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, 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: 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.

Comic Review: Nightwing: The New Order

Published: March 8th, 2018
Written by: Kyle Higgins
Art by: Trevor McCarthy

DC Comics, 144 Pages

Review:

This came highly recommended from several people who have pretty good taste in comics. However, high recommendations usually lead to me feeling underwhelmed. This doesn’t underwhelm though, at least it didn’t for me.

Nightwing is a murdering fascist prick in this story, which is essentially an Elseworlds tale, even though DC Comics doesn’t have that imprint anymore. Well, DC should resurrect it. I love stories from alternate realities and how the regular rules don’t apply.

The main part of the story takes place in 2040 but even the flashbacks are in the future, as they are twelve years in the past from the main story. Nightwing took it upon himself to use a device that took the powers away from Earth’s superheroes. This caused a major event where many heroes and villains died as a result. Nightwing did a dark and dirty thing in order to save the Earth, as he felt that he needed to. Years later, his identity is public and as Dick Grayson, he is the face of the government agency that keeps the superpowered population of America in check. He’s a total Orwellian fascist that constantly has to justify his evil decisions and actions.

However, Dick’s whole world comes crumbling down when it is discovered that his son has powers. Dick in a typical “holier than thou/the rules don’t apply to the rulers” hypocritical turn, sees his agency turn on him in an effort to bring in his son. Dick goes on the run from the law that he established, getting more and more woke to the reality of the world he created.

We get to see the Titans of the future show up, we even get Lois Lane as a Blue Lantern and see Superman and Lex Luthor working together for a better future. We get to see what Tim Drake and Alfred are up to as well. Plus, there are cameos by the John Stewart Green Lantern and Mr. Freeze; both of them work for the fascist government. But the main person hunting Dick Grayson is the former Batwoman, Katherine Kane. Kane is now the head of Dick’s fascist agency and she is a stone cold tyrant.

I liked the story, I thought it was mostly executed well, even though Dick seemed to change his mind too quickly and always seemed like a fish out of water once he got in over his head. He sort of just got pulled along for the ride by the midpoint of the story and things happened around him even though it was all directly related to his story.

The real high point was the art. Trevor McCarthy did a fabulous job, there was great detail and this didn’t feel like many of the other modern comics where lazy artists use an overabundance of 3D models and Google Images run through a filter. I’m not saying that McCarthy didn’t do this but it certainly wasn’t noticeable.

Nightwing: The New Order reminded me a lot of the great Elseworlds tale Superman: Red Son, which is really high praise. There were some similar themes and the tone was very dystopian.

I’m glad that I picked this up, as Nightwing has been a favorite character of mine since I was a child that regularly read Batman and Teen Titans comics in the ’80s.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Superman: Red Son. As well as the Nightwing and Titans series since the start of DC’s Rebirth era.

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.

Comic Review: Joker: The Clown Prince of Crime

Published: December 3rd, 2013
Written by: Dennis O’Neil
Art by: Dick Giordano

DC Comics, 176 Pages

Review:

This book collects the mid-’70s Joker series, which ran for nine issues. The only story from this series that I had ever read was the one featuring the Creeper, which was also reprinted for the collection The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told. It was cool finding this and being able to check out this classic series.

I think the thing that I enjoyed most about this is that it allowed the Joker to shine on his own without any involvement from Batman whatsoever. The Caped Crusader never appears and just when you think he does, it is a ruse by the Joker. Although, I’m not sure why he is on the cover, or the Riddler and Penguin for that matter, as none of these people appear in the book.

We do see the Joker interact with other famous DC Comics characters though.

There are stories that feature Two-Face, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Catwoman, Scarecrow, Lex Luthor, the Royal Flush Gang, Sherlock Holmes and a brief cameo by the Hal Jordan version of Green Lantern. Then there’s also that entertaining story with the Creeper.

Being that this is a Joker comic, it really plays up the comedy and is actually funny, even if it is chock-full of ’70s hokey cheese.

This is a nice time capsule back to the Bronze Age of comics before things started to evolve with the style by the mid-’80s.

This is also a must own if you are a big fan of the Joker and want to have a nice laugh at the expense of the other villains and heroes he toys with here.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told

Film Review: Justice League (2017)

Release Date: October 26th, 2017 (Beijing premiere)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon, Zack Snyder
Based on: Characters from DC Comics
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Jesse Eisenberg (cameo), Joe Manganiello (cameo)

Access Entertainment, DC Entertainment, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films, Warner Bros., 120 Minutes

Review:

“I miss the days whens one’s biggest concern is exploding wind-up penguins.” – Alfred Pennyworth

Pardon my French but this was fucking unwatchable.

