Friday, May 31, 2013

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

I can remember clearly when this movie came out. Summer, 1987. My sister had a birthday and I convinced her it would be fun to see this movie. I was wrong.

I was just a kid then, so what did I know right? Nope.

What happened? The film starts off okay, with Superman saving some people and then heading to the old Smallville home briefly, which brings back memories. But then we get a confusing number of subplots.
Superman pledges to end nuclear arms. Okay. Noble. Then there is a love subplot between Mariel Hemingway, as Perry White's daughter Lacy, and Clark Kent. Okay, Clark is often ignored. On top of that we have Lenny Luthor, an annoying nephew character played by Jon Cryer (yes, that Jon Cryer), who breaks Lex (the welcome return of Gene Hackman) out of prison. Once out, Luthor uses Superman's strand of hair to combine with the nuclear blast when it is thrown into the Sun to create a super-being that will destroy Superman.

None of these plots are developed particularly well, and the special effects in this film are dime-store quality. The reason given over the years is that the Salkinds had sold the rights to a company called Cannon films. They were apparently spending too much money on other projects, and cut too many corners. The result is a mess of a film, which ultimately ended the Christopher Reeve Superman series. The one bright spot in the movie are the efforts of the cast to bring some life to it. Unfortunately, this isn't enough to save it. Fans would have to wait until 2006, nearly 20 years later, to see their favorite superhero on the big-screen again.

Friday, May 24, 2013


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: Superman III (1983) **½

Compared to the first two entries in the series, this feels far inferior. Yet it is not a bad film. There are plenty of things to be entertained by, from Pryor's likable computer hacking minor criminal to Superman's dual-personality fight in the middle of the film.

A number of things happened to create the circumstances for a lesser sequel this time around. Due to the bad feelings some cast members felt toward producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind for firing Richard Donner from "Superman II," casting was shifted around. Therefore, we get no Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and virtually no Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Because the Lois Lane/Superman love story had evolved so much in the previous film, it is disappointing to have all of it dropped without any further thought. However, there is a very nice subplot involving Clark Kent's return to his hometown of Smallville, where he re-connects with an old friend named Lana Lang (played by Annette O'Toole, who later played Clark Kent's mom in the TV show "Smallville").

One of the biggest complaints people have about "Superman III" is the unusual casting of comedian Richard Pryor in the role of bumbling computer genius Gus. Well, it isn't so much that Pryor is bad, or that his character is unlikable. But he just doesn't really fit into the Superman world that well.

There are some great sequences for the Superman character, though. Some fun is had with his various abilities, including a scene where he puts out a massive fire by freezing a lake with his super-breath, and a more comic one where he plays a practical joke and straightens the Leaning Tower of Pisa. All leading up to that terrific fantasy scene that pits Superman's good and bad personalities against one another, after encountering restructured Kryptonite.

So with all these elements, "Superman III" comes across sort of like the kinds of adventures the old serials of the 1940's used to show. It showcases some good special effects, has a sense of humor and is light fun. Unfortunately, after the first two efforts, we've kind of moved beyond such fare. Even worse for fans, things would not improve with the next feature.

Friday, May 17, 2013


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: Superman II (1980) ****

After the success of "Superman: the Movie" in the winter of 1978, "Superman II" saw a release in the summer of 1981 (US release date). In actuality the two films were largely filmed simultaneously, but budget concerns and other issues caused the firing of original director Richard Donner over the objections of several cast and crew members.

Richard Lester, of 1973's "The Three Musketeers" and the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night," was his replacement. By all accounts, Lester added more humor into the film. All of Marlon Brando's scenes were replaced with footage of Susanna York as Superman's mother, due to Brando's protesting the use of his time for two films and only being paid for one. Luckily for viewers, Brando's scenes were later reworked into Donner's Director's Cut of the film, as well as Bryan Singer's 2006 reboot, "Superman Returns."

In this entry, we get a more involved romantic story-line between Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Lex Luthor is still looking for revenge on Superman for defeating him in the first film, but he'll have to wait in line as we meet three Super-Villains from Krypton who have escaped their Phantom Zone prison and are looking for revenge on Superman's father Jor-el. This leads to a lot of fun, as the villians eventually do battle with their prisoner's son, Kal-el (Superman, for those who didn't follow the first film). We also have real drama, as Superman makes a major sacrifice to show his love for Lois and unknowingly leaves the world temporarily vulnerable to his new enemies.

Overall, this film is about as good as the original. This comes as more of surprise when you learn all about its tortured route to the screen. The combination of Donner and Lester footage actually works to the film's advantage in some ways, particularly in the melding of serious versus comic sensibilities. Despite the long-held bad feelings between the makers, this is one of maybe a handful of sequels that manages to live up to its predecessor in many ways.

Friday, May 10, 2013

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: Superman: The Movie (1978)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW:  Superman: The Movie ****

As time goes by, it is becoming increasingly clear that the 1978 big-screen version of the Superman story was a one-of-a kind event. Very few comic-book movies have been up to its level of story-telling and film-making expertise on display.

Director Richard Donner (who also made "The Omen," "Lethal Weapon" and "Ladyhawke") fought to keep the story from becoming too comical, as it would in later sequels, which helped to create a mythology around the character still in use today. While many of the character's traits were there from the first comic books, details of the Planet Krypton and other aspects of Superman's existence came from this film. The screenwriters included Mario Puzo (of "The Godfather" fame), David Newman and Robert Benton (they wrote "Bonnie & Clyde") and David's wife Leslie Newman.

The cast is filled with character actors like Gene Hackman (as Lex Luthor) Jackie Cooper (as Perry White) and Ned Beatty (as Otis), legendary Oscar-winner Marlon Brando (as Jor-el) and then-newcomer Christopher Reeve in the title role. Reeve's earnest portrayal of Superman and his off-beat charm as his mild-mannered alter-ego Clark Kent remains the most popular version of this character. Margot Kidder (then a relative newcomer from the Brian DePalma thriller "Sisters" and the Bob Clark-directed horror "Black Christmas") brings the right balance of reporter smarts and romantic vulnerability to the role of Lois Lane. "Superman: The Movie" was followed by three sequels, inspired numerous TV series including "Superboy" (1988-92), "Lois and Clark" (1993-97) and "Smallville" (2001-2011).

Some consider the 2006 reboot starring Brandon Routh ("Dylan Dog: Dead of Night") as a sequel, due to its creative influence and design from the first two Reeve-led stories, though none of the original actors or makers are connected to the film. Another reboot was to be released in 2013, with Henry Cavill ("Immortals") in the lead.