Sunday, June 16, 2013

Superman-a-thon Epilogue: Man of Steel Review [audio]

[Author's Note - Here are the links to the other Superman-a-thon blogs: Superman and the Mole Men (1951)Superman (1978)Superman II (1980)/ Richard Donner Cut (2006)Superman III (1983)Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), Superman Returns (2006)]


To save myself some writing time, and to just allow myself to vent, I've done my "Man of Steel" review in audio form!

Some of you will be surprised by my reaction itself, others for the fact that my rating doesn't seem to match my emotion. The reason is: Despite the fact that I feel strongly about this movie, I am still able to give merit to the things done well while simultaneously losing my mind about stupid things in the story.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Superman-a-thon Part 7: Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)

[Author's Note - These links will become active as the blogs are written: Superman and the Mole Men (1951)Superman (1978)Superman II (1980)Superman III (1983), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), Superman Returns (2006)]

As I said during my review of Superman II, Richard Donner had meant the first two Superman films to be one massive story (basically think the adaptation of the final Harry Potter book). He had shot the footage for both movies simultaneously and was about 75 percent done with Superman II by the time they took a break for the release of the first movie.

Unfortunately, despite making a massive amount of money, Donner's story was considered too expensive (and the sequel's material too dark) to be used, and so Donner was sacked and Richard Lester took over.

To Lester's credit, he did as good a job as he could with what was there, but in order to get top billing, he needed to shoot 51 percent of the content at least. So he could either make the movie an hour longer or take the route he actually did - namely cutting massive amounts of the Donner version.

As such, many of the story elements that had been set up in the movie either didn't pay off or got no explanation. The theatrical version of the movie is still good; it's just not AS good as it could have been.

Richard Donner posing with Supes in the background
Fast forward to the filming of Superman Returns where Warner Bros. negotiate a deal with the Marlon Brando estate to utilize the material the actor shot for Donner's film. It was at this point that it became possible to gain access to all of the unused Donner footage.

And so the studio worked with Donner to produce a cut of Superman II with all of his footage and only using enough Lester footage to produce a full story.

I've already reviewed the story, so I'm going to mostly go through this movie's differences in plot, the first being that the early sequence with the three evil Kryptonians is shown from alternate camera angles, giving the focus more to Zod. Giving Zod, Ursa and Non a more imposing feel was definitely a big priority for this film.

The biggest example of this is an added scene where the three proceed to beat the ever-loving crap out of the president's security forces. It's great to see how effortlessly they can beat the best military forces the planet has to offer at the time.

Lois defeats Superman via Magic Marker,
Second, Lois Lane isn't a complete moron. She picks up on Clark being Superman minutes into the film by simply drawing glasses and a suit on a posed photo of Superman. Again, I LOVE this because Lois is supposed to be the best journalist in the world, and giving her the ability to figure this out very shortly after the first movie was a great call.

Also, the way she tries to make Clark admit it are far more creative. Instead of jumping into the river at Niagara Falls, she calls him out immediately and jumps out of Perry White's office window. This forces Clark to surreptitiously use his wind breath to slow her fall and his super speed to get back to the window before she notices.

Probably should have planned this better, Lois.
When this doesn't work, she begins to lose her suspicions until that idiot kid slips down the Falls and Superman has to save him. Lois takes note of Clark's lack of presence and in a very good scene calls him out and shoots him because she knows Superman is bulletproof. Yes, it's a little psychotic, but heck, I'd be willing to bet my life (or Clark's in this case) given the evidence at hand.

The tone of this film even makes Ned Beatty's character less annoying, and that's a plus, even if he is only around for two scenes.

And Jor-El. OH YES, JOR-EL! Brando's scenes, which were kept out of the theatrical release to avoid paying him, prove to be as pivotal as Donner always claimed, as virtually every complaint about why things are happening disappears here.

First off, Jor-El gives an infinitely better explanation as to why he can't love and be Superman at the same time. Hell, he explains it better than the Jedi do in the prequels. The gist is that you cannot serve as a protector of all humanity when you value one human's life over all the others. 

