What The Film!? – The Superman Franchise Part 2 of 4


What The Film!? is a weekly column exclusive to Under The Gun Review that brings to light the general fuckery Hollywood hoped you’d never notice. Written by Dane Sager, this column shows no mercy to films that try to pull the proverbial wool over our eyes. If you know a film with major plot holes or those that make you scratch your eyes out, tell us! Email utgjames@gmail.com with the subject “What The Film” and we’ll try to get your suggestion featured on the site.

The Superman Franchise 1978-1981, 2006
Part 2 of 4
Read Part 1 here!

This is no fantasy, no careless product of wild imagination. No, UTG readers, these indictments that we have brought to you today, these failures against Superman’s legacy are real. Their acts of treason, their ultimate aim of making as much money as possible off one of the most recognizable and iconic characters of all time without any real interest in the characters themselves. These are matters of undeniable fact. These are the Superman movies made by Warner Bros. Pictures, a company that literally has owned DC comics since 1967. People can complain about how some IP’s movie adaptations would have been better if the companies or people behind the source material helped shape the final product (like how Michael Crichton helped with the script to Jurassic Park or how Ubisoft is working on their own film adaptations of Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell), but the live-action Superman and Batman movies made in the past thirty years prove otherwise. You’d think the company that owns DC comics would treat its own properties with respect, but you’d be wrong.

The entire production of Catwoman was likely based off a bet to see if they could turn an Oscar winner into a joke

1978’s Superman

After the tragic death of George Reeves in 1959, the plans for a sixth season of The Adventures of Superman were put out to pasture; leaving America without a live-action Superman for almost twenty years. During the initial planing Warner Bros and DC Comics had for a new movie included the surprisingly progressive idea that the titular role could be played by boxer/philanthropist/activist Muhammad Ali. While audiences at the time may have not reacted too positively to the idea of an Islamic African American Civil Rights Activist portraying America’s greatest hero, in retrospect the idea is possibly the most American thing I have ever heard in my life. It could have been a landmark in entertainment, like Uhura in Star Trek. It’s possible that he was considered because DC could have wanted to atone for prior inappropriate adaptions of Superman, it’s more likely that he was considered because he was a six foot three, multiple World Heavyweight Champion that physically embodied a literal super-man.

“Float like a butterfly, sting like kryptonite”

Warner Bros. did not want to half-ass what could be the biggest movie they’ve ever made at this point and decided to hire famous writers William Goldman, Alfred Bester, and even The Godfather author Mario Puzo to write and rewrite drafts of the movie. For a director, they wanted the then unknown Steven Spielberg to direct, but wanted to wait to see how Jaws would do with audiences (it did swimmingly). By the time they approached him, he was already a big name and had signed to do Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg’s friends and frequent collaborators, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, were also offered to direct, but declined as they were too busy with Apocalypse Now and Star Wars (respectively) to pick up another major project. Ultimately they managed to hire Guy Hamilton, the man who had directed four and a half James Bond movies (he had left The Spy Who Loved Me shortly before production) who left production after the studio chose to shoot in England, a country Hamilton was actively avoiding due to some legal/tax issues. A director was finally nailed down when Richard Donner took the job, who immediately re-wrote the script with another James Bond alumni, Tom Mankiewicz.

I mean, it makes sense. James Bond is an infallible super man too.

After casting A-Listers Marlon Brando as Superman’s biological father Jor-El and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, they struggled to find a Superman that DC and Warner Bros could both agree on. Robert Redford wouldn’t sign on, no matter how much they offered him. Burt Reynolds, James Caan, James Brolin, Jon Voight, and even Christopher Walken were all offered the role at some point, only to have turned it down. Neil Diamond, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger all aggressively tried to land the role, but they were ignored. Tom Mankiewicz stated that they “found guys with fabulous physiques who couldn’t act or wonderful actors who didn’t look like Superman” before they decided on Christopher Reeve.

