Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice – First Thoughts (spoilerish)

I saw Batman v. Superman Tuesday night. I normally wait until I have the DVD and can pause the movie while its playing, write down quotes, etc, before writing a review – but several of my friends on Facebook have asked for my thoughts, so here it goes – based on one viewing.

Overall – I liked it, but I have quibbles. Two of the quibbles were rather important – Ben Affleck (didn’t like him, more below) and the director (Dear Warner Brothers – Can we please fire Zack Synder? Please?) But there were also good things, and overall, taken all together, not only was the movie not as bad as I’d expected from the fannish rumbling and even critical backlash I’d heard even while trying to ignore spoilers, As I said, overall I liked it.

So – starting with the good:

I loved, loved, loved Wonder Woman (Diana Prince) – and I loved that she was a mysterious woman. We really don’t know who she is at first, and I liked that surprise factor. And she kicked butt during the fight sequences. I loved that. Plus her New 52-inspired armor actually worked for me.

I also really liked that the two “hero women” in the film were in a very real sense – the only ones with brains (we’ll get to that). Lois Lane and Diana Prince were the only people who knew what was going on. And they seemed to be at times the only ones with common sense.

Lex Luthor – omg, Lex Luthor. I never thought I’d be excited by Lex, he’s always bored me, other than his rather obvious direct parallels to real world politicians and businessmen. We’ve seen Lex as a buffoon, as a sociopath, and as cold unemotional b*****d, and even as president of the US – but I have never seen Lex Luthor as totally bonkers. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex is completely and totally nuts – and even people other than Superman seem to realize it. Eisenberg plays Lex like he’s The Joker – and I liked it. It was very different, and it was interesting. Possibly in the Chinese sense (May you live in interesting times – the old Chinese curse) but wow. That was pretty much amazing.

I also liked that the film started with a different view of the battle from the end of Man of Steel. Seeing the same events from a different perspective was a cool way to start the film. And it should have set-up why Bruce was, um, concerned, to say the least about Superman.

I also loved the sneak peaks into the other “meta-humans”. But I refuse to spoil that by going into details.

Okay – now on to the bad.

Ben Affleck – from the beginning, the very beginning, I questioned this casting choice. And Affleck sank the last superhero movie he was in (2002’s Dare Devil), but I reserved judgement until I saw it. And Affleck was so bad as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Just awful. His grizzled look, heavy armor, and throaty voice reminded me of The Dark Knight Returns – both the graphic novel and the two-part animated film. But whereas it works, both as costume design and by the actor (Peter Weller) in The Dark Knight Returns it definitely does not work – at all – in Batman v. Superman. This film is supposed to be setting up the Justice League – so Batman should be young and relatively new to crime fighting. He definitely should not be old, cynical, gruff, rough and tumble, and grizzled. It was just wrong. I also hated seeing Batman using guns. Batman doesn’t use guns. It’s one of his major principles. Having Batman using guns, beating criminals to a pulp, and even branding them – that makes him into the criminal those who do not know the canon always accuse the character of being. Heroes need to be heroic or they aren’t heroes.

Bruce Wayne’s cynical outlook and utter lack of trust, especially of Superman, just didn’t really play either.

And since when did Bruce start having apocalyptical visions of the future? Can someone explain that entire thread in the film to me? Because it made no sense.

The other big problem was the director. At this point, I’m thinking Zack Snyder needs to have his directing license pulled. His ADHD hyperactive directing style is counter-productive. I found I was just starting to get involved in a story thread – when Snyder would change focus, completely. Action is completely meaningless if you don’t care about the characters – and Snyder directs in such a way it’s like he’s afraid of character and actual meaning. Good characters, meaning – that’s basic to what makes a film work. You have to care about the characters and have empathy for them. Characters drive the story – that doesn’t make it “boring”, it makes good film. Action sequences centered on characters we actually care about always work better that action that’s simply there to blow stuff up. And the sad part is, Snyder’s such as bad director he could sink the entire DC Comics movie line before it gets started. If Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice has poor box office results – Warner’s could sink the whole line as “not profitable”.

OK – and on to the fan wank. Do Superman and Batman actually duke it out? Yes, they do. But what did I think of that scene? I was angry and annoyed. All Superman had to say was five words. Five words. He’s the bloody man of steel and he can’t get out five words because he’s either too dumb or too busy? Come on! That is not good action or good drama – it’s a bad excuse for a fight. And, in the end, it’s Lois who points out the truth to Batman. Though it was nice to see Lois being proactive for a change – that whole big fight scene just… well, it got my blood boiling. (Also, not spoiling what Superman just needed to say, because: major plot point, send me a message or comment below if you want to know.)

OK, finally, nice, not quite subtle point about how people treat Superman – as a hero, then as someone to fear, then as someone who’s “alien”, then as a saviour again. I actually liked that bit.

Overall, I’d say – go see Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice. It’s worth two and half hours of your time. And it’s the necessary prequel to Wonder Woman, Aquaman, etc, which I have high hopes for. I will be getting the DVD or Blu-Ray and posting a full review then.

UPDATED: 4/3/2016 to fix typos.