It's not the best excuse, but Brando's argument holds some real weight and it's at least somewhat sensible. If you begin to favor certain humans, then that means you won't be above putting certain humans beneath yourself and prioritizing based on what's good for yourself instead of the world.

Additionally, when Superman goes into the Red Sun radiation room in this one, it destroys all the crystals... except the one that created the fortress because it carried the most power. It turns out it was a fail safe for the event that Clark would ever need to fix a serious situation after losing his powers (like, you know, three escaped Kryptonian murderers).

So when Clark comes back to the Fortress looking for any way to regain his powers, Jor-El appears to him and, similar to Zordon's wave at the end of Power Rangers in Space, he releases the life energy he placed in the crystal and gives it to his son, fulfilling the 'father becomes the son, son becomes the father' thing in the older footage.

Best scene of ANY Superman movie, and it only took 26
years after the original release.
This... wow. These scenes literally make the damn movie. The sheer emotion from Christopher Reeve when he knows this will be the last time he hears his father's voice is heart-wrenching and probably the best energy of either of the first two films. I would literally tell you to buy the DVD of this movie simply to own Brando's scenes in this movie.

The last major difference is the ending, where Superman actually destroys the Fortress of Solitude (because it's obsolete now) and kisses Lois WITHOUT wiping her memory. I tend to agree with their belief that Superman, not Clark, should kiss Lois. Superman is the primary persona in this movie and it's good they stayed true to that.

In order to execute the return to status quo, instead, they chose to do the 'reverse time by circumnavigating the earth' thing again. According to the commentary, this scene was always supposed to end this movie, but the producers wanted the most expensive effect in the first film. (which helped to REALLY put them over budget. Morons.)

Interestingly, had that plan been executed, the first Superman probably would have gone down as just about perfect, while this one would lose points for such an insane ending. As it stands, though, the first film takes the brunt of that criticism, while I barely hold anything against this one.

The power already exists in this universe thanks to the first film, so it makes sense that he'd use it here. Granted, it creates just as many questions, but that's part of how this ridiculous ability works, I guess.

Overall, yeah, this is miles better than the theatrical release. Heck, I'd say it's better than the first Superman film. It is really that good. The saddest thing is that what few issues I have with it come almost completely in the Lester footage that had to stay in place, but it doesn't detract all that much.

There was no stupid Paris scene, no tripping in the fire and NO MIND-WIPING KISS. I honestly cannot thank Warner Bros. enough for making this movie happen.

As for it's rating, without hesitation I give it 4 stars out of 4 and 9.1 out of 10. If you see any Superman movie... well, see the first one because you deserve the background, but then make a point to watch this one later on. This is the sequel the original deserved, and the two combined are what Man of Steel has to compete with when it releases.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Superman-a-thon Part 6: Superman Returns (2006)

[Author's Note - These links will become active as the blogs are written: Superman and the Mole Men (1951)Superman (1978)Superman II (1980) / Richard Donner Cut (2006)Superman III (1983), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)]

This is probably the most polarizing of the Superman films to date because of what it tried to accomplish. I'll say now, I've only seen it all the way through once, and that was en route to writing this marathon.

That said, I had seen all the scenes over the years, just not in one sitting. Now that I have, though, I can honestly say that there is definitely a lot of good here, but it's marred by an insane premise and simply going far longer than it needed to.

The film takes place either after the Supergirl movie or the Richard Donner version of Superman II, I think. One of the main plot points is the use of the speech Marlon Brando's Jor-El gave to his son in the first film, so it clearly acts as an alternate sequel to the first two movies. But then again the Fortress is destroyed in the Donner version, but even then his time reversal thing COULD have restored it. It's kind of hard to pinpoint but my best bet is it's an alternate sequel to an alternate version.

I mention the Supergirl film because in that one, Superman is missing in space, so that would fit fairly well here.

Anyway, after five years of trying to find the ruins of Krypton, which he couldn't, Clark lands back in Smallville where Martha Kent (still alive in this version) greets him.

