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Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) Review

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) Director: Sidney J. Furie

“Destroy Superman!”

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Easily one of the worst movies ever made, Superman IV was a byproduct of the Cannon Group, a production company known for cranking out cornball ‘80s action flicks. Superman IV is unfortunately rife with cheap tricks and budget cuts (for example, the same clip of Christopher Reeve soaring toward the camera is recycled about a dozen times with different green screens throughout the movie). And nothing seems to make sense in Superman IV –people can breathe in outer space, cars can drive off cliffs, crashing in fiery infernos, while drivers and passengers manage to survive without injury, prison guards are easily duped, Lois somewhat ambiguously seems to know Clark Kent’s secret identity, Superman apparently contracts a life-threatening sickness from a radioactive scratch, and Superman can now apparently move the moon out of orbit to cause an eclipse? There is also a bizarre, albeit brief, scene showcasing an elderly, frail Superman which is quickly glossed over. In context, at the time Christopher Reeve was fuming over the collapsing scenery of Superman III but he was eventually persuaded to reprise his role in a fourth film in exchange for being granted co-screenwriting credit. His anti-nuclear proliferation activism is apparent throughout the film. Margot Kidder also needed persuading in order to return as Lois –throughout the production she and Reeve were apparently at odds, while Reeve was also in constant dispute with director Sidney Furie. Reeve later described the film as a “catastrophe from start to finish.”    

In Superman IV, Superman rescues Russian astronauts from disaster and then returns to Smallville where he receives a distant message from his long-dead mother about an energy force which will permanently sever his ties to his home planet of Krypton. At the same time, an unknown buyer has expressed interest in purchasing the dilapidated Kent farm –but this is never really revisited. Superman rescues Lois Lane (reprised for the fourth time by Margot Kidder) as she is trapped aboard a runaway train, and then once back at the Daily Planet, a new employee arrives named Lacy Warfield (Mariel Hemingway, granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway) who makes Lois jealous by her very presence. She is actually the daughter of David Warfield, a newspaper tycoon who has acquired the Daily Planet in an effort to turn it into a gossip rag. He fires Perry White (Jackie Cooper) and, from here, ultimately Lacy’s presence in the film is confusing and seems wholly out of place.   

Clark Kent also decides to spontaneously reveal his secret identity to Lois as they walk off the edge of a building together –cue a series of utterly abysmal flying special effects which are remarkably inferior to the original film in 1978. Superman uses this situation to briefly talk to Lois about his concern for peace on earth (a minor public dilemma over nuclear warfare has been raised by some random schoolchildren) before Superman erases Lois’s memory yet again with a kiss. Next, we see him strolling onto the floor of the United Nations where he promises to rid the planet of all nuclear weapons. He then collects every nuclear weapon on earth into a giant net and lobs it toward the sun.

Meanwhile, Gene Hackman returns as the silly villain Lex Luthor (after being entirely absent from the third film). Luthor is rescued from incarceration by his emo-punk nephew, Lenny Luthor, and he proceeds to create a new moronic villainous character called “nuclear man” (Mark Pillow plays nuclear man in his first and only appearance on the big screen) –the special effects here are downright terrible, and Gene Hackman actually dubs over all of Pillow’s lines. Superman simply stands aside while Lex Luthor describes nuclear man and calls upon him to destroy Superman. Amazingly, nuclear man has the special ability to… grow his fingernails. He looks like a Greek god with super-strength and radioactive powers. At any rate, Superman battles nuclear man all over the world from outer space, to an erupting volcano, to the Great Wall of China (which Superman reconstructs), and even the Statue of Liberty. Superman is briefly “defeated” but then he finds his life source from Krypton and entraps nuclear man in an elevator and launches him to the moon where they continue to fight in pure absurdity. Superman causes an eclipse by moving the moon (another groaning farce) which depletes nuclear man’s power and he dies as Superman drops him inside a nuclear reactor.  

