RIP Richard Donner, the legend who made Superman one of us

I woke up to the news of Richard Donner passing away, and instantly flashed back to the great entertainers that he had made. The 91-year-old filmmaker was at the forefront of some of the most popular genres in the history of mainstream cinema: the superhero movie, the horror flick, the buddy cop romps. And so much of what he did, with an enormous sense of style, is unforgettable.

Christopher Reeve as Superman (not a bird, not a plane, what a line), that distinctive cape flowing behind, made us believe he could fly. Yes, he had super powers. Yes, he was from an alien planet. Yes, nothing could destroy him (except a mysterious substance called kryptonite, which emanated killing emerald rays). But we always felt that he was one of us, as we watched him bumbling around as the timid reporter Clark Kent, who is bullied by his blustery boss, and who develops feelings for his colleague, the lovely Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), and then goes out and saves the world.

Christopher Reeve played the lead actor in Richard Donner directorial Superman (1978). (Photo: Twitter/TomTaylorMade)

Many superheroes have graced our screens after Superman: Spider-Man has popularised that lovely line ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ as he leaps about tall towers; the dark, angsty Batman whooshes about in his sleek car in dark Gotham City, and a host of other Marvel stars have shown up after that first Superman, which came out of a Hollywood bursting with 70s brio. Superman turned into a franchise. So did the others. But the red-and-blue costumed flier-in-the-sky in that first iteration claimed a place in our hearts, and refused to be dislodged.

Then there was The Omen (1976). Donner created a handsome family out of Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, and a cherubic looking little boy plunged them into a zone where nothing right ever happens, and gave us the fright of our lives.

Richard Donner with Danny Glover Mel Gibson Danny Glover and Mel Gibson with the filmmaker at the Richard Donner Tribute in 2017. (Photo: AP/File)

The boy is adopted, and as he starts growing up, horrible things start happening. Accidents leading to near deaths, wolves circling, bizarre killings. Who is that little tyke with those cold pale eyes? Why does disaster stalk him so closely?

The Exorcist had come a few years before The Omen, grabbing the first mover advantage in the supernatural horror firmament. But The Omen, in many ways, was even scarier. I’ve never been able to look at thin spires atop churches without a shudder, since. And I’ve studiously stayed away from Number 666. Perfect day to revisit this thrills-and-chills flick.

And who can forget the rat-a-tat fun of Lethal Weapon (1987), in which Mel Gibson and Donny Glover buddy up, the former a disillusioned-by-the-corrupt-ways-of-the-world, the latter an equally grizzled Vietnam vet, and go after bad, bad guys? Buddy cop movies weren’t new; but the White and Black pair given equal weightage was surely a novelty. There was pace, smart-alecky lines, and rapid-fire action, and two actors doing their job.

No, we are never going to be too old for this s**t.

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