When I was a boy, I repeatedly watched Superman (1978), Superman II (1980) and Superman III (1983). I regarded these films as masterpieces and could not see anything in them except good. I often watched them while dressed as Superman, and my parents have photographic evidence of this. I had Superman wallpaper in my bedroom. While I no longer dress as the Man of Steel, and my walls a little less garish, I remain a massive comic book movie fan-boy. And so, having not seen the original movies in a long time, it was with a sense of excitement that I talked my long-suffering wife into watching them with me. Superman was good. Not quite as good as I remember – the clownish version of Clark really jarred with me, among other things. I could happily accept such minor irritations as a ‘different interpretation of the character from my preferred model.’ I found myself choking up when Clark flies to save Lois by grabbing the helicopter. All in all it was okay. No childhood memories destroyed. Superman II did that. The movie is a comic farce, having much more in common with Batman ’66 then any comic book movie adaptation of the last decade. Hammed up performances, cringe-inducing comic set-pieces, inconsistent (and baffling) super-powers – memory loss kiss? Telekinesis? Teleportation? Big plastic ‘Super-shield’?? I barely made it to the end of the film, and had to endure a barrage of derogatory comments from my poor wife, who’s usual standard review of even the worst of movies is: “I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
So, what’s changed? Not the film. The film is exactly the same film I repeatedly watched all those years ago. The film I loved. And I did love it. So, with that in mind, the film cannot be the problem. I’m not going to go into the production problems associated with Superman II, that’s not the point of discussion, interested readers can click here for that story. I’ve changed. My expectations and the things I enjoy and expect from a comic book movie have changed. My sense of humour and artistic sensitivities have changed. And I cannot stand Superman II. It is irredeemably awful.
Hold on a minute. But I love Superman. And I love Batman. What got me into Superman and Batman? That’s right: The Christopher Reeve Superman movies and the Adam West Batman ’66 series. Versions of characters that may not appeal to me now, but valuable versions of the characters none the less. With that in mind I am able to make peace with Superman II. Maybe love it from a distance, or something like that. Appreciate it for what it was and what it meant to me. But not watch it again. Or Superman III. And definitely not the other one. Nuclear Man?
Okay, so that will work for iconic characters that still mean a great deal to me; What about films I loved featuring characters that have all but disappeared from my consciousness? Recently, having recovered from the Superman II burning, my wife and I settled down to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). “It’s Spielberg,” I confidently reassured her, “and Harrison Ford. The Indiana Jones movies are great fun.” No. They were great fun. Indiana Jones is not the roguish, swashbuckling boys own hero I remember him to be. Here was a different ‘Indy’; a mysogynist, racist, thieving murderer who can apparently kill natives of foreign lands without any consequence. Raiders was painful. “It’s Spielberg, it will be okay” the angel on my right shoulder kept telling me, “Yeah, with George Lucas” hissed the devil on my left. Note: The devil on my left always uses expletives, which I have omitted for the more sensitive of readers. So, with the words ‘Shark Sandwich’ frequently coming to mind, we limped on to the end of the film, by which we had both developed a kind of thousand yard stare.
I can’t be a Raiders apologist. It’s wrong on so many levels. Yes, I know Lucas was obsessed with recreating the films of his childhood (so we are really watching a 50’s film made in in the 80’s). And I know they were different times. Okay. Maybe I can settle for the ‘different times’ angle. Maybe that’s enough to make peace with Indy. Put him in the 50’s box and be done with it. But not watch it again. Or the other ones or the new one or the new one they’re making.
Thanks to Alyn for suggesting this post.