Superman 1.86: Another Day, Another Door

So this is why we don’t call Superman the World’s Greatest Detective; for a guy with super-speed, he’s a bit slow on the uptake. Lex Luthor has been sneaking around in the underbelly of this movie for almost an hour, stealing meteorites and messing with missiles, and Superman literally doesn’t even know who Luthor is until he gets hit with the villain’s supersonic Grindr profile.

I mean, I know it’s his plan, but Lex has to be a little put-out that he’s sitting there — 1.3 miles away, 48 years old, looking for Chat, Dates, Gloating and Comeuppance — and the only way to get his dream guy’s attention is to tell every dog in town how lonely he is.

It’s a weird structure for your movie, having the hero spend 45 minutes catching burglars and going on dates, and then suddenly getting a pool party invite from the Big Bad, at which point the film is practically over, except for miniatures shots. But this movie’s method is to make each individual sequence so appealing that you don’t really notice that the structure doesn’t work, until you watch it a whole bunch of times and try to write 100 blog posts about it.

What’s wrong with the structure? Well, for one thing, the main character doesn’t make a lot of choices. The first third of the movie is about shuttling Kal-El from Krypton to Smallville to the North Pole, led around by a green glowstick. In Metropolis, Superman is positioned as fundamentally reactive: he turns into a hero when Lois is in imminent peril, and then looks around to see what other problems he can respond to. He doesn’t have a plan to make the world better; he’s just going to wait around for something to develop.

The one really strong choice that he makes in the whole film is to set up a date with Lois. He initiates that sequence, and as a reward, he gets a flirty conversation and a free trip around the Statue of Liberty. At the end of that sequence, he almost makes another character decision, to reveal that Clark is Superman… but then he backs down, and retreats into his shell.

And then the villain has to call Superman on the phone and specifically invite him over, to get him to participate in the movie that would otherwise just go on without him.

Lex makes sure that Superman knows exactly where to go by putting a couple of doors in the way. There’s nothing that Superman likes better than smashing through doors; it’s like leaving a trail of Reese’s Pieces for this guy.

Somehow, Superman is convincing himself that this is a bad moment for Luthor, where the hero will naturally dominate the situation using his muscles, angry facial expressions and a stern tone of voice. In reality, he’s busting his way through sidewalks and steel in order to fall into an obvious trap. Superman doesn’t worry about stuff like that, because he thinks that he’s invulnerable, and that punching people and lifting heavy objects will solve every problem.

But Lex Luthor is a mythopoetic trickster figure, who breaks social and cultural norms in order to create new ways of looking at the world. In this scene, he actually takes those social rules and uses them as a stick to hit Superman with.

The big blue is clearly expecting Luthor to act like the ranting mad scientist that he is in the comic books, who in this situation would be focusing his diamond-tipped death ray at the hero and shouting, “Nothing in the world can stop me now!” Instead, Superman is facing off with a guy sitting calmly behind a desk.

“It’s open, come in,” Luthor smiles, as Superman steps into the lair. “My attorney will be in touch with you about the damage to the door. Otis, take the gentleman’s cape.” It’s hard to punch a guy who’s talking like this. I mean, Superman can do it — he loves punching people almost as much as he loves wrecking doors — but it’s difficult to turn the conversation in that direction.

The delightful thing is that the trickster knows that he’s already won. The missiles are being launched right now, in the moment that Superman is looking in the wrong direction. All Lex needs to do is smile and be distracting, so that the space monster doesn’t pay attention to the rumble of impending disaster tickling the back of his ear.

So what we’ve got here is the only justified villain monologue in cinema history. Usually, the baddie taking the time to explain his or her plan is just handing the temporarily-inconvenienced hero an instruction manual for how to thwart the very scheme that they’re babbling about.

But here, the entire point is just to waste the hero’s time, getting him involved in a complicated discussion about logistics, so that even if Superman manages to break free of the temporary inconvenience of being dunked underwater — which obviously he will — then he’ll still be too late to stop both missiles, which is what happens. The only way that Superman could avert Luthor’s plan is if he could travel back in time and do it all over again, which is such a ludicrous plot point that even the trickster wouldn’t think of it.

The villain also has an advantage, in terms of audience appeal. Right now, we know what Luthor knows — that he programmed the missiles, and they’ve already been launched — so we’re unconsciously identifying more with the villain than the hero, at the moment. Superman’s trying to catch up to where we already are.