Shooting was an absolute mess. The movie went over budget, over scheduled, the New York City blackout of 1977 delayed shooting even more, and Brando refused to memorize his lines and needed his lines fed to him before (and during) each take. The plan to shoot Superman and Superman II back to back was thrown out in order to make sure that Superman turned out okay. Warner Bros preferred to have one finished movie turn out okay rather than two total shitmesses (a practice they ignored later). Brando would propose ideas that were obviously disregarded such as having Jor-El appear as a green-bagel creature or a suitcase, stating that since they were aliens, no one knew what they looked like anyway.

What Marlon Brando thinks aliens look like

Superman premiered in December of 1978, shortly after they finished shooting in October, and despite every possible thing working against them, it was a great movie. Even the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, loved the movie, stating that Christopher Reeve “really is Superman.” There are even elements of the character that originated in this movie that ended up becoming a part of the comic book continuity, including the crystal-like technology of Krypton, The “S” shield being his family crest, a computerized Jor-El who lives in the Fortress of Solitude that offers Superman advice and guidance, as well as Lois being the one who names him Superman (and many more). The influence of this movie is not to be undersold because this movie literally shaped what super-hero movies are and almost every single super-hero movie after has based itself structurally off of Superman.

But can you imagine how much better it would have done if they had gone with the floating green-bagel idea?

The biggest issue with Superman is that he comes off as a character you’d create while playing with action figures as a child. He’s bulletproof, he can fly, he shoots lasers from his eyes, he has a super cold breath, x-ray vision, hyper-intelligent, faster than anything, the only thing that can hurt him is an incredibly rare ore, the list goes on and on; the only thing longer than his list of powers is longer than Longcat could ever dream to be. It’s because of this, it is increasingly difficult to come up with some sort of way to create drama for what is an infallible character. Two of the most common ways that they use to create drama is by pitting him against another alien who has powers or another Krypton, which weakens his significance of being the last living Krypton, or the more believable way is to put him in a situation where he could not possibly save everyone, like having multiple disasters happen at the same time. Since the antagonist of Superman is Lex Luthor, a completely normal human being with no superpowers outside of his intellect, they had to go for the latter of the two options. In the climax of this movie, two nuclear missiles are fired at two different places in the United States. Superman stops only one of the missiles, causing the other missile to hit California, resulting in a massive earthquake that kills a lot of people, including Lois Lane. Understandably, Superman is upset. He was in a no-win situation that ultimately teaches him that even he has limits and can’t save everyone every time. It’s a hard lesson for him to learn, and a dark ending to the- No, wait, the movie decides to present a new superpower he has by showing off his ability to go back in time to stop the other missile while his original self still stops the first missile. Infallible is an understatement. If your Superman movie needs to create a new power in order for Superman to get out of the jam you put him in, then you have made a mistake with your story.

The irony here is that by introducing a new power to him, you’re actually weakening the character.

1980’s Superman II

Despite what was a stupid ending to a great movie, Superman made over three hundred million dollars on its fifty million dollar budget. It was a huge success, as it should have been. Superman has never been seen on the screen before with such high production values and special effects. Warner Bros decided to finish filming the partially filmed Superman II, but by replacing director Richard Donner with Richard Lestor, who was known most for A Hard Day’s Night. Donner argued that the studios were trying to make Superman campier and more childlike and was let go because of it. Some people believe that the fact that the problems produced from Superman going over budget and over schedule added to this, but Warner Bros had to have known that it was going to be a difficult movie and knew such issues were inevitable, making Donner a scapegoat for problems that existed before he was even hired. Regardless, Donner was out, Lestor was in, and Warner Bros became much more involved in the production of the sequel.

In support of Richard Donner, Gene Hackman refused to return to finish the sequel, causing the few scenes he shot prior to be the only ones they could use, and those where they needed Lex were shot with a body double from the neck down (or from behind). Marlon Brando’s scenes shot for the sequel, which contained significant plot parts were cut to avoid having to pay him again. The tone between the sequences shot by each director were wildly different, jumping from Donner’s attempt at grounding the movie in reality to Lestor’s slapstick camp. Even Lois Lane and Clark Kent/Superman look different from scene to scene due to the two year gap between shoots. Sometimes Lois Lane’s hair, makeup, and weight would change during different takes of same scene.

