Tag Comic Book

Rocketeer, The (1991)

The Rocketeer (1991)Cliff Secord is a young pilot whose dream of entering into a big air race with his new plane are ruined when a shoot-out involving cars on the ground below him forces him to crash-land. But whilst he is grounded, Secord stumbles across a top secret rocket pack that was hidden inside the cockpit of another plane in the hanger. Strapping on the invention, he finds that he can fly and with the assistance of his mechanic friend, Peevy, he becomes the Rocketeer. It isn’t long before he attracts the attentions of the Mafia, the FBI and Neville Sinclair, one of Hollywood’s top actors, who has a secret of his own.

 

Long before Iron Man hit the cinemas, another flying superhero who wore metal was one of the sole flag bearers of a niche genre which had yet to hit its stride, Batman and Superman aside. The Rocketeer was ahead of its time. Had it been made during the comic book boom of the late 00s, it would have a found a bigger, more appreciative audience. But it was a flop when it was released in 1991 and I’m not quite sure why. The Rocketeer blows the socks off a lot of today’s superhero efforts and is a lot of fun in its own quaint, charming way. Thankfully, over the years it has grown a decent cult following.

Think Iron Man meets Raiders of the Lost Ark and you won’t go too far wrong in preparing yourself for The Rocketeer. The film is set in the late 30s and a lot of effort goes into bringing to life that era with a wide variety of cars, clothes, music, hairstyles and dating etiquette on show. This wouldn’t have worked in a modern setting and the old fashioned, vintage feel helps bring the story to life in a lot more fantastical fashion – the notion of a rocket pack may not seem so far-fetched to someone in the present day as opposed to someone living in 30s America. The period setting also allows the inclusion of those favourite whipping boys, the Nazis, as the bad guys.

The retro feel of the film really allows the film to embrace its Saturday morning serial roots in much the same manner that Raiders of the Lost Ark managed to replicate so well. The film is very episodic, with the Rocketeer going from one scrape to the next and getting involved in all manner of gun battles, fist fights and battles atop blimps. The action sequences are dealt with perfectly well – this is a family-friendly Disney live-action film after all and so there’s nothing here that will offend or cause concern. The majority of action set pieces and special effects are done using old school techniques including using some well-trained stuntmen. Though some of the flying sequences with the Rocketeer look a bit dated now, they still serve their function. Everything is all very innocent and gentle, as you’d expect from the House of Mouse. It’s too bad we don’t really get enough of them. To say this superhero is meant to fly, he doesn’t do an awful lot of it.

Sadly, The Rocketeer lacks the spark that made Raiders tick – the self-referential humour. Yes there are a handful of in-jokes and sight gags but they’re sparsely scattered around the film. The throwaway material works well with gentle humour and whilst The Rocketeer never gets serious, it fails to find the funny bone as well. Coupled with the shortage of truly captivating action sequences, the film consistently threatens to come crashing back down to Earth with a bump. Thankfully the film is light enough to be able to take the rough and tumble of some poor pacing. Things never get overly boring but at the same time there seems to be a lack of energy underneath.

The Rocketeer’s main weakness comes from its leading man, Bill Campbell. Whilst he’s not terrible in the role, his performance is so average that it is hard to remember anything worthwhile he says or does in the film. The role really needed someone more charismatic and memorable to bring the character to life. Considering the supporting cast of Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin and Timothy Dalton who all outshine him, Campbell is wooden and dull. Dalton, in particular, is having a blast (having hung up his 007 tux two years earlier) as a Nazi spy doubling up as a successful Hollywood actor. If anyone ever doubted whether Dalton had the charisma to pull off Bond (he was always one of, if not my favourite, actors to play Ian Fleming’s suave spy) then this role proves he did.

James Horner provides the soundtrack and seems content to rip off his previous scores once again. Aliens and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan were classic scores yet Horner continually recycles his old work to remind us of how good he once was.

