Superman
Kal-El/Clark Kent
Superman character
Superman (Christopher Reeve - 1978).jpg
Christopher Reeve as Superman
First appearanceSuperman
(1978)
Last appearanceCrisis on Infinite Earths (2019)
Based on
Adapted byMario Puzo
David Newman
Leslie Newman
Robert Benton
Portrayed byChristopher Reeve
(Original)
Brandon Routh
(Superman Returns, Arrowverse)
Jeff East
(Young; 1st film)
Lee Quigley
(Young; 1st film)
Aaron Smolinski
(Young; 1st film)
Elizabeth Sweetman
(Young; 1st film)
In-universe information
AliasKal-El (birth name)
Clark Kent (adoptive name)
SpeciesKryptonian
Significant otherLois Lane
NationalityAmerican
AbilitiesInvulnerability, superhuman strength, speed, sight, and hearing, frost breath, heat vision, X-ray vision, flight, amnesia-inducing touch

Superman (Kal-El) or Clark Kent is a fictional character portrayed by Christopher Reeve in the Warner Bros. Superman film series produced by Ilya and Alexander Salkind and Cannon Films, and is an adaption of the original comic book character, Superman. Many actors were interviewed for the part before Christopher Reeve was chosen to fill the role. Superman is portrayed as a superhero who stands for "truth, justice and the American way".

The character was received positively and Reeve's performance is ranked as one of the best in superhero films.

The 2006 film Superman Returns served as an alternate sequel to the first two Reeve films while ignoring the events of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, with Brandon Routh portraying the same iteration in an alternate timeline, after Reeve's paralysis in 1995 and death in 2004. The film was dedicated to both him and his wife, Dana, who died two years after her husband's death and shortly before its release.

Development and execution

Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve, the actor chosen for the original film series
Christopher Reeve, the actor chosen for the original film series

The development process behind the creation of DC Comics' character Superman in the Superman film by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton began when Ilya Salkind bought the film rights for the character. Many A-list directors and actors were considered until Richard Donner took over the directing duties and Christopher Reeve was chosen for the part. Originally Reeve's picture and résumé was rejected many times and Reeve thought that he would not get the part after being self-described as a "skinny WASP."[1][2] His appearance was originally very slim. He refused to wear fake muscles and instead went on a training regimen, supervised by former British weightlifting champion David Prowse, which consisted of running in the morning, followed by two hours of weightlifting and ninety minutes on a trampoline. Reeve also doubled his food intake and adopted a high protein diet. He added 30 pounds (14 kg) of muscle to his thin 189 pounds (86 kg) frame. He later made even greater gains for Superman III (1983), though for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), he decided it would be healthier to focus more on cardiovascular workouts.[3] One of the reasons Reeve could not work out as much for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was an emergency appendectomy he had undergone in June 1986.[4][5]

Reeve was never a Superman or comic book fan, though he had watched the television program Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves. Reeve found the role offered a suitable challenge because it was a dual role. He said, "there must be some difference stylistically between Clark and Superman. Otherwise, you just have a pair of glasses standing in for a character".[6]

Jeff East

Jeff East portrays teenage Clark Kent. His lines were overdubbed by Reeve during post-production. "I was not happy about it because the producers never told me what they had in mind", East commented. "It was done without my permission but it turned out to be okay. Chris did a good job but it caused tension between us. We resolved our issues with each other years later."[7] East tore several thigh muscles while performing the stunt of racing alongside the train. It took three to four hours each day to add prosthetic makeup to his face so he resembled Reeve.[7]

