What The Film!? – The Superman Franchise Part 3 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 1983-2006
Part 3 of 4
Part One! Part Two!

This Friday is the release of the long awaited new Superman movie, Man of Steel. Written by David Goyer (Dark Knight Trilogy, Blade Trilogy, Dark City), Directed by Zach Snyder (300, Watchmen, Dawn of the Dead [Remake]), and produced by Christopher Nolan (I don’t need to list his movies, everyone knows who he is). The movie has a lot going for it with both its cast and crew, but Superman hasn’t always been treated with respect when adapted for the big screen, being used as a racist analogue for the wrong side of the civil rights movement or in some cases, just showing off Superman’s bad play-through of the game.

Kal-El can be such an achievement whore.

1983’s Superman III

Despite making only a third of what Superman made, Superman II proved that there was still an audience for Superman after Richard Donner’s less-than-civil departure. Superman II co-director Richard Lester returned to helm another Superman picture, except this time he wouldn’t be held back by having to have his movie work with Donner’s previously shot footage. In theory, that sounds good, but then you remember that Lester’s parts of Superman II were the worst parts of the movie. He decided to make a full on comedy movie, because that always works and respects the source material.

The initial plan for Superman III had Brainiac and Mister Mxyzptlk as its lead antagonists tormenting Superman and the planet he now calls home, Earth. Mxyzptlk would be a more violent character, instead of his comic book version of a trickster from another dimension with a name like a bad Scrabble hand. Brainiac would have discovered Supergirl and over the course of rehashing the Kent/Superman relationship from the first movie, would fall in love with what he called his “daughter”. He would be driven mad by the fact that she wouldn’t return these feelings as she was in love with Superman. While it’s scary that Brainiac would fall in love with his daughter, it’s even worse when her rejection of his affection drives his entire character arc. You’d think one of the smartest beings in the universe would understand that women are people too and aren’t here to please his dick. Just because Supergirl likes the same bizzaro crap as you, doesn’t mean she’s your soul mate.  Brainiac’s entire plan is to attack Earth and promise to stop if Supergirl marries him. His male sexual entitlement changes him from being helpful, brilliant, and good to a crazy violent criminal, all because a woman rejected him.

I’m not saying this movie is sexist because all the destruction of Earth wouldn’t have happened if a woman had decided to put out, but-, no, wait, yeah, that’s actually sexist.

“You know, Superman, girls just don’t like nice guys like me.”

Because this plan was really stupid and not at all thought out (parts of the pitch include “There should of course be some sort of explanation,” “We see Superman doing one or two of his feats,” and ends with Superman going back in time and dueling with Brainiac in knight armor for the hand of Supergirl) — Warner Brothers passed on this version.

The version of Superman III we received had Richard Pryor pulling off the embezzling scheme later reused in Office Space. When Webster, the CEO of the company, discovers this, he begins to put Pryor to work on other illegal projects, trying to take control of the world’s coffee and oil, and at one point making synthetic Kryptonite from the chemicals in cigarettes (Get it? Because they’re unhealthy). The synthetic Kryptonite doesn’t actually weaken Superman, but causes him to become a selfish mean character. It’s actually kind of a neat plot device and the best part of the movie even though it’s played up for laughs with Superman drunk, causing chaos, and in one particularly selfish destructive move, he straightens out the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

“Drunk Superman” was coincidentally the original pitch for Hancock.

Eventually, Superman gets separated into two beings; an evil Superman and the morally secure and just Clark Kent. After defeating himself, Superman heads to Webster’s secret hideout to find a massive supercomputer that has become self-aware and shoots lasers. He destroys it, because of course he does, he’s Superman, and then lets Richard Pryor go free because, why not? In 1983, after having Superman face Kryptons, nuclear missiles, even an evil version of himself in the same movie, this movie has the big climax being Superman facing a giant supercomputer like the final boss in the NES version of Metal Gear. That’s the best they could come up with apparently.

I mean, it’s better than having an entitled alien lash out because his adopted daughter rejected his advances.

