Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

superman4_1Starring Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Mariel Hemingway, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, Jon Cryer, Sam Wanamaker, Mark Pillow, Damian McLawhorn, William Hootkins, Jim Broadbent

Directed by Sidney J. Furie

Expectations: I’m so excited.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


People don’t like this movie? Really? Please tell me why in the comments, because I just don’t understand it. The budget is definitely smaller here, and some of the flying looks noticeably bad. The story is a little jumpy, moving from one thing to the next somewhat haphazardly. And Superman’s adversary is Nuclear Man, a construct created by Lex Luthor from a strand of Superman’s hair who does a lot of yelling and acts like a pro-wrestler. Perhaps some of those reasons are your issues with the film? I’m still at a loss, because each and every one of those factors contribute to the stew of B-Movie awesome that is Superman IV: The Quest for Peace!

It’s the ’80s and the nuclear arms race around the globe is reaching critical levels. A schoolboy writes a letter to Superman, asking him to rid the world of its nuclear weapons, effectively disarming the world and the escalating situation. That might make the film sound like a really simplified call for world peace, but the film is much more concerned with entertainment than heavy-handed political messages. And besides, I’ve always enjoyed when comic characters are written into real world situations so I loved this aspect of the film. C’mon, Supes collects the nukes in a gigantic net in space and throws them into the sun for God’s sake! I don’t care what your political beliefs are, that’s thrilling cinema.

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Supergirl (1984)

supergirl_1Starring Helen Slater, Faye Dunaway, Hart Bochner, Peter Cook, Brenda Vaccaro, Maureen Teefy, Marc McClure, Peter O’Toole, Mia Farrow, Simon Ward, David Healy

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc

Expectations: I’m so excited.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


The opening scene of Supergirl tries its best to liken itself to the opening scene of Superman, showing us a strange, alien world inhabited by humanoids much like ourselves. But where that original scene was interesting, the one in Supergirl falls a bit short. It does ostensibly perform the same task, though: setting up the canvas on which the rest of the film will be painted. For Superman, that canvas was grand and heroic, but for Supergirl, it’s campy, over-the-top and very much in the realm of B-Movies. One of my favorite phrases to repeat to myself while watching movies like Superman, Thor or The Avengers is, “This is cosmic done right!” Supergirl is most definitely “cosmic done wrong.” That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its share of fun, but even by ’80s or B-Movie standards this is pretty lackluster.

Kara Zor-El (AKA Supergirl, AKA Linda Lee) is Superman’s cousin. She lives in a white sparkling place called Argo City, which is basically a chunk of the planet Krypton that survived the destruction of the planet. They don’t really explain it, I don’t really understand it, but that’s what it is. Oh, and apparently it’s under our ocean? That REALLY didn’t make sense to me, because they show Supergirl going through space to get to Earth and then she pops out of a lake on the studio backlot. So I guess that was supposed to be the deep, dark ocean she was going through. It did have a watery look at times. The lake part still doesn’t compute, though, especially given the film’s ending. Maybe they were trying to clumsily remind us of the adage that all streams lead to the ocean? I honestly don’t know. Anyway… Peter O’Toole steals the city’s power source (the Omegahedron!) because he’s a wascaly, wascaly wabbit, but through a bad chain of events Supergirl ends up losing the Omegahedron when it rockets out the city’s paper walls. Uh oh. So Supergirl jumps in the city’s diving pod in order to retrieve the power source, and thus our adventure begins. But, of course, the Omegahedron immediately falls into the hands of our villain, the evil witch Selena (Faye Dunaway), who uses it to quickly gain power and fulfill her dreams of world domination.

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Superman III (1983)

superman3_1Starring Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, Annette O’Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Robert Vaughn, Margot Kidder, Gavan O’Herlihy

Directed by Richard Lester

Expectations: I’m so excited.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the “B-movie for Kids” scale:
threestar


Superman III is the Superman film that I saw more than any other as a kid. Due to this odd fact, during this re-watch I saw both all the flaws AND loved pretty much every moment. It’s kind of a good thing that Richard Donner didn’t finish Superman II, because if the world went from that slice of awesome to this full-on slapstick, camped-out take on the character, I imagine heads would have exploded in theaters across the world, just on sheer grounds of lunacy. Thankfully(?), director Richard Lester stepped in and added a bunch of slapstick to his scenes in the theatrical Superman II, creating something of a hybrid film between the two directors’ tones and paving the way for this 100% Lester joint.

Having previously fought off human and Kryptonian supervillains, Superman III naturally pits the character against another human supervillain. Oh, but don’t worry because this guy, Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn), is in no way, shape or form like Lex Luthor. Not. At. All. Luthor dealt in land to facilitate his desire to financially control the world; Webster deals in computers and controlling specific industries for financial control of the world. Luthor had a pair of henchpeople; Webster had a pair of henchpeople and Richard Pryor, but one of his henchpeople had a thing for Superman. Oh wait, Ms. Teschmacher had a thing for the Man of Steel also. I could continue listing these “clear differences” in the characters, but honestly, it’s so obvious that the characters are absolutely nothing like each other that it’s kinda of pointless.

