Saturday, June 15, 2013

What happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object?

So, Man of Steel.

Spoilers follow.

Let me start by saying that I mostly liked Man of Steel. It was flashy and action-packed, and I can't think of a single bad performance in it. The actors were all on their respective games, and Henry Cavill was a very different Superman from what I was expecting in a very good way. He's so genial, so calm, except in those situations where it wasn't appropriate.

And I really appreciated that the weird tics I associate with Snyder's direction--everyone/thing looking like vinyl, the quick switches between slow- and fast-motion that ruined the fight sequences in Watchmen, etc.--were either gone or so minute as to escape my notice. Even the fastest-paced action sequences were easy to follow, and given how fast those sequences were, that's impressive.

Faora was amazing, finally giving us a glimpse at what a martial artist with Superman's powers could really do on the screen.

Lois Lane was astounding. Coming out of it, I think Amy Adams may be our best live-action Lois yet, and even gives Dana Delaney a run for the money.

I'm going to see the movie again, and now that I have a better idea of what to expect, I think I'll probably have a different, more nuanced opinion about the whole thing. But sitting here now, not quite a day later, the details that are sticking are the ones that I had the biggest problem with.

First is the problem of scope. When we were seeing Metropolis get destroyed by the Worldengine, the thought occurred to me that this was a pretty great Man of Steel 2. We'd spent so little time with Metropolis--and Superman had never even really visited--that it was hard to feel any emotional connection to the city. The scenes with Perry and Jenny are meant to be touching, but I'm not sure I caught Jenny's name at any point before they happened. If we'd had more of a chance to get to know these characters, it might have had more gravitas. Moreover, I'm not sure what Man of Steel 2 could do to build on this. We had a world-destruction-level threat; where do you go from there?

Second, as my good friend Jon noted, this movie is the epitome of "one death is a tragedy, one thousand deaths is a statistic." There's so little thought to the people being killed as the Worldengine flattens Metropolis, or as Kryptonians smash through buildings, that it undermines the big ending dilemma. We rarely see Superman trying to save people, trying to mitigate damage or draw fights away from populated areas or even tell people to get back. It makes Superman seem careless or reckless, and makes Zod's realization that he cares for the humans ring hollow.

Third, the swearing. It's a minor thing, but even with all the death and destruction, I think a Superman movie should be watchable by kids. There was only one place where it really added to anything (Lois's dick-measuring line), and otherwise seemed shoehorned-in to make things edgy.

Speaking of shoehorning things in, holy cow the Jesus imagery. I mean, yes, it was all over Superman Returns and I gave it a pass. But Superman Returns tried to make it mean something. Superman gets stabbed in the side, falls in a crucifix pose, and so forth, but it's in service of artsy framing and metaphor. Here, it just felt like it was slathered on to add the patina of depth or allegory without actually bothering to think about what the allegory might actually mean. It's not like Superman's about to make a sacrifice or anything when he flies out of the spaceship with his arms outstretched, it's just there because it looks cool and if you make something look like it has Christian overtones, people might think it's deeper than it is.

Speaking of the Christian imagery, how about that priest who comes out of nowhere and never shows up again? I appreciate that Clark is having a dark night of the soul and wants guidance before making his decision, but maybe some kind of connection to other things would be nice? Couldn't he have been one of the kids on the bus all those years ago? Wouldn't that have tied in quite nicely with the "act of god/miracle" stuff that Pete Ross's mom talked about? Wouldn't it have been more parsimonious if Pete Ross had been the priest? We might have lost the scene in the IHOP, but I don't know that that would have been such a terrible change.

And, of course, we have tons of Jor-El. Considering that Lara's the one who launched the craft and really showed some strength and sacrifice at the end of Krypton's life, it kind of throws her under the bus to have Jor-El so active in later acts. I do appreciate that he's more useful and frankly less obtrusive than Brando's version, but a lot of what he does could have been done by Kelex, without diluting the sense of loss at his death.

I didn't particularly care for Pa Kent's death, but mostly because it seemed like a de-escalation to have him save the kid, then die going back to save the dog. It's a minor point, but the only points I have left are minor points. Except the one.

The first bit of shaky-cam stuff, during that early farm flashback, was excessive, to the point where I had to look away a couple of times. I can hardly imagine seeing this in IMAX. Either it got better over the course of the movie or I got used to it, or maybe a little of both.

There were a couple of lines that I could have done without. "You're a monster, Zod, and I'm going to stop you," is a little on the nose. "Evolution always wins" doesn't even make sense, and makes the later development so much worse.

And that brings us to the end, I guess. General Zod puts Superman into a moral dilemma, pitting his code against killing against his desire to save and protect humans. As I mentioned, this would ring a little more true if we'd seen more effort on his part in the last act or two to protect and save people who weren't named characters or that one soldier. But anyway, this is one of the best tactics to write a compelling Superman story: pit aspects of his character against each other. Stop the villain or save the civilians?

The problem is that Snyder & Co. don't get the second part of that tactic, the follow-through: when presented with those dilemmas, the best Superman stories realize that Superman's real power is to find a third way. When presented with the choice between compromising one value or another, Superman's greatest superpower is being able to find another way. Goyer and Nolan clearly read All-Star Superman; there's that speech from Jor-El that's pulled word-for-word from the book, and the bits with the Phantom Zone villains having difficulty controlling their senses is similar to what happens to Lex Luthor at the end. So it's a shame that their answer to the Sphinx's question would have apparently been "the unstoppable force forces harder."

This is, as I've said before, why I hate General Zod. Using Phantom Zone villains--especially Zod, but most of them, really--paints the writers into a corner, because the only options for resolution are killing them, depowering them, re-imprisoning them, or some combination of the three. Superman II chose options A and B (and in the Donner cut, C too); the cartoon episode "Blasts from the Past" chose option C; All-Star Superman #9 chose options B and C; the pocket universe story shortly after the Crisis chose options A and B.

And Man of Steel followed suit, unable to find another option, just like every other Superman creative team in the last seventy-five years. Zod's army reimprisoned, Zod himself killed in defense of others. It's not the first time that's happened, as I noted: Superman executed Zod in the pocket universe; he punched Zod into an apparently bottomless pit of mist in Superman II, and in both those cases, Zod was both powerless and apparently not a threat. So killing him in Man of Steel was at the very least more justified. And at least it didn't pass without so much as a mention the way it did in Superman II; I doubt that Man of Steel 2 will have Superman undergoing a mental breakdown the way he did after killing the pocket universe criminals, but at least it clearly wasn't an easy decision for him, and it anguished him to do it.

But it shouldn't have happened. More than just about any other superhero, Superman shouldn't kill, and more than in most other circumstances, Superman shouldn't have killed Zod here. Killing Zod in this movie validates Faora's position: lacking morality gave the Phantom Zoners an advantage, and in order to stop them, Superman had to compromise that moral code. Superman's philosophy, the doctrine of hope--hope, for instance, that even someone like Zod could be rehabilitated--lost to Zod's doctrine that the ends justify the means, and that one must take any action necessary to preserve their homeworld, up to and including lethal force.

There could have been a number of ways around this. I thought Zod's whole "I was created to defend Krypton" bit was going to end in suicide--he had lost hope. We could have seen that some part of it was the Kryptonian mind-scanning technology But perhaps the simplest way that would also have refuted the "evolutionary advantage" bit would have been this: let Lois keep the sidearm. Coming down the stairs, she could take the shot, maybe make a quick quip about humans being not-so-helpless, and save Superman, returning the favor from earlier. It wouldn't be a perfect ending; a perfect ending would have had Superman win through ingenuity and skill, or through inspiring others to greatness, not brute neck-twisting strength.