1987’s Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

Superman III was released shortly after Return of the Jedi, so even if Superman III was good (which it definitely wasn’t), there was no way it would have sold well. People didn’t like the comedic styling and were smart enough to see that Webster was just a bad knock-off of Lex Luthor. Christopher Reeve thought the franchise was dead and didn’t even show up in the 1984 movie adaptation of Supergirl which took place in the same cinematic universe as the Superman movies. He was done with the role, or so he thought.

Reeve was approached for a fourth Superman movie before the producers had any idea of what to do with the movie. There was no script, treatments, or even notes. They had nothing and Reeve was justifiably hesitant with a franchise that had turned so awful so quickly.

It was only when Reeve was offered input on the story and would direct Superman V, did he sign on to play Superman again. It’s because of this that they managed to get Gene Hackman to return as villain Lex Luthor. Things were seemingly going well initially before problems arose, as they are wont to do with this franchise. The studio had many movies in production, so money was spread very thinly. No one higher up seemed to think that it was worth giving the money to a new Superman movie, causing Superman IV‘s budget to be a meager seventeen million dollars (the lowest of any Warner Brothers Superman movie).

Hope you like styrofoam sets!

Superman IV has its title character torn about what to do in the event of a nuclear war between USA and USSR before hunting down every nuclear missile on Earth and throwing them into the sun. At the same time, Lex Luthor ends up taking Superman’s hair from a museum and attempts to clone him with it by attaching it to another nuclear missile, which Superman also throws into the sun, because no part of that sentence was ridiculous. From the sun, nuclear missile, and Superman’s hair, a new super-human is born: Nuclear Man. Nuclear Man is basically Lex Luthor’s own private Superman who does whatever Lex asks of him.

Nuclear Man, having the same sexual entitlement of Brainiac, insists that he’ll destroy the world if he isn’t introduced to Daily Planet’s new editor, Lacy. Superman agrees to introduce them and tricks him by locking him in an elevator and throwing it on the dark side of the Moon, knowing that sunlight is what gives Nuclear Man and himself powers. Unfortunately, Superman doesn’t realize that the far side of the moon (the side that always faces away from Earth) and the dark side of the moon (whatever side the sun isn’t shining on) aren’t the same, nor are they mutually exclusive, and Nuclear Man regains enough power from the sun to not be banished there forever. Nuclear Man defeats Superman on the moon and buries him there. It was a stupid plan, Superman.

At least the movie didn’t lie and repeatedly state that the dark side and the far side were the same place like in Transformers 3.

Nuclear Man makes it back to Earth and captures Lacy as Superman (assumed dead) repositions the moon in order to cause an eclipse to block out the sun before killing the weakened Nuclear Man. The thousands and thousands killed by the changing tides aren’t referenced, but hey, at least Nuclear Man didn’t do it.

It seems that after Superman III, you couldn’t make a worse Superman movie, but Superman IV does it. Due to the budget issues, the movie was released unfinished and a small industrial park in England doubled for New York City despite not at all looking like New York City. Also, this is Superman, why couldn’t you just have those scenes in Metropolis? Metropolis is a fictional city, no one is going to tell you that your cheap awful locations don’t look like Metropolis because Metropolis doesn’t exist.

On top of this, the movie follows the trend of adding more powers to Superman by giving him the ability to fix things by looking at them. He not only fixes the Great Wall of China by looking at it, but he also saves several police officers from death by looking at them. Superman now has telekinesis and doesn’t need to even go out. He doesn’t need to lift a finger.

“Next time I’ll save the day without even leaving the bar”

2006’s Superman Returns

After a nineteen year absence where many people threw their hats into the Superman ring, Bryan Singer (the director of X-Men, X2: X-Men United, The Usual Suspects) landed the job of bringing Superman back to the big screen. He pitched the idea to Richard Donner, who thought it was a great idea. It wasn’t till after the McG/JJ Abrams Superman movie fell through that Singer was hired on to film his vision of Superman.