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Superman Returns

  • Title: Superman Returns
  • Director: Bryan Singer
  • Date: 2006
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy
  • Cast: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Eva Marie Saint, Sam Huntington
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: NTSC, Blu-Ray

“The son becomes the father, the father becomes the son.” – Jor-El, voiceover

“Well, I hope this experience hasn’t put any of you off flying. Statistically speaking it’s still the safest way to travel.” – Superman

“I hear everything. You wrote that the world doesn’t need a Saviour, but every day I hear people crying for one.” – Superman

Superman Returns is a sequel to Superman the Movie and Superman II. Superman has been missing for five years, and Lois Lane has moved on having a son and a long-term boyfriend, as well as winning a Pulitzer Prize for her editorial – “Why the World Doesn’t Need a Superman”. Superman crash lands at his mother’s farm, then Clark returns to the Daily Planet. No sooner is he back than an EMP-generated blackout causes havoc on a 747 plane carrying a space shuttle into launch position. Lois is one of the reporters covering the new procedure on the plane. The shuttle is meant to decouple from the plane and then launch with rocket boosters – but the blackout means it cannot detach nor can it shut down the launch procedure. Superman gets the shuttle safely launched into orbit, then goes to rescue the plane. He eventually sets it down in the middle of a baseball stadium. He gets a standing ovation from the crowd.

But the blackout was no ordinary blackout – Lex Luthor had gone to Superman’s fortress of solitude, listened to the crystal recordings, and taken a few of the crystal rods. He then goes to the mansion he’s stolen from a little old lady, and puts a tiny sliver of the crystal in the middle of a pond of water in the midst of a train set. When the crystal grows – it destroys the model city, and causes the EMP that knocked out the power – including to computers, cell phones, etc.

Lois wants to cover the power outage story – but Perry wants her to cover the return of Superman.

Meanwhile, Clark is trying to adjust to the idea of Lois having a child and a serious boyfriend, Richard White, Perry’s nephew.

Superman does what he does – stopping crime, rescuing people, world wide – not simply in Metropolis.

Lex Luthor steals Kryptonite from the Metropolis Museum of Natural History for the next stage in his plan.

Superman lands on the roof of the Daily Planet to talk to Lois, then takes her flying. Lois takes off her shoes before letting him fly with her. The flying sequence, rather than being romantic like in Superman the Movie or in Superman II – is sad. Lois, and Clark, act like old lovers who never quite got together – meeting again years later. Superman tries to explain to Lois that he hears all of the pain in the world – and he’s simply there to help. Lois doesn’t appear to buy it, but she writes an article called, “Superman Returns”.

Superman returns to his fortress of solitude and discovers some crystal rods are missing.

Lois, who should be on her way to her Pulitzer Prize dinner, takes her son with her to continue to investigate the blackout story. She finds the mansion, and the yacht moored at a private slip in front of it. Lois sneaks aboard the yacht to investigate and runs into Luthor, who kidnaps her and her son.

Once on the yacht, Luthor explains his plan – he will place one of the crystal rods inside a hollowed-out tube of Kryptonite, and fire it into the ocean. This will create a massive new landmass for Luthor to sell – and kill billions of people on the East Coast of the US which will be swamped with the displaced water. Luthor carries out his plan. Kitty begins to have second thoughts.

Superman deals with the earthquake and disasters in Metropolis as a result, including saving Perry from the giant art-deco planet that falls off the top of the Daily Planet building and nearly lands on Perry.

Thanks to a distraction provided by her son, Lois is able to send a FAX with her location to the Daily Planet. Richard takes the sea plane to rescue her; and once things settle down a bit in Metropolis, Superman also flies to the rescue.

One of Luthor’s goons, having noticed that Lois sent the FAX, attacks her. Lois’s son throws a piano at him and kills him. Additional goons grab Lois and the boy and lock them in the galley. As the land-mass gets bigger, Luthor, Kitty, Kitty’s very small dog, and Lex’s goons escape by helicopter.

The massive crystal land mass continues to grow, and Jason (Lois’s son) walks towards the door, which is opened by Richard. But just as he starts to rescue Lois and Jason, the shard of crystal stabs the bottom of the yacht causing chaos.

Superman arrives, pulls the yacht out of the water, he grabs Richard’s arm, and when he’s assured Richard has both Lois and Jason, he lets the yacht falls. Superman gets them to Richard’s seaplane and gives them a hand in launching.

Superman then challenges Lex Luthor, but he’s unaware he’s surrounded by Kryptonite. Lex punches and kicks Superman, then his goons and minions also beat Superman. Finally, Lex stabs Superman in the back with a shard of pure Kryptonite. It breaks off in Superman’s back and he falls into the Ocean.

Richard’s seaplane lands. First Jason, then Lois and Richard spot Superman. Lois jumps in to save him, Richard helps. They fly back to shore. Lois removes the Kryptonite, But when Superman recovers he tells her he must go back. He jumps out of the seaplane and flies above the atmosphere to recharge in the sun – then flies straight back to strike at Luthor. Superman picks up the entire island and flies it into space, then crashes to Earth.

Lex and his minions try to escape by helicopter – only Lex, Kitty, and the dog escape – the rest are trapped. Kitty dumps the crystals overboard into the Ocean. Lex, Kitty, and the dog end-up stranded on a desert Island.

Emergency workers bring Superman into the E.R. No one knows if he will live or die. Lois and Jason visit him. Superman recovers and flies off into the upper atmosphere to recharge. When Lois later asks, “Will I see you? Around?” Superman responds, “I’ll always be around.”

Superman Returns picks up a few threads from the classic 1970s Christopher Reeve/Richard Donner Superman films, using clips of Marlon Brando’s voice as Jor-El, the massive and gorgeous Fortress of solitude, and it’s crystal computer. Brandon Routh is quite possibly the most human Superman to date, that I’ve seen, and I liked his portrayal a lot. The story line between Clark and Lois of missed opportunities is truly sad.

