Talking Movies [Superman Month]: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace


In 2013, DC Comics declared the 12th of June as “Superman Day”, a day for fans of the Man of Steel the world over to celebrate Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, the superpowered virtue of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” who is widely regarded as the first ever costumed superhero. This year, I’ve been spending every Sunday of June celebrating the Man of Steel by expanding Superman Day to “Superman Month“.


Released: 24 July 1987
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Distributor:
Warner Bros. / Columbia-Cannon-Warner-EMI Distributors
Budget:
$17 million
Stars:
Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Mariel Hemingway, Jon Cryer, and Mark Pillow

The Plot:
When criminal mastermind Lex Luthor’s (Hackman) nephew, Lenny (Cryer), breaks him out of prison, he enacts a diabolic scheme to destroy Superman (Reeve) by creating his own super-powered minion, “Nuclear Man” (Pillow/Hackman). As if this threat wasn’t bad enough, Superman (and his alter ego, Clark Kent) is suffering a crisis of conscience and the heart as he struggles to keep the world from nuclear destruction and to balance his love life.

The Background:
Superman III (Lester, 1983) might have been a critical disappointment but producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind were happy to produce a fourth film if its predecessor made over $40 million at the box office. Somehow, it did, but the duo’s financial concerns and Reeve’s reluctance to return to the franchise ultimately saw them selling the Superman rights to the Cannon Group for $5 million in June 1985. Cannon managed to entice Reeve back with a $6 million payday, additional creative control (the anti-nuclear angle of the film was his idea), and financing for another project. However, the production was off to a rocky start almost immediately; Richard Donner turned down the director’s chair, Reeve clashed with Wes Craven and was unable to convince the studio to hire Ron Howard, and co-star Jon Cryer described the entire film as a “nightmare” to shoot. Thanks to Cannon’s ongoing legal issues, the film’s budget was routinely slashed, an entire sub-plot was cut, and the once-vaulted special effects took a dramatic decline in quality. Unsurprisingly, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was a dismal box office bomb; the film fell short of $40 million, which is frankly pathetic after the success of the first film, and has been repeatedly touted as not only the death knell of the franchise but one of the worst movies ever made.

The Review:
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is another difficult one for me to revisit; as a kid, I remember being entertained by the film, which was full of bright colours, action, and another physical confrontation for the Man of Steel but, as many have stated in the years since, it can’t be denied that the series had taken a massive and unexpected dip in quality since the ground-breaking original and its influential sequel. The film opens with a poignant scene at the Kent farm where, following the offscreen death of his mother, Clark is preparing to sell his childhood home. Before doing so, he retrieves a glowing Kryptonian energy module from the remains of his ship, which is rendered forever cold and silent as a result, and Clark’s day-to-day life is made all the more complicated by the interference of David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker) and his daughter Lacy (Hemingway) in the running of the Daily Planet; annoyed at the Planet’s lack of profitability, the Warfield’s put pressure on editor-in-chief Perry White (Jackie Cooper) to sex-up the traditional publication and the elder Warfield is so full of himself that he makes his daughter’s promotion front page news!

An odd three/four-way love triangle develops between Clark, his alter ego, and his leading ladies.

Although Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole) is sadly missing from the film and no mention is made of her, an awkward love triangle (more like a love square, I guess) does become a sub-plot of the film when newcomer Lacy takes a shine to Clark Kent. This leads to such “hilarious” moments as Clark visiting a gym with Lacy and feigning difficulty with the machines, and a laughable sequence where Clark and Lacy double date with Lois Lane (Kidder) and Superman, forcing Clark to dive in and out of costume to keep both women happy before thankfully being called away by a greater threat. The film even unashamedly rips off the Superman/Lois romance from the first two films; having a crisis of conscience regarding the world’s nuclear crisis, Clark reveals his identity to Lois, takes her on a terribly composited flight around the world, and asks for her advice before wiping her memory once again. While there is a poignant moment to be found here when Clark laments how unfair it is that he is forced to share himself with the entire world rather than the woman he loves, this largely amounts to an uncomfortable bit of selfishness on Superman’s part since he freely toys with Lois’s emotions and her memory rather than finding a less invasive way of decided what he should do about the looming threat of nuclear war.

