Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review - Special Comment (Superman)

Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review
Special Comment on the Superman Movie Series

I have a confession to make: Superman is my all-time favorite superhero.

Hands-down, no doubt about it, he is the icon that I wish I could be. I wished I could do the things that he could. He could fly, he travels super-fast, he’s super-strong, and nothing except kryptonite could hurt him! Okay there’s also the whole X-ray vision thing too, but that was when I got a little older and I also wanted to see what color Lois Lane’s underwear really was.

That’s why, when I give my reviews of Superman movies, I have this tendency to give him higher marks in the “capes” category, because he will always be the iconic model.

Unfortunately when the Superman movies came out from the late-1970’s through to the late-1980’s, Superman was relegated to being a cartoon joke along with all of the other TV superheroes. Sure he was super-serious in ABC’s Saturday Morning series “Super-Friends”, but he really wasn’t the star of the show. It was about “Wendy, Marvin, and WONDER DOG!” Or it was about “The Wonder Twins AND GLEEK!” Anything to stick in lame-ass bumbling kids and goofy cartoony animals pretending to be heroes. Superheroes of the time followed the lead of the campy 1966 “Batman” movie and TV series. Everything was campy and cheesy and about as serious as a Marx Brothers marathon.

That is why “Superman: The Movie” stood out. It stood out because Warner Brothers and Alexander and Ilya Salikind DID NOT play around with this film. They kept one word in mind through the whole process: EPIC. They wanted this to be one of THE BEST films of all time, and they spared no expense to make it so. They brought in the best actors, some of the biggest names of the time, including Glen Ford and Marlon Brando. They had celebrities like Rex Reed come in as cameos appearances, but they weren’t done for the sake of having them. They cast their lead character appropriately, especially using a relative unknown for the title character. They had a superb original and POWERFUL score by one of the BEST in the business. And they spared no expense for the special effects! They utilized green-screen and wireworks, which at that time were state-of-the-art. Bear in mind this was decades before computer-generated digital effects would be possible, never mind affordable, and certainly not realistic. Their Academy Award for special effects in 1979 was well-earned.

But most importantly, they kept the cheese factor contained. Sure, some of the scenes were done for laughs, but that didn’t mean that the whole film was.

The film’s running line was “You will believe a man can fly” and they made us into believers!

Unfortunately, as with all other things Hollywood, too many people in charge lost track of the little things that made a movie like that into a hit. “Superman II” was marred by a change in directors. “Superman III” was shoved into being a Richard Pryor comedy vehicle. “Supergirl” had a non-existent story. “Superman IV” had bargain-basement executives giving bargain-basement budgets and story. By the time “Superman IV” came out, everyone just wanted the whole thing done and over with, and, yes, that included the actors AND the audience.

And don’t tell me that the magic couldn’t happen again after that first movie; because the Salikinds proved that premise wrong with their “Superboy” TV series. If the suits don’t give a care, then it should be no surprise that their finished product is going to be shoddy.

When talking about the whole Superman series, there are two key questions that need to be asked.

(1) Does “Supergirl” count as part of the series?

(2) Where does “Superman Returns” fit in?

The answer to the first question is simple and to-the-point. YES, “Supergirl” DOES and SHOULD ALWAYS be considered part of the whole “Superman” movie series, no matter how bad it really was and how far it strayed even from film canon. Ilya Salikind had every intention of including “Supergirl” as part of the whole movie cannon, including bringing in Christopher Reeve for a quick cameo as Superman. Since Reeve passed on the idea (remember this came right after “Superman III” flopped), Salikind use a poster of Reeve as Superman and had Marc McClure come in as Jimmy Olson. So that pretty much cements the movie as being part of the whole cannon.

“Superman Returns”, on the other hand, is tricky. This movie operates under the premise that everything after “Superman II” didn’t happen. It takes the best of the first two movies, strips away ALL (or almost all) of the cheese, re-casts EVERYONE, and then makes us forget that we ever heard of Gus Gorman (Superman III), Selene the Witch (Supergirl), or Nuclear Man (Superman IV).

Is it part of the movie canon? No, but it should have been.

“Superman Returns” is how the series SHOULD have progressed if it didn’t take twenty years and a complete cast change. Lex Luthor is out of prison and still fixated on land grabs and on killing Superman by any means possible. He remembers the Fortress, and he knows how to get there. Lois Lane bears the fruit of her little journey from the second movie, even if she doesn’t “remember” how it came about. There is no “god-gaze” superpower where Superman could just stare at something and it gets better. You even get to see bullets bounce off him. He has great powers without the producers relying on that stupid “god-gaze” cheat. All of the things that would have been a great tie-in to the whole story were there.