As I said, overall I liked it, but that last big flaw was a big flaw. I suspect I'll like it more the next time I see it, since I won't be surprised by the twist.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Supermovie #5: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

As I've said before, Superman IV was my favorite Superman film as a kid, since it featured an actual costumed supervillain. While I recognize the flaws that largely come from working with notoriously shady Cannon Pictures, I'll also note that one of my other favorite childhood movies, Masters of the Universe, was another Cannon flick. It was also, interestingly enough, basically and admittedly a New Gods movie. Like Superman III, I think this film is based on a solid idea--why doesn't Superman get involved in international conflicts?--but that potential is largely squandered. So here goes!

Even the credits sequence looks cheaper in this, like it's a knock-off they got from a dollar store. Nothing is quite on-model, including the S-shield.

We open with another space emergency, this time with a Soviet space capsule or station that collides with a piece of floating debris. While the zero-gravity effects on the cosmonauts are actually pretty good, I'm not sure I can believe any longer that a Superman can fly, not when he looks so out of place doing it. There's something about the lighting and the motion of Superman in this initial flight scene that doesn't look nearly as good as the previous films' versions, and I think a lot of it is that they seem to have taken a handful of flight shots, and are reusing them. Where it's more clearly done in-camera, the flight sequences fare a lot better.

Clark returns to the old farm, where he finds the green power crystal from the first two movies, still in the ship(!) in the barn cellar.
There are some issues with this. First is that there's a voiceover from Lara here about using the power crystal that is essentially exactly what Jor-El says when he comes back to restore his powers in the Donner cut of Superman II. I'd be curious to compare the dialogue, but the bits about the ship becoming cold, Clark finally being alone, really sound like they're the same lines. Which suggests that special effects weren't the only place where this film cut corners.
Oh god, that's the worst X-Ray vision effect I think I've ever seen. Both this and the crystal--and the disappearance of the ship afterward--look like effects from Disney movies of the early '70s.

I don't know if it's the transfer or the film or what, but there's a vertical line down the screen in a lot of these shots.

Clark knocks a baseball into orbit, presumably causing hazards for future space stations, and we get to see Lex Luthor in a prison work gang in a quarry, when Jon Cryer drives up in the most '80s outfit of all time, and a flashy car with a killer sound system. Which he naturally uses to try to kill the prison guards. He's Lex's nephew Lenny, the "Dutch Elm disease" of the Luthor family tree.

Back in Metropolis, Lois is learning French (might have been useful back before that Paris trip) when the subway conductor has a heart attack and causes the train to speed out of control. Since there's no budget for Superman actually stopping the train, he steps on the third rail, draining the energy and causing it to slow to a stop. It's not quite as believable as it could be, but at least it's clever. Less clever is Superman repeating the "safest travel" line from the first film, except about the subway.

Wow, Jimmy Olsen is starting to look more like Jimmy Old-sen.
Anyway, new Daily Planet owner David Warfield is berating the staff for the boring and unprofitable paper, and introducing his daughter Lacy, who will be helping to make the paper more sensational--naturally, at the cost of responsible journalism. Clark gets a good moment where he tells Perry not to do anything rash, and I get to remember Simone D'Neige.

Speaking of plots that got picked up by the comics, the elder Warfield asks Clark why there aren't any airfare expenses for him. Thankfully, they're interrupted by a news announcement that international peace talks have failed, leading American leaders to ramp up production of nuclear weapons. This leads to a kind of weird scene where a grade school teacher is discussing the crisis with her students, one of whom, Jeremy, kind of combatively suggests writing a letter to Superman.

We don't get to dwell on that, because we move quickly to a museum housing the worst Superman statue of all time, and their exhibit which has on display one of Superman's hairs, suspending a thousand-pound weight. It's another very comic book sort of detail, and one that I really like, up until Lex and Lenny show up and cut the hair with a pair of normal bolt cutters. Granted, it's not just scissors, but why make a show of how indestructible and strong the hair is if you're going to undermine that thirty seconds later? A quick explanation could have closed that plot hole, but alas.

Lex does explain his plan, which is to clone Superman, but use his scientific genius to make the clone stronger than Superman, and thus, able to kill him. It's not a bad plan, really.

Lacy Warfield tries to seduce Clark, which leads to Clark reading Jeremy's letter, which they spin into a big press event, bringing Jeremy out to Metropolis and, oddly, never saying his last name.
The paper's headline runs as "Superman says 'Drop dead' to kid," which prompts Clark to fly off to the Fortress, because of course it does. On one hand, I get that three of these movies are actually trying to tackle big questions--who is Superman? what happens when Superman wants to retire? why doesn't Superman deal with political issues?--and so it makes sense that he'd ask for guidance and help. But since every movie tries for that big question (except the third one), it looks like his first instinct when encountering any trouble is to run off and consult the Fortress. It drains a lot of the urgency and the agency from Superman.

The talking heads of the Science Council, as you might expect, tells Superman not to bother, even as he makes the point that all-out nuclear war would destroy Earth just as Krypton had been destroyed. Given how these same 'great minds' reacted to news of Krypton's impending destruction, it's not really surprising that they had the same opinion regarding Earth. Hopefully Kal-El could learn from his father's mistakes, then.

Back home, Clark's watching a statement by a Soviet leader that sounds identical to the one given by the American one earlier. Lois shows up, and Clark asks if she'll come with him to get some fresh air, by which he means taking her out and jumping off the balcony with her. This is probably the worst part of the movie, as Superman catches her, still wearing his Clark Kent glasses, and they go on a flight in front of some stock footage, which really showcases how awful the effects are here. Superman even lets her go once, apparently just screwing with her. They talk a bit, and she says that she remembers everything--until, of course, he kisses her, and she forgets everything again.

Superman and Jeremy go for a walk, which becomes an impromptu rally at the United Nations building, where Superman gives a speech.
The moment where the Secretary General says that Superman will need a sponsor in order to address the assembly, and every delegate raises their hand, is pretty great. Superman announces his plan to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and everyone seems surprisingly happy about it. And then the nations of the world just fire all their missiles into space, for Superman to gather in a giant fishing net. It's pretty dang unbelievable that everyone would just roll over for this plan, but either Superman is shockingly persuasive, or everyone realizes they couldn't stop him if they wanted. Which is...not great? But it ends up with the Earth's combined nuclear arsenal being thrown into the sun.

Lex Luthor takes the opportunity to meet with some international war profiteers, and explains his plan to put his genetically-altered tissue onto one of their nuclear weapons, leading to the creation of a nuclear (well, "nuke-you-lurr") man who would be able to defeat Superman, thereby making the world more fearful and selling more of their weapons. A more competent movie would have drawn more obvious parallels between Lex and David Warfield here, but this is not that movie.

Lex's missile gets thrown into the sun, and the Nuclear Man is born, all glammed out.

And for some reason, Clark is doing aerobics with Lacy Warfield. He and Lacy have a brief conversation about jerks, before inviting Clark, Lois, and Superman to her apartment for high tea, and before Clark gives the jerky personal trainer a bit of comeuppance.

Nuclear Man drops by Casa del Luthor, where he talks with Lex's voice and spins a really obnoxious Lenny Luthor around telekinetically. But it quickly becomes apparent that Nuclear Man shuts down when he's not in direct sunlight. A moderate design flaw, methinks.

Lois and Lacy are getting ready for tea, waiting for their respective dates and the inevitable sitcom hilarity. This scene is painful, watching Superman toy with the two women, who never quite notice that Clark and Superman are never in the room at the same time. And then Lex contacts Superman on a frequency only he can see and hear, threatening to blow up a nearby skyscraper. No one likes a fifth wheel, Lex.

