Film Review: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Also known as: Superman IV, Superman 4
Release Date: July 23rd, 1987 (London premiere)
Directed by: Sidney J. Furie
Written by: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Christopher Reeve
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: Alexander Courage, John Williams (themes)
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder, Marc McClure, Jon Cryer, Sam Wanamaker, Mark Pillow, Mariel Hemingway

Cannon Group Inc., Golan-Globus Productions, London-Cannon Films, Warner Bros., 90 Minutes

Review:

“And there will be peace. There will be peace when the people of the world, want it so badly, that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them. I just wish you could all see the Earth the way that I see it. Because when you really look at it, it’s just one world.” – Superman

Most people hate this movie or at the very least, love trashing it for sport. It’s certainly a bad film but I really enjoy it because with it’s bizarre goofiness, it’s got charm and it was made by Cannon Films.

Unlike Superman III, another bad chapter in this franchise, this film got Gene Hackman back and didn’t limit Margot Kidder to just two scenes. But where the heck was Annette O’Toole, who I adored in Superman III? Well, Superman does get another alternate love interest in this one and it’s Mariel Hemingway. I was crushing on her hard when this came out and I was 8 years-old.

Anyway, this film also adds in Jon Cryer, just a year after he touched filmgoers hearts as Ducky in Pretty In Pink. He’s basically Ducky again but really dumbed down and with a weird surfer/stoner accent. He’s like Ducky had a baby with Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But I did love Cryer in this, as Lenny Luthor, Lex’s idiot nephew and replacement for Ned Beatty’s Otis.

By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about this film as I dedicated an entire Talking Pulp featured article to it: The Politics of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

But speaking of my previous piece on this movie, it is a film that is politically heavy. It features a story that sees Superman take it upon himself to rid the entire world of nuclear weapons. Strangely, every nation at the UN cheers for this and none see it as an act of war for being forcibly disarmed.

This movie also introduces us to a cool villain, made from a strand of Superman’s hair and a nuclear missile thrown into the sun. He is Nuclear Man and he always looked badass. As a kid, I always wanted him to eventually get worked into the comics. He finally made an appearance this year in a Brian Michael Bendis Superman story but was just there to be quick fodder for another villain.

Superman IV is incredibly short when compared to the other movies. If you own this on DVD though, you will notice that there are a ton of deleted scenes and really, this could’ve been longer. I’ve actually hoped for an extended edition release of this with all those scenes restored, especially the ones featuring the prototype of Nuclear Man, who was cut from the finished film entirely. He was very much like Bizarro, even if his scenes were terribly stupid.

This is the worst film in the Christopher Reeve string of movies. I still have a lot of love for it though because in spite of it’s awfulness, it was imaginative and a little nuts.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: The other films in the Superman series with Christopher Reeve.

Film Review: Superman III (1983)

Also known as: Superman vs. Superman (original script title)
Release Date: June 17th, 1983
Directed by: Richard Lester
Written by: David Newman, Leslie Newman
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: Ken Thorne, John Williams (themes), Giorgio Moroder (songs)
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn, Annette O’Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder, Marc McClure, Gavan O’Herlihy

Cantharus Productions N.V., Dovemead Films, Warner Bros., 125 Minutes

Review:

“I ask you to kill Superman, and you’re telling me you couldn’t even do that one, simple thing.” – Ross Webster

Out of the original four Superman movies, the first two were good, the last two were not so good. However, Superman III is still much better than Superman IV. And it does actually work as a film depending upon your perspective. But I’ll get into that.

The producers of this film series did some really bizarre stuff with this chapter.

First off, they had some issues with Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder. Hackman was completely written out of the film and replaced by Robert Vaughn as a very Lex Luthor type of character named Ross Webster. He had an evil sister and a girlfriend that was probably supposed to be Miss Tessmacher in the original version of the script.