So now the new challenge for Warner Brothers is to come up with a whole new Superman movie series. And here they are running into the same problems as the last film. Shifting directors, shifting directions, and now the executives want to do a complete “reboot” of the whole film canon.

Further complicating things is the fact that Warner Brothers had the “Smallville” TV series running for ten years before FINALLY putting it - and the continual teasing on the audience - to an end. That in and of itself warrants a special comment, but reconciling the Superman lore of the series with any future movie will be a challenge.

However this new “rebooted” series progresses, if at all, credit still needs to be given to the Salikinds for proving over thirty years ago that you could do a big-budget superhero film and have it pay off. They were the ones that set the standard that other superhero series, and indeed other superhero series from other publishers, have tried to keep even to this day. Just remember that when you promise the audience that they will BELIEVE a man can fly… then you better make sure that by the time the end credits roll, that you make believers out of them all.

Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review #24

Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review
#24: All-Star Superman

When it comes to DC Comics animation projects, the in-house Warner Brothers Animation group pretty much has a hit-and-miss record, with more misses than hits. This is especially true when it comes to releases based on popular comic stories, and this is one of them.

“All-Star Superman” is a 2011 direct-to-video movie based on the 12-issue miniseries by the same name written by Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly. It was written by veteran screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie, who sadly passed away one day before the movie was released to video. The movie was released by Warner Premiere and featured the voices of James Denton, Christine Hendricks, Anthony LaPaglia, Ed Asner, Linda Cardellini, Frances Conroy, Alexis Denisof, John DiMaggio, Steven Blum, Fiona Hughes, and Arnold Vosloo.

The movie starts with a series of still images being narrated by Lex Luthor (LaPaglia). Each image showed a single segment of Superman’s career, until we finally see him in orbit around the sun, chasing a spaceship containing Dr. Leo Quintum (Denisof) and his staff. One member of that staff is actually being remotely controlled by Luthor, with everything being prepared in advance to account for the time differential. We find, however, that Luthor’s cosmic puppet act was in violation of his parole. Superman (Denton) still manages to toss out Luthor’s puppet and saves Quintum’s ship using a brand new superpower.

Later, Superman and Quintum discover that the Man of Steel’s new powers are a symptom of his cells becoming supercharged from being too close to the sun. Essentially he is suffering from sun-cancer and is slowly dying. They both agree, though, that they need to keep this a secret, lest his enemies try to take advantage of this. But Superman does decide to put his affairs in order.

He first reveals to Lois Lane (Hendricks) that he is, in fact, Clark Kent, but she refuses to believe it. He shows her the Fortress of Solitude and all of its features, including the reconstructed HMS Titanic, the bottled city of Kandor, his army of Super-Robots, and his pet sun-eater, which he supposedly feeds it with newly-forged baby suns. After seeing a distant future version of Superman (the Kal Kent Superman from DC One Million) and his slight resemblance to her father, Lois fears that she’s being prepared for some weird Kryptonian experiment. Stealing a kryptonite gun and inadvertently shooting Superman with it, he discovers that kryptonite no longer has any effect on him either. But it calms Lois down enough for him to give her a special suit and a serum that would give her super-powers for twenty-four hours.

Unfortunately Lois’ newfound powers take a back seat to the time-travelling troublemakers Atlas (Blum) and Samson (DiMaggio), who know about Superman’s final months and challenge him to riddles and feats for Lois’ favor. After besting them in contests and solving the riddle of the Ultra-Sphinx, Superman and Lois spend the remaining time as equals making out on the moon and then she is fascinated by all the things Superman can sense as her powers disappear, and he tucks her into her bed before leaving.

Visiting Luthor behind bars while awaiting his death sentence, Clark’s presence is detected by the Parasite and inadvertently starts a prison riot. Clark manages to contain the damage, though, while still careful to not reveal himself as Superman to any of the inmates or to Luthor, who shows a modicum of respect for the “mild-mannered” Clark Kent after kicking a disabled Parasite to death. He also shows Clark a secret passage, proving that he could escape at any time with the help of his goth-teen niece Nasthalthia (Cardellini). He stays there, though, because he knows that Superman is dying, and he wants to see it happen.

