Film Face-off: 'Superman: The Movie' vs. 'Man of Steel'

Film Face-off: 'Superman: The Movie' vs. 'Man of Steel'

Jun 17, 2013

Faster than a speeding bullet... check. More powerful than a locomotive... check. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound... check. OK, this Man of Steel film definitely is a Superman flick, but how does it compare to the 35-year-old film that most of us consider the first true superhero film, Superman: The Movie? That's the question that will be answered in this week's Film Face-off. 

I was having a tough time deciding on five categories. After all, you won't find a Cameo category below, which means there is no place to mention John Ratzenberger (better known as Cliff Clavin) or Larry Hagman. I was even thinking of a Worst Moment category just to remind people that a woman hits her daughter after Superman saves a cat from a tree, or the line "Why is it I can't get it on with the good guys?" both exist in the 1978 Superman. Plus, some categories would be too easy for victories, like John Williams' musical score, even though Hans Zimmer gives it a pretty good try. I finally settled on five categories that get to the heart of Superman's origin story. It's time for the Film Face-off of Superman: The Movie vs. Man of Steel.

 

The Parents

Superman: The Movie

We have Jor-El (Marlon Brando) and Lara Lor-Von (Susannah York) on Krypton, and Jonathan (Glenn Ford) and Martha (Phyllis Thaxter) on Earth. Jor-El is a lawyer (putting away General Zod) and a scientist who believes Krypton is about to blow up. Lara loves her kid and is worried he'll be isolated and alone if sent to Earth. Jonathan doesn't want his kid scoring touchdowns, but believes he must be here for a reason. Martha sees a baby land in a spaceship, and decides it's a miracle, and she's raising this kid no matter what.

Man of Steel

We have Jor-El (Russel Crowe) and Lara Lor-Von (Ayelet Zurer) on Krypton, and Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) on Earth. Jor-El is a scientist who risks everything to get his son to Earth. Lara wants to hold onto her baby just a little bit longer before sending him away. Jonathan wants Clark to keep everything a secret because the world isn't ready to accept him, even if it costs people their lives. Martha simply loves her secretly adopted kid.

Winner: Man of Steel. This win is really all about Jor-El. While Costner's Jonathan is able to get some emotional moments, it's weakened by the flashbacks the film uses. Crowe's Jor-El has an amazing action sequence, plus he's a downloadable computer program, which helps make sense for how Clark, Lois and General Zod are able to interact with him. Brando's Jor-El somehow records 12 years worth of knowledge in less than 30 days. I also don't trust Thaxter's Martha, because her first instinct is to steal a baby. Plus, right after Ford's Jonathan dies, Clark takes off on his journey. Clearly he doesn't like his mom too much, if he's willing to leave her at her most vulnerable.

 

Childhood/Clark Kent

Superman: The Movie

Jonathan and Martha know Clark is special because he lifts up a truck, and he's also near a crashed spaceship. He's the equipment manager in high school, who gets picked on, and has a crush on Lana. As a reporter, Clark (Christopher Reeves) is a bumbling, supersweet individual who sends his mom half his paycheck.

Man of Steel

Clark (Henry Cavill) has moments during his childhood when he must continuously choose to use his powers or not. There's the time when a school bus falls into a river, or when bullies egg him on. Then he goes on a walkabout, though he's not sure where or why. He keeps doing good deeds with his powers, like helping guys on an oil rig, but this means he must live the life of a drifter.

Winner: Superman: The Movie. This is definitely not a win for high school Clark, but for the adult reporter. After all, the high school Clark flaunts his superspeed, freely waving to a little girl on the train. After that, he's in an odd 12-year study zone, absorbing all of the knowledge of 28 known galaxies. When Reeves plays Clark Kent, you just feel good. It's playful, silly, sweet and we're in on the joke. It is kind of odd that Superman has decided to act like this. After all, it's the nerdy version of everything Superman stands for. We'll have to wait for the sequel of Man of Steel to see if Cavill will be able to pull off the reporter Clark. On a side note, not many movies bother with naked babies/toddlers. For some reason, both of these do. Is this something the Superman audience expects/needs? Is there a comic book geek out there who is enraged if baby Kal-El isn't naked at some point?

 

Lois Lane

Superman: The Movie

Margot Kidder plays reporter Lois Lane. She doesn't want to be in a relationship, because she's career driven. Lois jumps to the conclusion that Superman is into her, and clearly flirts when she has a chance to interview him on her rooftop deck. Superman saves her three times.