Brandon Routh

Various actors such as Jim Caviezel expressed interest in playing the role of Superman, along with Henry Cavill, who had auditioned for J.J Abrams's cancelled 2004 film Superman Flyby (and eventually played the character in the 2013 film Man of Steel). Director Bryan Singer believed only an unknown actor would be suitable for the part of Superman.[8][9] Brandon Routh was chosen from thousands of candidates interviewed at casting calls in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.[10] He had coincidentally auditioned for Clark Kent in the television series Smallville, but lost to Tom Welling. Routh had also met director Joseph "McG" Nichol for the role during pre-production of Superman: Flyby. Dana Reeve, wife of Christopher Reeve, believed Routh's physical resemblance to her late husband was striking.[11] To obtain the muscular physique to play Superman convincingly, Routh underwent a strict bodybuilding exercise regimen.[12] He also opted further in preparation to study Reeve's performance by watching the original film many times and subsequent features behind the scenes as well.[13][14] Prior to Routh's casting, Singer had X2 actor Daniel Cudmore audition.[15]

Portrayal and characteristics

Christopher Reeve modeled his portrayal of Clark Kent on Cary Grant's performance in Bringing Up Baby (as depicted right)
Christopher Reeve modeled his portrayal of Clark Kent on Cary Grant's performance in Bringing Up Baby (as depicted right)

Christopher Reeve first imagined the approach of his role on a flight to London. He felt that in the 1970s, the masculine image had changed and that it was acceptable "for a man to show gentleness and vulnerability". He also felt "that the new Superman ought to reflect that contemporary male image". Reeve would base his portrayal of Clark Kent, Superman's alter ego, on Cary Grant's performance for his role in Bringing Up Baby.[16] Superman's personality as depicted in the films is a do gooder with little or no conflict who stands for "truth, justice and the American way" — a recurring theme shared by the character in the original The Adventures of Superman radio program.[17][18] The noble Superman portrayed by Reeve, though, hides his secret identity by pretending to be an awkward and apprehensive reporter named Clark Kent. Lois Lane is indifferent to him but shares his obsession over Superman.[19] Reeve felt that even though Superman upholds "truth, justice, and the American way" there was nothing self-conscious about him — that was simply what he believed in.[20]

Themes

"You will travel far, my little Kal-El. But we will never leave you, even in the face of our deaths. The richness of our lives shall be yours. All that I have, all that I've learned, everything I feel—all this and more I bequeath you, my son. You will carry me inside you all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, and see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father and the father the son. This is all I, all I can send you, Kal-El."

 – Jor-El

The Superman character has been cited as a metaphor for Christ and has actions compared to many religious themes. Many have noted the examples of apparent Christian symbolism. Donner, Tom Mankiewicz and Ilya Salkind have commented on the use of Christian references when discussing the themes of Superman.[21][22] Mankiewicz deliberately fostered analogies with Jor-El as God and Kal-El as Jesus.[23] Donner is somewhat skeptical of Mankiewicz' actions, joking,"I got enough death threats because of that".[21][22]

The mythic status of Superman is enhanced by events that recall the hero's journey (or monomyth) as described by Joseph Campbell. Each act has a discernible cycle of "call" and journey. The journey is from Krypton to Earth in the first act, from Smallville to the Fortress of Solitude in the second act, and then from Metropolis to the whole world in the third act.[24]

The spacecraft that brings Kal-El to Earth is shaped in the form of a star (Star of Bethlehem). Kal-El comes to Jonathan and Martha Kent, who are unable to have children. Martha Kent states, "All these years how we've prayed and prayed that the good Lord would see fit to give us a child" — comparing her to the Virgin Mary.[21]

Jor-El's quote to Kal-El on humanity lacking the light has been called a metaphor of Jesus (as commonly depicted above) being the Light of the World
Jor-El's quote to Kal-El on humanity lacking the light has been called a metaphor of Jesus (as commonly depicted above) being the Light of the World

Just as little is known about Jesus during his middle years, Clark travels into the wilderness to find out who he is and what he has to do. Jor-El says

Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and power are needed. But always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, and they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.[21]

The theme resembles the Biblical account of God sending his only son Jesus to Earth for the good of mankind. More symbolism was seen when Donner was able to complete Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, featuring the fall, resurrection and battle with evil, which parallels the crucifixion of Jesus, the resurrection and the Harrowing of Hell. Another vision was that of The Creation of Adam.[21]

