Film Logan Polk's Film Reviews

Moving Pictures Vol. 27: Who’s Got You?

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Logan’s Moving Pictures returns with a discussion about a reassessing Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie

After kicking around a few ideas over the last year or so, Adam (ye olde EiC here at the site) and I finally rekindled our podcasting partnership and launched a show called Nerds Ruin Everything. It’s really nothing more than an excuse for the two of us to hop online and talk for a few hours about all the geeky things we’re generally texting about throughout the week anyway. News, pop culture, what films and television shows we’re watching, what stupid things the suits at Warner Bros. have done this week; really anything and everything. Since Warner Bros. comes up a good deal it shouldn’t be surprising that at some point (many points actually) their stable of DC comics characters gets discussed. Recently it’s around the Black Adam film since it is their only cinematic offering as of late. That led to talking about Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Superman, which led Adam to talk about Donner’s live-action films and his love for them.

Hearing him talk about them, even briefly, gave me pause. I’d not revisited them in a number of years, probably since they first hit Blu-Ray, and at the time I remember really just dismissing them as kind of melodramatic and slow-moving, especially the first film. But hearing the love in Adam’s voice immediately brought to mind how much my brother Ryan loved the character of Superman, and how happy he had been when the big special edition sets were released, so excited to watch the new Donner Cut, and that was on DVD, not the Blu-Ray set we eventually got.

Apparently for Halloween one year we were dressed as Superman and…Wonder Woman? Who’s who though?! That’s our sister, Blake, as something I can only describe as horrifying.

I’ve talked ad nauseum about the shared love Ryan and I had of many a comic-related property, and some that we both equally disdained (Hi, Gotham!), but the character of Superman was not one of them. In fact, outside of a handful of arcs throughout the books (The Death of Superman, Emperor Joker, Birthright, Superman For All Seasons, All-Star Superman), I don’t care much for stories starring the Big Blue Boy Scout at all.

Much like Dr. Dre and Jay-Z, I prefer Superman when he’s just showing up for a few minutes on someone else’s track. Not to knock anyone who likes any of those three in their purist, solo form. It’s just that at some point I recognized that, yes, he’s the OG superhero, no one’s above him, and it’s just infinitely more awesome and appealing to have him drop in, do what he does best, and fly off to rescue someone else. When he’s by himself, mostly I found him boring.

Not Ryan though.

His daughter, Kaysi, sporting one of his favorite hats when she was a toddler.

While he never had a huge collection of Superman comics, he loved the character deeply. We never had a conversation about why, which I now deeply regret. I’m sure I could speculate, but really, what would be the point? It could be something as noble as Superman being someone he aspired to be, or as simple as just really loving the costume.

When Superman Returns was making its way to theatres, Ryan was beside himself with anticipation. We had plenty of conversations about the casting, the director (at the time we were high on That Person because of his X-Men films), and what this could mean going forward. I think that was when he really kind of rediscovered his love of the character. I remember he tracked down episodes of most of the cartoons, the old live-action serials, and even some of the Superboy live-action show. He even sat his stepdaughter down and watched the Christopher Reeves films with her, an occasion that I know always meant a lot to him.

I hadn’t thought about Ryan’s affections for Superman at all since he passed, not until Adam mentioned the films, until we started discussing them, and then it all sort of came rushing back in. I knew I had to rewatch Richard Donner’s Superman.

There’s so much I didn’t even remember about this film that I don’t know where to start really discussing it. It was an absolute delight to rediscover just why it’s held in such high regard by film buffs and comic nerds alike. Chris Reeves is so charming and affable as Clark Kent, and so confident and powerful as Superman, in a way that wouldn’t be seen again in the genre for decades, that I could not help but get wrapped up in his performance. And while I could go on for several paragraphs about him, the rest of the cast, and the brilliant script and direction, I want to talk about the one thing I have ALWAYS found ridiculous in the film.

Yes, it’s the time travel.

In the scene, Superman attempts to stop multiple missiles from destroying multiple locations, one of which is where the woman he loves happens to be. Before he can make it to her she dies in the destruction and he discovers her lifeless body. We get to see him emotionally collapse, scream into the heavens, and then defy the laws of physics to rescue her.

One of Ryan’s favorite shirts, repping Superman and the Atlanta Braves. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a picture of him wearing it, only this, posted on Facebook with a comment about how much he loved it.

I probably didn’t pay much attention to it as a kid, but as I became a discerning comic book reader I very much noticed that turning the Earth backwards is NOT, in fact, one of Superman’s many ridiculous powers. I could go on a side rant here about how maybe he didn’t actually do that, but instead, he flew so fast that he just sent himself back in time and didn’t actually rewind the Earth, but really, does it matter? It’s kind of the same thing.

Instead, for most of my non-Superman-loving life, I saw the entire climax of this film as both a cop-out by the filmmakers, refusing to let the film have stakes, and an attempt to turn a character regarded as the world’s greatest superhero into nothing more than a guy crying about losing someone he loved.

Then, two years ago I became that guy.

A picture he took of his old computer desk-mates. It looks like just proof of his Guardians of the Galaxy love, but you’ll see behind them is his OG geek love, the Big S.

The day before he passed away Ryan called me to ask me if I’d come work remotely from his house so that someone would be home with him at all times. I was on a day trip with a good friend and basically told him I’d have to think about it and that I’d call him when I got home that night. He said it would be okay and we said our goodbyes. That was the last time we’d speak. I never called him back. The truth of it is that I was a little annoyed at the thought of rearranging my life and comfort to help him.

The next morning I talked to my mom for a bit, intending to call him back afterward. She let me go because she was getting another call. Not two minutes later she was calling me back. I’ll never forget the cry on the other end of that phone call when I answered, but I knew before I picked up that she was calling me to tell me that my brother was dead.

Now, as I sat watching Superman fly into the sky with such ferocity, rage, and grief…this time I understood. Because if I knew that I could get there, there isn’t a single damned thing in this reality that could keep me from traveling back to that moment, back to that phone call with my brother, to tell him that yes, I’m on my way.

I know that probably wouldn’t have changed what came next, but I would have spent the last few hours of my brother’s life by his side. We’d have talked, maybe watched some TV and made dinner together. Who knows. And, just like Lois Lane when Superman man lands right outside her car and taps on her window, when I finally got there I’m sure he’d just look up at me, ask me where the hell I’ve been, and then light up a cigarette.

Moving Pictures will be back in two weeks…

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