 

A bit cheesy, full of clichés and as light and fluffy as cotton wool, The Rocketeer is nevertheless an entertaining, family-friendly superhero film which deserved far better success than it had. Not every superhero film has to be uber-serious like The Dark Knight or Man of Steel.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

Johnny Blaze has fled to Eastern Europe where he plans to stay out of everyone’s way to avoid triggering his uncontrollable Ghost Rider curse. But when a monk tracks him down and tells him that he needs his help in exchange for lifting his curse, Blaze has no choice but to agree. His mission is to protect a young boy who is being pursued by a gang of armed men who believe that he is the Devil’s son and want to use him in a ceremony that will restore Satan’s ultimate power of evil.

 

Ghost Rider was not the greatest superhero film ever made and commonly ranks in Top 10 Worst Comic Book Adaptations lists. But hey, it wasn’t that bad, surely? Actually come to think of it, it was. Try as I might, it’s hard to even remember what happened outside of Nicholas Cage hamming it up a bit and plenty of motorbike stunts. Ghost Rider rode off the coat tails of the comic book cinematic onslaught of the 2000s and was rightly panned by critics and public alike. Oh I’m sure there are die-hard fans out there who loved it, like any iconic character who makes the transition from page to screen will have. But for the uninitiated masses, Ghost Rider was a bomb. So Sony, in an attempt to stop the rights from reverting back to Marvel, gave the character a second chance at life in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

Based on how the character looks, Ghost Rider should surely be odds for the “most bad ass looking comic book character” that mainstream audiences are aware of. A guy with a flaming skull head, who wears a leather jacket and rides around on a sweet bike like he does should not to be too hard to mess up – give him some decent reason to go around beating the crap out of bad guys and killing them with his flaming bike chain and penance stare move and the rest should come naturally. But the problem with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is that it doesn’t find a decent reason for him to do these things, and even when he does do them, he doesn’t do them in any style whatsoever.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance may have a rather simplistic, straightforward plot about people having to protect a child from evil forces they don’t fully understand but this shouldn’t hold the film back from grandeur (look at Terminator 2: Judgment Day with a similar protection storyline involving a seemingly-indestructible hero who has to protect a lone boy and his mother). Instead, this story is a lacklustre line which starts at the beginning and finishes at the end of the film, with no twists along the way, no major plot developments and little in the way of compelling material. Unsurprisingly for a film which is low on story and creativity, there is plenty of filler as Blaze and the boy and his mother start to bond and become a dysfunctional family in the face of adversity. We’re supposed to care about them, we’re supposed to understand some of the tropes and MacGuffins that are thrown into the script like days of reckoning and the like – but to be honest, no one cares because there is no spark to set it off.

With nothing to get excited about from a narrative point of view, comic book films can at least astound us with their action sequences featuring colourful characters exchanging out-of-this-world barrages of weapons and super powers. There are plenty of generic action set pieces on show with a variety of run-and-gun moments, motorcycle chases and old school fisticuffs. I’m sure it sounded good on paper but on the screen it’s all so flat and mundane and there’s nowhere near enough of them to make the ninety-five minutes go by any quicker. Coming from the guys who made the frenetic Crank films, you’d expect a lot better, even if it was all style over substance. But there’s little evidence of both, just lacklustre sequences which fails to generate the sort of heat that Ghost Rider’s head looks to be generating.

In many respects, Ghost Rider makes for a poor superhero to adapt on the big screen.  When Blaze turns into the hero, he can’t talk or emote so what we see is just an empty skeletal figure dishing out justice with no sort of connection to the audience. Impervious to bullets and able to wade through armies of henchmen without so much as a scratch, Ghost Rider only meets his match whenever he’s up against opponents who have made similar deals with the Devil. So in the sequences where he’s squaring off against standard human opponents wasting their time firing bullets and missiles at him, there’s no sense of danger. We know he’ll survive so just get on with it. In order to provide some sort of suitable opponent, the story turns one of the human thugs into a super villain who can decay anything he touches – it might sound cool but the character is about as one-dimensional and thinly-written as you can get.

Nicholas Cage reprises the role of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider which is a shame since I really can’t stand the guy. Cage doesn’t play characters in films, he portrays Nicholas Cage. He’s become a self-parody of himself and in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance he gets the chance to act all crazy and manic in front of the camera once again. Cage bores me on the screen and the combination of him and the dull script was just daring me to switch off the film. Ciarán Hinds snarls his way across the film as the Devil whilst Idris Elba is wasted in the role of the drunken monk, Moreau. He would have been a better choice to play the titular character.