As far as Margot Kidder went, she was limited to just two scenes and the producers brought in Annette O’Toole to play Lana Lang, a new love interest for Clark Kent. Oddly enough, O’Toole would go on to have a ten year run on Smallville where she played Clark Kent’s mother Martha Kent.

The strangest change of all was the inclusion of Richard Pryor. As great as the man was, this took Superman and turned it into a straight up comedy movie. The producers had heard that Pryor was a fan of the series though, so they threw a bunch of money at him and got him in this picture. Pryor later said that he didn’t like the script but he couldn’t say “no” to the money.

The big shift in tone works against the film series and it turned things into a joke.

However, if you just look at this as a Richard Pryor movie that just happens to have Superman in it, it works in that regard. Now it isn’t Pryor’s best and it is probably one of his worst, as his comedies are all pretty damn good, but as a comedy film this isn’t a complete waste. Frankly, this is how I have to perceive the movie in order to enjoy it.

In fairness, getting past all the weird creative choices, I did like the additions to the cast. I thought O’Toole was nice and sweet and I liked her. Her ex-boyfriend, played by Gavan O’Herlihy (Airk from Willow) was a fun character and a solid ’80s douche. It’s the villains that really stood out for me though. Robert Vaughn is fantastic in this cheese fest and is arguably better as a Luthor character than Gene Hackman. Annie Ross, who played his evil sister was a convincing witch of a lady and Pamela Stephenson was more than satisfactory as this film’s stand in for Miss Tessmacher.

I liked this movie a lot more as a kid but the two sequences I enjoyed most are still enjoyable for me today. Those are the two big battles: Superman vs. Superman and Superman vs. the super computer. I do have to point out that the scene where Annie Ross gets sucked into the computer and turned into a killer cyborg scared the crap out of me when I was four. Now it’s silly as hell but silly in the best way. I also feel like this was a real missed opportunity because the super computer possessing people could have been a good Brainiac story. Originally, Brainiac was supposed to be a villain in this, as was Supergirl.

A lot of people hate Superman III and I understand their frustration with it. But a lot of time has passed and if you just look at this as a Richard Pryor movie with Supes in it, it’s not so bad.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The other films in the Superman series with Christopher Reeve. Also, the Richard Pryor films of the ’80s.

Film Review: Superman II (1980)

Release Date: December 4th, 1980 (Australia)
Directed by: Richard Lester, Richard Donner (uncredited)
Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: Ken Thorne
Cast: Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Terence Stamp, Susannah York, Jack O’Halloran, Marc McClure, Sarah Douglas, Clifton James, Marlon Brando (appears only in the Richard Donner Cut)

Film Export A.G., Dovemead Limited, International Film Productions, Warner Bros., 127 Minutes (original cut), 116 Minutes (Richard Donner Cut)

Review:

“Come to me, son of Jor-El, kneel before Zod!” – General Zod

In all honesty, I like Superman and Superman II just about the same. II gets a bit of an edge though just because I like the story better and the threat in the film is a credible threat, as it pits Superman against an adversary that matches his power level.

While I love Lex Luthor, the character, and I also love the mind versus might rivalry, the Gene Hackman version of the character just doesn’t hit the right mark. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Hackman and his character in these movies but he doesn’t feel like the Lex of the comics I grew up with. He is to Luthor what Cesar Romero was to the Joker. He’s damn entertaining and enjoyable but he’s lacking the darkness that’s needed to truly be villainous.

General Zod, however, is an incredible opponent. He was created for this film series but he was so damn good that he would go on to be in the comics. Terence Stamp really brought some much needed testosterone to the table and his minions, played by Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran, were pretty cool villains as well. Man, I was crushing hard on Sarah Douglas when I was a kid.

I also really liked the romance in this movie and usually I don’t care about that crap in these sort of films. I just like how Clark and Lois’ relationship blossomed and how it was really tested and pushed Superman into having to make an incredibly hard decision, which he then had to try and fix because saving the world is his destiny, even if that means he can’t love a human. Yeah, the story around this was actually weird and nonsensical but the point of it and the challenge made me accept it.