After visiting his adopted mother (Conroy) and leaving an indestructible flower on his adopted father’s grave, Superman tells Lois that he has to leave to take the Kandorians to their new home world, and reveals to her that he may not be able to make it back in his condition. He does, though, only to discover that Metropolis has two new “champions” to marvel over: Bar-El (Vosloo) and Lilo (Hughes), Kryptonian astronauts and his ancestors that see themselves not as heroes, but as the new rulers of “New Krypton”. Eventually, though, they discover that they suffered from Kryptonite poisoning and were slowly dying. The only way they could survive would be through the Phantom Zone, but not before asking for forgiveness to Superman for their arrogance.

As Superman finishes putting his affairs in order, he faces the “Tyrant Sun” Solaris, while at the same time Lex Luthor, having recreated Superman’s super-serum, escaped from the electric chair and prepares to make his move.

At this point I have to stop the summary because it would ruin the ending, which, regrettably, is really the high-point of this movie.

Unfortunately, much like some of the other stories that are turned into movies, there is a lot that is missing in the transition from the original mini-series. Jimmy Olson becoming Doomsday, Bizarro and Bizarro World, a trip to the past with Kal Kent to visit his adopted father on the day of his death, and the discovery of Earth-Q (where Joe Schuster illustrates Action Comics #1) are all scrapped due to time constraints. Instead, what we get is a story that is full of remorse and regret, and an ending that comes off as less-than-triumphant.

Sadly, the movie was working with flawed material. Without the other stories, we have a Daily Planet staff full of people that act like a bunch of over-aged high school rejects, with the exception of Perry White (Asner) who seems to be the only newsperson in the building. (Kudos for Asner for channeling his old “Lou Grant” persona.) Even worse is when Bar-El and Lilo practically reveal that Clark Kent is Superman and the “Breakfast Club” wannabes around him can’t accept it. Even Lois refuses to accept that Clark is Superman, even after seeing him change right in front of her twice. Most of Lois’ time as “Superwoman” was reduced to being a damsel-in-distress-and-cosplay as Atlas and Samson challenge Superman for her affections.

“All-Star Superman” was meant to be Superman’s Ragnarok story. We know from the start that Superman is dying. The problem is that there’s no attempt to fight it. There are no “seven stages of grief” here; there is just acceptance. He’s dying, and he doesn’t try to do anything to change it. He’s essentially given up, surrendering to his own mortality, trying to complete his “Bucket List”, and find some way to end his “hero” career on a positive note. It’s depressing.

Adding to that melancholy was the voice acting. James Denton may do great playing a rugged character in “Desperate Housewives” but his voice did not carry on through as Superman/Clark Kent. Even Adam Baldwin’s version in “Superman: Doomsday” showed more emotion than Denton’s. A far better choice would have been Tim Daly or George Newbern, two people who know how to voice Superman. Even Denton’s occasional “Desperate Housewives” co-star Kyle MacLachlan did a better job when he voiced Superman in the (to be reviewed) “Justice League: The New Frontier” movie, and THAT Superman had a bit part. The only time Denton’s voice shows even the slightest emotion in it is through one point during the Solaris battle.

Anthony LaPaglia’s Luthor was stuffy, arrogant, and a continual know-it-all. And his continual dirge about how everything is Superman’s fault got tired WAY too early.

Christina Hendricks’ Lois was perky and almost out-of-place at times. It’s not the actress’s fault, though. Most of it is how Lois is written. She’s skeptical about Clark being Superman to a fault. When Lois has superpowers, how does she spend a good portion of that time? Standing around while Atlas, Samson, and Superman fight over her affections and going gaga over stolen jewelry. Not exactly the “liberated woman” that she’s supposed to be.

Without getting into spoiling the ending, the battles with Solaris and Lex Luthor were almost after-thoughts. More time was spent on Bar-El and Lilo than on both battles.

In all, the story itself was something of a letdown, a Ragnarok-level story that ends with a whimper instead of a bang. Maybe a part of it could be blamed on the material they had to work with, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be improved, and maybe it would help if they got rid of the artificial time constraints they seem to impose and just let the story develop as it needs to.

Capes: Normally I’d have to give Superman all-five capes, but here he’s only getting three, and that’s sad.

The cheese factor here is Mild Cheddar (2). When your first image of Jimmy Olson is of him in drag, and both Steve Lombard and Cat Grant are there only to play middle-aged high school students, then you know that it’s cheese.


In terms of storyline, I can only give three books out of five. There is SO MUCH that is missing from this.