The action sequences in the film are what action sequences should be – they work and are meaningful not merely for being “good action sequences” but because characters we care about are always at the center of the action sequences.

I liked Brandon Routh’s Superman and Clark Kent very much – his portrayal is very human. Kate Bosworth is a bit bland as Lois though. She doesn’t have the romantic quality Margot Kidder had, nor does she have Teri Hatcher’s humor and intelligence. She’s not terrible but she’s not great either. It’s like in big budget movies, the directors are either unable to let Lois really shine or unwilling to do so, perhaps for fear of overshadowing Clark/Superman.

Kevin Spacey is brilliant as Lex Luthor. He is a far cry from the Gene Hackman’s bumbling Lex of Superman the Movie and Superman II. This Lex is cold, calculating, and utterly ruthless. He will sacrifice anything and any one to get what he wants. And he has no moral scruples whatsoever. He cares for no one. Spacey’s cold-edged performance is brilliant.

It’s a real pity Superman Returns didn’t do better at the box office, because it really is one of the best Superman movies. I recommend it.

Superman II (Richard Donner cut)

  • Title: Superman II (Richard Donner cut)
  • Director: Richard Donner
  • Date: 1980, 2006 (Reconstruction / Donner edit)
  • Studio: Warner Brother’s
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy
  • Cast: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran, Terence Stamp, John Ratzenberger, Shane Rimmer

“Clark, once a girl’s seen Superman in action, Niagara Falls kinda’ leaves you cold. You know what I mean?” – Lois Lane

“It is you! I guess I’ve known this for the longest time.” – Lois
“You realize of course, if you’d been wrong, Clark Kent would have been killed.” – Clark/Superman
“With a blank? Gotcha!” – Lois

“This Super Man is nothing of the kind, I’ve discovered his weakness.” – Zod
“Yes?” – Ursa
“He cares. He actually cares for these Earth people.” – Zod
“Like pets?” – Ursa
“I suppose so.” – Zod

I never saw Superman II when it came out, and I’m unaware of the details of any controversy surrounding the film, or the director. Apparently, Donner was the original director and was replaced. However, what I watched was Donner’s cut of the film, and that is what I will be reviewing here.

Superman II starts with a repeat of Superman the Movie, with Jor-El carrying out the sentence of Krypton’s high Council to exile three Kryptonian villains to the Phantom Zone. Zod still threatens Jor-El and his heirs. The movie also includes a few clips of the previous film, setting the stage for the sequel. It also shows the missile Superman threw into space from the first film, hitting the phantom zone and at first splitting it apart, then cracking the parts open, releasing the villains.

At the Daily Planet, Perry, Lois, and Jimmy are discussing the story of Superman defeating Lex Luthor. Jimmy says that it’s too bad Clark missed the Big Story. And Lois casually responds, “Clark is never around when Superman is around.” Then she has a lightbulb moment. Perry calls Lois and Clark into his office.  He wants them to go undercover as newlywed’s to cover hotel swindles at Niagara Falls. In Perry’s office, Lois confronts Clark with the idea she thinks he’s Superman. She even goes so far as to throw herself out of Perry’s high rise window. Clark saves her subtly, and without “becoming” Superman.

Meanwhile – Luthor and Otis are working in the prison laundry. Luthor’s girlfriend rescues Luthor, but Otis is left behind.

Also, meanwhile, in Houston, two NASA controllers are talking to the Artemis 2 mission to the moon. The three Kyptonian criminals arrive on the moon. They kill the astronauts and cosmonaut.

Lois and Clark are at Niagara Falls, pretending to be a newlywed couple.

Lex Luthor and his girlfriend discover Superman’s fortress of solitude by using Lex’s alpha wave tracker. Lex places crystals (one by one) into Superman’s crystal computer. Luthor and his girlfriend listen to Jor-El explaining about the three super-villains from Krypton. Luthor, of course, wants to find them.  He starts making a speech – but his girlfriend has left to use the ladies.

At Niagara Falls, Clark’s glasses get steamed up and she cleans them for him. She’s also taking pictures with a Polaroid camera. A little boy plays on the wrong side of the rail, despite warnings from his mother.

Meanwhile, the three Kryptonian villains fly through the sky, and land in or near a swamp. Zod walks on water.

At Niagara Falls, there’s a beautiful rainbow in the mist from the falls, which no one really notices. However, the little boy loses his grip on the rail and falls. Superman rescues him.

Then Clark returns to Lois. Lois again wonders about this.

In their hotel room, Clark is in a black tux and Lois in a towel applying her make-up. She again talks to him about how it sure was strange that of all the places where a child might be in danger, Superman was here, today. And how she couldn’t find Clark when Superman arrived. Clark tries to talk to her about it. Lois takes out a gun and shoots him. Clark admits he’s Superman. As Superman he takes Lois flying – to his fortress of solitude.

There’s a few cuts showing the Kryptonian villains and what they are doing.

What’s more interesting is that Clark prepares a nice meal for Lois, gives her champagne, and they then sleep together. The next morning, Clark talks to the computer image of his father about being in love with Lois. He decides to expose himself to the radiation of Krypton’s red sun which will take away his super powers permanently and leave him mortal.

Zod and his fellow villains destroy the town of “East Huston, Idaho”. Zod announces he will be ruler. Later there’s a shot of the Washington Monument being destroyed.

As Clark talks to his father, before deciding to take his radiation bath – Lois watches silently from a distance, but understands everything that is going on.