Suffice it to say this is an atrociously bad movie –every scene is sloppy, the editing is amateur, the dialogue is stilted, the special effects are worthy of a cheap B-movie, the script is terrible, and penny-pinching left many incomplete ideas in the finished product. Superman IV is a garbled, incoherent collection of nonsense –a sad fall from grace for the Christopher Reeve era. In many ways, it reminded me a great deal of Jaws IV: The Revenge (also released in 1987). Superman IV was such a failure that Superman would not return to the big screen for another twenty years. If the first Superman movie made us believe a man could fly, the fourth Superman installment reminds us that he is little more than an actor suspended from strings in front of a green screen. Unless you are a true completionist, I strongly recommend skipping this one.

Superman III (1983) Review

Superman III (1983) Director: Richard Lester

“Computers rule the world today. And the fellow that can fool the computers, can rule the world himself.”

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Even from the opening credit roll, the third Superman movie promises to be a quirky outing. Today, Superman III is infamous among fans for introducing heavy elements of comedy –gags which really aren’t very funny—and despite a few engaging moments, this film is unfortunately a clunky and disappointing sequel. Director Richard Lester returned for this film, despite not being a fan of comic books or Superman, but he wanted to make a comedy film with Richard Pryor. From the beginning of the film, we are greeted with quirky street scenes –a blind man wandering into traffic, flammable explosive penguins, a stumbling mime, a passer-by accidentally pied in the face, a bank robbery which leads to a car crash, a fire hydrant nearly drowns a driver, and so on. The wacky hijinks continues throughout the movie. The film’s central antagonist is legendary comedian Richard Pryor who plays Gus Gorman, a chronically unemployed ruffian who discovers a way to skim fractional payments off his employer using his computer. One minute he is bumbling his way through conversation with his boss, the next he is stomping around in a caricature of General Patton. He teams up with his megalomaniacal industrialist boss, Ross “Bubba” Webster (Robert Vaughn), as they try to get enrich themselves in an oil and coffee scheme.

Clark and Jimmy travel home to Smallville for a high school reunion, while Lois goes on vacation to Bermuda (she disappears for almost all of the rest of the movie). Clark pursues a romance with his old high school love interest, Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole) and her son. However, halfway through the movie Superman takes a dark turn. Gus manages to expose Superman to alternative kryptonite (the only different ingredient is tar from cigarettes). As a result, in a string of brutally uncomfortable scenes, Superman becomes a super predator and a super villain, aggressively seducing Lana Lang instead of saving victims of a nearby truck crash –and in another bizarre scene– Superman flies to Pisa to straighten the leaning Tower of Pisa. Then he blows out the eternal flame of the Olympic torch for no particular reason. He sports an unshaven face, assumes a gruff James Cagney accent, and sleeps with a floosy he meets atop the Statue of Liberty in exchange for causing a gasoline crisis (she is secretly working for Bubba). Now a villain, Superman gets drunk in a bar and starts flicking peanuts which break expensive bottles in the bar. He then battles himself in a junkyard in a case of good Clark Kent versus evil Superman. Is this a real battle or merely a metaphor for his inner struggle? Don’t ask too many questions with this movie. In the end, Clark prevails in ridiculous fashion –he strangles evil Superman to death and then corrects all the problems caused by his formerly evil self.   

One of the themes in Superman III is the dangerous rise of computers, a fitting commentary for the 1980s. Working with Bubba, Gus decides to construct a super computer which is operated from Bubba’s underground lair in Glen Canyon, Utah. And even when Gus attempts to stop the computer before it kills Superman, the computer takes on a life of its own, and it begins stealing the world’s power as well as absorbing Bubba’s sidekicks, converting them into cyborgs (I thought this was a surprisingly compelling scene in the film as it was reminiscent of classic horror tropes). At any rate, Superman manages to outsmart the computer by boiling cup of acid which begins to melting the computer. At the film’s end, Clark gives an engagement ring to Lana Lang, who is then hired by the Daily Planet. Meanwhile, Lois returns from vacation while clearly disguising her jealousy over the situation. Thus concludes a truly mediocre movie. Once it was finally over, I asked myself: what were they thinking with Superman III? Superman resolves a few minor crises, attends a high school reunion, and briefly transforms into a villain –and who in their right mind thought Richard Pryor playing a clumsy, low-brow, genius with a heart of gold was the right fit for a Superman movie? At least Christopher Reeve delivers another great performance in this shockingly bad movie.