After a moral debate, Superman ultimately decides to rid the Earth of all nuclear weapons.

Indeed, perhaps the film’s most promising and appealing element is the question of worldwide nuclear destruction; I know a lingering fear I’ve always had about our world is the presence of nuclear weapons, just one of which could cause a cataclysmic disaster that could end all life on the planet, and tackling this issue with Superman has a lot of potential that really deserves to be in a better movie. When begged to intervene in the nuclear arms race, Superman finds himself torn between his morals since the ghosts of the Kryptonian council vehemently forbid him from interfering in human history. Ultimately, however, Superman decides that he loves the Earth too much to see it go the same way as Krypton and announces to the world’s governments that he is going to rid the planet of all nuclear weapons. He does this by, of course, having them all shot into space so he can gather them up in a giant net and hurl them into the Sun, an ingenious solution that potentially means the world should calm down into a semi-utopia but actually gives birth to a supervillain whose powers match (and, in many ways, surpass) Superman’s.

Using Superman’s DNA, Luthor births Nuclear Man, a ridiculous supervillain capable of crippling the Man of Steel.

This Nuclear Man is the latest brainchild of criminal genius Lex Luthor; easily freed from his imprisonment by his loud-mouthy, goofball nephew Lenny, Luthor (now completely disregarding both bald caps and wigs for Hackman’s natural hair) hatches a plot to take advantage of Superman’s deeds and birth a superpowered minion of his own using a strand of Superman’s hair (also acquired with a ridiculous amount of ease) and some ill-defined genetic tissue attached to one of the nukes. The result is the violent but child-like Nuclear Man, a being born of both Superman and Luthor who exhibits incredible superhuman powers when exposed to sunlight but becomes useless and dormant when bathed in the slightest of shadows. Still, Nuclear Man proves to be a formidable threat; not only does he cause all kinds of chaos and destruction across the globe with his powers but he is also able to cripple Superman with radiation sickness using his talons. However, thanks to the energy module from his ship, Superman is able to recover and ultimately defeat Nuclear Man by shifting the orbit of the Moon and dropping his inert form into a nuclear power plant.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I find Superman IV incredibly fascinating in a lot of ways; considering both Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman were pissed at the treatment of Richard Donner, I find it mind-boggling that the two (especially Hackman) agreed to be in this absolute mess of a movie. While the film doesn’t have to worry about being dominated by the buffoonery of Richard Pryor, any drama and tension that might be felt by Nuclear Man is completely negated by the presence of Lenny. Thankfully, he’s nowhere near as prominent as Gus Gorman but he’s basically Otis (Ned Beatty) dialled up to eleven and infused with a lazy, surfer-dude persona and I never quite understood why these films felt compelled to lumber Luthor with halfwit accomplices (though I actually probably would have preferred to see Otis take Lenny’s place).

The special effects and film logic have taken a massive hit thanks to the miniscule budget.

Of course, one of the first things you’ll notice about Superman IV is that the once-lauded special effects have taken a massive hit; the budget cuts are apparent right from the off as the opening titles pale in comparison to the first film, John Williams’ score seems devoid of all its usual enthusiasm, and even Superman’s rescue of a runaway subway train is lacklustre. Rather than film dynamic and unique flying sequences, the film simply reuses the same shot of Reeve flying at the camera over and over again and, unlike in the previous films, it’s pretty much impossible not to spot that this is a poorly-composited effect. The film’s wirework is equally sloppy and embarrassing compared to the last three films; the fight between Nuclear Man and Superman on the Moon is a plodding affair the lacks any of the intensity seen in Superman’s battles in the second and third movies. Add to that the frankly ludicrous depiction of Superman’s powers (he can now rebuild the Great Wall of China using just his eyes) and concepts as simple as outer space (not only do Nuclear Man and Superman move around freely on the Moon but Lacy is somehow able to breathe in the great void, despite astronauts and space-faring equipment being seen in the opening sequence!), and it’s frankly humiliating to see just how far the series has fallen since the first movie.