And thus comes my first problem here: Jor-El said outright that the place blew up. Why would he willingly leave his protected home for five years on the off-chance something is there? I suppose if you subscribe to the "Superman is the primary persona" theory he'd have no problem telling the world to screw off for a time, but this felt really selfish.

My second major problem comes when Clark returns to work at the Daily Planet. My issue here is this: Superman returns within a couple of days of this. How is it that NONE of the best journalists in the world have any suspicion about the Clark being Superman when 1) He went away at the same time, 2) He came back at the same time, 3) He has the same height and hair as Superman, and 4) He now has glasses that somehow further accentuate his iconic blue eyes? I could buy it if he was at another paper, but this is pushing plausibility to its limits.

Let's talk Brandon Routh's performance in the role, though. Clearly, they wanted this story to be a spiritual sequel to the original films and thus told all the actors to match the tone and mannerisms of the original actors, and that's fine. The problem is that Routh, while able to look like Christopher Reeve, lacks his charm and ability to be light while still being serious.

This whole film feels too dark and too serious given the nature of the script. They're clearly going for the old campy style but fail so hard thanks to the excessively serious acting.

Kevin Spacey has a similar problem in his attempt to match Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor. I really wish the crew here understood that when you try to mimic an actor, you're only going to be able to serve the same role as a cover band: Close, but not the genuine article. You're going into the film with a handicap; the acting is automatically lower than the previous films, and if your plot is weak, you can get a really bad movie out of the situation.

Kate Bosworth was given the role of Lois Lane, and while a bunch of people complain that she is too young, I'm able to forgive that because her performance was actually really solid. She mimicked Margot Kidder enough to show she understood the role, but because of the position Lois starts this movie in, she's able to be more her own character.

Anyway, Lois speaks for the entire audience when she tells Superman at their first meeting back that it's a load of crap that he left without saying goodbye. Seriously, who does that?! And she reveals that she has a child.

I'll just say this: You can pretty much gather immediately that they're setting up for the kid to be Superman's. They play him off as so weak and the hair is so similar. Nonetheless, it's an interesting callback to that night Superman and Lois spent together.

Luthor, meanwhile, has gotten his fortune back by marrying a rich old woman and collecting on her death (because I guess his off-shore accounts were frozen). He then finds the Fortress of Solitude and steals the crystals that built the place. His plan is to use the crystals, combine them with Kryptonite he steals from a museum, and grow his own landmass of Kryptonite that will sink the Americas and give him sole possession of Western land.

That's... actually not a bad plan, come to think of it. Kudos to this much more maniacal version of Luthor and his random new bimbo.

Superman's return is met with fanfare, but it quickly just turns into desperate need, as the new landmass has started natural disasters on normal land that Superman has to attend to. Because of this, he almost doesn't notice that Lois, in an attempt to interview Luthor, has been caught with her son on his property. While there, the son throws a piano at a henchman, showing his true lineage.

Oh yeah, I should talk about Perry White's nephew/Lois' fiance. He does fine in his role and is likable enough. My biggest issue with this whole dynamic is that Clark's obsession over it causes him to nearly fall into stalker territory. It becomes really glaring how weird Superman could get.

Lois manages to get a fax to the newspaper to give her coordinates. Her fiance comes by in a helicopter while Superman flies over and saves the two. He goes to fight Luthor on his land, but he doesn't realize it's made of Kryptonite and he gets his ass handed to him.

One thing: Shouldn't that volume of Kryptonite kill him almost immediately? I guess I'll just assume it's because this Kryptonite also has crystal properties.

Lois' helicopter comes by and saves him and he comes up with the plan of taking a massive layer of earth and putting it between himself and the continent as he lifts it into space. Clearly we're getting into the Donner-Lester "insane ending that makes no sense theory," but even though that much Kryptonite SHOULD still do damage to him, it actually does by sending him into a temporary coma, so I guess it works to an extent.

Honestly, the biggest pain of this film is the last 20 minutes, where Superman is in the coma and they can't help him heal further because his body becomes like steel after the Kryptonite is removed from his body. This movie felt like it didn't want to end, and it started to really bore me watching Lois clearly tell Supes that they have a kid together.