Getting back to Lex Luthor though, his role in this film seemed pretty pointless. Once again, he was the top billed star but it’s like they had nothing for him to do. He breaks out of prison, leaves poor Otis behind, breaks into Superman’s house and then aligns himself with Zod, who didn’t need Luthor’s help at all, let’s be honest. Luthor is just sort of wedged into the film just because they had to have a name as big as Gene Hackman’s, after Marlon Brando’s Jor-El was killed off in the first picture. I should note that Brando did film footage for the film but he wanted more money than the producers were willing to pay, so it was edited out of the final cut. He does appear in the Richard Donner cut of the film though.

This chapter in the Superman movie saga is a great extension of what the first movie was. Really, they just feel like two halves of a whole. The movies did a lot of their filming simultaneously because the producers knew there would be a sequel. Some of the filming on II got put on hold though, as it was holding up the production of I and the studio wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to miss its Christmas time release. There was a lot of conflict, behind the scenes, and Richard Donner was fired after directing most of II. He wasn’t given credit for his work and Richard Lester took over. Lester would also go on to direct the terrible Superman III, showing that he wasn’t as skilled as Donner. On a side note, the Richard Donner Cut was released years later, which most people seem to enjoy more.

Despite the backstage politics, this still ended up being my favorite film in the franchise.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Superman: The Movie, the 1980 Flash Gordon.

Film Review: Village of the Damned (1995)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned (complete title)
Release Date: April 28th, 1995
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: David Himmelstein, John Carpenter (uncredited)
Based on: The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
Music by: John Carpenter, Dave Davies
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski, Michael Paré, Meredith Salenger, Mark Hamill, Thomas Dekker, Lindsey Haun, Peter Jason, Buck Flower

Alphaville Films, Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Let’s cut to the chase here… it has become an interest to national science that we carefully research and monitor their developing powers. I ask for another year’s grant.” – Dr. Susan Verner

I loved Carpenter’s work in the ’70s, ’80s and some of the ’90s stuff. When this came out back in 1995, it didn’t resonate with me in the right way. It wasn’t terrible but I didn’t like it and didn’t have much urge to watch it again. But that was over twenty years ago, this was streaming on Starz and I felt like I’d give it a watch because I at least knew I wouldn’t hate it.

To my surprise, I like this more now, in 2018, than I did in 1995.

It’s just eerie as shit but creepy kids usually hit that note, even though creepy kid horror has been done to death at this point. I guess what kind of intrigued me about this picture, is that I didn’t remember why the creepy kids came to be so the mystery of that was fresh to me. However, it’s not fully explained in this and that’s fine. I like that this doesn’t spell everything out for you.

My biggest issue with it though, is that I came up with about a half dozen ways to take out these psychotic little shits. The movie made them come off as nearly invincible and too cunning to defeat. The easiest way to probably deal with them would to be to stealthily set the barn on fire and to have multiple people in the bushes picking them off when they ran out in the confusion. But you could also set traps, use grenades, flamethrowers, all sorts of awesome shit. They’re only a threat if they can focus on your mind and then take over your body. Don’t give them a second to even try, wipe them out.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that the kids are definitely creepy and powerful but beating them wouldn’t require one man walking into the lion’s den, trying to stall them with a conversation, having a mind battle and then letting a bomb with a timer (set way too long) eventually go off.

Other than all that, this is a fun movie. It’s a bit slow at times but it had more of a classic Hitchcock feel to it than standard Carpenter fair. And maybe that’s because this is a remake of an old school horror film from 1960. It sort of pulls you back to the narrative style of those pictures. Plus, the cinematography reminded me a lot of The Birds, especially the simple shots of the kids creepily walking around the small coastal town.

