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Superman IV

Superman IV

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Today, I am going to take a look at one of the least beloved superhero movies: Cannon’s Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.

The plot of Superman IV is summarized on IMDb as follows:

The Man of Steel crusades for nuclear disarmament and meets Lex Luthor’s latest creation, Nuclear Man.

The screenplay credits for Superman IV were given to the duo of Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, who wrote Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, Mercury Rising, the film adaptation of The Beverly Hillbillies, and the remake of Mighty Joe Young. Christopher Reeve, the star of the film, received a story credit for his input.

Superman IV was directed by Sidney J. Furie, who is best known for his work on the Iron Eagle franchise (Iron Eagle, Iron Eagle II, and Iron Eagle IV), and the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Ladybugs.

The central cast of the film is made up by Christopher Reeve (Superman, Village of the Damned), Gene Hackman (The French Connection, Unforgiven, The Quick and The Dead), Jon Cryer (Pretty in Pink, Hot Shots!), and Margot Kidder (Superman, Black Christmas, The Amityville Horror).

The cinematographer for Superman IV was Ernest Day, who shot the movies Parents, A Passage To India, and and Revenge of The Pink Panther. The editor for the film was John Shirley, whose credits include Live and Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and King Solomon’s Mines.

The music for Superman IV was provided by Alexander Courage, who most famously composed the music for the original series of Star Trek. He also worked on television shows like The Waltons, Lost In Space, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Superman IV was produced by the infamous duo behind Cannon films, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. They managed to dominate the 1980s with all variety of cheesy movies: brutal cop flicks, ninja adventures, wacky musicals, and, as their reign came to an end, they sought to move into the realm of comic book heroes. Had Superman IV been more profitable, the proceeds would likely have been turned around into a Spider-Man feature, which the group had the rights to make until 1990. However, it did not come to pass.

supermaniv5I haven’t been able to find the original source, but it is said that star Christopher Reeve deeply regretted making Superman IV, and later referred to it as a “catastrophe,” and that it was a “huge blow” to his career.

Jon Cryer, one of the film’s co-stars, spoke a bit about his experience with the movie in an A.V. Club interview:

That was an absolutely heartbreaking experience for me, because I had loved the Richard Donner Superman like nobody‚Äôs business…Superman IV was to resurrect the franchise. They had new producers, and Golan-Globus had…made a great deal of money with their Cannon films, and this was their bid for respectability. They were gonna reboot the franchise, and resurrect it for everybody after the debacle that was Superman III. Little did we know that we were actually going to be working on the debacle to end all debacles.

Prior to Sidney Furie taking on the directing duties, the job was offered to both horror master Wes Craven and original Superman director Richard Donner. While Donner outright refused the offer, Craven was apparently on board for a while: at least, until clashes with Reeve drove him away.

supermaniv2At the very last minute before production, the budget for the film was slashed from $36 million to $17 million. This was due to financial issues that beginning to plague Cannon films, and would be exacerbated with the film’s failure. This limitation is also why so much footage is reused in the film: they had to cut corners wherever possible. Despite that trimmed down budget, the movie failed to cover its costs anyway, bringing in just $15.6 million in its lifetime theatrical gross.

Currently, Superman IV has an IMDb user rating of 3.6/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 12% from critics and 16% from audiences. The film has the distinct dishonor of being one of the most widely reviled super hero films to ever hit the screen.

The biggest problem with Superman IV, if you ask me, is ultimately the budget. It just looks cheap, particularly in comparison to earlier films in the franchise, and that was all it was going to take to get people to hate it. It is easy to point the blame at the goofy style of Cannon films, or the director not having the experience to handle this kind of production, or the screenplay being sub-par, but in this case, I think the first and biggest thing they needed was more money. If the effects looked better and the repeated footage was excised, I think the result would have been almost satisfactory. Or, at least, it would have had a fighting chance. That isn’t even getting into the possibility of paying for a rewrite, or extra shooting, or just having someone edit the film who wasn’t half-asleep, or even paying a better director. I think if they even had that initial $36 million, this might have turned out ok.

Here’s something I have to be upfront about: to be honest, I have never gotten the appeal of the series or the character of Superman: I’ve always thought Superman was pretty dull, and was hard to relate to. He has always seemed a little too perfect, and his weakness a little too goofy, and his powers a little too all-encompassing. He never seemed to really have challenges. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve started reconsidering this, but I’m definitely not won over yet: particularly not by the Christopher Reeve incarnation. So, I suppose I am not primed to enjoy the Superman film franchise to start with, which isn’t going to do the worst sequel any favors.