"It's common knowledge that you hate children and animals, Luthor," is a great line. They exposit with each other a bit, and I really do like Lex and Superman's relationship here.
Reeve and Hackman have such chemistry, bantering back and forth while the Nuclear Man just paces. Then the fight begins, and oh goodness me are the special effects terrible.

Nuclear Man blows up the Great Wall of China, Superman rebuilds it with Rebuild-The-Great-Wall-Of-China-Vision, a power he only gets to use once in a great while. I suspect the script originally called for Superman to rebuild it at super-speed, but that corner got cut.

One thing I like about this movie is that when Superman talks to locals in Italy or the Cosmonauts at the beginning, he's speaking their languages. It's a nice nod to Superman being a real citizen of the world, and having a super-intellect at that.

Eventually Superman gets scratched with Nuclear Man's Casanova Frankenstein nails, which weakens him enough to let Nuclear Man kick him into the air so hard his cape comes off. Lois barges into the Daily Planet office, outraged at the "Is Superman Dead?" headline, and taking Superman's cape, which David Warfield bought from some bystander. Meanwhile, Clark's got a nasty fever, and Lois comes to give Superman a pep talk to Clark. It's a weird scene, where it looks a lot like the whole super-kiss thing has been Lois just playing along with a really bizarre unspoken game.

Lex double-crosses the war profiteers, which they really should have seen coming given that he's got a mostly invincible nuclear bodyguard at his beck and call now. And Clark, who appears to have aged considerably since the last scene, pulls out the green power crystal and gets a voiceover from Lara about using it to save his life.

Nuclear Man sees a picture of Lacy Warfield and decides to go all King Kong on her, but Superman returns (wait, that's tomorrow's post) to stop him. Not, unfortunately, before he sets a bunch of things on fire while Superman just kind of watches. I have to imagine most of the film's budget went to this sequence, because they do a bunch of just crazy things and all hell breaks loose. Also, Superman has telekinesis.

Eventually he traps Nuclear Man in an elevator (how did he learn his weakness? Did he just hope that would work?) and drops him onto the moon. But the doors aren't completely closed! Nuclear Man wakes up! Superman's wires are visible!
The battle continues at one of the Apollo (or Artemis) landing sites, and Superman takes a pretty brutal beating, to the point where it looks like he might have jumped the gun on using that Kryptonian power crystal. Nuclear Man pounds his nemesis into the regolith and buries him alive, then heads back to Earth.

Superman escapes, and in a bit that I somehow completely forgot about, moves the moon to cause a solar eclipse, robbing Nucelar Man of his powers. Which is completely awesome. He then rescues Lacy Warfield who, of course, Nuclear Man had brought into space, and who survived because why not. Nuclear Man is safely disposed of in a nuclear power plant, where somehow his body can provide energy to the city even though he was powerless when not in direct sunlight.

Oh, Perry White bought the paper back, just in time for a Superman press conference where he gets pretty inspirational, in a "Lex Luthor's defeat in All-Star Superman" sort of way. Finally, he captures Lex and Lenny, and drops them off at their respective prisons, before we get the fifth iteration of the closing scene. You have to give them points for consistency, I suppose.

Overall: It's a shame that this movie is such a mess, and I wonder what might have come of it with a bigger budget and a few more people doing script rewrites. Notably, there's a character arc for most of the major players here: Perry gets to play the hero, David Warfield gets taken down a peg, Lacy learns a lesson about journalistic integrity, and even Superman learns that there are some problems he just can't solve on his own. The plot has elements of brilliance, elements that would be used to great effect in other places, and the cast is still pretty amazing, but the cheap effects and the padding really weigh the whole project down. Of all the Superman films, I think this one is the most disappointing, because it had so much going for it, and so much that could have gone right if it hadn't all gone wrong.

That said, I wouldn't mind someone editing a fan cut that removed the double-date and super-kiss sequences, cleaned up the effects, and left us with sociopolitical Superman trying to help save humanity from itself. It's a story that deserves a good telling, and it's a shame it never got the chance.

Supermovie #4: Superman III

Typically my least favorite of the series, but I'm willing to give it another shot. Heck, I rewrote it once, and I maintain that it has a core of good ideas, even if they're largely squandered.

It's notable that this movie starts with Gus Gorman at the unemployment office, doing a bit of comic banter in the fairly tragic situation of being unemployed and apparently unemployable, until he sees a back-of-the-matchbox ad for computer programming jobs.

And then we launch into a slapstick opening sequence, following an attractive blonde woman who's basically doing Otis's tour of the city from the first movie. Except this time with phone booth gags!
And the titles and credits obscuring large parts of the bottom of the screen. And the fire hydrant gag, where the guy's car starts filling up with water. Admittedly, I think that's really clever, as is Superman's changing in a photo booth.

We get a glimpse at Gus Gorman's preternatural computer skills, then head to the newsroom to get an introduction to our new villains. To date, this is the only Superman theatrical movie (excluding the serials and "Superman and the Mole Men") to not feature Lex Luthor, a category soon to be joined by Man of Steel. Illustrious company, that.

Jimmy Olsen's photos serve as our window into the opposition: humanitarian businessman Ross Webster, his sister Vera, and Lorelei Ambrosia, the buxom blonde from before, subject of most of Jimmy's photos and probably the most risqué shot in this film series
Clark comes in to pitch a story about his high school reunion, complete with showing off his high school sweater. No one even really notices. Meanwhile, Lois is off to Bermuda, which is a convenient way to write her out of the rest of the movie.

Cut back to Gus Gorman, who is apparently receiving his first paycheck for a morning's worth of work. He complains about taxation and the social safety net, until someone else explains about the rounded-off fractions of cents in the system, laying the groundwork for the plot of Office Space. Gus, naturally, hacks the computer, and it's slightly more believable than most hacking sequences in movies from about 1989-on.

Jimmy's discussion of the sociopolitics of Olsen family Thanksgivings is interrupted when the bus to Smallville stops near a chemical fire. Jimmy decides to get some shots of the action, while Clark changes to his work uniform in the back of a police car.

It's nice to see Jimmy getting some action in this flick, even if it is mostly because Lois isn't around. He action here is very good, with Jimmy getting in over his head while the number and severity of crises escalate. Superman gets some clever moments--using a pipe to help the workers to safety, freezing the top layer of a lake so he can use it to put out the fire, casually telling a paramedic how Jimmy's leg is broken--and Chekov's acid gets dropped in here in a way that's not beat-you-over-the-head obvious.

Clark goes to his reunion, where he runs into Martha Kent--I mean, Lana Lang. One thing about Annette O'Toole is that she's great, no matter what role she's playing. She and Clark catch up, before she uses him as an excuse to get away from her drunken high school beau, Brad Wilson.

Gus Gorman gets his payday, which is $85,000 bigger than he expected, and there's a quick cut back to Clark and Lana cleaning up after the reunion. Lana's a real quick-talker, which leaves Clark fumbling a little more than usual, but also demonstrates that he has a definite type. Also, we get a glimpse at young Christopher Reeve, who, strangely, looks nothing like Jeff East, who played young Clark Kent two movies ago.

The Websters learn about the embezzled money, and we learn that Ross Webster is a future-thinking kind of guy. Ledgers are yesterday, computers are tomorrow, and this becomes a driving force for the rest of the movie. We also learn that Lorelei Ambrosia's official job title is "psychic nutritionist." Ross is condescending, Vera is belligerent, and Lorelei is Audrey I, minus the abuse. None of the characters has quite the menace or charm of Zod or Lex Luthor, but at least they're all fairly distinctive, and clearly the bad guys. There's a nice gag where Gorman's extravagant spending marks him as the embezzler, which feels like the most "'80s comedy" moment of the movie so far.

