I’ve been writing about the first Superman movie for several months in this blog, and I’m just reaching the end of his first date with Lois Lane. And if you want to know how superhero movies have changed from their relatively humble beginnings in 1978 to the frantic blockbuster factory of today, consider this: Superman: The Movie just spent a full twelve minutes entirely focused on the two main characters getting to know each other. I can’t imagine a superhero movie in the 2020s spending twelve minutes focused on anything; they can’t even make one movie at a time.
Just the fact that I can think of Superman as a “humble beginning” is insane; in 1978, they spent 55 million dollars making it the biggest and most exciting film that they could assemble. But as of this weekend, the film seems impossibly small.
This blog is a history of superhero movies, but I don’t want to be stuck entirely in the past, while the rest of the world moves forward. So when a new superhero movie is released, I’ve been writing special weekend popcorn posts looking at what the current film tells us about where this history is going. So far, Superman: The Movie has held up pretty well in comparison to Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Eternals, but the scale of Spider-Man: No Way Home is a different universe entirely.
Spider-Man: No Way Home assumes that the audience has spent the last fifteen years watching superhero movies. To fully appreciate it — or even just to follow what’s going on — you need to have watched at minimum eight other movies, with bonus points for following several spinoffs, including TV shows on two different streaming services. In the normal world that we inhabited not that long ago, that level of pre-release homework assignment would kill the picture; you can easily imagine the scathing reviews, saying that this movie is too complex and self-referential to appeal to mainstream audiences. But it looks like No Way Home is on its way to the 2nd best opening weekend of all time, with a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Anyone who’s been tut-tutting about the future of superhero movies needs to reconsider; the lonely echoes of the singing cowboys calling across the prairie have never seemed so far away.
Continue reading Spider-Man: No Way Home 93.1: The Big Deal
He lied to her. He came all the way across a thousand galaxies, just to lie to her.
He gave her a false name. He insinuated his way into her life. He became a co-worker, a friend. She trusted him. She confided in him. He was the person that knew her better than anyone else, the man who could see right through her.
And he lied to her.
They traveled together. They solved mysteries together. They survived a thousand hair-raising adventures together, one life-threatening, heart-stopping moment after another.
He used his super-ventriloquism, to make her think that he was in two places at once. He used his heat vision, to destroy the telltale evidence that would have confirmed her suspicions. He created dreams and hoaxes and imaginary stories, to confuse and distract her. He even invented a fucking robot duplicate of himself, specifically in order to keep his secret from specifically her. She trusted him, and he lied to her, and he did it for decades. And he thought it was funny.
So now, you want to ask why Lois Lane is so stupid that she never recognized the truth that Superman did everything possible to conceal from her?
Continue reading Superman 1.75: The Other Stupid Question
Q: Can you read my mind?
A: To be honest, I’d rather not, but if you insist, I don’t suppose there’s much I can do about it.
Continue reading Superman 1.74: Frequently Asked Questions
“Christopher felt very strongly about staying in character, all the time,” Margot Kidder says, in one of the DVD featurettes. “I, on the other hand, got really bored during the flying scenes, because there were Chris and I strapped together for ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day. So I would hide books down my front, or try and tease Chris, and he’d be going, ‘shut up!’ And we would bicker, and the poor crew would look away, and they’d go ‘action’, and suddenly we’d be madly in love, and they’d go ‘cut’, and we’d go back to our bickering.
“And at one point, I remember Christopher said, ‘Don’t you stay in character?’ and I said, ‘Oh, Chris, for god’s sake, I’ve been Lois Lane for a year now, and all we have to do is look left!'”
So this is what happens to you, I guess, when you spend fifteen weeks writing about the same movie: I’m watching this incredibly romantic night flight sequence, and all I can think about is how much of a pain it was for them to shoot.
Continue reading Superman 1.73: The Takeoff
In yesterday’s post on the workout, I talked about the process of transforming Christopher Reeve from stringbean to superhero as a core part of the behind-the-scenes mythology of Superman: The Movie, which was widely discussed during and after release.
Partly, the description of building Reeve’s body was another way for the Salkinds to secure more funding — a story that they could tell potential investors in order to convince them that this was going to be a high-quality movie. It was also a marketing tool, meant to assure the ticket-buyers that they’ll see a real Superman on the screen, not just a guy in a padded suit.
This is an act of objectification, making Reeve’s musculature an object of discussion and concern. Reeve talks about building his body as a way of mentally getting into the character, but for everybody else, it’s a mechanical process: insert steak dinners and protein shakes, mix with barbells and squats, and out comes the result — 24 more pounds of muscle mass.