One thing I loved about this film was Kirstie Alley. She was kind of badass and has never been cooler than she was here. Also, this brought her together with Christopher Reeve (Superman), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Michael Paré (Tom Cody from Streets of Fire). Being that Alley was once Saavik from the Star Trek films made this a fairly cool mix of talent. Also, the other female lead was Linda Kozlowski, who was in all those Crocodile Dundee movies.

Another question though, is why did these kids dress the same and have the same haircuts. Did they demand this look until their parents caved? Did these alien demon children really care about their appearance?

I admit, it makes them creepier but it’s strange when you think about it. “Mommy, I want boring grey dress and hair like Joey Lawrence from Gimme A Break!” “Oh, okay… but all those weirdo kids you like dress like that, already. Don’t you want to wear this cool Ren & Stimpy shirt and a Zubaz backpack? Show them lame asses some style?” “No, mommy! I squishes your brain! Dress me like church lady!”

Anyway. This is better than my memory of it. Still, nowhere near Carpenter’s best but definitely better than most of his work after this.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Carpenter films: In the Mouth of MadnessPrince of Darkness and The Fog.

Film Review: Superman: The Movie (1978)

Release Date: December 10th, 1978 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Trevor Howard, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Maria Schell, Terence Stamp, Phyllis Thaxter, Susannah York, Jack O’Halloran, Marc McClure, Sarah Douglas, Harry Andrews, Rex Reed (cameo)

Film Export A.G., Dovemead Limited, International Film Productions, Warner Bros., 143 Minutes, 127 Minutes (1980 video release), 151 Minutes (2000 restoration), 188 Minutes (Extended version)

Review:

“Easy, miss. I’ve got you.” – Superman, “You – you’ve got me? Who’s got you?” – Lois Lane

Few films feel as vast and epic as the 1978 Superman film. This was also the first superhero movie where the comic book medium was actually taken seriously. Years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC knocked it out of the park with this, the first real superhero movie.

It hasn’t aged too well and I’ve always had some issues with the story and the use of Superman’s powers in this film but this is still a true classic that opened a lot of doors for comic book films, even if it still took a long time for the genre to reach the level it has in the 2010s.

The thing that makes this film work is that it understands the spirit of Superman. It was made and written with great care, Christopher Reeve was fantastic in the role and for years, he was who I saw as the character, even when reading the comics. I know that some people had reservations about him and his portrayal of the character but he was wholesome and believable as far as creating the two personas: Superman and Clark Kent.

I was never crazy about Margot Kidder as Lois Lane but I see things differently now and I do like her take on the character. I like her attitude, her sass and her no nonsense persona. She feels like a tough New York girl (Metropolis in the movie) that can handle her own.

I was also never crazy about Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, especially since he refused to shave his head. I also thought his scheme was goofy and bizarre but not completely outside of what classic comic books were. Looking at this in the context of the original source material, the scheme isn’t too far fetched.

As a fan of the character and the comics, I liked that Superman had his normal power set but the script was written in such a way that it invented powers just to solve problems in the movie. Like the scene where he flies so fast he changes the direction of Earth’s orbit to time travel back before Lois was swallowed into a fault was beyond stupid even for 1978. It created a lot of plot holes, not that some didn’t already exist. At this point it became pure fantasy nonsense, ignoring any sort of real science or staying grounded in the source material.

Richard Donner did a fine job as the director and this is also one of John Williams’ best scores of all-time. The music really set the tone and enhanced Donner’s visual style.

I loved the Krypton stuff in the beginning and Brando was great even if he wasn’t completely on his A game. However, the bit with General Zod and his crew feels unnecessary within this film, as they don’t have an effect on anything until the second movie. Sure, they contributed to Krypton’s problems, which led to its destruction, but they didn’t need to be on screen characters.

Despite my issues with the picture, it’s still damn good and a lot of fun. I also grew up watching this a lot and I can’t not feel nostalgic for it.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Superman II, the 1980 Flash Gordon.