Back to Clark and Lana, Lana's young son Ricky gets picked last for bowling, and we get a real sign of the changing times when Lana describes him as the only boy in town without a father. Then, Brad the alcoholic quarterback saunters up, and it's strangely difficult to remember that he's not Lana's ex-husband, just a guy from high school. He's like a sleazier, sloshier Steve Lombard. There's the same kind of surreptitious superpower comeuppance, resulting in a bunch of shattered pins.
On one hand, Clark has a point that it'd be kind of humiliating for a kid to get a bowling lesson in front of the other kids; on the other hand, it's kind of setting the kid up for failure when he can't replicate the superhuman feat.

Not surprisingly, Webster wants to see Gus, who is naturally somewhat nervous about being thrown in jail with the rapists and robbers. Not a phrase I expected from a Superman movie, but there you go. He and Webster have this weird conversation about what rich people do with their socks, which segues awkwardly into Webster explaining his desire to control the coffee market by using computers to destroy the Colombian coffee crop. The plan: take control of a weather-monitoring satellite and reprogram it so that it will control the weather instead. Which makes no sense, but feels like a pretty standard Bronze Age plot. People rag on Lex Luthor's real estate obsession in these movies, and that's somewhat fair, but it seems positively sensible compared to Webster's notion. This is the kind of petty villainy that you expect from Cobra. They'll need an untraceable computer to carry out the plot, so naturally Gus gets sent to Smallville.

The scene where Clark, Lana, and Ricky are out on a picnic is charming and funny, and it's interesting to see the interplay between Clark and someone who actually likes him as Clark. Naturally, Ricky gets into danger, and Clark hears it with a weirdly comic-bookish special effect.
As though we couldn't figure out that the modified noises he was hearing were with his super-senses? Superman appears and saves an unconscious Ricky from a grain thresher, and it's clear that the effects budget for Superman III wasn't quite as big as for the first film or two. Clark gets a pretty nice moment when he shows up again, getting to play big-shot city boy for once.

Gus Gorman shows up at the Wheatking office, where Brad works as a night janitor/guard. Luckily for Gus, he's a smooth talker with a suitcase full of liquor, so he gets Brad blackout drunk and goes to work on the weather satellite. Also, he's wearing a giant foam cowboy hat.
The process causes all manner of computer havoc around the world, because in 1983 computers were basically magic. Not that different from "Live Free or Die Hard," actually.

Ross Webster celebrates the hilarious news of Colombia's destruction by using the ski slope on top of his skyscraper, which is amazing. The success of this plan leads Vera to suggest taking control of the oil supplies, but then Gus explains how Superman saved the Colombians with a budget-friendly improv routine. This leads, naturally, to the decision to kill Superman with kryptonite, which involves scanning the sky with the weather satellite and determining what kryptonite is made of. Leading to that classic bit where, discovering an unknown substance in the kryptonite makeup, Gorman replaces it with "tar" after looking at his cigarette package.
It took a good long while, but this would eventually lead to black kryptonite in the comics, which is probably the longest-lasting legacy of Superman III.

Superman comes back to Smallville, ostensibly for Ricky's birthday party, but Smallville being Smallville, they throw a town-wide festival instead. Which gives Gus the opportunity to dress up like a general for some reason and present Superman with the fake kryptonite, under the guise of talking about...plastics. Naturally, nothing happens, which eventually prompts the great line from Ross Webster: "I asked you to kill Superman, and you're telling me you couldn't even do that one simple thing."

Reeve does a nice job of subtly portraying the effects of the fake kryptonite, with Superman becoming blasé about an emergency and hitting on Lana in a really creepy way. Reeve is so damn talented. Of course, then we get the Superdickery, with the Man of Steel straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa and whatnot. The smug looks Reeve gives in these scenes are great. One thing I appreciate about "evil Superman" here is that he's not taking over the world, he's not becoming a super-murderer or super-tyrant. Superman is so good that even when turned evil, the wors he thinks of doing is petty stuff like blowing out the Olympic torch. It's pranks more than anything.

Wow, Webster has a full on flip-over Bond villain display beneath the fountain in his office. And another one behind the wall!
Gorman gives Webster "plans" for a super-computer, but they really amount to the sort of thing that a small child comes up with. Lots of "what it does," not a lot of "how." But again, computers are magic.

Lorelei entices a now darker-colored Superman to meet her on the top of the Statue of Liberty, where she seduces him until he agrees to disable a rogue oil tanker for Webster.
It's so weird seeing a lecherous Superman, even after seeing his silver love hammock in the second film.

The scene with Superman at the bar is so perfect, flicking nuts like bullets at the shelves, heat-vision warping the mirror. And of course, Ricky and Lana show up just as he staggers out. It's nice to see that Ricky is the last person who believes in the Man of Steel, even if it's with the line "Superman, you're just in a slump!" Again, something you'd see on a Silver Age cover. And that leads to the best damn scene in the movie, and one of the best in the franchise, where Superman lands in a junkyard and beats himself up. It's worth wondering if Clark and Superman are actually, physically separate entities in this situation, or if Superman's in a Fight Club-style scenario (spoilers), but in the end it really doesn't matter. This scene is just wonderful, and Reeve really sells the evil Superman look.
One thing that's fairly notable about this series is that the first movie is the only one that doesn't feature an Evil Superman as one of the main plot points. Zod, evil Superman here, Nuclear Man in the fourth film, even the kid in Superman Returns is a little along the same lines. Man of Steel doesn't look like it's going to buck that trend. It's part of why it'd be nice to have just one Superman movie with Metallo or Brainiac or even just Lex Luthor in a mechanical exo-suit.

The Websters and Lorelei lure Superman to the super-computer, leading to a pretty goofy video game sequence. When Superman finally gets to the computer, Gus tries to distance himself from the villains, as though he weren't in on the plan to kill Superman from the beginning. But eventually Pryor sells the second thoughts better than the script does, and deactivates the computer. Unfortunately, the computer reactivates itself, having become at least somewhat sentient. This leads to the other really memorable scene, and the reason that I didn't watch Superman III much as a kid, where Vera gets cyber-converted. Absolutely horrifying.

Superman returns with a canister of the acid from before, which becomes quickly volatile and wrecks the computer, bringing the cave down on everyone. He saves Gus (while we saw Lorelei and Vera safe, there's no real indication that either one escaped) and tries to get him a job at a coal plant, where he stops to make a diamond for Lana. Clark gives Lana an enormous ring, and Brad comes into the hotel room (how'd he know where it was?), attacks Clark for being "nice," and gets a little comeuppance.

We get one last scene in the Daily Planet newsroom, where Lois returns from vacation with a fake tan and a real story, and where we learn that Clark got Lana hired as Perry White's new secretary. She shows off her giant diamond, and Lois is a little upset by the competition. Clark ducks out, puts the Leaning Tower back the way it was, and we end the movie with that shot of Superman flying over the world. Again.

Overall: Maybe it's just because I've been reading a lot more Bronze Age Superman stories lately, but this movie comes out like something from that era. There are clever uses of powers, nice escalations of threats, and a plot that asks you not to think too much about the logistics or sense of it. Also, I like Annette O'Toole a lot better than Margot Kidder, and it's a shame that we didn't get to see any real Lois/Lana rivalry in the fourth installment. Richard Pryor does his Richard Pryor thing, and if there were a little more consistency to his character, it'd work a lot better than it actually does. For as maligned as this movie is--yes, I've often contributed to that--it's strange how much stuck, from the black kryptonite (at least the concept) to the businessman villain. Ross Webster ends up being almost a template for post-Crisis Lex Luthor. I'm definitely not as sour on this film as I used to be.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Supermovie #3: Superman II (The Richard Donner Cut)

Since I've already gone over most of the highlights of Superman II, this will mostly be me remarking on places where the two films differ.