 

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance somehow manages to outdo the first one in terms of how inept it brings the comic book character to the screen. Long-winded and monotonous but eventually leading nowhere with only brief glimpses of potential, the Ghost Rider franchise seems to have suffered a flat tyre that it won’t be able to repair unless it ditches Cage from the lead role, heads back to Marvel and gets a decent script behind it.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Phantom, The (1996)

The Phantom (1996)

The Ghost Who Walks. The Man Who Cannot Die.

Known as ‘the ghost who walks, the man who cannot die,’ the twenty-first man to hold the title of the African superhero, The Phantom, travels to New York to investigate shady businessman Xander Drax’s interest in the fabled Skulls of Touganda. A trio of artefacts which, when brought together, give their possessor great powers, the skulls have been sought for a long time by the Phantom’s age-old enemy, the evil Sengh Brotherhood and Drax is suspected of being a member.

 

With Batman souring the skies in the 90s thanks to Tim Burton, there was little competition for the Caper Crusader. Superman had his day in the 70s and 80s with the Christopher Reeve films. The Incredible Hulk had dominated the TV shows but never made it to the big screen. Spider-Man had been relegated to a couple of low rent TV movies and the likes of the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Iron Man were all still yet to get off the ground. So it was left to a lesser known hero of yesteryear to make the jump from page to screen. The Phantom was a popular comic strip which originally came out in the 1930s (and pre-dates Superman by a few months) and was about ten years too early in getting released. With the fuss regarding comic book heroes nowadays, a more appreciative audience may have been found. But back in 1996, everyone was like “What? Huh? Who?” and unfortunately this is probably The Phantom’s most inherent weakness – just who is he?

Well the idea of a superhero (who doesn’t actually have superpowers, he’s more like Batman) who bizarrely wears a purple spandex costume whilst trying to blend into the background of the African jungles doesn’t really sell itself for a start but The Phantom is decent fun, if nothing else. I think the best way to sum it up is that The Phantom is, at times, like watching Indiana Jones rattle around in a full body purple jumpsuit. It’s got the same old school, pulpy serial vibe that the Indy films had and, whilst playing itself straight, never takes itself too seriously and isn’t afraid of poking a joke at itself every once in a while. It should be noted that the script was penned by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade screenwriter Jeffrey Bloam so there are plenty of similarities in style with the films.

I think the underlying problem with The Phantom is its simplicity. It never really goes for broke: the action is sporadic and not very intense when it turns up; it’s not violent in the slightest, perhaps more aimed for a younger market; and there is not a great deal of sexuality. It’s all very child-friendly and a little too corny and camp at times. You never get the ‘wow’ factor with anything. Writing a review about it, I’m finding it hard to come up with any memorable scene to highlight or any dialogue to mention. Don’t get me wrong, The Phantom is entertaining. There a million and one terms that could be used to describe the film but “bad film” isn’t amongst them. The script keeps the pace of the film moving briskly along so it’s never overly dull. But on the flip side, it never once takes your breath away. Rarely have superheroes been so, average.

Billy Zane is decent in the lead role and brings about a reasonable degree of normality and ‘everyday Joe’ quality to the role, though he lacks that extra spark or wit to make the role truly his. He is able to balance that with the buffed-up physicality needed, although the purple costume does him little favours. But in the end, The Phantom is hardly the most memorable superhero to grace the big screen despite the glaringly colourful attire. Treat Williams hams it up dramatically as Drax and the feminine quote for the film is handled by Kristy Swanson and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Swanson is the love interest and though she looks great, her character is given little screen time to develop any depth. Zeta-Jones is one of the bad guys and has been taking tips from Williams on overacting the villainous role. The casting is solid but the script gives them little to work with.

 

The Phantom isn’t going to offend anyone in any way because of its low key approach to the material and I enjoyed watching it. But it’s instantly forgettable compared to some of the genre’s more famous recent offerings. The Phantom may have had his moment to shine but he blew it and has been long forgotten with Spider-Man and X-Men bursting onto the scene.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Fantastic Four (2005)

Fantastic Four (2005)

4 times the action. 4 times the adventure. 4 times the fantastic.

