best Superman

The Man of Steel Face-Off – What’s the best Superman in cinema?

Over and over, I hear a lot of criticism about the superhero universe, of which Superman is one of the best representatives in the genre, being one of the longest-lived icons flying between movies and comics since the distant 1930s.

Indeed, we all love these characters so out of the ordinary and devoted to heroism in protecting the weakest, although there is always disdain (more than fair, sometimes) about how the cinematic industry flattens these stories by crushing them into the commercial millstone.

On the other hand, I also understand how it is challenging to repurpose freshly and, interestingly, a character we all know by heart: Mr. Kal-El, a prince of aliens who lands on our planet from childhood to be raised by the American Kent family.

Over the decades, many movies tried their best to bring him to the big screen, although only some filmmakers can handle the epic power of an invulnerable hero like Superman.

What can’t this hero do? He flies at light speed, bullets, and missiles don’t even tickle him, and women love him for that tight-fitting costume, highlighting the muscles of the various gentlemen who have played him.

So it all comes down to subjective preference, depending on which of these movie faces we will talk about you like best, beyond the fact that the movie itself is objectively good or a disaster.

So, what about to seriously start now? Let’s sweep the kryptonite under the rug; our guest doesn’t like it; while we men look on with envy at the everlasting success of the Flying Big S, you women needn’t button up your dress: our hero in fact, can see through anything, unless you wear a lead suit.

Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve best Superman

In journalism circles, you should keep your opinion for the grand finale. Yet I say right away that we start with the best Superman we have seen in the movie world.

Christopher Reeve is simply perfect for this role, with an imposing physique (his almost six feet and a half in height already put him above his competitors) and a gentlemanly elegance that is, however, also a bit childlike and naive.

These two aspects are a good mix that always works, both when he plays the goofy and funny Clark Kent and when he wears the cape of what is (always speaking plainly) the most hideous Superman costume, even though it was the best you could get in those days when even the TV Batman wore those awful tight-fitting suits.

Indeed, the actor was lucky to work with one of the most brilliant directors of that era, Richard Donner, author of some unforgettable gems of the 1980s, such as The Goonies or Lethal Weapon.

Equally impressive was the introduction of the first, historic 1978 chapter, where the overpaid but immortal Marlon Brando introduced us to the planet Krypton as our hero’s father, Jor-El.

Donner handles superhero science fiction to perfection with just the proper doses of adventure and comedy, letting Christopher Reeve shine in both genres thanks in part to a villain as silly as he is charismatic, the unlikely but irresistible Lex Luthor, played by Gene Hackman.

As scripted, the love story with fellow meddler Lois Lane is also to be noticed, with the sympathetic face of actress Margot Kidder also bringing out the flying big guy’s romantic talents.

I prefer to forget the other three films with Reeve as Superman, which are pretty trashy in direction and writing, with only the second chapter having anything to save.

Brandon Routh

Brandon Routh best Superman

In one of the strangest and longest waits in movie history, especially for one of the best heroes like Superman, almost two decades pass from Superman IV to this new chapter directed by Bryan Singer.

The talented young director, beloved by audiences for the marvelous The Usual Suspects and the X-Men saga, decides to continue the story straight from the 80s second movie by rejuvenating the formula with the charming and semi-unknown actor Brandon Routh.

Routh doesn’t mishandle it, in his way, but he is definitely the least convincing Superman of the bunch, although fortunately, Singer more than makes up for his apathetic lack of charisma with ineceivable direction and staging.

While modernizing the concept with technologies such as the Internet or cell phones, the style in the photography and architecture of Metropolis is as if going back in time to the 1950s, as is the same with the clothing and general look of the characters.

If Brandon Routh does not stick out for a memorable performance, much more interesting is Kate Bosworth in a tougher, more determined version of Lois Lane, not to mention the immense Frank Langella as the funny editor of the newspaper where they both work.