The movie opens with the trial scene again, this time with Jor-El actually in attendance, and without any indication of how they caught Zod and his cronies. The truncated introduction moves fairly quickly through the important bits, giving us a couple of new moments--baby Kal-El learning about his super-blankets in the ship, a different shot of the Phantom Zone criminals in their eternal prison, and such.
Scenes from the first film are inter-cut with scenes of the Phantom Zone frame spinning through space, until it ultimately collides with the first missile from Luthor's plot, releasing the criminals from their prison. It answers a point I hadn't considered until just now: if shockwaves from the detonation of a hydrogen bomb could break open the Phantom Zone, as they did in the Lester cut, wouldn't shockwaves from Krypton's destruction have done so long before that?

The opening sequence is more similar to the first movie's, leaving out the recap clips, and with different text-flying effects.

It's nice to see Lois starting to figure out Clark's dual identity right there at the beginning.
It's also interesting to see the role reversal of Clark and Lois on the Honeymoon story--in this version, Lois is all for it because it'll give her a chance to expose Clark's secret, while Clark is doing a series on the city council. They have a lot of the same dialogue that Lester put in Niagara falls, except in the newsroom. And it's capped off with Lois jumping out a window instead of into a river. As in the Lester version, Clark rushes to save her, but without changing to Superman. There are a couple of clever bits here, but it's actually not as smooth as the Lester version. Clark's a lot more conspicuous and inefficient with his abilities than in Lester's cut.

The bits on the moon are identical, so far as I can tell, but the banter at mission control is better. One thing that keeps surprising me is how comedic director Lester replaced jokes with less funny jokes. At least he had the sense to leave in the bit with Otis and the balloon.

There's some nice banter between Miss Teschmacher and Lex outside the Fortress, right up until he obliquely threatens to knock her teeth out.

The crystal system gives us Jor-El this time, and while he does a bit of philosophizing at the beginning, we still get a bit of Joyce Kilmer poetry. Weirdly, the last bit--the bit that Lara stated in the previous film--comes from Jor-El's floating disembodied head, which makes for a weird effect.
I do like that Jor-El explains that most Kryptonian criminals were rehabilitated, and that the Phantom Zone was really a last resort for those who had no chance of re-integration into society. It's further interesting that Zod, Ursa, and Non were the only criminals in the Phantom Zone.

And then Miss Teschmacher finds the bathroom. Which has a flushing toilet. Which speaks to some very big questions about the construction of the Fortress of Solitude. First: who provides the utilities? Is there a super-sewer, or just a super-septic-tank? Did the green crystal build the bathroom, or did Superman add that on later?

The movie proceeds unchanged through the Niagara Falls sequence and the Zod Squad's arrival on Earth, but then we get to a nice little scene with Clark and Lois at the Honeymoon Suite. I'm pretty sure this is one of those bits where they used the test footage because the finished scene never got filmed. Reeve looks awfully thin, and has different glasses for part of the sequence.
Lois goes through all of Clark's flaws, mostly trying to make him into Superman, and Clark expresses a good deal of resentment at the comparison. I do wish they'd gotten to do the full version of this scene, because it's great--Lois pulling out the gun and shooting at Clark, and outsmarting him in the process. Like I said in the previous post, it gives Lois a lot more agency, and exposes just how clever she is.

We get the scene with the cops and the Kryptonian criminals, which unfortunately still contains the weird heat vision telekinesis. In fact, this whole section seems to have survived the directorial change intact (or was never filmed under Donner), minus the "Non can't use heat vision" gag. Consequently, Non is a lot more menacing in this cut. Also, some of the special effects--particularly the bit where Zod deflects the flamethrower with super-breath--are considerably better in this version, and I wonder if that's how they were originally, or if they were cleaned up a bit in the restoration process.

This battle feels like the stakes are a lot higher, too. They slapstick bits are replaced instead with Zod and Ursa toying with the helicopters and soldiers, and we don't get any more of the weird telekinesis or anything. Unfortunately, the Mount Rushmore sequence is swapped out for a goofy-looking bit of the criminals knocking over the Washington Monument, which, while it makes a little more sense, isn't nearly as striking an image.

Oh wow, instead of Clark getting his clothes transformed in the molecule chamber, he's dressed in his casual clothes, and Lois is wearing his Superman shirt.
Risqué. The conversation between Clark and Jor-El is a lot more contentious--and makes a lot more sense of the power loss--than the lecture he gets from Lara in the Lester version. They even explain the chamber--not a "molecule chamber," but a device that will expose him to a concentrated dose of red sun radiation. I still don't like it, but it makes so much more sense this way, and it raises the issue of responsibility and reward. This is Spider-Man leaving the costume in the trash can stuff, not just arbitrary rules from dead Krypton.

Still no explanation for the Super-sedan, and sadly, we still have the diner scene, apparently identical. I mean, I guess that Clark might be shocked from feeling pain like that for the first time, at least the first time since he was a child, but even without his powers, he should be able to put up more of a fight than this.

"Kneel before Zod" count: 2. I thought there were fewer of these in this cut.

I like that Lex expects the Kryptonian criminals to know who he is. Such a great bit of his self-obsessed grandiosity.

Lester's contribution to a lot of this seems to have been cutting back and forth between scenes more frequently.

Jor-El spends a good long time scolding Clark when he comes back to restore his abilities, and while it has a good deal of pathos, Jor-El's disappointment kind of undercuts things. But having him appear and actually make contact with his son one last's a much better return of powers than what Superman gets in the Lester cut.
Even if Reeve looks awfully goofy just kind of vibrating.

It's also nice that we don't see the results until the wind sweeps through Metropolis and he makes his triumphant return at the Daily Planet. It gives that "care to step outside?" moment a lot more impact, because we're almost as surprised as everyone else to see Superman.

"Kneel before Zod" count: 3. Maybe I was wrong about how often he says it.

Heat vision still appears to be explodey-vision.

Superman gets hit into the Statue of Liberty, further demonstrating that Metropolis is just New York in the movieverse.
There are a lot fewer slapstick gags in the scene where the Phantom Zoners blow the people back with super-breath, and it doesn't go on nearly as long, but the guy in a sequined vest and roller skates is still there. So it's not all deadly serious. Lex's banter in the next scene also seems tighter. Zod's speech in the Fortress is also more menacing.

The power-depletion scene is basically the same, right down to "Luthor, you poisonous snake!" I still love that triple-cross, even if I don't love that the Phantom Zoners still all fall into Superman's bottomless pit (super septic tank?). And then Superman destroys the Fortress (with no indication that Lex left), leaving little doubt as to the villains' fates. Krypton had no death penalty, but Superman does!

Lois and Superman's teary goodbyes, like most of the things that were restored here, make more sense and have a good deal more pathos than they did in the Lester version. There's not quite the same assumption that Superman can't be with a human woman that there was in the Lester cut, though it's still weird that they don't continue the relationship.

Then, Superman turns back time to undo all the damage, everything that's happened since, presumably, he tossed that missile into space. The Phantom Zoners are alive again, the Fortress undestroyed, and Clark and Lois are back at square one, but with a case of déjà vu. Since they used that bit for the ending of the first movie, it unfortunately starts to look like going back in time is Superman's usual solution to all his difficult problems. And why not? If you could take a mulligan on every bad decision you made, wouldn't you?