The Christian imagery in the Reeve films has provoked comment on the Jewish origin of Superman. Rabbi Simcha Weinstein's book Up, Up and Oy Vey: How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero, says that Superman is both a pillar of society and one whose cape conceals a "nebbish", saying "He's a bumbling, nebbish Jewish stereotype. He's Woody Allen."[25][26] Ironically, it is also in the Reeve films that Clark Kent's persona has the greatest resemblance to Woody Allen, though his conscious model was Cary Grant's character in Bringing Up Baby. This same theme is mirrored in other 1940s superheroes.[25][26]

In the scene where Lois Lane interviews Superman on the balcony, Superman replies, "I never lie". Salkind felt this was an important point in the film, since Superman, living under his secret identity as Clark Kent, is "telling the biggest lie of all time". His romance with Lois also leads him to contradict Jor-El's orders to avoid altering human history, time traveling to save her from dying. Superman instead takes the advice of Jonathan Kent, his father on Earth.[22] One of the most important aspects in the first and second films was the romantic relationship between the two main characters; Clark was hopelessly in love with Lois and even gave up his powers to be with her as depicted in Superman II.[27][28]

Role in the franchise

The Superman costume used in the film at the Hollywood Museum
The Superman costume used in the film at the Hollywood Museum

The Superman film relates the origin of Superman as it depicts baby Kal-El escaping from the doomed planet Krypton to Earth. It tells of his life in Smallville to Metropolis, where he falls in love with Lois Lane and goes up against the villain Lex Luthor. Superman II focuses more on his romance with Lois and depicts him battling the Kryptonians, General Zod, Ursa and Non. In Superman III, he is reunited with his high school crush, Lana Lang. He deals with an evil businessman who forces a computer hacker to create technology that plays havoc with the world, while turning Superman evil. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace shows Superman deciding to rid the world of all nuclear missiles. Once again he comes face to face with Luthor and his new creation from Superman's DNA called Nuclear Man.[20] Christopher Reeve was originally planned to make a cameo appearance in the 1984 Supergirl spin-off film starring Helen Slater as Superman's cousin, but bowed out early on.[29]

Film appearances

Superman (1978)

Main article: Superman (1978 film)

In 1973, producer Ilya Salkind convinced his father Alexander to buy the rights to Superman. They hired Mario Puzo to pen a two-film script, and negotiated with Steven Spielberg to direct, though Alexander Salkind eventually chose someone else. Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman signed on to play Jor-El and Lex Luthor respectively, and Guy Hamilton was hired to direct. However, Brando was faced with an obscenity lawsuit in Italy over Last Tango in Paris, and Hamilton was unable to shoot in England as he had violated his tax payments. The Salkinds hired Richard Donner to direct the film. Donner hired Tom Mankiewicz to polish the script, giving it a serious feel with Christ-like overtones.[30] Christopher Reeve was cast as Superman. The film was a success both critically and commercially; being released during the Christmas season of 1978, it did not have much competition, leading the producers to believe that this was one factor in the film's success.[31]

Superman II (1980)

Main articles: Superman II and Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

Shooting of the two films was marred by Donner's bad relationship with the Salkinds, with Richard Lester acting as mediator.[30] With the film going over-budget, the filmmakers decided to temporarily cease production of II and move that film's climax into the first film.[30] Despite Superman's success, Donner did not return to finish Superman II,[30] and it was completed with Lester, who gave the film a more tongue-in-cheek tone. Superman II was another financial and critical success, despite stiff competition with Raiders of the Lost Ark in the same year. In 2006, after receiving many requests for his own version of Superman II, Richard Donner and producer Michael Thau produced their own cut of the film and released it on November 28, 2006. The new version of the film received positive response from critics[32] and the stars of the original film.