Much of the final 20 minutes lacks dialogue and only has the background music. Just a word of advice for filmmakers, if you don't have an epic score to complement the scene, sheer silence works just as well, if not better. But yeah, Superman watches the boy sleep and then flies off to stalk the crap out of the entire world.

This film has a lot of good ideas in place, but too much was tried too quickly. My biggest issues with the film are mostly in concept. It just feels too unbelievable that Superman would leave the earth to fend for itself without telling anyone that he was trying to navigate the galaxy for his homeworld.

A lot of things happen that have shoddy explanations at best. It beats the no-explanation we got at the end of the earlier films, but at least they made sure the rest of the movie made sense. This was just a lot of guesswork for much of the film.

Still, I'd rather think of this as Superman III than actual Superman III, so I guess it succeeded in that sense. I still think the tone felt too dark given how light the characters involved are, and this would have worked better if they had just written it to be a reboot, but it still made a little money and proved the series could continue after Reeve.

All the same, it is better that this series finally got the full reboot after this. As for the score here, I'll give it 3 stars and 6.9 out of 10.

That's it for the standalone films, but tomorrow, I review the Richard Donner Cut of Superman II, and honestly, this is one that if you don't know about it, you NEED to. It's something you won't want to miss.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Comic Book Review: Detective Comics #21

As June begins, Detective Comics has moved into its most prominent position in some time, and yet is somehow less interesting than it was a couple of months ago.

I don't mean in terms of story. In fact, I actually was really into the issue that came out Wednesday. But with Superman getting a new book and movie, he's kind of the focus this month.

Heck, even this blog has gotten delayed so that I could be caught up on my Superman-a-thon. The link is for my most recent entry in it and you can access the others from that page.

Even in the Bat-verse, while Detective has taken the position of 'A' book in terms of current Batman plot advancement, that is because Scott Snyder's Batman title begins a year-long trek through Batman's "Zero Year" this month. So yeah, this title is almost an afterthought despite being consistently entertaining under John Layman's direction.

Layman's issue this month, though, is not one to forget, as it calls back to the Issue #0 that came out nearly a year ago in order to set up a villain.

The assassin in this story is quickly established as the love interest Bruce had in that issue. Both assumed the other dead and continued to train under their respective rival masters.

This assassin, who I'll refer to by her civilian name of Mio, is awaiting the moment to strike a world leader as he comes to Wayne Manor for a summit he's hosting. It's here that we get the real star of this issue, Harper Row.

Really would not mind her as the new Robin.
Harper isn't written as well under Layman as Snyder, but she's quickly developing that sense of sheer determination that makes such great Bat-family members. She's showing great surveillance skills, vigilance, stealth and improved hand-to-hand so far. (Granted, a lot of that isn't played of as well through her losses, but she's facing a veteran assassin and simply getting as far as she did shows development.)

Bruce and Mio kind of start to connect the dots about who each other is, but the extent to how far they get is something you'll want to read yourself. You'll also want to see the end scene between Batman and Harper, as well as Mio and her master, who I believe is making his or her first appearance in one of the main two Bat-titles.

The back-up is an alternative perspective story, showing recent events through the eyes of Man-Bat while also showing what he and his wife are up to. This is seriously the best Man-Bat ever written. I actually give a crap and that is a MASSIVE improvement.

The whole scene has a feeling of confusion and dread, as I am now very curious to see what is going on with his mutation and where his and his wife's story goes next.

Honestly, the only real weak point was that the art went down a little in quality because Jason Fabok, the main artist, was on a break and Scot Eaton had to fill in. He doesn't do a bad job; it's just a different feel that just doesn't match up as perfectly with the tone.

Overall, the issue is really good, if not overshadowed by everything else going on in the DCU. Fact is, though, this is the only place to get good Batman solo stories in the current continuity's present day, so if that's not a buying incentive, I don't know what is.

