I went to see Wonder Woman last week and, though I enjoyed parts of the film, I was ultimately disappointed that the female director and strong female lead were unable to distance themselves from the ‘my SFX are bigger than your SFX’ epidemic that swept across the Superhero Movie around 10yrs ago.
My constant disappointment in the Superhero Movie began with both Superman Returns in 2006. The heart and the charm were non existent, despite having Kevin Spacey in the role of Lex Luthor – I’d been excited about that for months. The director was clearly more comfortable working with Marvel characters and tried to make Superman human and conflicted, when he’s really neither of those things.
I refused to give up and booked my super expensive all singing all dancing ticket to Man of Steel in 2013; that was the moment that the dick-swinging got too much for me to bear. The reliance of the genre upon SFX above story-telling and characterisation has become the norm and turned me right off even my most beloved superheroes.
I’m a DC fan and, as you may have guessed, I have a particular love and special bond to Superman.
This is where I remind you all that I have a degree in Film – it was expensive and I like to get my money’s worth every now and then. My academic dissertation was on The Superhero Movie as a genre study.
I started my dissertation research at the age of around 6 or 7 in my ‘what I did at the weekend’ book at school. Did you have one of these too? It was an exercise book where we wrote a sentence or two and drew a picture. I was hoping to share the actual page with you today but it is safely in a box in the rafters of our garage and, with a heatwave over the weekend, there was no way I was getting up there!
I’ll paraphrase the page for you; the drawing is of a little blonde girl sitting in front of a television screen, with what looks like a red and blue tortoise on it. The entry writes “I watched Superman with my Dad. It was quite funny and a bit sensible. Do you know what Superman did? He broke one of his laws which was interferring with humman history.” I know, spoiler alert! Also, those are not typos.
Something about that film captured my imagination and did not let go. I was terrified of cracks in the playground tarmac for years because they looked like the start of the earthquakes that Lex Luthor started.
The quality of the performances in this film is incredible. Superman The Movie (1978) was written principally by Mario Puzo, the guy who wrote The Godfather and it’s a great story. Dividing naturally into three parts that feel like they could be three separate films, we see futuristic space-parents give up their only child to save him from a dying planet, adoptive parents morally grounding an alien child in small-town America, and a hero flying around saving lives in a Metropolis whilst trying to protect his true identity from the woman he loves.
The glue that holds the whole thing together is that Christopher Reeve looks like Superman and is built like a hero, with the ability to act the part of Clark Kent. He famously channeled the bumbling charm of Cary Grant for this role. It’s not just a pair of glasses…
Never underestimate the power of charm. Watching this scene, you cannot help but fall a little bit in love with this big fish out of water and therein lies the magic ingredient that the more recent Superhero films have been lacking; I just don’t like any of the characters enough to care whether they survive to the end of the movie. I really should care! That’s kind of the point.
I genuinely believe that all responsible for making these movies should sit down and watch Reeve’s performance in Superman The Movie before they even start pre-production. The essential interest in such a film comes from the initial conflict of a being with extraordinary abilities living in an ordinary world – how would the ultimate boy scout fit into post-Watergate cynical America? The best moments of Wonder Woman were where this question was addressed. Her innocence in our corrupt world causes conflicts of its own.
You may know that Christopher Reeve was left paralysed in a horse riding accident in the mid-90s. He campaigned tirelessly to help others with spinal cord injuries for the rest of his life.
One of Christopher Reeve’s last screen appearances was in long-running TV series Smallville. When he appeared as Dr Virgil Swann in series 2, it came as a complete surprise to me and the emotion of seeing one Superman hand over to another, complete with the familiar strains of John Williams’ score tugged hard on my heart strings.
I would love to bake a cake for Christopher Reeve, the true embodiment of a big screen hero in my eyes. Even now, more than a decade after his death, his performance as Superman still makes me smile and takes me back to being very small and feeling that anything was possible. On another sad morning where we must wake up to more terrible news, couldn’t we all use a friend?
Of course, this is a flight of fantasy. We all need escapism; I cannot stress how much we need this release. However, I feel that there are countless real-life heroes who need to be thanked for all that they do to. Our emergency services have been very much in the spotlight over the last few weeks and it feels appropriate to add my gratitude here. To our police, fire, and ambulance services, especially those brave first-responders who run towards danger when most of us would prefer to run away, I would love to bake a cake for each and every one of you. Thank you.