The three Kryptonian villains wreck havoc at the White House. Some advisor kneels before Zod, but Zod realizes immediately he’s not the president. The president agrees to kneel before Zod if everyone is spared. But he mentions that “one man” will never kneel.

Lois and Clark arrive at a diner. While Clark’s in the men’s room, the local bully starts to harass Lois. Clark arrives and instead of beating the guy up or defending Lois’s honor – he’s beaten-up by the guy. Clark is shocked to see his own blood. Lois attacks the bully then they are eventually left alone.

The waitress turns on the news and the president announces that he is “abdicating” all control to Gen. Zod, though in the midst of his speech he calls out to Superman for help.

Clark tells Lois he has to go back. Lois tells him it’s not his fault.

Meanwhile, Luthor meets the three villains. He offers in bargain the “son of Jor-El”, Superman. Lex wants “Australia”.

Clark struggles back to the fortress, alone. He sees the destroyed crystal computer.  He calls out to his father and admits his failure. Clark looks extremely sad and sympathetic and it’s some of Christopher Reeve’s best acting in the two films. Then he sees the glowing green crystal. He puts it in one of the few remaining glass tubes in the computer.

There’s an odd crystal mask, then the hologram of Jor-el appears. Jor-el gives his son his final message. There is a way for Clark (Kal-El) to regain his powers. But it will completely destroy the computer and Jor-El’s holographic image. Kal-El is flooded with his father’s essence, when the solid-appearing full-size hologram of Jor-El touches Kal-El he seizes, glows and becomes Superman.

Perry is at the Daily Planet talking to Lois and Jimmy about the three villains. Then they arrive and cause havoc. Non grabs Perry, and hits his head against the ceiling, knocking him out. Ursa breaks Lois’s hand. Zod destroys Jimmy’s camera.

Superman returns and confronts Zod and the others. There’s a major fight scene. When flying Non and Ursa have a vampire-like look. There’s a lot of destruction in “Metropolis” which is obviously New York. The fight continues.

Zod and Ursa throw a bus full of people. Superman is buried between the bus and a truck. Everyone is saying Superman is dead, and a mob even starts to confront the three villains – but they are blown away by super cold breath – that moves people, papers, and even cars.

Superman rises from where he was crushed, but he’s weak – he flies away.

The three villains return to the Daily Planet. Lex tells them he has “Superman’s address”. The three villains take Lex and Lois with them to the Fortress of Solitude. There, Zod threatens to let Ursa kills Lois if Superman doesn’t play ball. He also threatens Lex Luthor. Luthor goes to Superman’s side and Superman tells him they must trick the villains in to the molecular chamber. Luthor returns to the villains’ side and says he “wants Cuba”.

Superman agrees to go into the chamber. But when he comes out he kneels before Zod, then takes his hand and crushes it. Zod and Non are thrown into the pit of the Fortress. Lois hits Ursa in the jaw and knocks her in the pit. Superman had reversed the molecular chamber – so he was safe and the villains made vulnerable.

He, Lois, and Luthor leave the fortress and Superman destroys it with his heat vision. He then flies Lois home to her apartment. She’s crying and saying goodbye to him. She promises to keep his secret. Superman leaves.

Superman then does his time travel thing of flying around the planet and sees that his missile never hit and broke open the Phantom Zone. He then flies forward.

Next day – all seems normal at the Daily Planet, though Lois says she’s “super” and elbows Clark. Clark, also as Clark, finds the bully from the diner. The cook and waitress seem to recognize Clark, and the cook says he just “spent a fortune” to clean up the place. Clark beats-up the bully, says he’s been working out, and offers the cook money for the damages.

The film ends with Superman flying above the Earth in the sun.

I’ve seen this film twice now, and there are things I like and things I don’t about it, although overall I’d say it’s a good movie. When I first saw it, I was confused by the use of time travel, again. And confused by just what happened and what didn’t. Obviously, the Kyptonian villains never reached Earth. But did Lois and Clark never go to Niagara Falls? If they didn’t the little boy who fell into the falls is dead – because Superman wouldn’t know to save him. But if they did – then Clark also admitted who he was to Lois, and brought her to his fortress of solitude. Then it’s likely he became “mortal” – and without three villains from Krypton to fight – villains his family have history with – would he ever decide “the world needs a Superman”? Plus, in the first film, Superman time travels to save Lois’s life – in this film, he time travels, why? So she doesn’t know who he is? To protect the world from Zod and his cronies? What? There didn’t seem to be enough of a reason for it.

However, upon re-watching it – it seems that Superman didn’t go quite so far back. Perry is wearing a different shirt that when he sent Lois and Clark to Niagara Falls. When Clark goes to the diner to beat-up the bully – he’s recognized. Lois even teases Clark that she’s “Super”. So it seems his little forward spin meant some things stayed the same. Lois is also working on a story called, “Superman’s Day Off”.

Speaking of Lois – in the first film, the running joke is that she can’t spell. Which is odd for a prize-winner reporter. In this film, Lois is always hungry. I wanted her to be treated better than that – because Margot Kidder does such a good job with the little she’s given.

Christopher Reeve though really shines in Superman II, the scene where he’s telling the hologram of his father (more like a ghost in these films) that he’s fallen in love with a human woman, and he doesn’t know what to do about it; and the scene where he talks about making a mistake, and losing all contact with his father to regain his power as Superman are powerful – and show Reeve’s acting ability. They were very impressive.