Unfortunately, this makes Clark's return trip to the diner even more petty and out of character. Since Superman turned back time, this truck driver never met Clark in the first place, so Clark is just being a giant dick by beating him up. The turn-back-time solution solves the problems of the super-kiss, but makes this scene considerably worse.

And then it ends, again, with the same shot from the end of the first film. I wonder, if Donner had stayed on, would they have ended every movie with Superman flying into space in that same shot?

Overall: Despite the protestations of some, Donner's film really is the better of the two. Its tone is more consistent, it leaves out a lot of the unnecessary slapstick--which means a lot of scenes have a lot less padding--and it undoes a lot of changes that made so much of the movie just completely nonsensical. A lot of the bits of Lester's version that didn't make sense are salvaged here, though some of the plot-necessitated choices are still strange and contrived, and we still get some moments that just don't jive with Superman's character. All in all, I wish we could see Donner's whole vision, not a version that's so cobbled-together, and not a version where time travel is the solution to all life's problems. I don't think that would be the perfect set of two Superman movies, but it would be interesting to watch nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Supermovies #2: Superman II (Theatrical Version)

I don't think I've watched this movie more than once since getting the Donner Cut back in 2007, so this'll be an interesting experience.

Yay, weird space visuals again.

I forgot that this version gave us a glimpse into Zod's crime and capture. One thing I wish would make a reappearance is the Kryptonian guard. This recap is weird in the way it completely cuts out Jor-El. Guess that Brando contract didn't cover the second movie.

Oh hey, there's the poster S-shield.

I wonder if this is technically the first superhero movie to do the "recap using clips from the last movie during the title credits montage" thing. As I recall, Spider-Man 2 did the same, and I'm sure I've seen it elsewhere. This is a really long montage, minutes into the DVD, and we're only now getting to saving Lois from the earthquake.

I realize that Clark Kent's reporter job was originally so he could stay on the pulse of news and danger, but it's a little weird that Superman is unaware of a terrorist attack until he wanders into the newsroom.

The running costume change is great, though I still wish they'd do something a little more than just a fade from suit to super-suit. Limitations of technology, I guess, but it just feels so...Wonder Woman.

Did you know that in France everyone just speaks English with a French accent? Except cops, apparently. I'd like to think that Lois Lane knows at least a bit more French than what she shows here, but it's also not clear if her ignorance is genuine or a smokescreen. Either way, I like that we see the extreme lengths to which Lois will go to get a story, and the way she thinks on her feet...even if that means she's not often thinking a step ahead.

The nuclear explosion really couldn't look more animated, and the fact that the Phantom Zone window just happened to be in range is another one of this movie series' unlikely coincidences.

The bit where the taxi hits Clark is awfully careless on Clark's part. The "Lois & Clark" pilot did that better with the bus scene.

I like the banter between Lex and Otis in the prison, but I like better that Lex's striped prison jumpsuit still has a cravat.

There's a decent amount of thought put into the scenes on the moon, with how the astronauts move and such. If only they'd put the same thought into the fact that they wouldn't be able to hear each other. It's also interesting that Kryptonians apparently speak English.

Luthor's holographic projector reminds me of his escape in "Miracle Monday," a nice testament to his technological genius. And goofy or not, I love the gag of Otis dragging the hot air balloon down.

Clark and Lois talking about their honeymoon hotel exposé assignment is a nice showcase of Lois's cynicism and Clark's ability to look for the human angle.

The shots of Lex an Miss Tessmacher in the hot air balloon showcase some more of that doesn't-really-hold-up green screen effect.

The whole scene at Niagara Falls is pretty well-done, giving Clark the chance to do a little flirting while also giving Lois a clue to his dual identity. The tension between Lois's affection for Clark and her feelings for Superman is played up quite well.

Lex fumbling around with the Kryptonian crystals makes the timeline of the first movie even more wonky. How could Krypton have been dead for thousands of years when Jor-El could talk about Einsteinian relativity (1905) and a Kryptonian elder could recite Joyce Kilmer's "Trees" (1914)? For that matter, why does the hyper-advanced world of Krypton spend so much time cataloging Earth culture and knowledge?

Giving Lara the job of keeper of Krypton's archives is a nice way of fleshing out her character, and helping to explain why they would and could send all this information with Kal-El. It was just sitting around on Kryptonian flash drives. More of that plot-necessitated convenience, though, as Lex learns of the Kryptonian criminals who just happen to have escaped and just happen to be heading toward Earth and he realizes he just happens to have been tracking them with his radar.

Clark's attempts to brush off Lois's suspicions waffle so weirdly between subtly trying to let it slip and trying to protect it. That said, rescuing Lois without becoming Superman is the kind of great scene we'd see in a good Bronze Age comic. Reeve's "Oh God" exclamations, with the cracking voice, and Kidder's final "This is really embarrassing" are just perfectly played, too.

The shot of Zod just casually walking across the water is a nice inversion of the messianic imagery that so often accompanies portrayals of Superman now. Non being unable to work his heat vision, however, is a weird running gag that never quite makes sense.

One thing I prefer about the Donner cut over the Lester version is how Donner's Lois figures out Superman's dual identity by being clever and playing on Clark's assumption that she will go to literally any length for a story, while Lester's is all Clark subconsciously leaking the truth. Donner's gives Lois more agency. Reeve plays the frustration and conflictedness well regardless.

The southern cop here is the same character, if not the same actor, that shows up in a couple of Bond flicks, I think. This scene begins the Lester (and later Cannon Films) trend of having Kryptonians develop new powers for no apparent reason, in this case, heat-vision-telekinesis. Also, Non continues being Zod's Otis. Or possibly his Krypto.

It's nice to have a Superman and Lois flying sequence without inane poetic voiceover.

Sure are a lot of scenes of Kryptonians beating up rednecks in this movie.
Oh, hey, more of Zod's telekinesis. And a young child who is apparently British.

One thing that's notable about the movie Fortress is that for all its striking crystalline architecture, it's just not as interesting as any other version of the Fortress of Solitude. There are no trophies, no robot servants, no super-science labs, no intergalactic zoo, just white and clear crystals. It looks cool, but the effect wears off quickly. If we see a Fortress in future films, and the Man of Steel trailers suggest we will, I hope it has more interesting things going on in the background.

The Zod Squad's assault on East Houston, Idaho continues with some really awful special effects and a bit of slapstick. Zod's ending bit, "Is there no one on this planet to even challenge me?" is pretty good, though.

Argh, the whole "you have to become an ordinary man" bit. So completely nonsensical. And I'd forgotten the weird montage of layers of Superman that gets thrown in the middle there, looking a bit like the transformation sequences from Altered Beast.
It's just such a forced and unnecessary bit of drama.

I do like the bit with the Zod Squad defacing Mount Rushmore. The White House battle is nice, and I love how effortless it is for the Kryptonians; it gives them that completely sinister, intimidating quality. Undermined when Zod gets into his "Rise before Zod, kneel before Zod" calisthenics routine. Lester really took "Kneel Before Zod" into catchphrase territory, and it gets old quick. The "Oh, God" bit is probably Zod's best moment.

Ah, Clark's inexplicable car and the North Pole diner. I do like the fight, though, especially the apt "You just don't have enough sense to know when to stay down."

It's kind of crappy that Clark's stuck hitchhiking to the Fortress--a ridiculous thing in and of itself--when he and Lois had a car just a few minutes ago. She couldn't find another ride? Couldn't go with him?

It's also weird that once he gets back to the Fortress, Clark's talking to and yelling at his father, when his mother is the one who told him the bad news about giving up his abilities.

