Monday Morning Critic – The First Ever Film Vs. Film Rumble: Richard Donner’s Superman vs. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel

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Not a lot of news stories about film of note, and frankly nothing about a mediocre Vince Vaughn comedy or a Hunger Games sequel make me interested, thus the big DVD release of last week comes to mind. I watched Superman this week, intending it to be my movie of the week, but the two hour delay in the Bears game gave me some free time Sunday afternoon. Thus I’ve decided to do my first ever Film vs. Film Rumble.

And since I’m a combat sports guy we’re going to have red and blue corners.


IN THE RED CORNER

Superman Man of Steel Movie 2013

Man of Steel

2013 Total Box office – $662,845,518


IN THE BLUE CORNER

Superman movie Lex Luthor Otis Superman Christopher Reeve

Superman

1978 Total Box Office – $300,218,018


The subject of today’s rumble: What’s the better cinematic representation of Superman: Richard Donner or Zack Snyder?

I had this argument with a friend of mine the other day, while watching Superman of course, and I feel compelled to write about this week. Which is the better representation of Superman in cinematic form? For me it comes down to two competing arguments.

1. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel was profoundly successful on every level possible and is one of my favorite films of the year.
2. Richard Donner’s Superman was the film that introduced the comic book genre to the masses in the late 70s.

The crux of which is the better representation, at least in this argument, came down to who had the tougher task of making a Superman film. On the surface you’d think it would be Donner’s film, given the lack of modern film-making tools for a film of this magnitude, but the case for Snyder is just as compelling.

Snyder’s film is about establishing a long form mythos of Superman as a character. When it comes to dealing with the myth-making structure of the epic hero he’s the best director in the business. His Superman is the product of two fathers. His Earth father (Kevin Costner) wants him to hide in plain sight, wanting him to be just another normal person. His Kryptonian father (Russell Crowe) sees him as something that humanity can aspire to; Kal-El can be the beacon of hope for Earth. Both fathers do what they want out of love. Snyder’s vision of Superman is akin to what Kevin Smith viewed Superman.

Superman’s about hope and that’s how Snyder viewed it. He spoke about it once in one of his Q&A’s and it found its way online. It’s really funny and I think it deserves a listen.

Donner’s film is a fairly generic action film, all things considered, as Superman saves the day. Donner essentially made a genre film, one of many he made through his career. Donner’s filmography is comprised of genre material and it’s not surprising he treated the material in this way. This was the ‘70s, thus there was no real standard for superhero films. There had been serials in the past, of course, but the modern superhero film hadn’t yet been made.

He was a genre director who viewed Superman as a genre action hero. Superman has a lot more in common with the action films of its era than anything else. Superman is a hero with an interesting back story but there isn’t the comic book machinations that have since sprung up in the modern era of Hollywood. I argue that it really begins with X-Men marks the first modern, mature comic book film. Others will say with Tim Burton’s Batman. That’s neither here nor there. The key is trying to put them both on an even playing field on an intellectual basis.

The key is that when Donner made Superman, and this was a huge risk by all involved, that he had no template to work off of. There wasn’t a gallery of superhero films and people weren’t all that crazy to make a film inspired by a comic book. Donner’s degree of difficulty was significantly higher than Snyder because he wasn’t in the environment that Snyder is in now. He was the first to really try to make a comic book film and didn’t have a template to work off of.

Snyder did, however, but he had a different challenge. Man of Steel was a reboot of a franchise that was considered exceptionally difficult. Superman is a tough sell in the modern era because everything about him is difficult to create a good movie hero out of. He’s invincible, able to bench press the world, flies and has all sorts of other powers as well. A good hero needs vulnerability and Superman is flat out of it. It’s why Batman and virtually every other comic book hero put to celluloid have been better film heroes than Superman over the years.

It’s hard to feel sorry, or have to get behind even, a hero who only has one weakness. You can root for the hero to win if you think the villain has a chance at winning; if the suspension of disbelief is enough that you think a film’s hero can lose. So Snyder had his own difficulty to work with in this scenario. Throw in the that the direction of the genre has changed, getting substantially darker, and trying to create a God-like hero who’s the paragon of excellence while still making him sympathetic is a tough task.

So at this point … I don’t know how to answer this argument. Man of Steel is the more enjoyable film but Superman still holds up nearly 40 years later as good cinema. What do you think? Answer below for a good discussion, I suppose.

Stuff for General George S. Pimpage, Esq

From elsewhere in the Inside Pulse Network:

My boy Travis wrote this for the Houston Voice: give him some clickage.

My buddy Boston John convinced me to enter the Gawker Netflix writer contest. Show me some love and click here, like it and comment on it if you will.

And now on MMC … we DANCE!

If you want to pimp anything email it to me with a good reason why. It helps to bribe me with stuff, just saying ….

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

Man of Steel poster SDCC

This Week’s DVD – Man of Steel

Zack Snyder created one of my favorite films of the summer. Thusly I picked it up on DVD.

I reviewed it in theatres here and my thoughts still stand. Great flick, highly recommended.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Delivery Man – Vince Vaughn jacks off a lot for money. And then made a movie where he jacks off a lot and has like 500 kids or something.

Skip it – So far this looks painfully awful. Vaughn has reached that point in his career that many comedians reach where they don’t know what funny is because they’re disconnected from it.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire -Jennifer Lawrence does another Battle Royale.

See it – The first was interesting but flawed. I’m curious what they do with the next one.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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