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Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (1980/2006)

2986690_640pxStarring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp, Marlon Brando, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran, E.G. Marshall, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Valerie Perrine, Clifton James, Marc McClure

Directed by Richard Donner

Expectations: I’m so excited.

threehalfstar


So all those problems I wrote about in my review for the theatrical version of Superman II? Gone. The Richard Donner Cut is head and shoulders a better film, reconstructing the original vision for the follow-up story to the first film perfectly. It’s a true shame that Donner wasn’t allowed to finish this at the time, as it really could have led to a much better Superman series if they let him continue making them after the first two films. Donner expresses a long-gone desire for doing this in the “Making Of” featurette on the DVD, and you can see the pain in his eyes. Even so many years later, it’s still a sore subject.

Watching the two versions of Superman II shows perfectly how editing and context can completely change scenes. Where certain scenes in Superman II feel long and out of place, within the context of the Donner cut they make sense and work naturally with the flow of the movie. The story slowly builds, where in the theatrical cut everything seemed to slowly go nowhere. So much of the first hour of that movie is painfully disjointed, a result of the producers and Richard Lester needing to rewrite key scenes and doing a poor job of it. I find it interesting that without prior knowledge of what was what, I took the most issue with the two main sections they added: the Eiffel Tower and the extended Niagara Falls bits. I guess this doesn’t bode well for the upcoming re-watch of Lester’s Superman III, does it?).

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Superman II (1980)

Superman-2-posterStarring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran, E.G. Marshall, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Valerie Perrine, Susannah York, Clifton James, Marc McClure

Directed by Richard Lester

Expectations: I’m so excited.

twohalfstar


If I didn’t already know that this film had a troubled production, the end result would speak for itself. Superman II feels like a direct sequel to Richard Donner’s original film AND a completely different movie from a different team, which makes it quite an odd watch. You’d think after such a massive success as Superman there’d be no way they could botch a sequel this bad, but they indeed managed the impossible. To know the story behind the film’s production only adds to that fire, giving birth to all sorts of “What might have been?” frustration. But it’s not all bad, as when Superman II decides it actually wants to be a Superman sequel, it’s pretty damn great. I’m now even more excited to see the Richard Donner reconstructed version, which I hope rectifies a lot of what felt so wrong about this one, especially in the first hour or so.

The plot of Superman II was set up (in part) during the opening minutes of the original film, as Jor-El imprisoned the evil General Zod and his minions Ursa and Non. But this time around, the producers didn’t want to pay Marlon Brando so he is completely excised from the film. Consequently, the scene plays out different than you might remember it, but the result is the same: the Kryptonian baddies are locked inside the Phantom Zone for all eternity. Well… until Superman throws a hydrogen bomb connected to an Eiffel Tower elevator into space. The detonation breaks them free and soon they come to Earth, each sporting powers equal to that of Superman himself. Uh oh.

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Superman (1978)

Superman-Movie-Poster777Superman (1978)
AKA Superman: The Movie

Starring Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Margot Kidder, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Valerie Perrine, Glenn Ford, Phyllis Thaxter, Jeff East, Marc McClure

Directed by Richard Donner

Expectations: I’m so excited.

fourstar


The tagline for Superman was, “You’ll believe a man can fly,” a boast inferring that the film would not just provide superhero entertainment, but believable superhero entertainment. And tonight, while watching Richard Donner’s Superman for the first time in probably 15 years, it was this quality that amazed me so. The level of believable, pure fantasy that is achieved in Superman is astounding. Star Wars may have exploded people’s minds with its never-before-seen special FX in space, but Superman had the harder task of doing similar things within our own world. This inherently puts Superman at a disadvantage, as we know definitively that these things aren’t possible in our world. But Superman does the impossible, making literally anything seem completely plausible, yet still grounded in reality. This was the first movie to show the potential of the superhero genre, and it’s still one of the best.

I decided to watch the Director’s Cut assembled by Richard Donner in 2000, and even at almost 2½ hours, it just flies by. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope, it’s an awesome movie! There’s only a few scenes added, totaling about eight minutes, but within the context of the film they add so much value. I had already decided to watch Richard Donner’s re-cut version of Superman II based on a good hunch, but now I’m plumb fascinated by what it might contain. For those that don’t know, the two films were shot back-to-back and Donner had completed shooting about 75–80% of the sequel when he was fired. The producers then had most of the sequel re-shot, resulting in the theatrical release version of Superman II only containing something like 25% of Donner’s footage.

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Back to the Future (1985)

Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, George DiCenzo, Frances Lee McCain, James Tolkan

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Expectations: I know exactly what to expect. Pure greatness.


Four stars? Really? Perhaps I am being overly generous due to a good twenty-six years of unadulterated love for this movie, but after re-watching it for what is probably the fiftieth time, Back to the Future still excites, delights and is just flat-out awesome. As I’m sure everyone has seen the film, this is nothing close to a revelation, but as Back to the Future is one of my favorite films, I simply could not watch it and not write something about it.

You know the story, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) creates a time machine and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) mistakenly finds himself in 1955 with no definite way back to the future. It’s such a joy to watch the plot unfold, as each detail in the opening 1985 sequence, small or large, comes into play beautifully in 1955. It’s so perfectly laid out, so flawlessly plotted, so relentlessly paced. The beauty of it all is just how well it works amidst its quick pacing, as the film throws quite a bit of time travel info and space-time continuum references at you. In the hands of lesser filmmakers this could spell disaster, but Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale have crafted a time travel fantasy for the ages. In its complexity, it is actually ultra-simplistic though, working on basic themes and ideas easily relatable, making for what is hands down one of the best mainstream crossover science fiction/fantasy films of all time.

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