The most delicious moment in the sequence is this one:

Luthor:  This is California — the richest, most populous state in the union.

Superman:  I don’t need a geography lesson from you, Luthor.

Luthor:  Oh, yes, of course, you’ve been there! I do forget — you get around, don’t you? (chuckles) Where was I?

Otis:  California!

Luthor:  California, right. The San Andreas Fault, maybe you’ve heard of it.

Superman:  Yes, it’s the joining together of two landmasses. The fault line is unstable and shifting, which is why you get earthquakes in California, from time to time.

It’s the innocence and naivete in Superman’s clear blue eyes that Luthor longs to see: a rival who is now entirely off his guard, just because Lex off-handedly asked him for a geology fact. Superman can’t help but help, and that is his undoing. He has no control over his innate urge to be of assistance.

Right now, Lex could do almost anything to manipulate this hunk of hero meat. It’s taken an hour and forty-five minutes to get to this face-off, but it’s perfectly satisfying, because Luthor has identified Superman’s only weakness. It’s not Kryptonite — that’s a temporary inconvenience, even Luthor knows that. Superman’s real weakness is that he’s just not that bright.

Tomorrow:
We return to blockbuster history with
the supposedly greatest movie of all time in
1.87: The Other Movie About Black People


Footnote:

Hey, just want to give you a heads-up that we are currently in the home stretch for Superman: The Movie — I’m going to wrap up my coverage of the first film in post #1.100, and then move on to Superman II. That gives me three weeks and 15 posts (counting today) to say anything else that I plan on saying about the first film. I know that doesn’t make a huge hell of a difference in your life, but it’s exciting for me, so I hope that you’ll follow along with me for another 15 posts, and then we’ll jump ahead to the far-off space year of 1981!

Tomorrow:
We return to blockbuster history with
the supposedly greatest movie of all time in
1.87: The Other Movie About Black People

Chapters
Movie list

— Danny Horn

14 thoughts on “Superman 1.86: Another Day, Another Door

  1. This must be the same scene we saw in Dr. Don Voyne’s screen test. I think they chose wisely in casting Christopher Reeve in the role instead.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Luthor’s plan is so horrible that if we didn’t identify with him to the extent that we do, this part of the movie would have to be much more serious in tone, not at all the tribute to the 1966-1968 Batman that it so thoroughly is. So we know what Luthor knows, and it’s Luthor who drives the story while Supey hangs on for the ride.

    I’ve been guessing that you plan to write 100 posts about each of the major milestones in the genre- Superman: The Movie, Superman 2: The Other Movie, Batman (1989,) Blade (1998,) etc- with fewer about some of the less influential offerings. Could you tell me if that guess is correct?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I didn’t have a plan when I started — I was specifically trying not to plan too much, so that I could discover things along the way. I came up with 100 posts as a finish line just a couple weeks ago, because I felt like I was getting tired of this movie and 100 is a nice round number.

      So I’m not sure about the future. Superman II will probably be shorter, because I’ve already established all the fictional concepts, and the production hasn’t been documented to the extent that the first movie was.

      The third movie is Swamp Thing, and I have no idea how long that’ll run; all I know is it’ll be fun. 🙂 It’s a terrible movie about a character that I really like, so that’ll be my first chance to look at how they took good source material and turned it into a bad movie.

      I would say that 100 is probably the longest I’ll ever spend on a single movie. I want the open space to look at a movie from lots of angles, but this has been too slow, so I’m going to pick up the pace a bit.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. Superman II will probably be shorter, because I’ve already established all the fictional concepts, and the production hasn’t been documented to the extent that the first movie was.

        Surely there’s a few things to be said about the Donner cut and how it was originally planned to be a two-part movie?

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Yes, I’ll definitely be talking about the Donner Cut, and there’s a lot to discuss about the production. But there isn’t an entire “Making of Superman II” book, or as many interviews covering the second movie.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t remember Lex Luthor having already launched the missiles, hence that famous line in The Watchmen soken by Ozymandias about knowing better than to give the hero a chance to stop his plan being so unexpected.