Superman IV‘s few good moments would shine all the brighter in a film that was actually good…

Superman comes under fire when he initially turns down the heartfelt plea from schoolboy Jeremy (Damian McLawhorn) to step in and help with the nuclear crisis, something he feels compelled to do despite the urgings of the long-dead Kryptonian council. Feeling a deepfelt love for his adopted world, he feels morally obligated to step in but only does so after confiding in Lois once more. Truthfully, the nuclear plotline is something I’d love to see addressed in the comics some time; I get that it’d be “too easy” to have Superman simply solve the world’s problems but I feel like getting rid of the world’s nuclear weapons deserves a bit of a pass. Clearly attempting to leech off what worked in the first movie, Superman IV’s various call-backs (Superman and Lois go for a fly, Luthor impersonates a military officer and communicates with Superman on a special frequency, Lois gets flustered interviewing Superman, and his abilities are restored using Kryptonian technology, to name just a few) just paint it as a pale, low-budget imitation of better movies. While there are a few decent moments in the film (Superman addressing the United Nations and being accepted by the world’s different representatives is pretty inspiring, and Reeve and Hackman continue to elevate even the weakest of scripts), all of them belong in a far better film. As a kid, I was enthralled by the battle between Superman and Nuclear Man but as intimidating as Nuclear Man with his demonic voice (his declaration of “I am the father now” hints at the potential of him to be a significant threat) and own array of terrible superpowers, but he looks absolutely ridiculous in his little black-and-cold outfit and his menace is ultimately neutered with ludicrous ease (though I guess this makes sense and goes a long way to show how Luthor prepared for his “son’s” hostile impulses).

The Summary:
I mean…what can you say about Superman IV: The Quest for Peace that numerous others haven’t already said? The film’s been picked and critiqued and criticised to death and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone say a good thing about it beyond praising Reeve for maintaining a consistent portrayal of the Man of Steel. I think the one thing you can say about the film is that it’s probably a decent amount of fun for little kids who, if they’re anything like I was as a child, will be easily pleased by the bright colours, daft comedy, and fight scenes between Superman and Nuclear Man. Once you grow a old enough to recognise how cheap and lazy the film is, though, it’s hard to look past Superman IV’s glaring flaws. If there’s any concept that can’t be done on the cheap, it’s Superman, because the result is this; a whole mess of recycled, low-quality shots, poor special effects, and a lame rehash of concepts realised far better in even the third film. Ultimately, there’s a reason people avoid this film as it’s a pretty sad state of affairs to find the once-lucrative and ground-breaking franchise in and you should only check it out if you have kids to entertain or if you’ve got nothing better to watch and want to get drunk to a bunch of ridiculous nonsense.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

I don’t suppose you’re a fan of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace? I mean, probably not but it’s worth asking the question, right? What did you think to the focus on nuclear weapons and do you think Superman should tackle this issue more directly? Were you a fan of Nuclear Man and his ability to injure Superman? What did you think to the romantic sub-plot and the return of Gene Hackman to the franchise? How influential was Christopher Reeve’s turn as Superman on your perception of the character? Whatever your thoughts on Superman IV, and Superman in general, drop a comment below.

Talking Movies [Superman Month]: Superman III


In 2013, DC Comics declared the 12th of June as “Superman Day”, a day for fans of the Man of Steel the world over to celebrate Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, the superpowered virtue of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” who is widely regarded as the first ever costumed superhero. This year, I’m spending every Sunday of June celebrating the Man of Steel as I expand Superman Day to “Superman Month“.


Released: 17 June 1983
Director: Richard Lester
Distributor:
Warner Bros. / Columbia–EMI–Warner Distributors
Budget:
$39 million
Stars:
Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn, Pamela Stephenson, and Annette O’Toole

The Plot:
Clark Kent (Reeve) returns to his hometown of Smallville and reunites with his old flame, Lana Lane (O’Toole). However, conniving industrialist Ross “Bubba” Webster (Vaughn) hatches a devious plot to control the world’s oil supply by corrupting Kent’s alter ego, Supermen, using the computer genius of bungling programmer Gus Gorman (Pryor).

