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“You will believe a man can fly.”
And we did. Christopher Reeves lent something special to the role, which is why he is revered as the only Superman to really be Superman. He had so much influence, in fact, that comics began to redesign their Superman aesthetic to look like him. As a comic book fan myself, I have to admit – that’s really saying something. Reeve was perfect.
He had everything you would want in Superman. The physique, the charm, the determination, and the sorrow. He was the first fully developed three dimension incarnation of not only Superman, but a superhero. It was here that we as an audience got our first look at the human emotional side of Superman. Reeve could also do what many actors had a hard time pulling off – making the audience believe that Clark and Superman were the same person, one of them just being a ruse.
This Clark Kent was a step farther in the direction than anyone had ever taken him before. Instead of being an everyman, he’s worse off. He’s a bumbling fool. A country hick. The complete and total opposite of Superman. No one would ever suspect him of being the man in blue tights catching helicopters if he can barely make his way through a revolving door. It wasn’t even that this was a ruse, it was that we knew it was fake and yet Clark even fools us.
You believed in his determination, his good will, his moral certainty and yes, we believed we saw him flying. It wasn’t so much the strings and the green screen effects as it was the fact that Reeves looked comfortable as Superman flying through the air.
He wasn’t really thinking about it. He was in the mind of Superman thinking about what he was flying too, why he had to get there fast and what it would take for him to save whomever was in peril at that time. It was this inhabitation of the character that people subtly admire. It’s method acting at it’s greatest. In short – Christopher Reeves believed he was Superman. And because of that, we did too.