    Are you going to cover each movie in 100 parts?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. There’s something about getting close to a deadline that clarifies everything. Even a self-imposed deadline. For me, writing is like riding a roller coaster: a long slow ride up, then a quick dangerous dash to the end.

    Speaking of deadlines, I need to track down a used copy of “Superman II.”

    Thanks again for this blog, Danny. I look forward to it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. *** SPOILER ALERT ***

    Luthor’s plan, eeeeeevil as it is, doesn’t actually work (if memory serves); California doesn’t fall into the Pacific Ocean, it just gets a big Earthquake (but that’s another movie).
    And he makes an absolutely foreseeable and fundamental mistake in failing to realize that this Superman guy’s like catnip to women and Miss Teschmacher is in fact one of those. (A woman, I mean, not a cat.) I think there’s enough hubris (and more than enough stupid) going around on both sides of this battlefield.
    And apropos of nothing except that it’s bugged me since 1978, how does Luthor know that kryptonite will affect Superman at all? Or mightn’t it affect him in a positive way?

    (Guess he’s been reading comic books?)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, Lex has to have a blind spot–otherwise it would be too hard to stop him, or to grim for the tone of the movie. Just like how Superman has to be reactive and not have a lot of street smarts or social acuity in order to not be just a god in tights who does whatever he wants, Luther has to be too smart for his own good–a trickster so in love with the trap he’s sprung that he ends up capturing himself.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Danny, I happened to discover your series here right at the beginning. It’s so much fun! Thank you! Every day, I eagerly look for the new post. Today’s is especially hilarious.

    John E Comelately, we don’t see the full effects of Luther’s plan because after all, Superman patches up the fault. As for how Luther knew about kryptonite? Remember that one of his evil superpowers is: Mad Science! Any Mad Scientist who’s truly a worthy opponent for the Man of Steel, would Of Course be able to figure out how kryptonite works based on next to no clues.

    “I didn’t have a plan when I started — I was specifically trying not to plan too much, so that I could discover things along the way.”
    That works out pretty well for Superman, as you point out here. Some people say that comic books aren’t educational for real life. You’re provin’ em wrong!

    “looking for Chat, Dates, Gloating and Comeuppance”
    And how fortunate for him that a dreamboat man whose hobbies are Impossible Pseudoscience-driven Magic Powers, Smashing Doors & Bad Guys, and Being Ever So Helpful To Those Who Seem Befuddled, just happens to be only 1.3 miles away and available for a same-day meet up with just one call!

    Both Superman I and II have a giant plot that, if Syd Field had been hired to consult, would have not been there.

    In Superman I, there should have been some reference to time travel. Perhaps the Traveling Education Incubator could have replaced the Chinese line with something like, “Our science theorizes that Einstein’s equations imply that an object traveling faster than the speed of light will also go back in time, with any one object of course only being able to go back in time once in the course of its existence. As such a test would require processing all the energy output of a yellow sun, no such tests have ever been possible to run on Krypton, leaving this concept as purely theoretical.”

    With such a setup, at the ending, the audience would go from “What’s he up to, abandoning Lois in the hole in the ground like that?” to (perhaps with a well-timed voiceover reminder of Papa’s Teaching), “Aha, he’s going to give it a try” to (perhaps with some scenes of great heroic struggle) “But can he actually do it?” to “Hip hip Hooray!,” along with an explanation of why he can’t ever do it again (because Papa said that “of course” Einstein said he can’t, that’s why).
    I haven’t seen the Donnor version of Superman II. Apparently it included an explanation that power restoration was possible, only once, by using up the remaining Papa Power infused into the Fortress-making Crystal?

    In Superman II, the big plot hole of the Absolutely Impossible To Reverse, We Ain’t Kiddin’! change that turns out to be reversible as needed for the convenience of the plot. That’s beside the total B.S. of the unexplained additional powers: Insta-clones, Tossable Chest Shield, Kiss of Of Forgetfulness, Levitation Finger Ray, Rushmore Refacement… I assume Danny’s going to rip these tattered plot mishaps to shreds when he gets there.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Danny, I will most definitely follow along with you not only for the next 15 posts, but for the years of posts to come! I’m also currently watching Dark Shadows and am on Episode 648 (Quentin has finally appeared on the scene), so I’m lucky enough to get a Double Daily Dose of Danny! Thanks for doing what you do so well!

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply to Kosmo13 Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s