Superman III (1983)

Clark V Superman

I don’t deny Superman III is a flawed movie but damned if I didn’t have fun with it! Even during the opening scene I prior to the credits I already found myself relating to Richard Pryor’s character of Gus Gorman and I thought this was supposed to be a bad movie? The monotony of a Benefits office and the employees who don’t want to be there and that they probably don’t like you as evident through their body language. Then Gus complains about his experience being employed by a fast food restaurant and how “they expect you to learn that stuff in one day”. Let’s just say I’ve had some similar real-life experiences. Untimely I enjoyed his character and didn’t mind him sharing the spotlight with Superman in terms of screen time.

The opening credits do look like they were done on Windows Movie Maker (or whatever the 1980’s equivalent was) but I won’t lie if I didn’t say the slapstick comedy in the opening credits doesn’t amuse me. The slapstick is at least done a director who understands and knows how to do physical comedy but how do I justify the use of slapstick in a movie which likely didn’t need it to be used to such a degree? I could say it ties in with the fact that Clark Kent is a bumbling fool, plus the series is light-hearted and campy as a whole, so there are other movies in which the inclusion of widespread slapstick comedy could feel more out of place. Regardless, it gets a few laughs out of me. Not all of the comedy is successful in my eyes; the scene in which Gus explains Superman’s exploits in Columbia is really head scratching-ly bizarre (just an odd way of progressing the plot) plus the green man and the red man in the pedestrian traffic light was going too far but I do enjoy the gags which use Superman’s powers for comedic effect such as his altering of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the blowing out of the Olympic Torch.

The villain Ross Webster comes off as a lesser Lex Luthor. I still quite like Robert Vaughn’s charismatic performance but I wish they could have taken the villain in a different direction rather than just being another evil business mogul. Also, why does the villain’s view of Superman flying through the canyon look like a video game? It doesn’t make sense but is fun to watch. However, I will say Vera actually turning into a cyborg was going too far. The action scenes, however, are fantastic, full of creative old-school special effects; the highlight being Evil Superman vs. Clark Kent (a sequence which really shows of what a great actor Christopher Reeve was). Is it ironic in relation to today’s needlessly dark and gritty superhero movies that Evil Superman’s appearance is similar to Henry Cavill’s Superman in Man of Steel, right down to the darkened colours? Forget Batman v Superman, this is where it’s really at!

Like Superman II, the element of the movie I found myself enjoying the most was the character relationships. I was surprised I liked Lana Lang almost as much as I do Lois Lane. Just look at the scene in which Clark and Lana are cleaning up the gym together and she tells him about her ambitions and how she wants to leave Smallville. At this point in the movie, I thought to myself how can people dismiss this movie as much as they do? Yes, it is flawed but when you have brilliant intimate moments like this then how can you not see it isn’t without merit.

Superman II (1980)

Kneel Before Perfection

Due to the complex and troubled production behind Superman II it seems more likely for it to have been a disaster of a film, yet despite of this I consider Superman II to be the perfect Superman film. While I enjoy the first film, I find Superman II improves on it in so many ways, delivering a more emotionally satisfying film. A rare instance of the perfect combination of cast and crew coming together to create something wonderful. I do feel on the whole Richard Lester is a better director than Richard Donner and after seeing Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut I thought to myself “thank God Donner was fired from this production”. The romance between Lois and Clark is very forced and underdeveloped; there is a lack of humor, and no exaggeration, one of the absolute worst endings I’ve ever seen. I’ll stick with the Richard Lester version.

The actors of all the Christopher Reeve era Superman films have such a great dynamic together that even in a movie as poor as Superman IV I can still enjoy their interactions. Especially the scenes in the Daily Planet offices have such energy to them and even contains a bit of that His Girl Friday feeling to them with Christopher Reeve having a bit of that Cary Grant to his acting DNA; plus you know an actor is perfect for a role when I find myself accidentally referring to the actor as Clark Kent and not Christopher Reeve. But if there’s anyone who steals the show its Terrance Stamp as General Zod. One of those performances which bring me eternal levels of respect to an actor. Every one of his beautiful hammed up, menacing lines I could listen to all day.

The wonderfully kitsch special effects of Superman II just get better with age; give me these charmingly fake effects over eyesore CGI any day (ok I’ll try and avoid a CGI rant). Likewise the 3rd Rock From the Sun type humor such as Zod and his minions mistaking Earth’s name as planet Houston to the visual comedy (Zod walking on water) has some big laughs (as well as that humorous use of product placement during a fight scene for Marlboro Cigarettes and then Coca-Cola only a few seconds later amuses me).

Many people will say Superman is a boring superhero, what tosh! A guy who makes the world a better place for others who can’t enjoy his own life and has to work with the woman he’s madly in love with, but can’t profess it to her. If that’s that tragic then I don’t know what is. Speaking of romance, that is perhaps my favourite aspect of Superman II; the romance between Lois and Clark is perfect. I so badly wanted to see these two get together, two down to earth souls who are too perfect for each other. Margot Kidder’s voice is so emotive and she has that Margaret Sullavan like quality to her. At the film’s most intense romantic moments her tearful pleas kill me.

The Rocketeer (1991)

Blast from the Past!

As a fan of classic Hollywood cinema, how can I not love The Rocketeer? I delight in all those old Hollywood references, from lines such as “You stood behind Myrna Loy with a bowl of grapes”, to a movie set very similar to the castle interior from The Adventures of Robin Hood. I even find myself thinking this film’s protagonist has a pretty sweet life going for him; he gets to fly planes all day, has a hot aspiring actress girlfriend and lives in 1930’s Hollywood.  The cast of The Rocketeer have that cartoony look which stars of the 1930’s possessed; even one of the film’s villains is modeled after Rondo Hatton, a not well known b-movie player with a uniquely disfigured face. The film also provides a nostalgic look at the golden age of aviation; ah for the days when aviation was a gentleman’s pursuit, back before every Joe Sweatsock could wedge himself behind a lunch tray and jet off to Raleigh-Durham.

Why do these pulp serial adventures keep failing at the box office (The Shadow, The Phantom, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow)? Of course, The Rocketeer’s lack of box office success canceled plans for an intended trilogy. Are audiences just not interested in these kinds of films, or do they just keep getting poorly marketed? Either way, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Timothy Dalton is the one of who steals the show as the Errol Flynn-esque Neville Sinclair. Dalton really is one of the last of his kind, as a Shakespearean trained actor who can play these types debonair, hammy villains, both here and his role in Hot Fuzz. Interestingly Errol Flynn himself has had (hopefully untrue) posthumous accusations of being Nazi sympathiser. What’s scarier than Nazis? The Rocketeer has the answer: Rocket-propelled Nazis who can travel across the Atlantic on their jetpacks.

My only complaint with The Rocketeer and the only aspect which prevents me from awarding the movie with the mighty 10, is the lead protagonist Cliff Secord played by Billy Campbell, whom I find not to be terribly interesting. While it could be argued he’s supposed to be dull in keeping with the tradition of B-movie serials having bland leading men. Still, I would rather have a more charismatic screen presence but when a movie still manages to be this much fun despite this nor do I ever care in the slightest as to why the rocket blasts to not burn off the back of Cliff’s legs, it’s defiantly doing something right.