The Background:
Although, as I mentioned in my reviews, both Superman (Donner, 1978) and Superman II (Lester, 1981) were critically and financially successful, their production had been not only expensive but also tumultuous; behind the scenes tensions between director Richard Donner and the film’s producers saw him replaced by Richard Lester despite having plans for a third film in the series. Development of a third film continued regardless, with both Vril Dox/Brainiac and Kara Zor-El/Supergirl considered as inclusions; elements of this story, which also featured Mister Mxyzptlk (as played by Dudley Moore) corrupting Superman, remained prevalent throughout the long scriptwriting process. By the time filming began, the production continued to be fraught with bad blood; both Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman had publicly opposed the treatment of Donner and were removed or significantly downgraded for the third film, which was much more focused on slapstick shenanigans. Nowhere was this emphasised more than in the casting of comedian Richard Pryor, who was paid $5 million for his substantial role after declaring his affection for the previous films. With a worldwide gross of barely over $80 million, Superman III was the least financially successful of the series at that point; the reviews were even worse, especially regarding Pryor’s tomfooleries (though Reeve’s consistent portrayal of the Man of Steel (and his turn as the corrupted Superman) continued to be praised).

The Review:
Despite the fact that I had some issues with the first two films, there’s no denying the quality on display in Superman and Superman II; even with all the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, both films have pretty much the perfect balance of action, romance, intrigue, and humour and never veer too far into one element or the other. This means that they both manage to deliver perhaps the most influential portrayal of the Man of Steel while also including just the right level of camp, with both of these aspects being bolstered by some truly impressive and ambitious special effects. Here, things largely proceed as you might expect; with the status quo restored following the memory-wiping kiss of the last film, Clark continues to pose as an awkward, mild-mannered reporter while exuding confidence and reliability as the charismatic Superman.

Clark returns to his home town, reconnects with old friends and earns the town’s adulation as Superman.

However, in a change from the last two films, Superman III sees Clark return to his hometown of Smallville for a high school reunion; there, he reconnects with old friend Lana Lang but continues to right wrongs with his superpowers. Crucially, this includes preventing a nearby chemical plant from a potentially disastrous meltdown, which earns the Man of Steel the adulation of the entire town. One aspect about the film that I really enjoy is seeing Superman interacting with ordinary civilians and emergency services more often; when approaching an emergency situation, Superman always defers to whoever is in charge before offering his assistance, which goes a long way to showing how polite and willing to collaborate with others he is and is a great parallel to his later turn towards the dark side. With Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) absent for the vast majority of the film thanks to an assignment in Bermuda, Lana fittingly takes over as Clark’s new love interest. A childhood friend and former flame of Clark’s, Lana is a struggling single mother to young Ricky (Paul Kaethler) who is constantly fending off the unwanted advances of the bullish borderline alcoholic Brad Wilson (Gavan O’Herlihy) and dreams of escaping the suffocating confines of Smallville. Though she’s maybe not quite as loud and feisty as Lois, Lana is a capable enough woman in her own right but still laments that she’s stuck without a husband since all the “good” men in Smallville are taken. Crucially, unlike her Metropolis counterpart, Lana’s far less besotted by Superman and is more appreciative and interested in Clark, whom she sees as a kind and caring alternative to the likes of Brad. Lana admires that Clark has made a life for himself out of Smallville and is grateful for his positive influence on Ricky, who is often shunned for being the only kid in town to not have a father, but there’s really not a whole much for her to do in terms of the film’s overall plot beyond be a pretty face for Clark to converse with and to ponder Superman’s later change of character.    

Webster is willing to do anything to add more power and wealth to his already-vast empire.

