Ranking the Superman Films

I’m not trying to be controversial or anything, this list only represents the amount of fun and enjoyment I got out of each Superman film. I’m going to exclude Hollywoodland from the list, though, as it’s not really a Superman film. So, with that out of the way…

12. Superman (1987)
Directed by B. Gupta

superman_1987_2

The Hindi-language Superman was by far the worst, even considering the all-female, motorcycle-riding karate squad and a young, breakdancing Clark Kent.

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Man of Steel (2013)

manofsteel_1Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Antje Traue, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, Kevin Costner, Ayelet Zurer, Laurence Fishburne

Directed by Zack Snyder

Expectations: I’m so excited.

twohalfstar


When they announced Man of Steel as a darker, Nolan-influenced take on Superman, I rejoiced. The Christopher Nolan Batman films were great! So this would be too! What I failed to think about was that by darkening the character and his world, it inherently changes a lot of what I enjoy about the Superman films. This is definitely a better stab at Superman than audiences were given in 2006 with Superman Returns, but even that film had something of a sense of fun. Man of Steel is virtually devoid of fun, and in that I found it to be one of the least enjoyable films I’ve reviewed throughout my Superman review series.

Man of Steel is considered a complete reboot of the series, but in a lot of ways it’s something of a streamlined remake of Richard Donner’s Superman I and II. The film opens with a lengthy sequence on Krypton, setting up an interesting dynamic between Jor-El and General Zod, as well as the traditional “baby Supes blasting off of the dying world” that everyone expects. This begins something of a pattern with the film where it doesn’t exactly feel as unique and fresh as they’d like you to think it is. Imagine The Dark Knight containing scenes featuring the “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” lines from Tim Burton’s Batman, and you’ll feel something of what I felt during this film. This is something they probably couldn’t avoid too much when trying to tell the story of General Zod, but I could have done without another version of Zod landing in middle America and smashing up a small town. There’s even a scene that’s very reminiscent of Supergirl‘s “flying ballet.”

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Stephen reviews: Superman vs. The Elite (2012)

Superman-vs-The-Elite-2012-Movie-PosterStarring George Newbern, Pauley Perrette, Robin Atkin Downes, Melissa Disney, Catero Colbert, Andrew Kishino, Dee Bradley Baker

Directed by Michael Chang


Like the previous two superman films I reviewed, Public Enemies and All Star Superman, this is an adaptation of a comic book storyline. Unlike those earlier films though, Superman vs. the Elite is based on a single issue rather than an entire series, which means a lot of elaboration must have gone into the plot in order to make it the standard hour and spare change length that these DC animated films tend to run at. Also unlike the previous two, it doesn’t seem to carry over the art style of the comic. This is largely just me jumping to conclusions, since I never read the comic book version, but I got a very cartoony vibe from the visual designs.

I didn’t really care for the aesthetics, but the quality of presentation is well done. Especially the CG which takes a back seat this time, much to my joy. So, despite some minor gripes, I have to say the film looks good. And I can stretch that statement to the entire film. It’s good. I’m not a fan of Pauley Perrette’s gravely voice as Lois Lane, but I’m running out of things to complain about in this film. It delivers a solid, exciting Superman adventure that surprised me by how strongly it held me to the chair. And despite the cartoony look, the subject matter was a lot more mature than I had expected.

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Superman Returns (2006)

supermanreturns_1Starring Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Sam Huntington, Eva Marie Saint, Marlon Brando, Kal Penn, Tristan Lake Leabu

Directed by Bryan Singer

Expectations: I’m so excited.

twohalfstar


There’s a point in Superman Returns when Lex Luthor looks upon his villainous creation and notes that it “lacks the human element.” This same thing could be said of the film overall. Superman Returns does its best to recapture the Donner magic, but instead of taking his lead and going forward with courage, Bryan Singer largely just trades on the built-up nostalgia for Donner’s classic film. But big-budget films are inherently different than they were in 1978, so while Superman Returns might replicate certain visuals and characters, it never recaptures the tone or the wonder that make Superman: The Movie a film that continually resonates with audiences. It is still enjoyable at times, though, even if millions of dollars in CG are in some ways less successful than the simple blue-screen FX of 1978 in making us believe that a man can fly.

By calling this a sequel to Superman and Superman II, Singer willfully puts his film up alongside one of the best and most successful superhero films of all time (and its troubled, but fun sequel). Singer’s film is nothing close to that level, and connecting it with things like Marlon Brando and the John Williams theme only shines a light directly on the film’s flaws. Any new Superman movie is already working against a huge amount of hype, but to say “This one is the true sequel to the great films you remember!” is really ballsy.