A group of scientists led by the brilliant Reed Richards inadvertently gain superpowers after exposure to cosmic radiation during a space mission. Upon their return to Earth, they must come to terms with their new powers and use them to defeat the plans of their enemy, Victor Von Doom, who was also on board when the cosmic radiation hit.

 

Another of Marvel’s comic book adaptations come to life, Fantastic Four has always been slumped in the corner whilst its famous companions Spider-Man and X-Men gain most of the fame for the company on the screen. With only two animated series and a previous failed film to its name, the Four never really looked like big success was coming their way despite being one of Marvel’s most popular comics – until now at least. With the surge in popularity of comic book adaptations, what better way to introduce, or should be that re-introduce, the world to Mr Fantastic, Invisible Woman, The Thing and Human Torch.

Fantastic Four might look like one of the best comic books come to life. Not in any sort of brooding Batman-style look but just for the sheer light-hearted and colourful nature it sports. I guess it’s to do with the lower rating that it received for release compared to some of the more adult-themed comic book films. And this might be where the hate and criticism stems from.  Fantastic Four is a colourful, entertaining comic book film not to be confused with anything serious and deep-meaning.

Fantastic Four might have had the same big budget treatment as its more popular relatives but the film experience is ultimately a hollow one. For all of the great action set pieces, the fantastic make-up effects on the Thing and the presence of one of my favourite comic supervillains, there’s a lack of meat to the story. No coming of age drama like in Spider-Man. No brooding Wolverine to latch on to. Despite the Four being reasonably developed as characters both before and after the mission that mutates them, there’s never any real connection to them because the story is so one-dimensional. They turn into these superheroes halfway through the film and then spend the next half trying to turn back. And that’s pretty much the story in a nutshell. Everything seems so low key in scope.

I guess that’s the problem of it being an origin story as most of the film is devoted to constructing these new characters in order to set them up for further sequels. But the origin story is hardly the most thrilling of them all (no end of Krypton, no uncles being shot by robbers, no parents being murdered, no government test subjects – nothing!) and this slowly starts to creep into everything else in the film.

Casting wise, the film is almost spot-on. Ioan Gruffudd makes for an excellently brainy and nerdy Mr Fantastic, the superhero who can stretch his body into all manner of weird shapes but is something of a charisma vacuum (the character that is, not Gruffudd). Michael Chilkis steals the show beneath layers of make-up as The Thing. I always thought he was such a cool-looking creation in the comics and the film does his character justice, bringing to life the emotional toil that his character is now facing up to by looking like a giant rock. Chris Evans is suitably reckless as the Human Torch. It needed someone young and reckless in the role and Evans plays the part perfectly. The special effects are pretty flawless throughout the film. Each character’s special ability is vividly brought to life, with the Human Torch being the obvious pick.

The weaknesses come in the form of the hot but bland Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman and Julian McMahon as Dr Doom. Not convincing in the slightest as a scientist, the role needed an actresses who could portray hot and clever – Alba just has the hot thing (though I’m not complaining with the lycra suits). And McMahon has no gravitas as the bad guy, more concerned with being smarmy and suave than overly evil and calculating like his comic book counterpart should have been. Being buried under a silly metal mask in the second half only helps him look like some Darth Vader wannabe but even then his motives aren’t world domination, just petty revenge against Mr Fantastic. It’s hardly edge of the seat drama.

And because he doesn’t turn into Dr Doom until the same time as the Four (half-way through), then there’s only one major set piece with good versus evil at the finale as the Four square up against Doom. It’s decent enough but you wonder if they’d pulled the trigger a little earlier in the film, then another fight could have made all the difference. As it stands, Fantastic Four just doesn’t deliver enough action and when it does, it seems as if there has been no build up whatsoever.

