Superman: Superman: The Movie part 6

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Superman reaches its crisis point as Lex Luthor explains his scheme to Superman and Superman stands there and looks shocked. Keep in mind, Superman knows that the army and navy are testing two nuclear missiles that day, and he also knows that Lois is “out west checking into a big land sale,” and yet, as Luthor patiently explains his plan to him, he still puts nothing together on his own and does not act even after Luthor is done with his presentation. Luthor was banking on Superman’s goodness, but he needn’t have bothered – he could have banked on Superman’s total lack of deductive reasoning.

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To summarize: Lex has shot off two missiles. One is headed for the San Andreas Fault, the other is headed for Hackensack, NJ. Superman can’t catch both, say Luthor, although why he thinks that is anyone’s guess. To ensure Superman’s failure, Luthor has a piece of Kryptonite to kill Superman.

What sense does any of this make? Lex wants only one thing: to seal his land deal. “Killing Superman” is secondary to that goal. If he gives Superman a choice of stopping his land deal or protecting Hackensack, he still stands a 50-50 chance (by his own reasoning) of blowing his land deal. Why would he give Superman that choice? Lex didn’t point his alternate missile at anything important to Superman. He didn’t point it at Smallville, Lois or the Arctic location of the Fortress of Solitude. He didn’t even point it at the Statue of Liberty or the Daily Planet or even Metropolis. Plus, why even bother with the two-missile gambit when he’s got his fool-proof plan to kill Superman with a piece of Kryptonite? Plus, the dual-missile launch has been part of Luthor’s plan since before he knew about the existence of Superman. What was he planning to do with the second missile before Superman came along to threaten his plans? Not that Superman ever did anything to threaten Luthor’s plan, mind you: Luthor could have skipped the trip to pick up the Kryptonite, pointed both missiles at the San Andreas Fault and never alerted Superman and Clark Kent would still be standing in Perry White’s office, wondering where Lois is and watching the missile-launch coverage on TV with everyone else. Not to mention the fact that Luthor leaves Superman to die in his secret lair, which presumes there will never be an investigation into the death of Superman, leaving Luthor open to charges of extraterrestrial murder on top of the murders of tens of millions of people on the West coast, not to mention the population of Hackensack.

(Keep in mind, in this universe, Hackensack isn’t even near Metropolis. Lex sends a nuclear missile to a city just across the Hudson River from New York, but doesn’t bother leaving the city.)

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Now, regarding Kryptonite. Kryptonite, as I understand it, works as a metaphor because it reminds Superman that, somewhere, he is not super. The precise metaphor is of the Jewish-American experience of the mid-20th century: you could be super, as long as you blended in with the goyim and didn’t let anyone know you were an outcast back in your homeland. If people found out you were Jewish, you lost all your power. And we’ve seen that Jor-El was an outcast even on his home planet, a Jew among Poles, as it were. The antisemitism of Krypton (or anti-Jor-El-ism, if you will) is encoded into the very substance of the planetEvery fragment of the exploded planet hates Superman and wants to kill him. In the coded language of Superman, Kal-El has no home, and would never have one. (Also, Kryptonite wouldn’t affect Zod and his minions, but that’s a topic for another day.) It’s one thing to say that Superman’s home is gone, it’s something else to say that he wouldn’t be welcome there even if he could go back in time. (Which, ahem, see below.)

So Miss Tessmacher frees Superman from the Kryptonite (Superman’s hotness overriding his alien roots) when he promises to “save her mother (who lives in Hackensack) first.” That smarts: Superman, crypto-Jew, has to save the mother of a woman named Tessmacher before he saves Lois, Jimmy Olsen and the entirety of California.

Anyway, we all know what happens next. Superman catches the missile headed for Hackensack and fails to catch the missile headed for California, resulting in much derring-do and the death of Lois Lane. Having given its protagonist Sophie’s Choice, the screenplay then does the only thing it can think of to do: pull a completely nonsensical piece of business out of its ass. Superman, agonized by the death of Lois Lane, countermand’s Jor-El’s command to never change human history (a hollow rebellion: he’s done so at least a dozen times since the movie started) and, somehow, turn the Earth backwards by flying real fast, which somehow reverses time.

This is worse than nonsensical bullshit, it’s a betrayal of everything that has come before in the narrative. If Superman can fly so fast as to reverse time, why didn’t he three minutes beforehand, when he could have stopped both missiles? If Superman can turn back time, why doesn’t he do it whenever it suits his needs? Why didn’t he turn back time to get Jonathan Kent to the hospital? Most importantly, if Superman could turn back time, why wouldn’t he turn it back to a point before Krypton exploded?