It's interesting to see the banality of world domination. Zod doesn't seem to want anything to do with the day-to-day operations of the world governments, so life continues much the same as it had before, but with a different person in the big chair. It's like that Twilight Zone episode with the gambler who always wins. When your driving goal was world domination, what do you do when you achieve it and maintain it effortlessly?

Of course, then they meet Lex Luthor and storm off to the Daily Planet, where they wreck stuff and knock Perry White out with an acoustic ceiling tile.

Superman's "General, would you care to step outside" is a perfect line. It's a shame Zod ruins the moment with his catchphrase.

Heat vision becomes explodey vision in the ensuing battle, during which everyone just kind of flies around aimlessly. They kind of dropped the ball on "You'll believe a man can fly" for this installment. The aerial battle should be exciting, but it's more sluggish than anything. And the color commentary from spectators is just painful.

The bit where Superman turns Zod's heat vision back on him is fantastic, and the effect is very well done.
Exactly the kind of clever use of powers and environment that this kind of battle requires to work.

The scene where the citizens of Metropolis rise up to defend Superman is great, up until it becomes all slapstick.
It's clear that Spider-Man 2 took a lot from this movie, intentionally or otherwise. As for the slapstick, Lester loves phone booth gags so much that he works two into the same scene, and his love for fire hydrant gags becomes even more apparent in the next film. Also, the people of Metropolis, while brave, are among the dumbest people of all time. Why isn't the city evacuating?

The way they turn on Superman when he leaves is like what you'd see on a Silver Age cover.

Speaking of things you'd find on a Silver Age cover, "What is the secret of Superman's S-weapon?!" "How can Superman be in five places at once?!"

But the way Superman uses Luthor--and expects his double-cross--to trap the criminals, is pretty great though. Again, a flash of utter brilliance before Superman and Lois straight-up kill all the Kryptonian criminals.

Clark and Lois then have their wholly unnecessary break-up scene, which only makes sense if you make the assumption that the third act is built on, that Superman and Lois can't be together for...some reason. Because Kryptonians said so, I guess, because Clark's going to keep that rule when he didn't keep the "don't interfere with their history" one. I guess if you assume that any kiss would result in the loss of several days' worth of memories, that works, but we have no more reason to think that would be the case than we would to think Superman could trap someone with a cellophane S-shield.

Finally, there's the return to the diner. I understand the objections to this bit (though I think the objections to the preceding one are better), but I've always seen it as more of the kind of comeuppance Clark would give Steve Lombard than Clark being a bully. It's not Superman's best moment, but I don't think it's his worst one, even in this movie.

And then, the movie ends...with the exact same shot as the first one. Cheap, guys.

Overall: I like Superman II, but it suffers from the same rosy-eyed fan nostalgia as the 1989 Batman movie. Neither film is as good as people remember them being, and this one in particular throws Clark under the bus, and Superman makes some seriously uncharacteristic decisions. Add in the rapid oscillation between differing tones--is it drama or farce?--and the plot holes that largely result from stitching together different movie concepts, and it ends up being a pretty jumbled mess. There's a lot of good, but there's at least an equal amount of bad, and the most redeeming quality is in some excellent performances by nearly the entire cast. There's a reason that so many people love Christopher Reeve's Superman, and it's because he makes the character--every aspect of the character--completely believable.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Supermovies #1: Superman: The Movie

In terms of format, I'm going to turn on the movie and occasionally gush about it here, with some summarizing thoughts posted at the end. It'll be the same meandering nonsense that you've come to expect from my writing.

It's weird to see the old upside-down Adidas Warner Bros. logo at the beginning of this one. I've gotten so used to the shield that I forgot there were different versions. I love that the movie opens with the drawing curtain, the "June 1938" title card, the kid reading Action Comics. It's contrived, but it sets the tone in an interesting way. This is a comic book movie, this is a character with a long history, this is the character you grew up with on television. And then it launches into the big spacey Star Wars-esque title montage, saying "but we're doing things a little differently now." It's almost Oz-ian, moving from the black-and-white 1:33-scale TV-screen to the big widescreen bright-colored opening.

It's also interesting how modern the S-shield in these opening titles is.
And yet, in live-action, this version only ever appeared on the Superboy costume.
There are a couple of different shields associated with Superman: The Movie, from the rounded, almost bubbly one in the poster to the curvy one on Reeve's costume, so it's strange to see the sharper, more angular, modern shield at the beginning of this film.

Man, how about that John Williams? That guy is going someplace.

The weird effects as the titles zoom through the stars are obviously meant to evoke strange things in space, but really look like a stretch now. Part of it is because I remember what it looked like when Superman Returns did the same, and that was pretty great.

I'd really like to read the screenplays for this movie.

I've always liked the effects used for the approach to Krypton, and the appearance of its sun. I'm sure it's a lot of miniature-scale work, but that crystalline Kryptonian city with the big dome at the center looks so clean and so real.

The trial scene is such a nice way of tying the first two movies together, and of characterizing Jor-El beyond just Kryptonian Cassandra. But boy, Terrence Stamp looks gaunt in this early scene, but it really adds to his desperation when he starts threatening Jor-El.

Much as I liked the big domed building, it always seemed a little weird that the whole thing has to open up to banish a few criminals to the Phantom Zone. Especially since the Phantom Zone is apparently just a thing that passes by every so often. But what an iconic image, that pane of glass, spinning through space. Trapped in a comic book panel, forever.

It took me a long time to accept the S-shield as a Kryptonian glyph, but I like that the other houses have glyphs of different shapes, not all pentagons. I also like that they have another scientist to voice opposition, that it's not a matter of dogmatism, but a matter of academic disagreement. Of course, then the Science Council threatens to send him to the Phantom Zone if he talks about his findings. So, you know, there's that. There's a sense that Jor-El was almost baiting the Council into punishing him, since at least he'd have a chance at survival.

There's a good back-and-forth between Jor-El and Lara about sending Kal-El to Earth. And while I like Jor-El's "He will not be alone. He will never be alone," I wish it were more "because he will find friends and family there" and not "because I'm going to watch over him as an artificially intelligent hologram."

"The son becomes the father, and the father becomes the son." Sounds great, makes no sense.

There's a nice amount of pathos in the destruction of Krypton (though it all happens awfully fast), but I've never quite understood why the sun exploded too.

I've also never been a fan of the way Kal-El goes through phases where he grows up a bit while listening to Jor-El talk. Whether it's his trip to Earth or later in the Fortress, it's just a really odd way to shift between actors and time periods. It does make a little more sense of Superman's trip that starts off "Superman Returns," since this version of the character has a history of disappearing for long periods of time to do Kryptonian stuff.

Love the truck scene. Less enamored with naked toddler Kal-El.

I've always admired how this movie did in 30 minutes what it took Smallville 10 years to do. The idea that Lois saw Clark super-speed-running from that train, and that she's got to be at least five to eight years younger than Clark, is weird though.

Pa Kent as the voice of reason is kind of a mainstay of the mythos, though it often leaves Ma with little to do. I wish J. Michael Straczynski had taken the "you're here for a reason [...] it's not to score touchdowns" to heart for Earth One, though.

Killing Pa has also become a mainstay of the mythos, and while I appreciate that it shows that even Superman has limitations, I wish creators didn't keep going back to that well so often.

Making the Fortress-building crystal green and glowing was a weird choice.
It's not going to be confusing to have a green glowing thing from Krypton, right?
Weirder still: why was it, and only it, in the barn cellar? Why did they pick up that single crystal to take home? What happened to the rest of the ship?