Superman II (1980) Review

Superman II (1980) Director: Richard Lester

“Good afternoon, Mr. President. Sorry I’ve been away so long. I won’t let you down again.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Superman II presents some corny laughs and a handful of emotionally gripping scenes, but the rest of the film is just painfully mediocre in my view –it is awkward, grainy, and in many ways underwhelming in contrast to its magnificent predecessor. I realize that I may be alone in the view that Superman II is somewhat flimsy and overrated. Original Superman director, Richard Donner, who initially began shooting the sequel back-to-back with the original, was fired from the project and replaced by Richard Lester (an intermediary who was hired during the first film when director Richard Donner and producers the Salkinds were no longer on speaking terms). Lester was the memorable director of The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night (1964). However, nobody onset seemed to be happy about the directorial change –Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder were somewhat outspoken about Richard Lester’s poor choices. Gene Hackman refused to reappear for reshoots, and lead writer Tom Mankiewicz also declined to participate out of loyalty to Richard Donner. Other creatives were also not involved in the picture –especially cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth who passed away (to whom the original film was dedicated) and John Barry (of Star Wars fame) who also suddenly died. Sadly, John Williams also refused to participate in this film and it was left to Ken Thorne to attempt to emulate the extraordinary Williams score from Superman, albeit rather unconvincingly.

Whereas many movie reviewers seem to regard Superman II as one of the best superhero movies of all time, I found it to be little more than mildly entertaining. With a confluence of different tones –some scenes shot by Donner in the familiar style of epic grandeur, while others were shot in a distilled, static fashion by Lester– the tone of Superman II is simply a mess. And since its release, a Richard Donner cut has also been released –broadly considered a legendary director’s cut among fans (however, I watched the original theatrical Lester version). After a notorious interview with Margot Kidder, the “Donner Cut” was finally released along with Superman Returns (2006).

Needless to say, the plot of this film is a bit haphazard. Superman saves Lois and others from a terrorist bomb at the Eiffel Tower, but the bomb is detonated in space which somehow manages to release the imprisoned insurrectionists led by Zod (Terence Stamp) who were banished to the “phantom zone” in a spinning parallelogram from Krypton by Superman’s father, Jor-El as portrayed at the beginning of Superman (1978). The first half of Superman II concerns the relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane, as Lois begins to grow suspicious that Clark is secretly Superman. Different scenarios unfold, depending upon whether you watch the theatrical version or the Donner Cut, but Lois tests Clark by leaping out a window, hopping into the rushing waters at Niagara Falls, and she even fires a gun at Clark which is later revealed to be firing nothing more than a blank. In the theatrical version, Clark trips over an animal carpet and falls upon a burning fireplace, but when Lois notices Clark has no injuries, his secret is revealed.

Clark and Lois travel to the “Fortress of Solitude” where Superman professes his love for Lois to an artificially reconstructed image of his mother (notably, Marlon Brando is entirely eliminated from this movie resulting from his infamous salary dispute). Superman then is forced to give up his supernatural powers by stepping into a glass encasing, making him mortal. This moment offers an emotionally gripping twist as Superman must choose between his love for Lois and his powers. After they depart together, Clark is then brutally beaten up by a trucker named Rocky at a diner –one of the more uncomfortable scenes in the film. Clark then trudges back to the “Fortress of Solitude” to hopefully regain his powers.