Overall, this reconstruction/director’s cut is a good film and I enjoyed it.

Recommendation:  See It!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Superman Returns

Collage of Superman the Movie, Lois and Superman, Superman, Logo

Superman the Movie

  • Title: Superman the Movie (aka Superman)
  • Director: Richard Donner
  • Date: 1978
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy, SF
  • Cast: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Trevor Howard, Glenn Ford
  • Format: Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format: Blu-Ray, NTSC

“There’s one thing I do know, son, and that is – you are here for a reason.” – Jonathon Kent

“Easy, miss, I’ve got you.” – Superman
“You’ve got me? Who’s got you?” – Lois Lane

Richard Donner’s original Superman film opens on Krypton, with Jor-El implementing the decision of the Council to banish three criminals to the Phantom Zone – a sort of limbo that looks like a glass trapezoid. The scenes on Krypton are grand and impressive and include lots of dramatic close-ups. However, if you haven’t seen Superman before the entire sequence would be very confusing – and we never see the villains again (yes, I know, wait for Superman II). However, it isn’t long before Jor-El is up before the council himself. Jor-El has discovered that Krypton’s red sun is expanding and will soon cause Krypton to explode. No one wants to believe this really bad news, and the council threatens Jor-El – if he speaks out about his findings, or if he and his wife attempt to leave Krypton, Jor-El will also be sentenced to the Phantom Zone. Jor-El agrees to stay silent. However, he and his wife place their infant son in a rocket ship, with all the knowledge of not only Krypton but the galaxy at large and send him to Earth.

The infant, Kal-El, crash lands on Earth, and he’s raised by John and Martha Kent. When Clark Kent, as he is now called, turns 18, his father dies from a heart attack, and Clark finds a glowing green crystal rod in the Kent barn – which creates for him his fortress of solitude in the Arctic. There, Clark is instructed by the hologram of his father. He emerges seventeen years later and moves to Metropolis to take a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet. Clark meets Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White.

Before long, Clark is also Superman – rescuing people, catching criminals, and just being Superman. From rescuing Lois Lane from a helicopter that’s crashed on the side of the Daily Planet to rescuing cats from trees and everything in between – he’s Superman.

But he’s also Clark – so when Perry demands more information on this new hero in their midst, he slips Lois a note – from “a friend” – the precise way he’d introduced himself to her when he rescued her from the helicopter. Superman arrives on Lois’s patio, and after a brief interview, he takes her flying, even breaking the cloud layer. The flying sequence is soft, romantic, and alternates between close-ups of the actors’ faces and long and medium shots. It’s a very romantic scene.

But as in any film – there needs to be conflict, and the conflict comes in the form of Lex Luthor – who, with the help of his really stupid henchman, Otis, and his not much brighter Girl Friday, Eve Teschmacher – has a true super-villain plan, worthy of a Bond villain. He’s used his corporation to buy up all the “worthless” desert land just East of California and plans to steal two missiles to drop essentially a large explosion on the San Andreas fault which will set off enough earthquakes to drop California into the Ocean. Lex also figures out – in quite a leap of logic – that because Superman is from Krypton a meteorite of Kryptonite will kill him.

Lex sends Superman a message at an ultra-high frequency and gets him to a rendezvous where he manipulates him into opening a lead box containing a kryptonite rock on a chain. Lex puts the chain around Superman’s neck and drops him in a swimming pool. However, before “disposing” of Superman Lex remarks that he has two missiles, not just one – the larger one is being sent to California, and the smaller one to Hackensack, NJ. Ms. Teschmacher remarks – “But my mother lives in Hackensack!”

Teschmacher jumps into the pool to rescue Superman and gets him to agree to stop the missile heading for New Jersey first. Superman promises this – but it will have dire consequences. He stops the first missile, then hears the second hit California. Superman dives into the Earth’s crust to stop the Earthquakes, then tries to mitigate as much of the damage as possible. Yet he isn’t fast enough to stop Lois from being buried alive when her car falls into a sinkhole. Superman gets very angry and upset and flies around the Earth backward, turning back time so he can rescue Lois.

Overall, Superman is a very feel-good movie. It doesn’t have the angst or paranoid atmosphere of Man of Steel. Reeve’s mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent, is very “mild-mannered” – causing him and Lois to be attacked by a mugger (Lois rescues them both; though Clark catches a bullet aimed at himself). Clark is so “nice” it’s almost unbelievable. But he’s also someone that young people could really look up to. Lois, well, poor Lois – in this film, she seems solely there to be rescued – continuously. I remember really liking Lois Lane when I saw this movie when it came out but now – oh dear. She’s a reporter, an to be award-winning reporter, yet she can’t spell? The constant Lois asking everyone how to spell various words, or having her spelling corrected by her boss, was just… painful. And I really wanted to buy the girl a dictionary. Having said that though – the scene of Superman taking Lois flying is soft, and romantic, and wonderfully done.

The entire film looked gorgeous – just gorgeous. It was so nice to watch something done on film, rather than digital, and with models and in-camera effects (and some optics) because that was all they had. At no point does any of it look cheap – or like obvious model shots. But that helicopter that crashes – is solid. As is the plane Superman rescues in one scene.

Lex’s scheme, well – it’s a supervillain scheme all right. Dr. Evil would be impressed. And Lex seems to figure out that Superman is vulnerable to Kryptonite pretty easily and with no evidence (seriously – Why would knowing Superman is from Krypton make you think, immediately, with no evidence, that he’s vulnerable to Kryptonite?) Meanwhile, his Girl Friday/girlfriend/whatever is annoying. But the worse bit about the easily-manipulated girlfriend is the scene where she actually rescues Superman – wearing a white dress. The instant she hits the pool water, it becomes transparent. Nice.