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Superman-a-thon Part 5: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

[Author's Note - These links will become active as the blogs are written: Superman and the Mole Men (1951)Superman (1978)Superman II (1980) / Richard Donner Cut (2006), Superman III (1983), Superman Returns (2006)]

I've discovered a parallel between my Superman-a-thon and the old Batman-a-thon from last year. I had an older film based on a TV series, followed by a four-film series. And in both, the fourth film is so bad that I almost don't need to put myself through a review because Channel Awesome already beat it to death.

Heck, this one is so bad that Linkara AND the Nostalgia Critic had to team up to attack the stupid thing. But I am reviewing ALL the Superman movies and as bad as it is, I will go through Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

This series is now on its third director, as Sidney J. Furie took over for Richard Lester after the critical failure of the last film. Additionally, this film has the disadvantage of having a studio that gave out an outrageously low budget. Jon Cryer, who plays Lex Luthor's nephew (Lenny) in this one, has actually said that the producers effectively sent out an unfinished film.

In any case, this film opens with Superman rescuing some Russian cosmonauts and apparently having knowledge of every language on Earth. I'm still not sure how he accomplished that, but hey, let's not question what is just a pebble in the rock slide of confusion that is this film.

He goes to visit the Kent farm in Smallville, which is now uninhabited because Martha Kent died off screen. Instead of showing him really coping with the loss of his adopted mother, though, he's come to retrieve yet another crystal he didn't take with him when he left home the first time. A recording of his mother says the power it has can only be used once, but it doesn't explain what it is.

I have no idea why Clark wouldn't have taken all the Kryptonian stuff when he first left, but asking too many legitimate questions here would be unwelcome to the people who put no effort into the movie they were producing.

This is known as a downgrade in the love triangle world.
Meanwhile, the Daily Planet has been bought out by a tabloid company who wants less-than-scrupulous journalism, and the new publisher's daughter begins to seduce Clark Kent. The acting here is way too overzealous and it feels like the scenes are being forced.

Thankfully, this madness is quickly sobered by the knowledge that an arms reduction summit failed, and I guess in Superman's world, summits are only a last resort because everyone worries doom is imminent. Superman even consults with the Kryptonian elders, who somehow have provided him wisdom despite their obvious disbelief in their planet's destruction, about what to do.

But it isn't until a child sends a letter to Lois Lane (to give to Clark to give to Supes) asking him to do something, that he decides to do something. And that something is... to forcibly remove the governments' nuclear arms. Because screw you! He's Superman and his will is law.

Her thoughts: "Holy sh** that green screen is terrible!"
And never is that more clear than when he re-enacts the best scene of Superman I and the worst scene of Superman II in one shot. He walks Lois off a balcony just so he can save her as Superman, does a shot-for-shot redo of their first flying scene (only with a significantly worse budget) and then wipes her memory with his mind-kiss.

So... if I can make an inference based on this, my guess is that Clark still has some of that evil from the last movie. Why? Because he has to be doing this a lot. Screwing with your not-girlfriend so you can make out with her and then wipe her memory is really messed up, but at least we can't say they never showed Clark abusing his powers now.

But yeah, the governments seem to have no qualms about relinquishing the only non-Kryptonite weapons that might do a little damage to Superman and letting him throw them into the sun.

Unfortunately for him, Lex Luthor has a plan. Using his REALLY irritating nephew to escape from prison, he finds some corporate sponsors, steals a strand of Superman's hair and attaches some really questionable technology to a missile. When Supes throws it into the sun, it gives birth to the Nuclear Man, played by Mark Pillow.

Ok there are so many things wrong with this. First off, Luthor's prison sucks. Second, Jon Cryer's character is so annoying it makes the old Luthor henchmen look dignified. Third, how did he develop any of these ideas this quickly. Fourth, how does Superman's hair have his super strength (able to hold 1,000 pounds) but lack enough invulnerability to hold up against a hedge clipper? Fifth, did no one really notice that something was on that missile? Sixth, why does Nuclear Man actually go through a birth cycle? Seventh, I don't care what explanation you give, Nuclear Man should not talk like Luthor. And finally, eighth, what kind of technology allows what is basically a He-Man costume to grow alongside Nuclear Man as he goes through his 'solar fetus' stage?