 

Fantastic Four isn’t a terrible super hero flick but given the source material and given some of the talent on show, there’s no way this should be as average as it unfortunately turns out. Like the original X-Men, its sole purpose seems to have been to set up the characters for the sequel. It feels more like a missed trick than a bad film and is still highly entertaining: a good superhero film, not a great one.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Batman the Movie (1966)

Batman the Movie (1966)

He’s Here Big As Life In A Real Bat-Epic

When the world’s greatest villains – the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin and Catwoman – combine forces to take over the world, there are only two people who can stop them – Batman and Robin.

 

The 60s Batman TV show goes beyond criticism – it’s just the most absurd, ridiculous, ultra-campy and hilarious collection of overacting, garish sets, tongue-in-cheek scripts and cheesy music ever to hit the small screen. With Adam West and Burt Ward hamming it up as the Dynamic Duo, the fact that they had a ‘Bat-something’ or ‘anti-something’ handy for every possible scenario (anti-shark repellent seems to be a necessary accessory for superheroes), a series of over-enthusiastic and totally ludicrous villains for them to square off against, pop-up comic strip words like “pow” and “oomph” whenever people got hit and a general sense of unbelievability surrounding everything, the TV series was quite like nothing seen before (and since too – a total product of its time).  I would like to think that most fans of Batman can appreciate its values as much as they’d hate to admit it (after all it was extremely popular and did a lot to turn Batman mainstream) and I very much doubt that anyone considers it true canon in any form of Batman media be it the comics or film series.

After a successful first season of the TV series, it was decided that Batman and Robin should head to the big screen for what is essentially an extended episode of the TV show with a slightly bigger budget in Batman the Movie. What better way for them to hit the big screen than to face their four greatest foes in an unholy show of supervillain strength! There’s no real story other than the four villains devise a diabolical plan that Batman and Robin have to stop. It’s no different to one of the episodes of the show, just stretched out for a lot longer. Whilst the half-hour episodes flow fast and free, not overstaying their welcome, Batman the Movie tends to drag at times as the usual format is thinly stretched out over the longer duration. So don’t look for much depth to proceedings, just anarchic fun.

It’s the villains who are the real stars of the show much like they were in their weekly appearances and the classic rogues’ gallery of Batman adversaries is assembled for this one. Cesar Romero is the best of the bunch as the Joker although he is rivalled pretty closely by Burgess Meredith’s Penguin. Meredith was sorely underrated as an actor and his Penguin is full of snarling rage and cutting quips. Lee Merriwether’s Catwoman and Frank Gorshin’s Riddler don’t have as much to do as the others and thus their presence isn’t as grand. But with the Joker and Penguin hamming it up for the duration of the running time, it’s just the right ingredients for Batman and Robin to have some hilarious escapades and they get the lion’s share of the dialogue.

As the Dynamic Duo, Adam West and Burt Ward may have completely type-cast their careers but they’re an absolute hoot. West has an uncanny knack of making even the most ridiculous dialogue sound even more preposterous when delivered in his dead-pan manner and Ward as Robin always brings a tear to the eye with his over-enthusiastic approach to delivering his lines, reciting each one as if it were his last breath.

There is a lot more than just verbal humour in this one. Laugh your socks off at the stereotypical foreign dignitaries at the UN. Quite literally wet yourself with laughter as a rubber shark attacks Batman on a rope ladder against a rear projected. Break a few ribs with your laughing as Batman tries to safely dispose of a bomb on a pier. And of course, there are quality old school Batman fights as our heroes confront the villains and their minions, culminating in a huge fight upon their submarine hideout. It’s all intentional camp: some of it works, some of it doesn’t. But there’s no doubting the enthusiasm behind everything. Never once does Batman the Movie attempt serious and its all the better for it – we have the Nolan films for that.

 

Fans of the TV series will be right at home here with Batman the Movie. It’s a little too long and the camp does wear thin but the villains are a hoot and Batman and Robin camp it up big time. For those who thought that Batman was born with Tim Burton and Michael Keaton, think again!

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Man Thing (2005)

Man-Thing (2005)

When nature fights back!

A new sheriff arrives in a small town on the edges of the Louisiana Bayou and is caught in a dispute between the oil company that is draining the swamp and the environmental protesters who want it preserved. More pressing is the number of people who are going missing in the swamp. According to Native American legend, the “spirit guardian” of the swamp has been awakened and will protect it at any cost.