As far as the performances go, I pretty much just think Christopher Reeve is awful in all of these movies. If you liked him in the others, he is probably fine here: this may just be a “me” thing. On the other end of the spectrum, Gene “Makes Welcome To Mooseport Almost Watchable” Hackman is wonderful, as always, despite not having a whole lot to do. However, his sequences are almost all ruined by the presence of 2/5 of Two and A Half Men Jon Cryer, whose comic relief stylings are about as grating as you can imagine.

One of the weirdest decisions about Superman IV was to have Gene Hackman record the voice for the villainous Nuclear Man, and dub it over the actual actor. Even though they kept his dialogue pretty sparse, every time he does say something, it is a jarring, weird experience. Even if the guy was heavily accented, surely there was another possible solution for this?

supermaniv3Overall, I do think there is something charming about Superman IV, as I do with most Cannon films. The cheapness, the goofiness, and transparent ineptitude all coalesce into a pretty enjoyable end product. Even though I think the cut down to 90 minutes for the theatrical release hurt the movie in a traditional sense, I think it also makes it a little more fun as a bad movie watch: you can definitely get in and out of it quickly without much trudging.

As far as a recommendation goes, this is one of my lighter Cannon films recommendations. Honestly, I think that is because they were trying so hard to make a proper, respectable blockbuster. Still, it is quite a bit of fun if you go in knowing what you are going to get.

Worst Movies of 2016

Howdy loyal followers! We’ve had quite a year, haven’t we? With 2016 coming to a welcome close, I wanted to appropriately slam the door in its back with a quick rundown of the publicly perceived worst films of the year.

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We all know that opinion is subjective, so I want to re-emphasize that this is a list I generated based on public perception. Basically, I took 14 currently published year-end “Worst of 2016” lists, then tallied up how often each film was listed. I thought that would be pretty simple and data-driven way to make my list. Unfortunately, I was very, very wrong about that first part. Between the handful of lists I initially pulled, I wound up with nearly 100 films, which included some obviously contentious, contrarian picks like Hell or High Water, Rogue One, and Captain Fantastic. For the sake of brevity, I’m only listing out movies here that appeared on more than 2 lists, but if you want to see the final version of my working document with all of the tallies and the sources used, you can find it here.

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Interestingly, there was far from a consensus pick for the worst picture of 2016: the most consistently reviled movie was only on 10/14 rankings. For the fraction-impaired, that means that just under 72% of the lists I pulled had it present at all, let alone at #1.

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Without further ado, here are the publicly perceived worst movies of 2016:

  1. Independence Day: Resurgence
  2. Mother’s Day
  3. (Tie) Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice / Suicide Squad / Warcraft
  4. (Tie) Gods of Egypt / Alice Through The Looking Glass
  5. (Tie) Dirty Grandpa / London Has Fallen / The Divergent Series: Allegiant
  6. (Tie) Yoga Hosers / Nine Lives / Zoolander 2 / X-Men: Apocalypse
  7. (Tie) Hillary’s America / Sea of Trees / Man Down / Inferno / Collateral Beauty / My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Are there any movies that you expected to see that didn’t make the cut?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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With the release of Suicide Squad this past weekend, I figured it was about time to take a look at DC’s previous critical bomb. And so, today’s feature is the much-hyped and highly divisive DC cinematic grudge match, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Dawn of Justice was written by Chris Terrio, most notably of Argo, and David S. Goyer, whose previous credits include Dark City, Batman Begins, Blade II, Demonic Toys, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, among others.

The movie was directed by the ever-divisive Zack Snyder, whose previous films include 300, Watchmen, Man of Steel, and Sucker Punch. Snyder has already been attached to direct the Dawn of Justice follow-ups, Justice League and Justice League Part Two, and is a listed producer on all upcoming DC cinematic universe features.

The cinematographer for Batman v Superman was Larry Fong, who shot such films as 300, Sucker Punch, and Watchmen, and is working on the upcoming Kong: Skull Island. Before he made the permanent jump to blockbuster films, he worked extensively on the TV show Lost.

The editor for the film was David Brenner, who previously cut flicks like 2012, Wanted, The Day After Tomorrow, The Patriot, Independence Day, The Doors, and World Trade Center.

Dawn of Justice boasts a large cast list that includes Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, and Lawrence Fishburne, among others.

The plot of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Fearing that the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the Man of Steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs.

Long before Dawn of Justice hit theaters, it managed to get on the wrong side of many fans of DC comics with the casting of Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne and Batman. Many couldn’t separate him from his unsuccessful string of action features, which included a stint as the Marvel superhero Daredevil, prior to his critical rebirth with his acclaimed directing career. Surprisingly, most fans now cite Affleck’s depiction of Batman (“Batfleck”) as one of the few highlights of Dawn of Justice.

batmansuperman3While Dawn of Justice is not the first film installment in the DC Cinematic Universe, as it follows the continuity of Man of Steel, it is undoubtedly the key launching point for DC’s imminent future on screen. It introduces not only Batman, but Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg as potential subjects for connected stories down the line.