I'm already starting to make my head hurt so I'm going to go in big jumps here. Superman fights Nuclear Man and is damaged by the radiation his body absorbs when NM scratches him. While he recovers, NM decides he also wants Lacy Warfield (the publisher's daughter, who is played by Mariel Hemmingway).

At this point I feel I need to ask: Where the hell is Lana Lang in this? She's like, the only character who could have been a breakout star from Superman III. Why is this Warfield woman taking over the triangle role? I have no investment in her.

Clark is still poisoned, but heals himself using the green crystal he grabbed earlier. So was that crystal for that specific purpose or is it basically a cure-all? It doesn't count as establishing the solution if you don't say what the stupid thing is for!

Superman fights NM a second time, this go-around on the moon (because Superman locked NM in an elevator that he threw there, but NM got free because of the minimal sunlight he left), and much like Superman III, the fight scene that ensues is just so slow-motion-ridden that it's impossible to get invested.


Actually, at least with Superman III, I gave a crap about the feud at hand. This had no emotional investment AND it sucked ass. Truly a failed fight.

And as an aside, did anyone research what nuclear power is before this? Everything described in this movie is basically solar power. Why is the sun affecting NM at all?

Superman loses AGAIN, and NM kidnaps Lacy and takes her into space where she can BREATHE WITHOUT ANY ISSUE.

Superman solves this fight once and for all by pushing the moon out of orbit (most likely killing everyone on the coastlines in the process) and casting an eclipse to take away NM's powers.

He destroys NM by putting him into the core of a nuclear power plant and later sends Lenny to a juvenile facility and Lex back to his prison of ass-dumb security. Perry White buys back the Daily Planet, but Warfield stays in a minority role, thereby allowing a much, much worse love triangle to be teased for the next movie.

Thankfully, there was no subsequent film in this timeline because NO ONE wanted to see this crap in theaters.

The performances by the main actors are par for the course, but the material they worked with was significantly worse. I appreciate that they tried to make it work, but nothing was saving this thing.

All I can say is that this right on the level as Batman and Robin, but I'm willing to say this is worse simply because it makes no effort to have logic in itself at all. I'm going 1 star out of 4 and 3.0 out of 10.

Next up, I tackle the attempt at fixing what Superman III and IV tried to destroy, as I look at Superman Returns.

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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Superman-a-thon Part 4: Superman III (1983)

[Author's Note - These links will become active as the blogs are written: Superman and the Mole Men (1951)Superman (1978)Superman II (1980) / Richard Donner Cut (2006), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), Superman Returns (2006)]
If this poster doesn't immediately tell
you why this film is weak...

After Richard Donner left the series, Superman's movies became a lot less focused and started trying to do too much with too little. Richard Lester had good story ideas, but they got jumbled up and buried under a lot of flaws.

None of the movies in this series demonstrate the dangers of a clustered plot like Superman III.

This movie has so many things going for it that I want SO BADLY to give it a good review and praise the ideas. Unfortunately, so many plotlines are fighting for attention that it's nearly impossible to get fully invested in anything and a lot of details get left out.

It's clear that this movie is going to be cluttered from the opening, as the iconic Superman opening gets replaced by a cheap crawl going across the bottom half of the screen. Meanwhile, some of the most absurd sequences of events go on, leading to Superman having to change in a photo booth and then cough*hilariously*cough having to get the pictures back from the kid whose photo time he jacked. Slapstick like this is peppered throughout and kills the mood of what could have been a serious film.

Something that many people consider to be an issue in this film is the fact that Margot Kidder's Lois Lane is taken out of the film in the first 15 minutes to go on vacation and she isn't seen again until the closing minutes. While I will say that this move was BEYOND petty, the directors actually did have a good character in place.

Annette O'Toole plays Lana Lang, Clark's friend/crush from his school days. They reconnect when Clark heads back to Smallville for a class reunion. Quite honestly, this is probably the most consistently well-executed part of the movie.

I really liked the emotion Clark and Lana showed in this movie and (blasphemous as it sounds) I actually thought she had better on-screen chemistry with Christopher Reeve than Kidder did. Kidder works well with the Superman persona, but O'Toole nails the work with Clark here.