How does a film with a $300 million dollar budget in 2017 look like absolute dog shit? I have a rule, if you have a massive budget, you need to look as good or better than the original Lord of the Rings trilogy because those movies are getting close to twenty years old and they still look pretty perfect. Is technology regressing? Are the digital artists just shit now? What the hell happened with this picture?

The best way to describe this film is “CGI shit storm”. It was like someone took a bunch of unfinished, random CGI pieces, threw them in a blender and pureed that shit for two hours.

Hell, this makes Suicide Squad look like a f’n masterpiece by comparison.

The absolute worst thing about this film isn’t even the Sharknado looking special effects, it is Ezra Miller’s Flash. He’s an annoying, unfunny douchebag that is supposed to be comedic relief but is about as effective as Jay Leno trying to use Dane Cook’s material. He’s your token eccentric weirdo millennial hipster that did the most un-Flash-like thing ever by showing up late to the kooky character pop culture party. We’ve seen the type, it sucked before and it sucks now.

The film’s script and story is terrible. This is a hard film to follow, not because it is complicated but because it is a nonsensical mess that just feels like a two hour trailer and not an actual movie with some sort of a cohesive plot. In fact, it is hard to straighten out my thoughts and write much of a cohesive review because my brain is still spinning from the CGI puree. Anyway, I wrote better comic book stories when I was seven years-old and drunk.

Not a single character in this film is interesting in any way. Flash, again, sucks. Cyborg also sucks. Wonder Woman looked bored. Aquaman was token Momoa backed by CGI that defied the laws of physics in every way. Batman was boring. Superman was even more boring and his lovey dovey bullshit with Lois Lane trying to bring him back to normalcy was so cringe worthy it rivals the romance scenes between Padme and Anakin from Attack of the Clones. Yes, it was that fucking bad.

But hey, we get a cameo from Jesse Eisenluthor and Deathstroke. “Boo” for Luthor. “Hells Yeah!” for Deathstroke.

As far as the villain goes, didn’t Wonder Woman kill that same guy in her movie? Is every DC villain going to be some throwaway character no one cares about that resembles some ancient mythological god? That’s boring. And people think Marvel has a villain problem in their movies. I mean they do but DC makes Marvel’s faults look like strengths with how bad most of these movies have been.

I will never watch this film again and I have serious doubts that I’ll care for any other DC Comics movie for a very long time.

The only real positive about this film is that it wasn’t thirteen hours like Batman v. Superman. But really, it was still two hours too long.

Rating: 1.75/10
Pairs well with: Well, I guess the other really shitty DC Comics films, as of late.

Comic Review: Batman: No Man’s Land – The Complete Saga (Volumes 1-5)

Published on: September 1st, 1999 (Volume 1)
Written by: Bob Gale, Devin Grayson, Greg Rucka, Ian Edgington
Art by: Alex Maleev, Dale Eaglesham, various others

DC Comics, 1040 Pages (total over all 5 volumes)

Review:

There have been a lot of huge stories in the Batman mythos over the last 75 plus years. This story may have been the biggest.

Following the events of Contagion and Cataclysm, No Man’s Land tells the long and epic tale of life within Gotham City after a massive earthquake.

In a nutshell, everything was nearly destroyed and the United States government condemned the city and requested that everyone leave, as it was christened “No Man’s Land”. Nothing comes in and nothing comes out of Gotham City in this world. It is essentially like the world in Escape From New York. Except this is Gotham City and this world is full of Batman, his allies and his enemies.

This event took place across every Batman related title throughout 1999. It encompassed the entire Batman world and involved just about every living character that existed in the flesh, at the time.

This is a great series to pick up, as it sort of reinvents and reestablishes the Batman landscape. With Gotham being wiped out everything literally has to be rebuilt from the ground up. Batman reestablishes his connections with his allies and makes some new ones in the process. This series also invloves just about every major Batman villain, so each chapter in this series is literally a Who’s Who of Batman’s rogues gallery.

This series is also notable for being the first time that Harley Quinn and Mercy Graves appeared in comic book form, as part of official DC Comics canon. Both characters started out in the DC Animated Universe but became so popular that they were officially adopted by DC.

The art and the writing in this series is well beyond top notch. There are a lot of things that make this one of my favorite Batman sagas, if not my absolute favorite.

If you’ve ever wanted to see how Batman would live in a post-apocalyptic scenario, here’s your chance.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The big Batman events leading up to this: Knightfall and Cataclysm.