don’t trust an audience to make that investment anymore, that their attention span will only hold if there is another explosion or a hail of bullets.
    I also miss Lex Luthor – the name itself is wonderful (would you trust someone with a name like that?). He also had fun – is there no room for fun in comic book movies anymore?
    Like those prices too – wish I could get the same sort of deal here!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 10, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

      Mark, what fantastic and insightful comments! You were far wiser than I to go in with no expectations. Yes, it would have been nice if the movie spent more time with character development, specifically how morality is not as easy as black and white, rather than so much time consumed by excessive violence.

      I loved the witty Lex Luthor and his complexity as a character.

      The price of the tickets was fantastic! The Regal Cinema in Beaverton off of 72nd it is $6 Tuesdays!

  5. Sarah Kiprotich July 10, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Michael. What I love about classic Superman movies and comics is the idea of a man who has a foot in two worlds, wrestles with humanity and divinity (a la demigod archetype) and the responsibility he feels to use his super-humanity for the good of humanity. It’s a classic story of immigration, identity and morality. Sadly, modern movies have eschewed these themes almost entirely for the thrill of action sequences. The conflicted, human-loving alien becomes a cold, distant diety who watches earth from on high, swoops down to fix problems and then leaves until he is needed again. It’s sad. Marvel has been able to keep the humor, humanity and human rights/social justice issues in the forefront of their movies, and it is a shame that the Superman franchise hasn’t been able to do the same.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 10, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

      Sarah, your comments here are so eloquent and so perfectly capture what I was trying to address. I am going to have to ask that you leave more comments, for you truly have such a lovely and magnificent voice of a social worker. I am exceedingly fortunate to have you as a friend and colleague.

  6. Marc D. Myers July 15, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    All four Superman films received Special or Deluxe Edition releases in 2006 coinciding with the release of Superman Returns . It was confirmed that Ilya Salkind had released Donner’s footage for a separate Superman II disc and that Donner was involved in the project. According to an interview conducted by website, Ilya confirmed that Time Warner now owns all of the footage shot for 1978’s Superman, 1980’s Superman II, 1983’s Superman III, 1984’s Supergirl and 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace including distribution rights. Special Edition restorationist Michael Thau worked on the project alongside Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz , who supervised the Superman II reconstruction. Despite some initial confusion, Thau confirmed that all the footage shot by Donner in 1977 was recovered and transferred from England. The new edition was released on November 28, 2006 and called Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut . Following the original Superman II script, the Donner Cut features less than 20% footage filmed by replacement director Richard Lester and restores several cut scenes, including all the Marlon Brando footage and Lois jumping out of the Daily Planet to try and get Superman to reveal his identity to her. It also restructures the beginning of the movie so that the outer space detonation of the Hackensack -bound nuclear missile from Superman: The Movie is responsible for releasing Zod and his companions from the Phantom Zone (and not the blast from the Eiffel Tower H-Bomb). The originally intended ending for Superman II, which was used instead for the climax of Superman: The Movie (where Superman reverses time) was also restored for the Donner Cut, and incorporates footage Donner had shot in 1977 for this ending of Superman II.

  7. Pedro U. Flores July 19, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    Yet, despite all of these different versions presented in different mediums, no other stands out in the hearts and minds of filmgoers like Donner’s 1978 film. It captured the character’s spirit, essence, and – as film critic Roger wrote in his 1978 review – the film was “…a pure delight, a wondrous combination of all the old-fashioned things we never really get tired of: adventure and romance, heroes and villains, earthshaking special effects, and — you know what else? Wit.” There was a saving grace to this film and it was the performance in the title role by the then unknown Christopher Reeve.

  8. Neville Ross August 12, 2013 at 8:02 am #

    Sorry, but I disagree with this review.

    For starters, Superman had a hard decision to make similar to what he faced in a 1987 storyline of the Superman comic book; namely, to kill somebody that can’t be defeated normally (General Zod & Co, who are at his power level). Using the same deus ex machina as in Superman II would have been lame this time, so he killed them simply because he was unable to do it any other way-basically, this was his personal Kobayashi Maru test, a complete no-win secenario. Faced with (and forced to make) a life-and-death decision (the lives of the humans threatened by General Zod & Co.vs. the lives of General Zod & Co.), Superman decided to stick by the people of his adapted home planet, and kill Zod before he wiped out the group of humans under threat by Zod. Not an easy decision, but sometimes in life there are no easy decisions, a hard lesson that we all have to learn at some point. Also, this serves to get Superman (and also the audience) out of their comfort zone about his morality, and to give him a villain that can’t just be defeated easily