I wish Kidder would have gotten some more time so that a love triangle could have been done as a side plot, but only if it replaced the awful side plot that bogged this movie down more than any other: the redemption story of Richard Pryor's character.

This character, unlike Pryor's comedy, was not funny for most of his time in the film (despite countless attempts at slapstick) and his moral dilemma crap takes up at least a third of this film.

I do feel for the character at times and like his heroic moment during the climax, but they hold too many scenes on him for WAY too long. The worst moments are his long-ass plan to get a security guard drunk so he can break into a government facility, and his final scene talking with some construction workers. I DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR DIALOGUE! GO BACK TO SUPERMAN!

But yeah, his plot is the biggest drag of this movie. He gets hired by a corporate big wig (played with chronic overacting by Robert Vaughn) to bomb the ever-loving crap out of Colombia so that he can monopolize the coffee market, which may be the most absurdly high-risk, low-reward plot in history.

Superman, of course, stops the surprise nuke and Vaughn then has Pryor use his computer skills (which I forgot to mention he has in this movie) to fashion some homemade Kryptonite. Isn't all this a little extreme for a couple million more in coffee sales? You're rich enough to have a ski slope ON TOP OF YOUR PENTHOUSE and have a machine that can generate anything you type in the molecular code for. The money is NOT THAT BIG A DEAL!

Anyway, the Kryptonite goes wrong and instead functions like Red Kryptonite (which, for those who know Silver Age Superman, makes the Man of Steel act evil). This happens shortly after his high school reunion, where Clark reconnected with the newly-single Lana and her son.

Probably a bad sign if this photo is in your review.
What proceeds to happen is a forerunner of Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3, only this time it wasn't stupid. These sequences are some of the best parts of this movie, as Superman just causes random chaos because he can. He resets the Leaning Tower of Pisa and pranks a lot of people. Admittedly, a story where Superman is evil should have delved a lot more into how dangerous an evil Superman can get, but this was pretty good.

This gets paid off when evil Superman splinters off from good Superman and the two fight. This was okay, but it could have been so much better. I have no idea if their powers are limited or not while they're fighting for control, and it's not answered by this sequence because sometimes their punches are fast while others look beyond weak.

Anyway, the good Superman wins, he confronts the villain and Richard Pryor finally turns to the side of righteousness. Clark makes amends with Lana and Lois returns to find Lana is now a secretary at the newspaper and has gotten far better love interest development than she has.

WHY didn't you explore this, Lester?
Looking back, this film had so many good ideas that could have made this a real elevation of the Superman movie universe. Lana coming in as an alternative to Lois, Clark coming to grips with his double life, and Superman's tenuous position of great power being tested are all great ideas.

But the thing is that those three plots alone are good enough for a movie and a villain like Braniac could work mostly behind the scenes until the final showdown, leaving the movie to focus on the good character storylines. Instead, this film chooses to give a henchman as much time, if not more, than the other arcs.

As such, this film feels too busy and nothing gets the development or payoff that it should. Only Richard Pryor's arc gets the build and payoff, but it's so uninteresting that it's a moot point.

This is not a very good film because of it and it really saddens me to say that. I say it gets 2 stars out of 4 and a 5.2 out of 10.

But do you want to know the saddest thing? This is somehow not the worst thing the Superman mythos has produced. That's coming next blog, as I talk about Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Superman-a-thon Part 3: Superman and the Mole Men (1951)

[Author's Note - These links will become active as the blogs are written:  Superman (1978), Superman II (1980) / Richard Donner Cut (2006), Superman III (1983), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), Superman Returns (2006)]

When people think about Superman's many incarnations, most contemporary viewers think of the Christopher Reeve variation as THE live-action version of the character. But for older audiences, the name George Reeves still ring as a truer adaptation of the Man of Steel.

Reeves portrayed Superman for more than a decade through the "Adventures of Superman" television show, but many people seem to forget that there was a motion picture set in the same universe that served as a kind-of pilot to the series as a whole. The film, Superman and the Mole Men, only has about a one-hour running time but is nonetheless a non-serial movie, which means it gets covered here.