Talking Pulp: The Politics of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

*Written circa 2011 when I was running a blog about politics and economics.

I recently re-watched 1987′s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and I was quickly reminded as to why this film is by far the worst in the series. It completely lacks the utter awesomeness that was Superman and Superman II and even though Superman III is arguably a suckfest, it did have Richard Fucking Pryor and an awesome fight between Superman and his evil doppelgänger, which made for great cinema when I was a really young lad.

Superman IV, however, was an incredibly poor effort at cashing in on the franchise while Christopher Reeve needed a large vehicle to get his personal political message across. In fact, the only way he would do a fourth film, was if he was allowed to write it and to add his political ideology to it. Unfortunately, for us comic book and film fans, he used one of the greatest heroes of all time to convey that message.

The film more or less begins with the potential threat of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Superman then gets a sappy letter from a young boy who is concerned about nukes killing us all. Superman debates his own mind on whether or not he should intervene. He actually goes to the Fortress of Solitude to seek advice from the ghosts of his long gone ancestors. They warn him not to intervene and tell him to find another home away from Earth. Despite their advice, Superman goes before the United Nations and tells the world leaders that he promises to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Already, we are being introduced to a new kind of Superman who is willing to play God in an effort to create a global nanny state. Now while Superman’s motivation and efforts seem noble, he is interfering in the affairs of several governments and essentially turning himself into a know-it-all de facto dictator over the people of Earth.

If Superman can take it upon himself to tell us all how we need to live or even die in this example, he is preventing mankind from making their own choices and learning their own lessons. Like big government, Superman assumes he knows what’s best and is going to use force against humanity to mold us into the world he desires. Superman is robbing us of our freedom in what is a classic example of bad things happening because of good intentions. Superman is so high on his own Kryptonian ego that he fails to realize the unintended consequences his actions will bring forth.

Realistically, one has to wonder if Superman’s selfless actions are indeed selfless or if he is really driven by a selfish agenda. Whenever someone thinks that they know what is best for everyone else and then decides to take action, they show that they are close-minded control freaks that are under the strong belief that people cannot take care of themselves and make their own decisions. Superman assumes he is more informed than the rest of us. This is a Superman I do not like and essentially, he is on the road to becoming a supervillain.

A friend of mine, while we were discussing this via e-mail, added some great points:

Superman has become a villain because he is using the threat of force to subjugate the world to live by his personal moral code. He forced governments of the world to deliver to him their possible only recourse to defeat a possible threat, which is Superman. I bet this new Superman would next force all governments, especially in Africa where it was first discovered, to retrieve and encase all Kryptonite in lead. Superman can then throw that into the sun and therefore the governments of the world and its people would forever be subjected to dictator Superman.

Just like that, people put too much faith in any authority figure larger than themselves. They believe that government, while in the beginnings a humble, dedicatedly small entity, grows into the monstrosity that can destroy freedom for all. And we allowed it to happen, put a shiny symbol on it and say it’s for your own good and if enough people believe, we become defenseless and subjected to the whims of a power mad villain.

All things to think about.

Not only is the issue of eradicating all the nuclear missiles from Earth a big step towards tyranny but the fact that Superman addresses the United Nations, as if they are the real governing power, is a slap in the face of his home country, the United States. Superman has always been a patriot and always exuded the very best qualities of American Exceptionalism. Now he is basically telling the globalist bastards that he is their puppet and he is willing to put their interests before those of his own country.

Now I can see the point in wanting global unity and world peace, I think any sane human would want that. However, Superman treats the UN as if they are a world government and in doing so, he dismisses the Constitution and American sovereignty. I’m not trying to say that he can only play for our team and that he shouldn’t strive to better things but he also shouldn’t act on gut instincts and take such drastic measures at the expense of his homeland. Superman’s actions undermined the United States and in effect, painted them as one of the villains of the story.