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Stephen reviews: All Star Superman (2011)

1699114Starring James Denton, Christina Hendricks, Anthony Lapaglia, Edward Asner, Alexis Denisof, Steve Blum, John DiMaggio, Robin Atkin Downes, Michael Gough, Matthew Gray Gubler

Directed by Sam Liu


Another comic book adaptation, All Star Superman also carries over the visual style of its original artists, this time Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant. The look isn’t as striking as Public Enemies, but it’s still noticeable. They improved the animation a bit, but not so much the CG. This give and take makes it balance out about the same.

The film is a throwback to the olden days of comic books. All the crazy plot devices from comic’s Golden Age are brought back without shame, and that’s exactly how you’ll need to take this film. It’s full of harebrained events like an army of reptile monsters from the center of the Earth, Superman’s house key which was carved from a dwarf star and weighs half a million tons, or the audio book reader that Lex Luthor uses to dig a tunnel out of prison by reciting literature at incredibly high-pitched frequencies. Anyone who loves the good ol’ days of comic books will find tons to love about this film.

If this kind of implausible campy fun makes your eyes roll, however, then you aren’t going to enjoy this much. But I say to those people: Superman is an alien who conveniently looks exactly like a human and gains incredible superpowers from sunbathing. How can you whine about having a serious storyline when his entire concept is absurd? This film imagines the wild excesses of the Golden Age as half homage, half modernization, half philosophical musing, and a hefty dollop of parody. Nowhere outside of an anthology of old comic books will you find so many improbable plot devices in one spot than here.

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The Other Indian Superman Films

returnofmrsuperman

From Return of Mr. Superman (1960)

Before embarking on this Superman review series, I didn’t know there were even two Indian Superman films, let alone four! I was aware of the 1987 Bollywood version, and I had a sneaking suspicion that there were more knock-off versions somewhere else in the world, but it seems that India has something of a love for the Man of Steel.

The first film version was a 1960 film simply titled Superman, much like the later ’80s films. This version was directed by Mohammed Hussain (for those keeping score), and it starred Paidi Jairaj as both Supes and his Clark Kent alter-ego. I imagine he’s not called Clark Kent in this film, but info is real scarce on this film, so who knows.

There is a bit more info on the other 1960 Superman film out of India. Wha??? Yeah, in 1960 India produced two Superman films! The second film was originally to be titled Superman as well, but thanks to the other Superman film, the filmmakers of this version were forced to re-title their film. Somehow they arrived at Return of Mr. Superman, but the story of how they came to that is most likely lost to the sands of time. From what I found, it sounds like this film does adhere to many of the Superman hallmarks such as Superman crash-landing on a farm as a boy and being raised by surrogate parents, a journalist alter-ego, a Lois Lane type love interest, etc. Superman was once again portrayed by Paidi Jairaj in this film.

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Superman (1987)

superman1987AKA The Indian Superman, Hindi Superman

Starring Puneet Issar, Shakti Kapoor, Piloo J. Wadia, Bob Christo, Dharmendra, Sonia Sahni, Urmila Bhatt, Ashok Kumar, Ranjeeta Kaur, Birbal, Preeti Ganguli, Rajan Haksar, Dinesh Hingoo, Jagdeep, Jankidas, Lalita Kumari, Guddi Maruti, Murad, Sudhir

Directed by B. Gupta

Expectations: I hope it’s got as many thrills as the Tollywood version of Superman.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
onestar


Wow. Sometimes it takes a truly awful film to remind you of the risk involved in watching low-budget films. This version of the Superman story comes to us courtesy of the Bollywood film industry, although I somehow doubt that this is representative of their normal output, even in 1987. It is a horrible film, with very few redeeming qualities at all. And, sad to say, many of those redeeming qualities are just the novelty of watching degraded versions of footage shot by Richard Donner for Superman. The Tollywood version, which I reviewed yesterday, was so full of life and imagination, but this version is a Superman-sized abomination.

I can only relate my general understanding of the story, as I was forced to watch the film without subtitles. This is always a daunting task, as the success of the film hinges solely on its visual filmmaking and storytelling. I’m sure that seeing this with a better understanding of what was going on would help it some, but no amount of understanding can erase just how lackluster this entire production is. Thankfully, the storyline basically follows that of the original Superman film, so I was treading on familiar ground.

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