    Secondly (and I’m sorry to be blunt about this, but…) DC Comics, Warners, Syncopy, and Legendary Pictures don’t owe people whose only knowledge of Superman is old comic books and the movies with Chris Reeve anything; they had a franchise to revitalize that was in dire straights after the failure of Superman Returns-a great movie that most people let the die-hard comic book fans who hated it because it didn’t have enough action for them and also because Brandon Routh was ‘too gay’ fail in the court of public opinion (contrary to what’s believed, Superman Returns was NOT a flop, making 361 million dollars at the box office-chalk that up to ‘Hollywood accounting’.) People didn’t like the Superman seen in the Singer and Donner movies, so Warner’s gave everybody who should have spoken up and defended Superman Returns against the die-hard action loving fans/moviegoers what they wanted but what you and others that liked the ‘values’ and ‘morals’ didn’t. If I’m saying that everybody’s to blame, I guess I am.

    Third (and this relates to point #2), you and others that were disappointed need to read the most recent Superman stories to keep up (which can be got electronically for the current tablet computers, or as trade paperbacks/omnibuses) instead of just relating to the Silver Age and Golden Age versions of the character; this is the 2010’s, not the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, and Superman has to relate to today, not yesterday. If he doesn’t, he’ll get left behind by other heroes who people can relate to. which would do nothing for the character (and for DC Comics) other than have a property standing fallow and not selling issues. Of course, you and everybody else who’s commented can be like how most older Star Trek fans and just stick to the older books/movies/cartoons, but that will be a passel of diminishing returns when you run out of stories to read and watch.

    • penguinlad August 12, 2013 at 9:13 am #

      Well, Neville, I have to disagree with your disagreement. Everyone is fully entitled to their experience of the film. It’s great if you enjoyed it, but Michael’s experience isn’t invalid just because it isn’t the same as yours. As a long-time comic reader and victim of many of the weird decisions made as DC’s New 52 tries to make things “people can relate to” (as you put it), I’d like to respond to your specific points.

      First, Zod’s death – yes, it got a lot of hoopla in the press, but that isn’t what Michael addresses. The movie had an extremely long, drawn out, pointless series of destruction. However Superman dealt with Zod (and his struggle on that point was not well set up, IMHO), the mind-numbing destruction leading up to it served to numb the viewer rather than helping with the dramatic tension.

      Second, of course none of the parties involved in the film OWE anyone anything. But a viewer can be disappointed quite legitimately and it is just as reasonable for someone to bring previous cinematic expectations to the movie as to demand that they read recent comics. One of the major expectations of superhero movies is that they bring in new fans who might pick up the comics. (That’s why so many comic heroes have been retrofitted to look like the stars who play them.) On that front, Man of Steel failed for a number of viewers.

      Finally, I disagree with you wholeheartedly that someone MUST read the newest comics to be ready for the film (see my second point). The current state of superhero comics is a bit sad, frankly, with everyone taking on an angsty, violent BatWolverine approach. That isn’t interesting storytelling, and I for one cannot relate to it. The Christopher Reeve style Superman can be compelling if well written. Sadly neither DC’s current comics nor this film feel that a sense of humanity is as important as a trend.

      • Neville Ross August 12, 2013 at 11:08 am #

        Your choice, sir/madame. But what you like isn’t coming back, and not all of it is the ‘Bat Wolverine’ approach, either. If you don’t want to bother to take a look at the current Superman titles or Superman: Earth-One and see how good they are, that’s your prerogative. But, please stop being deluded that that Silver Age was the only good age of Superman, and the only one that can be used in movies. This movie was just a nasty event/baptism of fire for Superman-perhaps the next one will be to your liking (I wouldn’t count on it, though.)

  9. penguinlad August 12, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    Your choice as well, sir. And on that point, may I make a couple of observations? We’re talking about pop culture, not the freezing temperature of water, so my opinion is as valid as yours, not a sign that I am “deluded.” It’s reasonably clear that our tastes diverge, and that’s just fine.

    Please do not assume that I only believe in the Silver Age Superman. I was actually fond of most of John Byrne’s reboot; I also enjoyed the Death of Superman saga. I have in fact read at least some of every Superman title in the New 52 and have not enjoyed this take on the character (including his wooden appearances in the Justice League). Your mileage may (and clearly does) vary.

    Of course there are titles and stories that aren’t pointlessly violent or gritty — I was engaging in a bit of hyperbole because of the clear (and to me tiresome) trend over the past five years.

    As for what I like “coming back,” it never left. There are plenty of titles with strong characters and an emphasis on humanity and social justice, even in the New 52: Animal Man, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Batwoman, and The Movement. (Ironically, I might even include Scott Snyder’s excellent work on Batman…) Examples from other publishers include Hawkeye, Young Avengers, Guardians of the Globe, and Mudman. With so much going on in superheroics — on screen and in print — it’s nice that we can both find something to enjoy.

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