And honestly, it's really freaking good!

Where the Reeve version of Superman movies was more heavily influenced by the Silver Age of Comics, this movie (and subsequent TV show) came right at the end of the Golden Age of Comics, and during the transition into the Silver Age. This means that while the Silver Age's hokey science is still present, the plots still have the more serious feel of the Golden Age.

In terms of the DC Multiverse, if Reeve epitomizes the Earth-One Pre-Crisis Superman, Reeves in this film is the embodiment of the Earth-Two Pre-Crisis Superman. The plot of this movie, while very Silver Age in concept, is executed with Golden Age badassery and philosophical depth.

The most unique thing about this film is that there's no real villain. The mole men (or 'unknown people' as they were originally described) are simply beings who came to the Earth's surface from under the ground to explore.

This is the questionable science I mentioned. This entire plot is based on the "Hollow Earth Theory," where instead of magma at the core of the planet, it's an empty space where all kinds of unholy creatures can come from.

The mole men are freed when a drilling company explores too deep into the earth, and two mole men (who look A LOT like that villain in Megamind if he wore a miniature Planet of the Apes chimp suit) explore the rural, midwestern town.

The problem is not that they're evil, though. They actually mean no harm and even spend some time playing catch with a little girl. The whole conflict revolves around the citizens of the town going into panic mode and one idiot in particular trying to kill the creatures.

Another unique aspect of this story is that Reeves is Clark Kent for the majority of the film. I find it interesting that in the Reeve film series Clark appears to be the mask for Superman while in this movie Clark appears to be the main personality, leaving Superman as his stronger form to be used as needed.

I find it interesting because the Reeve film spent so much time on the origin of Superman and showed his relationship with the Kents before moving him directly into Superman Mode. Here, the origin of Superman is summarized in the movie's first minute and then we go right into the story. I'd figure the personas would be reversed, but in any case it's not a knock on either movie - just an observation.

One thing I have to give this film supreme credit for is making the Clark Kent persona a competent journalist. He's strong-willed, confident and serious about getting things done. I look at the Reeve performances at times and wonder how in the hell he keeps a job in journalism, but I don't worry about that at all here.

That said, one thing Reeves doesn't do as well as Reeve is making the personas distinct. While Clark feels weak at times in the Donner-Lester series, it serves as a good contrast to the point that you'd REALLY have to look to think of Clark being Superman. With Reeves, there are some differences, (specifically a more arrogant attitude,) but it's not as big a contrast.

I will say that I don't hate it that much because people shouldn't be actively seeking Superman's identity. He wears no mask and has various locations where he could be at any time; therefore, people should have no reason to believe he's disguising himself and seek out an identity. That's a flaw with the subsequent series, but I'm not reviewing that today.

The last thing I have to bring up is Lois Lane, who is played by Phyllis Coates. She's great in the role and clearly shows great mettle and journalistic competence. She's not as good as Margot Kidder, but she serves the role well (even if Clark's behavior and mysterious disappearances should have triggered some of her suspicions).

Ultimately, while the budget here is clearly low, things are executed well. Superman stands directly in front of bullets and laughs them off and shows controlled punches, which are all both awesome and indicative of the fact that if he ever tried, he could annihilate these morons.

This story is very much a commentary on the witch hunt mentality that went through the country during the 50s and the clear moral is that no matter the differences, everyone is entitled to life if they're acting peacefully. The scene where Superman scolds the psychotic, panicked mob leader and yet still saves him without hesitating for a second provides the ideal that Superman is supposed to represent.

It's biggest weakness is small scope. There's never a real threat like a Luthor or Braniac and much of the film is spent showing the mole men exploring. But even there, there's a lot to like, as there's always a sense of dread in your mind. And also unique in this film is that someone actually gets shot. There's a lot of suspense as to whether someone will die and that's something the Comics Code made much harder to execute years later, so I'm glad they got the chance here.

This will surprise people, but this is better than I remember the first time. I have to give it 3 stars out of 4 and 8.2 out of 10.

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