Much more aptly chosen, however, is for this new Lex Luthor, whom the “usual suspect” Kevin Spacey embodies with hilarious nastiness, stealing the show from everyone else when his hallucinatory dialogue comes on that drips delirium of omnipotence in every word.

Unfortunately, the plot sustains the grand visual spectacle only up to a point when the rest of the story falls apart, as if the screenwriters forgot to write the last 20 minutes before the conclusion.

In short, it is a wasted opportunity and cinematic flop that, however, I recommend seeing far more than the movies that will follow.

Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill best Superman

If we had one of the best modern directors and a largely ineffective actor for the previous Superman, the exact opposite is true with a less-than-mediocre director like Zack Snyder directing a fine actor like Henry Cavill.

I’ve always had a lot of fondness for Cavill, a versatile star in fantasy such as Immortals or the action/espionage The Man from UNCLE, not to mention his small romantic role in Woody Allen‘s Whatever Works or even the excellent The Witcher from the eponymous series before the production irreversibly screwed things up.

Returning to Superman, the actor delivers a solid performance of charm and muscle, though crippled by a script that is merely a pretext for staging the delirious and confusing ralenty action scenes that Snyder fans love so much.

Even more wasted is Amy Adams as Lois Lane, where it hurts my heart to see one of the most talented actresses of this generation become the classic disposable “scream girl” like in 1970s cheap horror B-movies.

Moreover, to compensate for his chronic lack of ideas and talent, Snyder stuffs every single moment of this movie with stars with some cinematic monsters such as Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and especially the great Michael Shannon.

One of my favorite recent actors, Shannon, sadly portrays an unlikely villain commanding a Superman-like army, becoming a demented caricature reminiscent of General Zod from Superman 2, just as silly but with the more elegant and sober Terence Stamp playing the role.

The only thing to save is dear old Russell Crowe as Superman’s father, who holds his own and, I dare say, even surpasses the already brilliant Marlon Brando of ’78, although, unfortunately, the plot and dialogue do not help him at all.

David Corenswet

David Corenswet

After seeing who played Superman so far, we come to the near-upcoming David Corenswet, an actor I know little about, except for his supporting role in Ti West‘s bizarre “family horror” Pearl.

If director James Gunn‘s announcements prove to be true, the studio will release “Superman: Legacy” in mid-2025, taking us back to the origins of the Man of Steel. This explains why they chose an actor as young as Corenswet, as we will have a Clark Kent, who is still a boy and in search of his vocation as a hero.

Besides the main hero, there are already numerous certainties about the supporting cast, starting with the beautiful and talented Rachel Brosnahan as Lois Lane, an actress already admired in Walter Hill‘s last western, “Dead for a Dollar” (not surprisingly recommended here among the best of 2023) and also in the good American thriller “I’m Your Woman.”

Another young face is Isabela Merced as the heroine Hawkgirl, a precocious talent who made her debut while still a child in “Soldado” and is now already full of engagements such as the long-awaited finale of the new Alien trilogy willed by Ridley Scott, “Romulus,” and also the second season of the hit series “The Last of Us” as Dina, fierce girlfriend of the main character.

Finally, great news on the villain front as well, as Lex Luthor will be the amazing Nicholas Hoult, another talented child who blossomed in “About a Boy” and then grew up adult and pissed off coming up in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Despite these names, albeit encouraging, we have to admit that the real bulwark of Superman is mainly one, the incandescent and brilliant James Gunn, the celebrated director of Guardians of the Galaxy and the wild sequel/reboot of Suicide Squad.

Now at the reins of DC‘s future projects, we already know that under Gunn‘s aegis, at least one more Supergirl movie is in the works (starring young Milly Alcock, another sign of the breath of fresh air to be brought to these cine-comics) and also the animated series “Creature Commandos,” based on the eponymous team of bizarre monsters/superheroes, which iconic action actor Frank Grillo will lead. So what else to say? Let’s wait and see if dear Gunn still has the spark to revive such a long-dulled hero!

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