 

Man-Thing was a comic book written for Marvel in the 70s and is one of their more obscure characters at least to the mainstream audience. If the thought of an avenging swamp monster seems familiar, then it’s no surprise to find out that DC comics introduced Swamp Thing around the same time. If you’re looking for a faithful adaptation of the comic then you’ve probably come to the wrong place. However if you’re looking for a half-decent monster movie then Man-Thing will provide you with everything you need.

Originally slated for a cinematic release back in 2004, it was wisely dropped onto television when Marvel considered it not bankable enough. It’s a rather random and most curious choice of comic to turn into a film given the popularity of the big superhero films of late and also that some of Marvel’s more famous characters still hadn’t received film versions at time of writing. But the writers here drop any ‘superhero’ element and turn this into a straight-out horror film where the only loose connections to the comic itself are a few names of characters and the creature itself is more of a Jason Vorhees-in-the-swamp monster.

Unfortunately the story doesn’t really do that much either. There’s this big, angry swamp monster that suddenly appears and starts killing trespassers in the swamp. He kills a few people during the course of the film and once the oil company is taken care of, he disappears again. The end. The plot bears little resemblance to what I’ve come to read about the comic. So basically what the writers have done here is simply pick a Marvel superhero, shred the character of everything about him bar name and then throw him into a horror flick! So much so that those not in the know would think it as another Sci-Fi Channel original. The film should have been able to break free of its B-movie shackles but instead the writers have managed to keep them as tightly-locked as possible. It’s your run-of-the-mill monster movie which runs like clockwork – gore, breasts, monsters wreaking havoc, etc. Sit back, watch and tell me that you didn’t see the next scene coming a mile away?

One of the film’s clear highlights is the cinematography. The swamp settings look great and the film is saturated in a deep green hue at night to give it an extra freakish atmosphere. It’s almost as if the swamp itself is alive and breathing. It looks beautiful but deadly at the same time. You’ll be hard pressed to tell which scenes were shot on location and which were in the studio as the integration of the two is almost seamless. The camera really gives you a long, lingering look at the density of this swamp so that Man-Thing can blend into the background without you realising.

The creature is little known in the Marvel canon so I can’t really comment on it too much. But as far as movie monsters go, it doesn’t look too bad in all honesty. The CGI stands out for a mile but with the screen being dark and full of undergrowth it does its job well. As per tradition, it’s a while before you see the monster in all of its glory and most of the time you just see the remains of its handy work with some reasonably made-up corpses. However the big reveal towards the end when you finally see the towering mass of plant-life is pretty good.

The cast isn’t great but their characters are so caricature that they almost border on insulting. There are the Native Americans who are portrayed as elderly and wise medicine men who live in wooden shacks in the middle of the swamp. You’ve got the redneck populace with their racist and bigoted views on life which have led them to hunting alligators to earn a living. Don’t forget the slimy boss of the oil company. And of course the token hero and token love interest who get it together simply because it’s the natural flow of the film. You watch these films for the monsters, not the actors so it’s a good job that no one knows who any of them. Nor will this film’s release do anything to change that.

 

Man-Thing is an average monster flick which sets out to do what a generic monster flick would do – but this shouldn’t be just another monster movie given the obvious history and pedigree of the title character. To me it looks like Marvel needed a quick buck and slapped the Man-Thing name onto the first swamp monster flick it could find. Wasted effort but watchable anyway.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Superman III (1983)

Superman III (1983)

If the world’s most powerful computer can control even Superman…no one on earth is safe.

After computer whiz Gus Gorman is caught embezzling company funds, ruthless businessman Ross Webster hires the petty criminal for his own scam. He builds Gorman a super computer and instructs him to hack into a weather satellite system to change the climate of Columbia, thus destroying the coffee crop so that he can corner the market. Superman intervenes but Webster has planned ahead and exposes the Man of Steel to a batch of red Kryptonite. This has the effect of splitting Superman into good and evil versions of himself. Can he control himself whilst stopping Webster and Gorman?