The crystal fortress is a stunning visual in live action, and a marked departure from the giant golden door and key that were status quo for the comics at the time. But I wish, again, that they'd stop going back to that well. Let there be a new Fortress in each era, let the writers and artists do something new, rather than trying to make everything like it was in 1978. That said, it's not really a complaint about this movie.

Jor-El says that by "your reckoning," he's been dead for many thousands of years. Maybe that hearkens back to the "each of the six galaxies you will pass through has its own laws of space and time" line, but it does make the "June, 1938" bit make less sense. I liked the (likely more recently-conceived) notion that Krypton exploded in 1938 and that it took several decades (relativistic time dilation and all) for Kal-El to make the trip to Earth. It was a nice nod to the real-life origins, while also throwing in the relevant super-science. Now, I'm not sure why the "June, 1938" at the beginning was really there in the first place, except to make that same nod.

The teaching scene in the Fortress is a bit trippy and repetitive. Why play the recording when he was a baby if they're just doing it again? Visually, I wonder if it wasn't to make some nods to "2001: A Space Odyssey," or something.

Twelve years pass in the Fortress, and the only really worthwhile thing we hear Jor-El say is at the end, when it gets all messianic. And then there's a weird spinning crystal Christopher Reeve mask. Or is it supposed to be Brando? It's really hard to tell.
Crystalpher Reeve?

It's nice that our first view of the Daily Planet newsroom is through Jimmy's viewfinder.

Speaking of tropes I wish they wouldn't keep coming back to, Lois Lane can't spell.

Christopher Reeve as Superman as Clark Kent is amazing. Seriously, he's just so charming and so awkward and so wholesome. It's great how he first starts winning over cynical Lois with that genuine care for his mother. It'd work better if we didn't know that he'd just abandoned her for 12 years. In fact, the whole movie works better if you assume that maybe he just took night classes at the Fortress and spent days at Shuster University or something.

Clark tries to reason with the mugger. I wish everyone realized that regardless of what clothes he's wearing, Clark's first instinct is to solve problems with words, not violence. I also like that the first legitimate action of the movie is Lois kicking a mugger in the face.

People bag on Otis, but I like to think that Lex Luthor surrounds himself with apparently stupid people because A) it makes people underestimate him and B) it's a subtle way of saying "you're all so far beneath me intellectually that there's no functional difference between someone like Otis and the shrewdest of other criminals. Killing the cop, though, that's stone cold.

Luthor's obsession with land and real estate is weird, but it's explained fairly well. I think it shows that they've painted Lex Luthor into a corner a bit. Golden Age Lex was a mad scientist, of the sort that got a decent amount of play in Superman cartoons, radio programs, serials, and TV show episodes well before this movie came around. By the Silver Age and the '70s, Lex had evolved into a more nuanced character, but all that nuance built on a preexisting hatred of and archenmity toward Superman. At this point in history, we'd never seen a Lex Luthor story that took place before Superboy/Superman existed. Which leaves the writers with a bit of a quandary: what motivates an adult Lex Luthor who has no Superman to hate? What plan does a supervillain make when there's no superhero to plan against? Frankly, they did a pretty good job, giving him the kind of plan you might have seen a Bond villain adopt, but with Luthor's more affable attitude.

And then we have poor, alienated, awkward Clark Kent, struggling to catch an elevator before he effortlessly catches a helicopter. It's interesting that this is the first time in the movie that we've seen Lois Lane even slightly out of her depth, and she still has the presence of mind to, after panicking a little, try to escape on her own. Lois Lane is nothing if not resourceful.

It's a bit dumb the way that a guy who has x-ray vision and super-hearing doesn't notice the huge commotion going on atop and outside the building he's in until he sees Lois's hat on the ground.

The look Clark gives at the not-a-phone-booth is priceless.
It's a joke that only works if you have prior familiarity with the character, though.

The bit with Superman stopping the cat burglar is perfect. So calm, so casual, and then making sure to address the police officer by name? The "take him away" sounds a little overly forceful, but everything else is just great.

Dropping a boat off in the middle of the city is a bit of a jerk move. But then he rescues the cat, and it's great again. And then there's the reminder that corporal punishment was considerably more acceptable in 1978.

While I understand that there's a motif of Clark getting advice from his dads in this movie, I kind of think he could have figured out the secret identity on his own.

The banter between Lois and Superman is so effortless, and the way he sits back in that chair, so comfortable and unguarded.

The flying sequence is so good, and then there's "Can you read my mind." Aaaauuugh. So, so weird. At least it doesn't go on quite as long as I remembered it going.

There's so much great work by Reeve in that bit where Clark shows up for the date. The shift back to Superman, the look when he sees the effect he's had on Lois, the aborted attempt to come good.

According to Luthor, Superman said Krypton blew up in 1948, which throws the whole thing back into a weird muddle. Maybe it's a matter of relativistic effects and breaking simultaneity, that since Clark experienced three years in the ship, Krypton's explosion effectively happened in 1948, but it's still weird.

Wow, the movie really gets going at this point. Jimmy's at the dam, Lois is in the car doing a real estate interview, Lex and crew are hijacking missiles.

The bit with Luthor messaging Superman on an ultra-high-frequency is great, and Hackman sounds really sinister while doing it. A shame the effect of Clark changing to Superman in midair is just a fade rather than something more reasonable.

Lex's plan is actually great, using Superman's powers and tendencies against him. Every part of the plan is designed to delay him, so that nothing he can do will thwart the entirety of Lex's plan. The fake-outs are just brilliant. And Lex's response to Tessmacher's mother? Priceless.

The whole missile sequence is often maligned, but it's clear that Superman's trying everything he can to mitigate the damage, short of the time travel that he ultimately turns to. Of course, the whole thing only works if you accept that a guy who's fast enough to break the time barrier isn't fast enough to fly across the country in a few seconds. But then, if he's using Earth's gravity to help slingshot him beyond lightspeed, I guess that takes more time/effort than it might otherwise seem.

I love this movie, but a lot of the green screen effects don't age well.

There's a nice symmetry between Lois's scenes in the helicopter and the car. Superman's able to save her from falling, but not from being buried alive. The scenes of Lois in the car are a bit grisly, though.

Superman damming the river is one of the few HO-scale effects that don't age well. Most of them look great, but this one's pretty obvious.

I like the dueling memories that lead Superman to finally make his own decision about why he's here and what he's here to do. It's a shame it gets undermined in future movies, where he's still looking for Jor-El's advice on everything.

I still say the flight around the Earth is meant to be a slingshot effect to travel past the time barrier. But it seems like Superman really should have gone back far enough to stop the second missile, not just to save Lois. I guess it's possible that he did, but the explosion still triggered an earthquake. It'd be nice to have some indication that that was the case, and that Superman wasn't being too personal.

The ending, with Luthor in prison and Superman eschewing thanks, brings it all back to that perfect characterization. About the only thing that could make the end better is a little wink at the camera.
So dreamy.

Overall: It's no surprise that I love this movie. It has definite flaws, no doubt in part because of the changes to Superman II and the various script revisions, but it's still a film that captures so much of who Superman and Lois Lane and Lex Luthor are, largely due to the top-notch actors in those roles. I admit I'm not the biggest fan of Margot Kidder, but there's no denying that her Lois is absolutely Lois Lane. Maybe it's partially that I had to run errands and such in the middle, but the movie doesn't feel too long, despite the extended introductory material. If anything, the Superman-era stuff actually feels kind of short. In truth, it's like two short movies stuck together into one that might be a little overly long, and as a result there are some pacing issues. A lot of things happen awfully conveniently close to each other, but that's almost to be expected.

Tomorrow, I'm thinking I'll try watching both cuts of Superman II. We'll see how that goes.