The style of Superman has an unusual retro look. The opening bit has a kid watching a serial in a movie theater – setting the story in 1938, but the film looks more like the 1950s – 1960s, though Lois’s clothes are slightly more modern. I honestly couldn’t tell you what era it was supposed to be.

Still, overall, this is a classic super-hero film and one that all other Superman films are often judged by.

Recommendation: See It!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Superman II

Justice League Gods and Monsters

  • Title:  Justice League Gods and Monsters
  • Director: Sam Liu
  • Date:  2015
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Fantasy, Action, Animation
  • Cast:  Benjamin Bratt, Michael C. Hall, Tamara Taylor, Jason Isaacs, Richard Chamberlain, Penny Johnson Jerald, Carl Lumbly
  • Format:  Widscreen, Color, Animation
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“At least fifty dead in the embassy massacre, and not just dead – dismembered, burnt alive, sucked of their blood, a virtual house of horrors. Granted the victims were part of a terrorist organization… but what about our terrorist organization? What about the Justice League? It’s not like we haven’t been warned.” – Female Newscaster
“What the government has sanctioned is more than a Super-SWAT Team, it’s a weapon of absolute power. We all know where that leads.” – Lex Luthor

“We’re being framed! Someone’s actively trying to frame the Justice League? Who would have the balls?” – Superman

Gods and Monsters is an alternative universe story, DC calls these types of stories – “Elseworlds”, and before that “Imaginary Stories” (to distinguish them from the main continuity) as pointed out on one of the special features that accompany the film. This tale gives us three very different versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The film starts with Superman’s new origin story. In Gods and Monsters Superman’s father isn’t Jor-El but Zod. This is shown in the opening scene where Zod pokes his finger into a genetic device that will develop into a baby in the spaceship that’s sent to Earth. Once the ship lands, he’s rescued by a migrant laborer couple rather than the Kents. This Superman is very different – he’s brash, arrogant, and even rude. He also knows very little about his genetic parents or Krypton, because Luther stole his baby spaceship and everything inside.

In the film’s present, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are on a US-sanctioned mission to destroy a terrorist cell. Steve Trevor is marginally in charge of the mission, but they neither listen to him nor do they wait for Trevor and his troops to arrive before totally trashing the cell and everyone in it. This shows the violence of this alternative Justice League, and their willingness to let the end justify the means.

However, before long, a series of scientists – many who were known as “Luther’s Whiz Kids” are getting killed in horrible ways – and the crime scenes are designed to look like the Justice League is guilty. But since we see the robots committing the crimes from the beginning the audience knows that this Justice League, as twisted as the are, aren’t responsible. Though, like all mysteries – who is responsible isn’t revealed until the end.

While telling the mystery story we also see flashbacks explaining the origins of Batman and Wonder Woman. Batman is Kirk Langstrom, who attended university with Will Magnus, and Tina. Kirk was suffering from some form of cancer or blood disease (it isn’t spelled out exactly what) and is experimenting with bats. He ends up becoming Batman, a vampire.

Wonder Woman isn’t from Paradise Island, but New Genesis. Bekka was to marry the son of Darkseid, Orion, whom she had actually fallen for – despite the fact that the marriage was arranged and she was actually a bride-price to stop an eons-long war between New Genesis and Apokolips. Just after the wedding, however, her Grandfather, known as High Father (Richard Chamberlain), and his troops break up the wedding by killing everyone they can, including Bekka’s very new husband. Angered at both the carnage and the death of her consort, Bekka turns her back on High Father, and New Genesis, and makes her way to Earth via Motherbox (boom tube – basically a type of very long distance teleport).

The rest of the story involves the attacks on the scientists, the Justice League finding out about the attacks – and various people calling for sanctions against the League, including Amanda Waller, who had been their government liaison and handler.

Superman decides to challenge Luther as well (Luther is still his arch enemy) – from Luther he finds out the truth of his origins. However, this Luther, though initially overly cautious (thus his refusal to share the information from Krypton with Superman), is won over by his use of Kryptonian technology to study the universe.

Gods and Monsters is a surprisingly violent story – fifty people are killed in close to the opening scene (after the background scenes on Krypton), the scientists – Victor Fries (now a climatologist), Silas Stone, Ray Palmer, etc. are first killed one by one, but then there’s a bloodbath to kill any scientist who had opposed the Justice League. At times, it seems both Batman and Superman have real blind spots when it comes to protecting themselves when solidly framed. Batman, though a vampire and having a completely different back story, does have good investigation skills – but not good enough to see what’s going on until it’s almost too late. Superman, upon realizing they are being framed is incredulous, as in, “Who dare be dumb enough to frame us?” Still, as in all good mysteries – the League does figure it out and with some surprising help, is exonerated.

The Blu-Ray includes a documentary on DC’s history of Alternative Universe, “imaginary stories, and “Elseworlds” stories, starting with the example of, Gotham by Gaslight. The Blu-Ray also includes a documentary on Jack Kirby, New Genesis and Apokolips. And finally there’s a making-of documentary that’s excellent. Just the comics history and information in the documentaries make the Blu-Ray worth having.

Overall, I enjoyed this film, though it was very dark. Still, it was a good, alternative take on the big three DC Heroes.