Meanwhile, Zod and his cronies arrive on Earth and begin causing widespread mayhem –conquering towns and cities until they arrive at the White House and force the President of the United States to his knees. They are joined by Lex Luthor. This band of foreign terrorists invade the Daily Planet and force Metropolis to submit, until Superman arrives at the last moment. A goofy battle sequence ensues with lots of snappy cartoonish comments from bystanders on the city streets below, and in the end, Superman, Zod, Lois, and Lex Luthor all wind back at the “Fortress of Solitude” where Superman unveils odd new powers and he reverses the power-removal effects of the glass casing so that it works on Zod et al, rendering them mortal. They are then easily defeated, order is restored, and –somehow—Superman is able to erase Lois’s memory with a kiss? I guess, it’s better than Superman turning back time once again (as was apparently originally planned). There is also a bit of street justice delivered at the end of the film as Clark Kent returns to the diner where he was defeated earlier and proceeds to beat up the ruffian trucker Rocky who embarrassed him earlier. In the Donner cut, apparently Superman decides to turn back time once again, which raises all sorts of questions.  

In all, this movie is a flawed mixed bag in my view. Why is Superman so willing to relinquish his powers? And how is he able to regain his powers? Wasn’t the process supposed to be irreversible? What are we to make of Superman weaponizing the “S” against Zod at the end? How should we understand Superman erasing Lois’s memory with a kiss? Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder shine in their respective lead roles, and the movie is filled with plenty of corny fun, but it seems to me that it tends to garner more favorable reviews in light of the truly terrible sequels that were to follow Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). I may be alone in the view that Superman II is not a particularly impressive outing, but at least it’s good for a few chuckles.    

Justice League (2017) Review

Justice League (2017) Director: Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon

“I believe in truth– but I’m also a big fan of justice.”

Rating: 2 out of 5.

After first watching the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League, I decided to go back and watch the originally released movie –a film which was rushed into production and troubled by Zack Snyder’s unfortunate family tragedy, a tragedy which allowed Warner Bros the opportunity to lighten the tone of the film by bringing Joss Whedon onboard for extensive re-shoots (earning the film the unflattering moniker “Josstice League”). And Justice League’s problems spill out throughout the movie –the dark and brooding scenes directed by Zack Snyder are clearly delineated from the campy one-liners directed by Joss Whedon. Narratively, the story is all over the place and confusing. It is clearly missing significant chunks of the story which have since been explained in Zack Snyder’s director’s cut re-release. On the positive end, the first few minutes of this movie are terrific in my view –they are filled with familiar elements of the heroic as Batman discovers a strange mutant “demonoid” species in the city and Wonder Woman prevents a bomb threat at a bank. However, moments later, we find Bruce Wayne suddenly arriving at a remote fishing village in search of the fabled Aquaman. How did he get here? What is going on? From here, the movie sadly runs off the rails.  

This is a two-hour movie (Warner Bros made a rule that no movies could last longer than two hours), and yet there was simply not enough time to explain everything –there are too many characters at play, including Batman (Ben Affleck), Superman (Henry Cavill whose moustache was cut out in an infamously sloppy bit of CGI work), Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Martha Kent (Diane Lane), Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Mera (Amber Heard), and James Gordon (J.K. Simmons). There is too much biographical exposition needed in this film but all of it is quickly glossed over and we are forced to accept it without question –Cyborg is given a few minutes of introduction, the Amazonian backstory is forgettable, and the Flash is more annoying than compelling. And the mediocre, entirely CGI villain of Steppenwolf is hardly even a presence in the film. Unfortunately, this film was another wasted opportunity, a swing and a miss for Warner Bros.

The plot is one-dimensional and not really worth reiterating here. Suffice it to say, Batman spends the movie gathering a group of newly introduced characters with special powers in order to combat a mysterious alien threat to planet earth, until Superman is miraculously resurrected in ridiculous fashion (after being killed in the drab Batman v Superman movie). At any rate, everything about this movie screams bland and uninspiring. It is really unfortunate that Warner Bros could not manage to put together a coherent concept for uniting its popular IPs like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and so on. It seems their best bet going forward is to produce solo superhero movies, rather than attempting to mirror the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.