Despite not liking comic books, Singer has stated that the Richard Donner’s Superman was one of the reasons why he got into film making. Superman Returns would be a love letter to the original movie, placing it in an alternate timeline where it would be a sequel to Superman and Superman II while ignoring every other movie that came after it. Using deleted scenes and cutting edge CGI, Marlon Brando returned as Superman’s father to aid his son, making the most unsubtle Christ comparisons in the franchise.

“They only lack the light to show them the way; for this reason above all, I have sent them you, my only son” – Actual Line

The movie takes place five years after Superman disappeared. After Earth astronomers have found the remains of Krypton, Superman seeks it out, seeing if anyone from his own race has survived and if he can find anything else to help him find out who he is. After finding Krypton destroyed, he returns to Earth finding a different world that he left it. Yes, it’s still Metropolis, but it’s a post 9/11 Metropolis where Lois Lane has won a Pulitzer for her editorial on why the world doesn’t need Superman, and Lex Luthor is released from prison because Superman was absent from his trial.

Superman starts to wonder if this actually is a world that doesn’t need Superman, not sure of where his place is in the universe anymore before finding out that the child Lois Lane and her husband are raising could actually be his own. An orphan with adopted parents on an alien planet, Superman has wondered what it would be like if he were raised by his parents, and finding out the son may be his, he finds a new connection to Earth he didn’t have before. He knows his destiny here and will not let Earth down again. It’s actually a really great plot idea for a Superman movie that would lead to some touching and intimate moments, it’s just that the story never fully climaxes and the action sequences are underwhelming when presented with a Superman made in a time where you could literally do anything you want with the character.

The video game adaptation had to almost re-write the entire plot line in order to make sure there was action for you to play through.

Superman Returns is the longest of the original five Supeman movies being over two and a half hours. Over the course of the love-letter to the original movie, it feels as if they had a check list of superpowers they needed to show; flight, laser vision, cool breath, x-ray vision, and so on. The action sequences, while sometimes feeling natural to the plot, mostly come off as if they were following a check list. Despite the hypothetical checklist, over the course of the movie, Superman doesn’t punch anyone ever, and punching is kind of Superman’s thing.

Lex Luthor’s plan in the movie is to create a crystal and rock island/country partially made of Kryptonite that will displace water as it grows, destroying many homes and cities on coastlines, making his new island more profitable for him as it’s a new place to build. Superman eventually picks up the island and throws it into space, which seems to make kryptonite useless as a weakness. He picks up an island full of kryptonite and throws it into outer space. Yes, he goes into a coma afterward, but he still manages to throw an entire growing island of it into space during a feat of strength never seen before. Also, after 19 years of having no Superman and finally having the technology to show off a Superman fight never possible before, the movie that Warner Brothers went with has the return of Lex Luthor, who has been the villain in four of the last six live action Superman adaptations, who is running what is effectively a real estate scam.

Turns out that it was actually an island made from apple Jolly Ranchers

The weirdest part about all these mistakes is that Superman Returns was actually kind of great. No, it wasn’t worth the almost three-hundred-million dollars put into it, but it was way better than any other Blockbuster from that summer. X-Men: The Last Stand, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and even The Da Vinci Code made more than Superman Returns. It’s hard to make a good Superman movie because it’s hard to make Superman interesting. While Superman Returns wasn’t the best movie, it was better than the movies I just listed and was the most entertaining one in the franchise so far. Kevin Spacey knew he wasn’t in a good movie and had fun with it, almost everyone did. Singer put the same amount of dedication and fun he put into his two X-Men movies and it shows.  It’s a fun movie and there was originally going to be a sequel to it before they decided to reboot it because that’s the new fad. I mean, at least it didn’t have a villain who’s “nice guy” opinion of himself drove him mad after a girl wouldn’t have sex with him.

“You know, Superman, girls just don’t like nice guys like me.”

If you think these are bad, you have no idea how bad it gets. Similar to Batman, Warner Brothers had a lot of Superman movies in the pipes over the years that were ultimately killed. Tune in next week for Part 4: The Superman Movies That Almost Were!

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  • LamontCranston

    Richard Lester’s last name is spelled with an “e”, FYI. He should be correctly identified for this travesty.