Also absent from the film is Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman); in his place is Ross Webster, a wealthy philanthropist who is, basically, a poorly veiled stand-in for Superman’s traditional archnemesis. Alongside his spiteful and cruel sister, Vera (Annie Ross), and the voluptuous Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson), Webster initially plots to avenge himself on the nation of Columbia after they refuse to do business with him but soon turns his attention towards the more profitable hording of oil, and makes destroying Superman his top priority after the Man of Steel interferes with his coffee plot. While Vera enables Webster’s ambitions and craves the acquisition of further power and influence (it’s her idea to target the oil, for example), Lorelei plays the part of an airheaded bimbo but is actually much smarter than she appears (it’s her idea to use Kryptonite against Superman). Unlike Luthor, who saw pitting his criminal genius against Superman as the ultimate challenge, Webster is largely dismissive of the Man of Steel and believes destroying him should be a simple task since they’re well aware of his weakness to Kryptonite. It can’t be understated how much Vaughn’s presence and allure elevates this film ever so slightly above mediocrity; thanks to him, Webster makes for a charismatic and manipulative villain. Webster is far more approachable and fair-minded than Luthor but no less dangerous and authoritative; he doesn’t care a lick for the lives he endangers with his schemes and is easily able to threaten and coerce the likes of Gus Gorman into doing his bidding thanks to the power and breadth of his wealth.

Sadly, the film is far too focused on Richard Pryor’s bombastic attempts at comedy.

That, of course, brings us to the ultimate underdog, Gus Gorman, who begins the film as an out-of-work buffoon who finds that he has a talent for computer programming when he lands a job at Webscoe. Gus is a greedy, bumbling fool who believes that the world owes him more than it’s given and who wants to enjoy life now, while he’s young. While it’s child’s play for him to embezzle Webscoe’s funds into his mediocre pay cheque, Gus immediately regrets this decision when he is brought before Webster; however, Webster is as impressed by Gus’s capabilities as he is despondent by the man’s foolishness. To get out of being locked up for this crimes, Gus agrees to redirect space satellites and oil tankers for the industrialist but soon comes to realise that his talents make Webster’s threats obsolete and thus demands that the villain fund and construct a giant super computer of Gus’ own design. A selfish and outlandish figure, Gus only realises the error of his ways when his supercomputer is perverted by Webster into a tool for killing Superman but, sadly, Gus mainly exists to flood the film with all kinds of ridiculous pratfalls; providing both physical comedy and outlandish, energetic rants that appear to be ad-libs on Pryor’s part, Gorman is like a living cartoon and sticks out like a sore thumb as the one buffoon in a film full of mostly straight men.  

Synthetic Kryptonite alters Superman’s demeanour and splits him into two beings!

When Webster orders that Superman be killed, he has Gus synthesise a chunk of Kryptonite but Gus is forced to make some compromises in the element’s construction due to its alien nature. The result is a green hunk of rock that, rather than weaken and kill Superman, affects him more like the red variant from the comics. Initially, Superman becomes distracted and disinterested in his usual duties, which causes him to arrive too late to help out in a minor disaster on a Smallville bridge. Pretty soon, though, he’s flying all over the world and causing all kinds of nuisances, such as straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa (brought to life through the finest green screens money can buy…), blowing out the Olympic Flame, and gulping shots at the bar. Soon, his costume and demeanour noticeably change for the worst; he wears a constant scowl, sports dark stubble and darker eyes, and his suit takes on a muddier, subdued hue. After being sexually manipulated by Lorelei to cause an environmental crisis with one of Webster’s oil tankers, Superman has a violent breakdown in a junk yard and literally splits into two beings! This leads to a violent brawl between the virtuous Clark Kent and his aggressive doppelgänger that ultimately results in Clark emerging victorious and returning as the one, true Superman. It’s quite a bizarre sequence, to be sure, and is mostly hand-waved away but I can’t deny that the fight between the two is a real highlight of the film.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Right off the bat, Superman III shows us exactly what it’s all about: slapstick, goofball attempts at comedy. Skipping the traditional title sequence (though I swear this was included when I first saw the film on television…), the film opens with this convoluted series of pratfalls and accidents as the people of Metropolis get into all kinds of madcap hijinx. These elements are only exacerbated every time Pryor is onscreen and we’re treated to such delights as him acting out Superman’s impressive feats; rather than spending the money on showing Superman stopping a tornado, we get to hear Gus tell us about it while wearing a makeshift cape which, as entertaining as Pryor can be, is never going to be as enjoyable as actually watching these events happen onscreen. Instead, we get to see Gus flailing around like a fool, falling from the roof of Webster’s skyscraper without injury simply because he’s wearing skis, and him getting into all kinds of scrapes such as impersonating a military officer, jumping at his own reflection, going off on wild tangents in an attempt at humour, and drinking Brad into a stupor to access his company’s computer.