Throughout his journey, Superman is once again confronted by a scheme from Lex Luthor. This time Luthor, with his nephew Lenny, devises a plan that could actually potentially destroy our hero. Taking advantage of Superman’s blind faith in his quest, Luthor plants a surprise in a nuclear missile. When that missile is launched, Superman intercepts it and throws it into the sun. Once the weapon explodes into the sun, a new menace is born. Lex Luthor’s new superweapon, known simply as “Nuclear Man”, grows out of the solar-nuclear explosion and flies back to Earth to cause destruction in what is the perfect allegory to all the points I’ve been trying to make.

Nuclear Man wreaks havoc and nearly kills Superman a few times but is ultimately destroyed after being dropped into a nuclear reactor. Hey, nuclear power saves the day! Lex Luthor and Lenny Luthor are rounded up with Lex being sent back to prison and Lenny being sent to a Boy’s Town home. In the end, all is happy and well and Superman regains his senses, thus abandoning his egomaniacal quest to destroy all the nukes in the world. Maybe after all that, common sense struck him and he finally realized that weapons of mass destruction could just be rebuilt and that his quest would be endless.

The film ends with Superman once again undermining the United States and going straight to the United Nations to make a speech. In that heartfelt speech he declares that his mission only achieved a partial victory saying, “There will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them.” While that sounds good, Superman has now gone from hero to villain to hippie. Unfortunately, governments will not just give peace when everyone wishes it. Government is force but Superman is apparently too trusting in the decision makers to make the right decisions when the time comes. The same decision makers that made the decisions to make the nuclear missiles to begin with. The same decision makers that continually go to war, disregarding what the people at home actually want. The same decision makers that formed governments to begin with and invented war when the world was already in a state of global peace.

Poor, poor Superman, you’ve fallen so hard and so far that you can’t even see the forest for the trees. Is this the protector of Earth that you want? A guy reacting to his gut that can’t properly assess a situation that has godlike power to carry out whatever mission he pleases? Whether the film ended on a happy note or not, given enough time, this Superman would once again take it upon himself to forcibly shape the future of our world and everything in it. While he promotes and wishes for peace, the world could never achieve it with Superman standing guard atop the United Nations building.

The truth is, this story was borderline ridiculous for several of the points I already made. In reality, there is no way that all the nuclear weapons could be rounded up and destroyed. Even if this could happen, what is to stop the nations of the world from building more? Also, if you were say China or Iran or North Korea and Superman, who you’ve always associated with America, swoops down into your country and rounds up your nukes, would that not be an act of war? Wouldn’t people in countries that were forcibly disarmed become paranoid over the fact that Superman may have missed some somewhere and therefore, they are now sitting ducks? Apart from that, would everyone in the world just trust Superman to do the right thing and eliminate all the warheads indiscriminately?

What if he actually left America’s nukes alone and this was just a ploy to disarm everyone else?

No one would get paranoid when this guy started missile collecting and fire some of theirs off before Superman was able to get there and stop them? And even if Superman stopped those missiles, what if other nervous leaders got freaked out by the missiles that were being launched and they started launching their own as a countermeasure? Could Superman stop every fired off nuke in the world? It’s easy to just think that he can fly around and force his will on everyone and disarm them but there would be real repercussions that would be catastrophic if not apocalyptic. In trying to save the Earth, Superman would be the last being standing on a smoldering radioactive heap.

You see, even if he could remove all the weapons of mass destruction, he couldn’t force the evil out of evil men’s hearts. In fact, his actions would only anger them more and would spawn other forms of attack. Look at 9/11, that wasn’t done with a nuclear missile. If there is a will, there is a way and if evil men want to strike at the heart of whatever they feel is their enemy, they will still try and sometimes succeed. It’s nice to fantasize and wish that there was someone like Superman who could save the world from itself but ultimately, it is up to mankind to save itself or not.