The turning-back-time beat, combined with the Luthor plot, makes Superman an odd, self-loathing crypto-Jew of a movie. It spends its first half telling us “Those comics you read when you were young? There was important mythology in them the whole time, they were really very serious.” Then it spends its second half saying “Eh, whatever, it’s only a comic book.”


12 Responses to “Superman: Superman: The Movie part 6”
  1. FDSY says:

    The back-in-time thing is ridiculous, but I don’t think he actually turns the planet backwards. I think that he flies so fast he goes back in time, and the Earth going backwards was the visual representation of that.

  2. Isaac says:

    The film doesn’t do a good job of explaining this, but the Hackensack missile is an accident. That is the missile that Otis accidentally gives random coordinates to. It has nothing to do with Luthor’s plan.

    As for the the time travel, yes giving Superman a giant undo button removes what little stakes you get with a Superman story but it isn’t a lazy choice. It seems very deliberate to me. It is key that Jor-El has told Superman not to alter Earth history. Now, to you and I that sounds like don’t change humanity’s destiny. But he’s not talking Prime Directive at all. He is literally saying, don’t use your super powers to go back in time and change history. And so, when Superman does just that he is choosing to sin. He is using his ultimate power for a wholly selfish end.

    If Superman’s goal in this movie was to save people, the time travel would be a total cheat. But Superman’s goal is to figure out if he a man or a god and so this ending forces him to make a choice. He choose his human love over his godly responsibility. The implication being that love is what makes Superman the best person in the world. I’m not saying the ending works, but it isn’t a betrayal and the fact that it is a cheat is pretty much the point. Or so it seems to me.

    Todd, I’ve highly enjoyed reading your perspective on this film that I love, even as I disagree with almost every point you make.

    • Curt Holman says:

      If memory serves me right, Lex proudly announces that the other missile is heading for Hackensack. A few beats later, Miss Tessmacher says “Lex? My mother lives in Hackensack,” and Lex checks his watch, looks at her and shakes his head. I think Lex deliberately planned for the missile to go to Hackensack, knowing full well that his moll’s mother lives there, because he’s just that much of a jerk.

    • Todd says:

      I wondered why Hackensack, since it would make more sense if the missile is headed for Metropolis, but then there’s no one in Metropolis Superman cares about either.

      I can’t wait to hear your justification for the amnesia kiss!

  3. Sal Pizarro says:

    The Hackensack missile’s always been a weird plot point for me, too. While what we see and are told on screen doesn’t directly support this, I’ve made my own narrative bridges: Otis misprogrammed the first missile, sending it to Hackensack instead of California (Lex figures out where it would go because he is, as he often states, a genius); that necessitates the reprogrammng of the second missile, which you’d have to think Lex didn’t need at all for his scheme to work — otherwise it wouldn’t work with only one missile, and it does(ish).

    So the twin missile tests were the result of the screenwriters reverse-engineering a hair-brained plot. Two missiles were never necessary for Luthor’s plot, just the screenwriters. And where is Hackensack vis-a-vis Metropolis in this world? Well, Metropolis appears to be on the coast (especially since it is visually New York City), so it’s not far. Another narrative bridge that needs to be leaped across — and which is supported not by the on-screen story but behind-the-scenes info — is that Superman flew from the East Coast to intercept the Hackensack missile first somewhere closer to its origin but it dodged him, which is why he is chasing after it, when he should have just been waiting for it to arrive where he was.

    The time travel makes utterly no sense at all. The only thing we see Superman do after turning back the clock/traveling in time is visit Lois. He does not have to save her from the crack in the world because, inexplicably, it never arrives. He also doesn’t seem to save the town from the floodwaters or the workers at the electrical factory. We know the earthquake happened — because Lois says it did — and Jimmy states that Superman left him out there in the desert, so we’re led to believe he saved Jimmy. So what happened to the crack? Thank God I was 7 when I first saw this movie.

    • Todd says:

      I honestly think Hackensack is just a vaudeville joke. “Hackensack” sounds funny, and, to people of New York, is a joke. Losers who have nothing going on in their lives live in Hackensack, at least as far as 1970s New York screenwriters looking for easy laughs are concerned.

      • Sal Pizarro says:

        Never would have thought of that for being why they would use Hackensack over, say, Houston, but that makes so much sense.

  4. Greg Manuel says:

    If Superman is fast enough to go turn back time (or reverse the Earth’s rotation, whichever actually happens), how is he not fast enough to catch both missiles in the first place?

    It seems to me that an ongoing thread in all 6 Superman movies is a kind of collapse by the third act…something happens that has the potential to completely pull the audience out of the story, in this latest one, that being the MASSIVE level of destruction porn. Superman movies never seem to stick their landing, apparently.

  5. Lewgad says:

    I am so very glad I am not a screenwriter/director/actor and can enjoy ALL of the nonsensical, absurdism that is the movie experience. I can’t tell… did you like this movie?