The effects are surprisingly decent and the evil Superman gives Reeve more chances to shine.

These comedic elements are a stark parallel to the film’s darker elements; seeing Superman go from a virtuous paragon of truth, justice, and the American Way to an apathetic and mean-spirited villain is perhaps the best element in this otherwise ludicrous film and really belongs in a far better Superman movie. The dark Superman really gives Christopher Reeve a chance to show his range as an actor and he spits his lines with a real venom and spite and seeing him relish in causing trouble and indulging in his vilest whims really helps the film to keep its head above water. While Superman’s rescue of the trapped chemical plant workers and his solution to freeze a nearby lake and drop it on the inferno is ambitious and impressive, other special effects don’t hold up so well, especially the rendition of technology. Overall, though, the film’s special effects remain largely consistent with those from the previous two films; there’s far more in-camera shots of Reeve being propelled across through the air on wires (though there are some instances where the wires are a little too visible…) and the flying effects, in general, actually hold up a little better than in Superman II, potentially because the film’s budget is being used to slightly better effect or not being stretched across two films that are spiralling out of control.

Despite the awesome power of Webster’s supercomputer, Superman is able to triumph through his wits.

One of the main themes of the film is that of the growing reliance on computers and technology, which is depicted as being both mysterious and capable of almost anything. With just a few taps of a keyboard and a swipe of a screen pen, Gus is able to make all kinds of ludicrous stuff happen, and the depiction of computer “hacking” horribly dates the film since we know that there’s no way that he’d be able to issue the commands he’s making without utilising proper code. Later, Gus is able to manually reprogram everything from traffic lights to cash machines to send the city into a frenzy, the severity of which is, again, played to cringeworthy comedic effect (the traffic light men even inexplicably get into a fist fight!) Finally, when Superman heads off to confront the villains, Webster manually sends a number of rockets and a large ballistic missile his way using a crude videogame-like interface. While Webster is, in many ways, exactly the same as Luthor except without the same level of personal animosity towards Superman, what helps bolster him and make him slightly more distinct are his sister and lover and his commission of Gus’s supercomputer. Just as the dark Superman is basically a version of Bizarro, this supercomputer is kind of like a dumbed-down interpretation of Brainiac; sure, it doesn’t speak, or look or act anything like Brainiac, but it’s clear that the finale has some roots in the popular villain. The machine is capable of analysing and counteracting with a person’s weaknesses when it feels threatened and is constantly adapting to combat threats; this includes trapping Superman in an odd plastic bubble (that, somehow, manages to choke him even though he doesn’t need to breathe…) and bombard him with pure Kryptonite. Seemingly gaining sentience through its battle with Superman, the computer turns on its creators and even transforms Vera into a cybernetic avatar in a truly horrific scene. Ultimately, Superman takes a page out of Luthor’s playbook and opts for mind over muscle by utilising a highly corrosive acidic substance to fool the machine into destroying itself. Since Gus tried, in his own way, to help Superman in the finale, Superman spares him imprisonment (a favour that Gus immediately squanders) and Kent sets Lana up at the Daily Planet, ending the film with a hint towards a rivalry between her and Lois over Clark’s affections that, sadly, would be completely ignored in the sequel.