Recommendation: See it
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: When Harry Met Sally

Van Helsing

  • Title: Van Helsing
  • Director:  Stephen Sommers
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre: Horror, Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh
  • Format:  B/W prologue only, then Color/Widescreen (old)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You’ve never been out of the Abbey, how do you know about vampires?” – Van Helsing
“I read.” – Carl

“My life, my job, is to vanquish evil. I… I can sense evil. This thing, man, whatever it is, evil may have created it, may have left its mark on it, but evil doesn’t rule it. So I cannot kill it.” – Van Helsing (re: the Creature)

Van Helsing is much more about style than substance, though as the CGI-heavy film moves along, it does improve – and it has some great moments.

The film opens with a black and white prologue – Dr. Frankenstein is doing his famous experiment to create the Creature, but after it becomes alive, he is confronted by Count Dracula. Dracula kills Dr. Frankenstein, but the Creature escapes with Frankenstein’s body to the famous windmill. There, a crowd of local people confront the Creature with torches, quickly burning down the windmill, presumably killing both Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature.

One year later the film opens into full color, and shows Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) chasing Hyde of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fame. Unfortunately, when Hyde falls off a roof he turns back into Jekyll – and dies. Van Helsing is blamed for the murder. However, he really doesn’t have much to worry about because he goes to a supernatural MI6, where the cardinal, like M, is the voice of exposition. M explains that Van Helsing must go to Transylvania to rescue the last members of the Valerious family by destroying Dracula. Due to some sort of curse, that Van Helsing’s Secret Order was also involved in, if Dracula isn’t destroyed before the last members of the Valerious family die – the entire family (including the dead members) will be cursed for eternity. Yeah, OK – it doesn’t make much sense, but plot is more of an excuse in this film, than something that’s well thought out. Have plenty of popcorn and enjoy the show. Anyway, while at his secret headquarters, the Cardinal, like M in a James Bond gives Van Helsing basic info, some clues, and a torn piece of a scroll bearing a mysterious signet – which is identical to the signet on Van Helsing’s ring. Conveniently, Van Helsing has also lost his memory. After getting information from M, I mean the Cardinal, Van Helsing goes to see Carl, a friar with more than a passing resemblance to Q in the James Bond films. Carl (David Wenham) kits out Van Helsing with special gear. However, Van Helsing surprises Carl by requesting he come along to Transylvania. As he is a bookish, scientist-type, Carl isn’t that happy about it.

Van Helsing and Carl travel to Transylvania where they meet Anna, the last member of the Valerious family (her brother had been recently transformed into a werewolf). Anna, Van Helsing, and Carl need to find and defeat Dracula.

There is a lot of CGI in the film, and the entire thing is digitally graded to make it look darker. The action scenes are good to excellent but lack depth because the characters are not that well drawn. This is probably why I haven’t watched the film since it originally came out and I originally purchased the DVD. Anna is strong, capable, and an excellent fighter – but still manages to get captured by Dracula and has to be rescued by Van Helsing. Carl is an excellent character, and his ability to put together information from libraries and stained glass windows is a valuable addition to Van Helsing’s quest. I also liked his character. Van Helsing is cool – especially his costume, and his weapons, but because he has no memory, and the audience for the most part only sees him when he’s fighting – he’s an enigma, so as a character he’s hard to like – despite a good performance by Hugh Jackman.

About halfway through the film, as Anna and Van Helsing are escaping through some water-logged tunnels, they encounter the Creature. However, the Creature speaks, and feels bad for himself because everyone hates him. He also knows Dracula’s secrets. Despite orders to the contrary – Van Helsing not only works with the Creature but in the end lets him go. The Creature shows surprising humanity, and is one of the better things in this film.

Overall, Van Helsing felt like a graphic novel adapted for the screen, though the credits list it as an original film (that is, written for the screen). The visuals were very typical CGI, but at times were impressive. They made have been more impressive in 2004. The entire cast, especially some of the smaller roles, also did a very good job – the acting can’t really be critiqued negatively. The director also at times did some great things. A scene with a mirror in what turns out to be Dracula’s Summer Palace is particularly memorable. Likewise, there’s a hidden door scene that’s far from the norm done seriously in so many films and parodied brilliantly in Young Frankenstein. However, the film also reminded me of The League of Extra-Ordinary Gentlemen.

Special Note:  I have the Ultimate Collector’s Edition, which not only includes the film Van Helsing but the original monster films Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man from the 1930s – all of which are worth watching at least once. And the original Frankenstein can easily become a Halloween tradition to re-watch.

Recommendation: Some good elements, but a bit average
Rating: 3 out of 5
Next Film: Wayne’s World

Tomorrow Never Dies

  • Title:  Tomorrow Never Dies
  • Director:  Roger Spottiswoode
  • Date:  1997
  • Studio:  United Artists / MGM
  • Genre:  Action
  • Cast:  Pierce Brosnan, Teri Hatcher, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yoeh, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Colin Salmon, Geoffrey Palmer, Vincent Schiavelli
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Mr. Jones, Are we ready to release our new software?”  – Carver
“Yes, sir. As requested it’s full of bugs, which means people will be forced to upgrade for years.” – Jones

“Gentleman, and ladies, hold the presses. This just in. By a curious quirk of fate, we have the perfect story with which to launch our satellite news network tonight. It seems a small crisis is brewing in the South China Seas. I want full newspaper coverage. I want magazine stories. I want books. I want films. I want TV. I want radio. I want us on the air 24 hours a day! This is out moment! And a billion people around the world will watch it, hear it, and read about it from the Carver Media Group.” – Carver

Tomorrow Never Dies is my favorite Pierce Brosnan James Bond film, and it’s one of the best James Bond films in the modern era because for once it has a relatively realistic premise – told in the high-action style of James Bond, of course. The film is about Elliot Carver, a media mogul played brilliantly by Jonathan Pryce, who isn’t merely reporting events, or even spinning events to fit his own point of view, but actually causing the events his media group reports.

