Thursday, 3 October 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1978: Christopher Reeve in Superman

Christopher Reeve did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman in Superman.

Superman is a very entertaining super hero movie about Superman's origin to his first foe in Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman).

The casting of Superman is not actually an easy task in that there are a great deal of criteria that must be met. Firstly the actor needs to look the part of the all American man who stands up straight and has an honest face. Then the actor actually must be able to actually act. These two features are harder to come by then it might seem as the unfortunate truth is most of the best actors do not necessarily have an honest face, although I have to say Toshiro Mifune could have possibly been a perfect Japanese Superman in the 50's but I digress. It is a tricky case of casting but this film did seem to have the right man for the job with Christopher Reeve.

Christopher Reeve has just an honest look about him. There's no dark edge to him and he simply wears Superman's suit well. The suit does not seem strange with Reeve wearing as the values espoused by Superman are supported by Reeve's face. In terms of every action scene again Reeve fits the strength of the character. Reeve is not overly bulky here but he has just the right amount to seem graceful when he flies, and forceful when Superman needs to show off his strength. Physically speaking Reeve is just perfect for the role. He is everything Superman needs to be from the posture, to his face, his voice, even his hair completely just is Superman.

Well Reeve is the part physically but what of the other requirement which is the acting. Well Reeve, after Superman, proved himself to not be much of an actor. In all the his other roles Reeve has a certain awkwardness on the screen and tends to always be out acted like the way Morgan Freeman did in Street Smart. The funny thing is the awkwardness is still here in his portrayal of Superman's alter ego Clark Kent, who in this version is shown to be a nervous wimp. The awkwardness though is nicely played for laughs as the nerdy Clark Kent, and gives a rather enjoyable comic performance in all of the scenes as the purposeful antithesis of Superman.

As his performance as Superman, for the most part, Reeve delivers in just being the boy scout he should be.  Every heroic line has Reeve's delivers like a purely good man no matter what, so even when he is dealing with thieves is still is relatively gentle with them. This approach really does work particularly in the montage where Superman first shows himself, and really brings the hero that everyone could easily like and look up to. The approach though finds some problems though when he finally faces down to Superman's arch nemesis Lex Luthor. Reeve's attempts to be imposing fail rather miserably, and Hackman does completely own their scene together. 

Having a scene stolen you from Gene Hackman actually might be a bit of an honor but the point is that Reeve clearly can only go so far in the role when it comes to making Superman all that forceful. Of course Reeve does make up for it a bit with the big dramatic scene at the end when Superman finds he can't save everybody. Reeve does deliver and, although he might not make what Superman does believable, he does make it a whole lot less ridiculous through the emotional impact he brings to his scene through his heartfelt portrayal of Superman's grief. 

This is far from a perfect performance by Christopher Reeve as there are always the awkward line readings here and there. Luckily most of the awkwardness comes in the form of Clark Kent which are quite fitting for that character. It is clear even in this performance that Reeve is a limited actor, but where he succeeds with in Superman he really does succeed. Reeve just has the right look, the right unassuming charm, and the right style for the role. Although there are weaknesses here and there in his portrayal of the Man of Steel it is hard to see who would have been a more fitting actor to play Superman.


Mark said...

Louis, did you see Man of Steel, and if you did, what did you think of it?

Louis Morgan said...

I saw it and I enjoyed it even though it has some serious problems when it comes to structure, the fact that it repeats its themes way too many times, that there is not nearly enough character development, the lack of humor, the pointless shaky cam, and I have to admit part of my enjoyment came from some of the unintentional silliness in the story.

Anonymous said...

I maintain to this day that no one will be a better Superman than Christopher Reeve.

Speaking of Man of Steel, Louis, what are your thoughts on the performances?

Anonymous said...

Also, while we're on the subject, what's everyone's favourite superhero movie? Mine is far and away The Dark Knight.

Louis Morgan said...

I liked Henry Cavill, I would say he fits the part although I do prefer Reeve's take. I enjoyed the ham that was Michael Shannon. I liked both Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe who did their best to add some emotional weight to the proceedings. Basically everyone else though I thought was rather forgettable Amy Adams included.

I would probably choose The Dark Knight as my favorite super hero film as well.

Anonymous said...

Can you please review Hackman in Superman?

Louis Morgan said...

Trust me, I will.

Michael McCarthy said...

The Dark Knight is not only my favorite superhero movie, but one of my favorite films of all time, easily top 5.