Both the plot and aesthetics of Dawn of Justice borrow heavily from two key source materials: “The Death of Superman” and “The Dark Knight Returns.” However, the result manages to defy being faithful to either comic story, and likely wouldn’t please die hard fans of one or the other.

In July of 2016, an expanded cut of Batman v Superman was released on DVD and Blu-ray, which included 30 minutes of cut footage. This director’s cut has been marketed as an Ultimate Edition, and was meant to counter some popular criticisms of the theatrical cut.

The idea of a Batman and Superman team up has a long history, both inside and outside of the pages of DC comics. Series such as World’s Finest have seen the two iconic characters team up with fellow allies and get up to all manner of shenanigans, including occasionally traveling in time. Likewise, the characters have crossed paths many times in animation, such as the Super Friends ad Justice League series.

batmansuperman1Batman v Superman was greeted with a notably mixed reception, particularly online. The Rotten Tomatoes scores currently sit at 27% from critics and 65% from audiences, which is a significant gulf, and has been cause for claims of bias and conspiracy on the parts of some. The IMDb score is no less contentious: it currently sits at a 6.9/10, but that is only after alleged vote brigades inflated the score for weeks after the film’s initial release.

Batman v Superman is a movie that certainly has a fair share of flaws, but I think its biggest failing is the lack of character building in the screenplay. The movie so heavily relies on the audience’s recognition of the characters on screen, that it doesn’t bother building them beyond that. I have never had so much trouble feeling invested in characters in a superhero movie, and I’m including movies like Howard The Duck and Daredevil in there.

On top of the character issues, there is a strange lack of connection between sequences throughout the movie, to the point that long stretches just feel like bloated montages. It is hard to relate to anyone in the story as a result, because you don’t really spend quality time with any of them. Instead of the characters feeling like close friends of the audience via shared experience, they just come off as adjacent acquaintances. There is just no emotional bond built between the characters and the observers.

However, there are a few notable bright spots to the movie. Batman, on all fronts, is actually pretty solid. Jeremy Irons is a spectacular Alfred, and his dialogue with Affleck was the most real and relatable thing in the movie. Personally, I also thought the aesthetics of the Batman suit and paraphernalia were a welcome departure from all of the character’s previous film appearances. The armor and voice modulator were a nice touch, as hokey as they might seem to some, and Affleck absolutely nailed an aged and burnt-out Bruce Wayne. Honestly, I think that Batfleck would have been a better fit for a story like The Dark Knight Rises, in which his methods are either publicly frowned upon or no longer needed, but he is cornered into a return to form.

Likewise, Wonder Woman was definitely cool to see, and looked cool in action on screen. Gal Gadot has gotten a little bit of unmerited criticism for her accent, but I thought it fit the character pretty well, and it wasn’t exactly distracting. However, Wonder Woman’s presence also made the move feel even more bloated than it already was. She (and the rest of the Justice League) felt a little too forced and transparent as mechanisms to build branching paths for a sprawling film franchise. That might have been fine if they were worked in as minor references or as concluding teasers, but they are given a little too much focus, to the detriment of the story and film as a whole. The result is both a muddy story and a poor introduction to some key franchise characters. The Justice League either needed way more attention and a role in the plot, or way less time on screen.

Almost certainly the most mocked aspect of Dawn of Justice is the cause of the two central heroes’ ultimate alliance: the revelation that they both have moms named Martha. I can understand that this was an attempt to emotionally tie the two characters together, and give them common ground to come to terms on. Unfortunately, not only isn’t this commonality built up very well, but it is just too simplistic, and comes off as borderline comedic as a result. It is just too minor of a coincidence to justify burying the hatchet on a pretty serious grudge.

Overall, Batman v Superman isn’t unwatchable by any means, but it is definitely sup-par. Snyder does have a gift for crafting images, but he’s never really gotten a handle on story or characters, which are necessary to give those images genuine gravity. For fans of Snyder’s other works, this is probably a perfectly acceptable flick. Likewise, die-hard Superman and Batman fans may just be pleased to see their idols on screen again. However, in my opinion, this is not just sub-par, but disappointingly forgettable. What of this movie, in 10 years, will be remembered? Martha? Batfleck? The box office number? Almost nothing about the story or the emotion that should have defined this movie will last. As with many Snyder films, this is an exercise in spectacle that is ultimately all flash and no substance.