Superman III (1983)

Main article: Superman III

For the third installment, Ilya Salkind wrote a treatment that expanded the film's scope to a cosmic scale, introducing the villains Brainiac and Mister Mxyzptlk, as well as Supergirl.[30] Warner Bros. rejected it and created their own Superman III film that co-starred Richard Pryor as computer wizard Gus Gorman, who under the manipulation of a millionaire magnate, creates a form of Kryptonite that turns the Man of Steel into an evil self. The retooled script[30] pared Brainiac down into the film's evil "ultimate computer". Despite the film's success, fans were disappointed with the film, in particular with Pryor's performance diluting the serious tone of the previous films, as well as controversy over the depiction of the evil Superman.[30] Salkind's rejected proposal was later released online in 2007.[30]

Supergirl (1984)

Main article: Supergirl (1984 film)

Upon gaining the rights for the film Superman, Alexander Salkind and his son, Ilya Salkind, also purchased the rights to the character of Superman's cousin Supergirl.[33] Supergirl was released in 1984 as a spin-off of the Reeve films; Reeve was slated to have a cameo but he ultimately backed out of the production, although his likeness appears in a photo.[34] It stars Helen Slater in her first motion picture in the title role, while Faye Dunaway (who received top billing) played the primary villain, Selena; the film also featured Marc McClure reprising his role as Jimmy Olsen.[35] Even though the film performed poorly at the box office,[36] Helen Slater was nominated for a Saturn Award.[37]

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Main article: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

Cannon Films picked up an option for a fourth Superman/Reeve film, with Reeve reprising the role due to his interest in the film's topic regarding nuclear weapons. However, Cannon decided to cut the budget resulting in poor special effects and heavy re-editing, which contributed to the film's poor reception.[30] Warner Bros. decided to give the series a break following the negative reception of the last two Superman films.[30]

Superman Returns (2006)

Main article: Superman Returns

Brandon Routh in 2006
Brandon Routh in 2006

Following several unsuccessful attempts to reboot the franchise, Bryan Singer, who was said to be a childhood fan of Richard Donner's film, was approached by Warner Bros to direct a new Superman film. He accepted, abandoning two films already in pre-production, X-Men: The Last Stand (which, coincidentally, would come to be directed by Ratner) and a remake of Logan's Run. The film acts as a soft reboot of the franchise and uses the events of Superman and, to less of a degree, Superman II as a backstory,[38][39] while directly not referencing the events of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.[38] Singer's story tells of Superman's return to Earth following a five-year search for survivors of Krypton. He discovers that in his absence Lois Lane has given birth to a son and become engaged. Singer chose to follow Donner's lead by casting relatively unknown Brandon Routh as Superman, who resembled Christopher Reeve somewhat, and more high-profile actors in supporting roles, such as Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. Singer brought his entire crew from X2 to work on the film. Via digitally-enhanced archive footage, the late Marlon Brando appeared in the film as Jor-El. Superman Returns received generally positive reviews and grossed approximately $391 million worldwide.

Arrowverse

Routh later reprised his role as Superman in the 2019 Arrowverse crossover "Crisis on Infinite Earths".[40][41] During the crossover, Superman references his son, as well as the events from Superman III.[42]

Comic appearances

A comic continuation titled Superman '78 was submitted to DC Comics and was released in 2021. The run was inspired by DC's recent comic run Batman '66, which was a continuation of the 1966 television series and by Batman '89, a continuation of the Tim Burton continuity. The comic picks up where the 1978 film left off, thereby acting as a direct sequel.[43]

Reception

The character and the portrayal by Christopher Reeve has garnered positive reviews from film critics and many other journalists.[44] American Film Institute ranked Reeve's take on Superman in the first film as the 26th greatest hero of all time in their AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains list.[45] Business Insider placed Reeve's Superman as the fourth greatest superhero film performance out of twenty, while The Hollywood Reporter placed it at number three out of fifty top performances in a superhero film.[46][47] In 2009, Entertainment Weekly placed Superman third on its list of the coolest heroes in pop culture.[48] Mark Hughes of Forbes felt that Reeve portrays both Superman and Clark Kent like two different people, and that it felt like watching two different actors on the screen.[49] Ben Kuchera of Polygon opined that the "performance as both Clark Kent and Superman kept the characters distinct, and it was done through his body".[50]

See also

References

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