For once the opening gambit of a James Bond movie actually fits with the rest of the plot. One of the items up for sale at a terrorist bazaar in Russia is a satellite encoder, which can influence (or change) GPS data. James Bond manages to locate the bazaar, and launch and take away a plane loaded with nuclear missiles prior to the British Navy’s missile destroying the bazaar and the terrorists who are shopping there. However, though the analysts see the encoder, and recognize what it is – they don’t realize it wasn’t destroyed and that Henry Gupta – a hacker for hire escaped with it.

The encoder is important because it allows the next major event to happen. A British ship, HMS Devonshire, is cruising in what it thinks are international waters off the coast of China. The ship is overflown by Chinese migs who insist they are only 11 miles off the coast of China. The Devonshire‘s captain double checks their position with GPS – and then they are attacked and sunk by a stealth ship. The British ship reports they were attacked by the migs, and gives their position before calling abandon ship. The survivors are collected by Stamper, Carver’s thug and enforcer, and shot with Chinese ammo. Carver reports on the developing crisis – using the potential for war, to launch his satellite news network.

James Bond is sent to investigate – first to Hamburg, where he’s instructed to get close to Carver’s wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher), with whom he had previously had a relationship. Paris gives him some information, and is killed for her trouble by Carver. While investigating, Bond runs into a Chinese reporter, Wai Lin. Later it will turn out she’s his opposite number, an agent for the Chinese security service. Bond’s able to get the GPS encoder and escape from Hamburg.

He takes the encoder to the CIA, because it’s an American device. Bond’s CIA contact shows it to a tech, who confirms it could have been used to send the Devonshire off course. The CIA also arranges to drop Bond into the Ocean to find the ship’s wreckage. The Americans assume Bond is jumping into international waters, but one of the British naval officers on the flight realizes he’s actually jumping in to waters belonging to Vietnam. Meanwhile, Bond succeeds in his HALO jump. He find the Devonshire and runs into the Chinese woman again. The two are caught by Stamper, and brought to Carver. They escape, handcuffed together, on a motorcycle. Bond and Wai Lin end-up working together, sending warning messages to both the British and Chinese governments that Carver’s playing them against each other, then head out to locate Carver’s stealth boat.

Bond and Wai Lin plan on blowing up the stealth boat with sea bombs, but are again caught by Carver and his goons. Carver explains his entire plot – not only is he using the crisis he created to “sell papers” and successfully launch his news network – but he’s working with a Chinese general. Carver’s stealth boat will launch an attack on the British fleet (after some initial minor attacks on both fleets) it will then use one of the cruise missiles stolen from the Devonshire to attack Beijing – wiping out the current government and military leaders, except Carver’s general who will be conveniently stuck in traffic. After setting up his new government, the general will grant Carver exclusive media access in China – creating a captive audience worth billions. In short, Carver is creating events, for ratings.

Wai Lin and Bond again escape Carver’s clutches and manage to kill Carver and his muscleman, Stamper, and sink the ship before the cruise missile is launched.

Tomorrow Never Dies isn’t lacking for action sequences as well. They include: Bond and Wei Lin handcuffed together, on a motorcycle, riding through a densely-populated area while being chased by Carver’s men; Bond using a remote control built into his (rather ancient-looking) cell phone to control his car; even Bond’s escape from Carver in Hamburg; and the scenes on the stealth ship, of course. All the big action sequences one expects from a Bond film – and they are well done, technically, and because we care about Bond and Wei Lin – they work in the film too. The action sequences are not overly long, overly complicated, nor do they have effects that no longer work – everything looks really good. So the film satisfies on the level of what a Bond film should be. But what I really liked about the film was the villain and the plot. Elliot Carver is a totally unscrupulous reporter turned media mogul, who’s incredibly psychopathic. Throughout the film we see him fire people for “mistakes” that aren’t their own (such as the woman who’s fired for not knowing what caused the power outage during his media launch party) or even kill any one who gets in the way of his plans, including his own wife. And, of course, he’s willing to sink a British warship, cause a crisis, and risk world war – just to get what he wants, complete power. Throughout the film – Carver gets the best lines, as he explains how the press can not only manipulate events to suit their own corporate purposes – but in Carver’s case, cause events in the first place. Pryce is delicious as Carver.

I also really liked Michelle Yoeh as Wai Lin – the Chinese agent who’s a female Bond. Wei Lin is just as smart as James, and just as dedicated to her country. And I’d watch a film or two about her! Yoeh also plays the part brilliantly.

And, like all of Brosnan’s films, the reoccurring roles of M, Q, Moneypenny, and M’s aide, are all played by excellent regulars. I love seeing Judi Dench as M. Samantha Bond is excellent as Moneypenny. And I really like seeing Colin Salmon as Dench’s aide – even when he has little to do as in this film. Geoffrey Palmer, Dench’s frequent co-star in British comedies, also appears as a British Admiral. Having the new Bond family there, as well as Desmond Llewelyn as Q just makes the Bond film a Bond film, as well as adding that unique something they all bring to it.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Top Hat