 

The fallout from Superman II was still fresh in the minds of everyone behind-the-scenes in this series. Richard Donner had been fired during production of Superman II (despite having shot over 80% of it during the filming of Superman), producer Tom Mankiewicz and composer John Williams had left the series, Richard Lester was hired and re-shot a lot of the film, adding an unnecessary comic side to the proceedings. Actors voiced their concerns about what was going on, notably Margot Kidder who had her role as Lois Lane almost removed from this one as punishment. Without Donner at the helm and Mankiewicz pulling his strings, the Superman series quickly descended into farce and this is the first entry which had no input from either of them. And boy does it show. Superman III is an outing so different to the original that it’s a shame to include them in the same franchise.

The opening sequence set during the credits is a ridiculous slapstick routine in which Superman accidentally sets off a chain reaction of disasters in a street. The sequence seems to be totally out of place with everything else in the series preceding it but it’s a dangerous sign of things to come. Even Leslie Nielsen wouldn’t be seen dead doing something like this in one of his spoof films! How one can take anything else in the film seriously after this sequence is beyond me. Nothing comes from this sequence either and it seems tacked in for no apparent reason only than the director can do it if he wants.

The film quickly goes from bad to worse with the introduction of Gus Gorman and the stringing along of the story is basically a weak device to string together a couple of set pieces, most of which are of the comic variety. Superman III is perhaps fondly remembered for one imaginative sequence and that’s about it. Can anyone else remember anything about it apart from the good Superman versus evil Superman fight in a junkyard? The scene is so out of place in this film because it’s actually excellent and it’s a real shame because its one of the highlights of the series. Superman battles himself from pillar to post inside the junkyard and the special effects are great with Christopher Reeve seemingly fighting himself in many shots. Reeve is particularly good playing his darker, sinister side and watching him booze it up and act misogynistic is a riot. Reeves can never be replaced as Superman as he had the right combination of looks, physique, charisma and general likeability that the character needed and he shows why he became the true star of this series. His ability as an actor was never really tested in this series but he gets to show off some of his skills here.

Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane is given so little time on screen as a result of voicing her opinions over Donner’s departure (good for her though) and Superman is given a secondary love interest. It’s an insult to fans of the first two Superman films as the chemistry between Christopher Reeves and Margot Kidder was excellent and their ‘will they/won’t they’ pairing made for some of the more entertaining moments from both films. Her replacement, Annette O’Toole as Lana Lang, lacks any sort of connection or spark with Christopher Reeves and the romantic sub plots are given scant time as a result.

Fortunately for Gene Hackman, he managed to get out of playing Lex Luthor again and so the writers simply create a Luthor-lite character with Robert Vaughan’s Ross Webster. Vaughan’s a decent actor but the role is terrible and the script doesn’t really have him do anything, well, evil enough to be considered a major threat. Casting Richard Pryor as Gus Gorman is one of the worst casting decisions ever. The man is hilarious in his stand-up comedy, less so in most of his big screen outings. Being saddled with a family friendly rating is like cutting off his limbs.. The man just isn’t funny in this as he’s not able to be himself. He’s saddled with a dodgy script which has him doing silly things like skiing off the side of buildings wearing cowboy hats. That’s not the comedy he is renowned for. Trying to buy him as some villainous computer genius is arguably up there with trying to believe Denise Richards is a nuclear physicist in The World is Not Enough. Unfortunately this character is given so much screen time, in fact just as much if not more than Superman himself.

 

Superman III marked the turning point for Superman on the big screen simply for the fact that it tries to be a comedy when the material just isn’t meant to be funny. Yes, the series could be light hearted when it needed to be but this one forgets where to draw the line. The junkyard fight scene aside, this one is the least memorable of the series and is a very bland outing for the Man of Steel.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Nuclear Power. In the best hands, it is dangerous. In the hands of Lex Luthor, it is pure evil. This is Superman’s greatest battle. And it is for all of us.

After a young schoolboy writes to Superman asking him to do something about the nuclear arms race, the Man of Steel decides to intervene and help his adopted planet. He gathers all of the nuclear weapons in the world and hurtles them into the sun, hoping that an era of world peace will follow. However what he doesn’t know was that Lex Luthor had acquired some of Superman’s hair from a raid on a museum and attaches it to one of the missiles. The resulting explosion creates Nuclear Man, a solar-powered android that is programmed to destroy the Earth and Superman.

