Forty years after his 1938 comic book debut, cinema finally provided a forum equal to Superman's epic pop-culture stature. Making good of the boastful tag line "You'll Believe a Man Can Fly", "Superman: The Movie" remains a defining high point of Hollywood's tumultuous relationship with superheroes.
Affectionately directed with an unerring sense of verisimilitude by Richard Donner, with a witty script by Tom Mankiewicz, and a superb John Williams score, the film handles the source material's ludicrous conceits with dazzling straight-faced aplomb.
Today, it would seem commercial suicide to have the lead character debut an hour in, but Superman's origin story, moving from the doomed planet Krypton (replete with a multimillion-dollar Brando cameo) to Clark Kent's youth in Kansas, establishes a suitably grand tone to the Metropolis-bound action. The movie sees Superman squaring off against Lex Luthor (a campy Hackman), whose plot of destroying California to facilitate land fraud leads to all manner of super heroics.
Reeve proved a casting dream, delivering a measured, mannered portrayal that, as Superman, never once succumbs to the all-too-easy campy histrionics, while proving an adept light comedian as the klutzy Clark Kent. As Lois Lane, Margot Kidder showcases an appealing mixture of feistiness and doe-eyed romance, resulting in memorable chemistry in the spectacular helicopter rescue and, especially, their cloud-bound first-date. The film's revolutionary flying effects of perspective-based back screens and wire work proved an unqualified success aided by Reeve's believable performance.
Compared to the despicable mess that was "Batman and Robin", this remains a perfectly captured fantasy spectacle, back in the days when the creative process wasn't muddied by the fickle demands of toy companies.