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The world needs saving? Wait a sec... for Superman

No one in the known universe is like Clark Kent’s alter ego. We Earthlings are so lucky that Krypton blew up and we got him 80 years ago. Here’s looking at all those times when he put out a fire with a frozen lake, dropped a plane on the ballpark, and — get this! — beat the black hole

hollywood Updated: Apr 22, 2018 20:27 IST
Superman,Superman at 80,Comic book superhero
American star Christopher Reeve, who fronted four Superman films, starting with the 1978 classic, is the most iconic actor to have played this character.

“Do you… eat?” asked Lois Lane to Superman when he lightly dropped on her terrace for their sort-of-date in the first big-ticket movie, released in 1978. That question may have already been answered for comic book buffs, because Superman was introduced to the world some four decades earlier, on April 18, 1938. The alien from the destroyed planet Krypton, created by schoolmates and nerds Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, was a runaway success from the first issue. Yet, it’s Hollywood that has made Superman the truly universal hero he is today.

He has been played on the big screen in any significant way by only three actors so far — Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh, Henry Cavill — proving how difficult it is to find the right man of steel among a bunch of mere mortals.

Director Richard Donner’s Superman, starring Reeve, was the second-biggest blockbuster of that year, earning nearly six times its budget of $55 million, the most expensive film until then. (It was beaten to the top spot only by another classic: the musical Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.) Reeve fronted four Superman movies, born to own the role with his chiselled face, incredible blue eyes, and a physique that didn’t need any help from the costume.

His 1995 riding accident and paralysis took the steam out of the franchise. There were Superman comics, TV shows, and ideas for smaller films. But fans had to wait until 2006 for a proper reboot, starring Routh in Superman Returns, directed by Bryan Singer of X-Men fame. In 2013, the franchise went back to the origin story with Man of Steel, and Cavill has since then worn the red cape in several films.

Superman’s destiny is to save humans; and he does so spectacularly. The first comic book cover had him holding a car above his head, and a puny human cowering on the ground. That stance has been repeated a countless number of times in the films. The motif remains: there’s a weight that no one else can lift, and the world needs Superman. And to think that Jerry and Joe had initially imagined him as a supervillain! Where would Earthlings be without Superman?

Superman does things beyond one’s imagination. In the 1978 film, Christopher Reeve turns back time by reversing Earth’s rotation, saving Lois Lane and all else from an earthquake. (Collage made on Fotor)
Superman holding up a huge weight to save others is a motif in all the films. Here is Brandon Routh in Superman Returns (2006), holding up the toppled globe from the top of the Daily Planet office building — again a symbol of his role as a saviour of the world.
In Superman Returns (2006), Brandon Routh takes a plane that’s on fire and sets it down — gently — in the middle of a packed ball park. Does it get any cooler?
Smart as well as strong, Christopher Reeve (in Superman III, 1983) uses his super breath to freeze a lake, flies off with the sheet of ice, and then melts it again, making it rain on a fire gutting an industrial site.
Henry Cavill is introduced as the future Superman in Man of Steel (2013), holding up an entire oil rig that’s up in flames, helping everyone escape.
Superman is big on protecting children. Christopher Reeve saves a child in danger of being hit by a harvest machine in Superman III (1983).
The science does go wonky at times: Scenes from Man of Steel (2013, top) and Superman IV (1987, above). We believe everything that Superman does — because he is super, right? — but the filmmakers sometimes appear to put aside basic laws of physics. In Man of Steel, there’s a scene where a black hole has opened up in the sky, sucking everything up from the ground, and we see only Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams) falling down! That’s before she is rescued... by Superman, of course. In Superman IV, the villain Nuclear Man kidnaps a woman (played by Mariel Hemingway), flies into outer space, and she still breathes! (Collage made on Fotor)

First Published: Apr 22, 2018 20:26 IST