 

Every big hitting film series has a franchise killer of some kind which usually kills dead any hope of further sequels. Superman met his franchise killer in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, a film which is rightfully dubbed as one of the worst superhero films ever made but one which also gets unfair treatment. Beneath the silly, the sublime and the ridiculous that is Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, there were a lot of studio problems which inevitably have had a major impact on the final product we see.

After the studio got into financial trouble, the budget was slashed in half and it shows. The film also ended up ninety minutes long yet it was cut down drastically from its original running time of one hundred and thirty five minutes! That’s a heck of a lot of film to cut out and you just wonder whether any of it would have been beneficial to the final release. Unfortunately I can only review what is in front of me and deleted footage and director’s cuts don’t mean anything if I’m not watching it. So is the reputation for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace justified?

Forgetting the financial problems, the series was on it’s last legs at this point from a creative point of view and you can tell by just how much is recycled from the previous films. It’s the same familiar set-up: Lex Luther is once again the villain after escaping from prison yet Superman has many other villains to choose from. Lois Lane and Superman go for a romantic fly and she discovers his identity, only for him to use his memory-erasing kiss on her again (isn’t that technically ‘date rape’). Superman has to fight another enemy with the same abilities (he’s already fought three Kryptonians in Superman II and took on his evil self in Superman III). I guess making a superhero who only has one real weakness and almost limitless powers does have its creative drawbacks!

Thankfully the comedy aspects which dogged the last film and Richard Lester’s contributions to Superman II have been replaced with a more mature side in which Superman makes some poignant speeches to the UN. It sounds more like an anti-nuclear propaganda reel at times with Reeves’ (who co-wrote the film) passion about disarmament clear for all to see. The introduction of a rival being who could take on Superman should have led to a lot more than we get here. Nuclear Man is horrendous. Sporting a ridiculous outfit which makes Superman’s blue-and-red ensemble look like the highlight of fashion, Nuclear Man looks like an 80s hair metal guitarist. He doesn’t lay waste to cities or use his ‘nuclear’ aspect for any nefarious purpose. Nuclear Man is devoid of any personality or defining features, he’s merely a henchman for Luthor and is there solely to provide Superman with a super-opponent to battle against. For all of Luther’s intelligence and cunning, he is after all a man and therefore no physical match for Superman.

The budget was slashed for this third sequel and you can tell with the special effects. Never the most convincing of flyers anyway, Superman now looks like he’s being held up by wires and super-imposed on a rear-projected background. The final fight between Superman and Nuclear Man takes place across a variety of poorly made sets including the worst moon set you’re going to see any time soon and contains the destruction of the Great Wall of China. It’s a daft cross between cartoon mayhem and WWE wrestling and it doesn’t work.

Familiar faces on the acting side of the film certainly help Superman IV: The Quest for Peace to at least maintain continuity with the rest of the series. Christopher Reeve IS Superman and no amount of re-casting will ever be able to change that. His performances as the bumbling Clark Kent and the dashing Superman are still some of the best that anyone who has stepped into a superhero costume has ever produced. Reeve seems somewhat bored with the whole thing now but he’s still one of the only things on show that works. Quite what Gene Hackman is doing back is another matter. The two-time Oscar winning actor is the best thing on display here and tries to compensate for all of the silliness around him. Margot Kidder is back as Lois Lane although after the damage done to her character in the last one, it’s almost pointless for her to reprise her role. Superman gets another mild love interest in this one so Lane isn’t really needed anymore.

It’s a pity because one of the strengths of Superman and Superman II was the on-off relationship between Lois/Clark and Lois/Superman. Across the board, it’s clear to see that everyone had lost their spark and interest in this series at this point. Even the writers seem to have forgotten the boundaries of science and have one of the human characters breathing in outer space without assistance.

 

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace isn’t as bad as everyone makes out but it’s still a debacle from start to finish. It was pure Kryptonite to the series and effectively killed off the Man of Steel for nineteen years. What a way to go out, eh?

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