Man of Steel

Amy Adams plays reporter Lois Lane. She discovers a man with extraordinary powers, and at first wants to tell his story. Once she learns his identity, she wants to protect him. She gets in on the action, and Superman saves her twice.

Winner: Man of Steel. Look, I love Kidder's first line of dialogue ("How many T's in bloodletting?") Plus it doesn't get better than "You've got me, who's got you?" It also doesn't get worse than her inner-monologue poem "Can You Read My Mind?" It's painful. Kidder's Lane throws herself at Superman, leaps to conclusions about their relationship, screams like crazy when in a crashing helicopter, but doesn't care about being held at gunpoint. She's scattered. Adams' Lois is more focused, and best of all, she wants to protect the superhero. Lois feels sorry for Clark. It's not just about what color underwear she's wearing. It did take some getting used to when Lois is suddenly on a spaceship, trying to save the day, but anything is better than Kidder's poem. Seriously, anything.

 

Villain

Superman: The Movie

Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) is the greatest criminal mind of our time. His big plan is a real estate swindle, with a goal of creating a new California coastline. His sidekicks are Otis (Ned Beatty) and Miss Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine).

Man of Steel

General Zod's (Michael Shannon) entire purpose is to ensure the lives of the Kryptonians. His big plan is to take the World Engine and destroy Earth, creating a new Krypton. He would also like to kill Superman since he still holds a grudge with Jor-El. His main sidekick is Faora-Ul (Antje Traue).

Winner: Superman: The Movie. This is more about the actors behind the role. I love Shannon, and think he is one of the best working actors right now. I can't wait to see what he does next. With that being said, his General Zod didn't impress me. It was somehow flat, which I didn't think was really possible since Shannon is great as a rage machine. The chin-only facial hair didn't help the cause. Superman's fight with Faora-Ul is the best action sequence in Man of Steel, which says more about the film than Shannon, but that shouldn't be the case. Lex says something early on, "Why is the most diabolical leader of our time surrounding himself with total nincompoops?" I've decided this is because Hackman is breaking down the fourth wall on some level. He's declaring he knows he's the villain in the flick, doomed in the end. After all, he reveals his complete plan to Superman, and then assumes he kills him with some kryptonite. Whether it was yelling at Otis, or donning different costumes, I wanted to keep seeing more Lex Luthor while rewatching Superman. After a strong beginning, I didn't care when Shannon's General Zod was front and center in Man of Steel.

 

Superman's Powers

Superman: The Movie

Kal-El/Clark/Superman is faster than a train, can kick balls very far, lift trucks and catch bullets. He tells a reporter he has X-ray vision, but can't see through lead (not very bright), and he always tells the truth. He has super hearing, flies, can stop earthquakes, and can drill down into the ground by spinning. Also, he can travel back in time.

Man of Steel

Kal-El/Clark/Superman can lift school buses, has X-ray and heat vision, and is able to handle walking through fire, with no damage to his hair. He also destroys trucks, jumps really far, flies, plus he's constantly learning how strong he can actually be. Kal-El's also the first from Krypton to be of natural birth, which means he can make his own choices.

Winner: Man of Steel. A young Clark is overwhelmed by the moment he discovers he has X-ray and heat vision in Man of Steel. It's an honest panic attack, and you can feel his pain. I also love the idea that Superman is actually discovering his capabilities in this film. With Superman: The Movie there are two main problems. Superman isn't naive, and it's idiotic that he would tell a reporter one of the few things that could get him in trouble (not seeing through lead). That's nothing compared to the time travel. This is somehow teased twice by Jor-El saying that he is forbidden to interfere with human history. People in 1978 couldn't have actually thought that meant Superman would be travelling back in time, and only doing it long enough to save Lois, instead of going back a little further to stop both missiles and Lex Luthor's evil plans.

 

OVERALL WINNER: Man of Steel over Superman: The Movie, 3-2.

New is better than old, but barely. Man of Steel gets the victory, though it's mainly because of a few missteps with Superman: The Movie. Remove time travel and a Lois Lane poem, and it could be a different ball game. One thing that is obvious is that Man of Steel feels like our typical, modern superhero movie. It gives us our superhero fix that we seem to so desperately need at the theater. There was awe and wonder connected to Superman: The Movie that doesn't quite exist with Man of Steel.

Categories: Features, Geek
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