So the workout is a story about Christopher Reeve as meat, with the happy ending being an increase and redistribution of that meat into a shape that we like better. But the interesting thing is that nobody talks about Margot Kidder that way, and here I was, thinking that women were usually more objectified than men.
Continue reading Superman 1.72: The Color of Underwear
“When it comes to muscles and body,” asks a random internet user on the social question-and-answer forum Quora, “Reeve’s Superman looks nothing like Cavill’s. Why didn’t Reeve train for the part?”
That question was posed in February 2017, during the production of Henry Cavill’s third Superman film, Justice League, and while the question is insulting to Reeve, you can forgive the inquisitor getting caught up in the propaganda. By that time, Cavill and his workout routines had been featured in supermarket workout-porn mags at least four times — Men’s Health in 2011, Muscle & Fitness in 2013, and Men’s Fitness in 2015 and 2016 — in an ongoing series of public-service bulletins keeping America updated on the current status of his big-ass arms.
Continue reading Superman 1.71: The Workout
But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is Central Park West, and Juliet is the sun.
Continue reading Superman 1.70: The Other Balcony Scene
“Now, look!” Perry shouts, slamming down a copy of somebody else’s newspaper on his desk. “The Post: It Flies!” He drops another: “The News: Look Ma, No Wires!” And another: “The Times: Blue Bomb Buzzes Metropolis!” I don’t know how he has time to do all this extra reading; doesn’t he have a paper of his own to put out?
Then he picks up today’s Daily Planet, with the long-admired banner: Caped Wonder Stuns City. This headline is way better than the other three, so I’m not sure why he’s upset about it.
“We’re sitting on top of the story of the century here!” he barks. “I want the name of this flying whatchamacallit to go with the Daily Planet like bacon and eggs, franks and beans, death and taxes, politics and corruption!” And then he keeps on snapping at his terrified reporters, in a scene that’s supposed to be funny but isn’t, because Jackie Cooper is terrible.
Part of the problem here is that this isn’t really Perry’s job. In all of the previous versions of Superman, he hardly needs to ask; Superman stories just start piling up on the editor’s desk before he even knows that Superman exists.
Really, this behavior is more the purview of J. Jonah Jameson, the editor of the Daily Bugle, who’s always demanding that camera-clicker Peter Parker bring him more photos of Spider-Man. Those are the two heroes that get the most press coverage in comic books, Superman and Spider-Man, because they have secret identities that work for the paper.
I wonder what all the other superheroes do, when they want some earned media? I don’t think DC’s Metropolis is as chock full of caped wonders as Marvel’s New York City is, but still, there must be dozens of masked vigilantes who never make the front page at all. I guess it’s who you know.
Continue reading Superman 1.69: The Chief
I’d like to get back to the history of blockbusters, because it’s going to help us understand how big movies like Superman work, and what audiences respond to. A few weeks ago in “Dawn of the Blockbuster“, I wrote about the 1913 Italian epic Quo Vadis, which was the first feature film specifically designed to amaze the audience with grandeur and spectacle. Today, I want to talk about The Birth of a Nation, the 1915 American movie which was more popular and more profitable than any other film in the first three decades of motion pictures.
The Birth of a Nation is one of the most influential films ever made, an eye-popping, jaw-dropping spectacle that invented most of what we know as the language of cinema. It’s also one of the most evil films ever made, a grotesque three-hour Ku Klux Klan recruitment film that grievously damaged race relations in America, in ways that we’re still feeling today. Sometimes movies can be several things at the same time.
Continue reading Superman 1.68: Nineteen-fifteen
Hey gang, it’s time for another round of What Did Mankiewicz Do, the fascinating behind-the-scenes game where we look at old drafts of the Superman: The Movie script, and figure out how script doctor and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz solved its many glaring problems.
So far, we’ve seen how Mankiewicz made the Kents more appealing, took the corny sci-fi cliches out of the Jor-El/Lara scene, and made Lex Luthor stop chewing Kleenex all the time. Now we’ve arrived at the largest and most important structural change that Mankiewicz made to the script: taking three Lex Luthor/Superman confrontations spaced out through the second half of the film, and compressing them down into just one climactic face-off between the hero and the villain.
Now, you would think that having the hero and the villain only share one scene together in the whole movie would be a bad idea, but that’s because you haven’t seen the volcano sequence yet. In this movie, it was the right call. Allow me to explain.
Continue reading Superman 1.67: The Gauntlet