To introduce an antagonist who could truly push Superman, the adversary chosen was another former Krypton (and upcoming Man of Steel villain), General Zod. This time, Superman was facing his equal, someone who literally had the exact same powers as himself. Zod doesn’t utilize the time travel power as much as he should (or at all), however they do present a new power for Superman where he takes the logo from his chest and throws it at someone.

In addition to the inconsistencies from poorly cutting two different Superman movies together, Superman II manages to ignore Superman’s sense of justice and morality for one important scene. Partway through the movie, Superman decides to remove all his super powers in order to be romantically involved with Lois Lane. He does this by stepping into a weird crystal chamber in the Fortress of Solitude that was made for this exact reason, something that really shouldn’t exist. At the end of the movie, Zod and his henchmen are at the Fortress of Solitude, where they convince Superman to go into the Super-Power-Removing-Crystal-Chamber again. To their surprise, Superman actually re-worked the device to remove the powers of everyone outside the chamber.

The now powerless Zod, Non, and Ursa have no upper hand. They’re just normal humans and can be taken to trial for their crimes. Truth, Justice, and The American Way triumphs yet again! Wait, no, Superman immediately crushes Zod’s hand (you can actually hear the bones break as he starts to cry) and then throws his whimpering body off a cliff into a steam-filled abyss. Non also ends up falling into the foggy chasm and Ursa gets tossed in after getting beaten by Lois Lane. These Kryptonians not only became weak for their species, they became weak compared to humans. Instead of doing any sort of real justice, Superman basically tortures Zod and they all get thrown down into what presumably boils them to death because for a few minutes he forgot he wasn’t Judge Dredd. Afterward, Lex Luthor is taken to jail and Lois Lane’s memory of Superman’s real identity is wiped after he kisses her, another new power added to the list. You can assume that the memory of woman she killed was wiped too. It would save her from the potential PTSD.

“Well, fuck them. If they wanted real justice, they would have been born human.”

2006’s Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

In the decades after the release of Superman II, there have been several different versions of the film released on the internet. Made by fans from footage from deleted scenes, TV showings, and international cuts; the goal was to make a version that would be closer to Richard Donner’s original vision. Warner Bros. threatened legal action and eventually realized they could eliminate the potential piracy by releasing what everyone was wanting in the first place: Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. Initially it was only offered as a bonus disk for the special/deluxe box set versions of the four Christopher Reeve Superman movies, but later saw its own release.

This version was made by re-editing the movie by following the original script that Donner was hired to direct, cutting down most of the Richard Lestor sequences, and restoring almost every scene that Donner had originally filmed. The problems in this cut are mostly from the fact that the Lestor scenes stand out and seem even more ridiculous and out of place when placed in a primarily Donner filmed version. These comedic elements cheapen every scene they’re in in both cuts, but end up undermining the movie as a whole in this version. But, hey, at least Superman doesn’t kiss away Lois Lane’s memories at the end, because that’s just silly. In this version, after saving the day by murdering three defenseless Kryptonians, he just goes back in time again and stops Zod and his crew from breaking out of the Phantom Zone they were imprisoned in.

This is where things get a little scary. Superman’s morality defines the character as a whole. He could have gone back in time to stop Zod from the very beginning, but he chose not to. In this cut, he waits it out and ultimately tortures and kills three Kryptonians before hitting a reset button and makes sure none of it ever happens. It’s like when you make a save-file in Skyrim so you can have a point to go back to after causing chaos across the country. Superman isn’t always calm, just, and patient because he’s a good guy, he’s that way because none of us are aware of the times he takes his anger out on us. The world is his stress ball, one he can reset after he breaks it.

He probably has to kill the Joker every few days just to keep himself sane.

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