The Summary:
Honestly, this is a hard one for me. I remember really enjoying this film as a kid because it’s not like we had superhero films coming out of our asses like we do these days; however, as so many have said on many occasions, Superman III can’t be seen as anything other than a massive disappointment. There are some positives to be found here, though: Robert Vaughn adds a great deal of gravitas to the film and Christopher Reeve continues to be excellent in the title role and Superman III gives him some fantastic moments to show new sides of his personality; the fight between him and his dark self remains a highlight of the film, it’s just a shame that it’s wedged into this unfortunate mess of a film. There’s so much potential in Superman III that is sadly never fully realised because it’s more focused on giving the late, great Richard Pryor a chance to practise his stand-up routine; had the filmmakers exercised some restraint and pulled back on some of Pryor’s more outlandish outbursts and scaled back the slapstick comedy, and maybe even gone all-in with the supercomputer to bring Brainiac to the screen then there might have been something here. As it is though, what we’re left with is a film that’s probably enjoyable enough for little kids but is a bit of a slog to sit through unless you’re a big Richard Pryor fan.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Are you a fan of Superman III? What did you think to Richard Pryor’s inclusion in the film and his attempts at comedy? Did you enjoy the switch from Metropolis to Smallville and what did you think to Ross Webster as the film’s replacement for Lex Luthor? Were you a fan of the dark Superman sub-plot and the fight between him and Clark Kent or would you have preferred a more direct interpretation of Bizarro? What did you think to the themes of computer technology spiralling out of control? Where would you rank this film against Superman’s other live-action adaptations and how have you been celebrating the Man of Steel this month? Whatever your thoughts on Superman III, drop them down below and check out my review of the much-maligned fourth entry in the franchise.

Talking Movies [Superman Month]: Superman II


In 2013, DC Comics declared the 12th of June as “Superman Day”, a day for fans of the Man of Steel the world over to celebrate Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, the superpowered virtue of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” who is widely regarded as the first ever costumed superhero. This year, I’m spending every Sunday of June celebrating the Man of Steel as I expand Superman Day to “Superman Month“.


Released: 9 April 1981
Director: Richard Lester
Distributor:
Warner Bros. / Columbia–EMI–Warner Distributors
Budget:
$54 million
Stars:
Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran, and Gene Hackman

The Plot:
Having thwarted Lex Luthor’s (Hackman) maniacal plans, Clark Kent/Superman (Reeve) faces a new challenge when intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Kidder) manages to deduce his secret identity. While Clark prepares to give up his incredible powers to be with Lois, General Zod (Stamp) and his two followers escape from the Phantom Zone and begin terrorising the planet, leading Clark to choose between his happiness and his responsibilities to mankind.

The Background:
As I detailed in my review of Superman (Donner, 1978), producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler convinced Warner Bros. to produce a two-film adaptation of the character back in the late seventies. However, the production was fraught with issues, both financially and creatively; director Richard Donner frequently clashed with the producers and Richard Lester was brought in as a mediator to allow the filmmakers to focus on the first film, which was a financial and critical success. Despite having shot 75% of the sequel, Donner was replaced as director with Richard Lester, a decision that irked star Gene Hackman so much that he refused to return for the necessary reshoots. Lester shot an entirely new opening for Superman II in addition to making numerous changes to the tone of Donner’s original version to place more emphasis on slapstick silliness. Star Christopher Reeve returned to the project after negotiating a better deal with more artistic control for himself but Marlon Brando was excised completely from the film due to his unrealistic financial demands. Despite all the behind the scenes turmoil, Superman II was still a financial success; its worldwide box office gross of just over $190 million might’ve been less than its predecessor but it was still highly praised, with Stamp’s turn as Zod drawing particular acclaim. Many years later, of course, in the build-up to Superman Returns (Singer, 2008), Donner would finally return to the film to assemble a version that closely resembled his original vision of the film.

The Review:
As far as I can remember, Superman II is another of those instances where I actually saw the sequel before the original; consequently, the film had much more of an impact on my childhood and I remember being more entertained by it thanks to it having a far brisker, more action-orientated flow and featuring villains who could actually match Superman in combat rather than simply just outwitting him. Not that I have a problem with the “mind over muscle” concept, it’s just far more gratifying to me to see Superman getting into a superpowered scrap as Superman II definitely delivers in that regard. Thankfully, for those who haven’t seen the first film, the movie opens with both a quick recap of the first movie over the opening credits and a return to Krypton to show exactly how General Zod, Ursa (Douglas), and Non (O’Halloran) got themselves banished to the mysterious “Phantom Zone”. Basically, they broke into one of the Kryptonian council’s crystal chambers and destroyed one of their fancy little crystals; since Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is entirely absent from this film, the three are sentenced and imprisoned by the nameless Kryptonian council yet, as they’re being thrust into the void of space in their mirror prison, Zod vows revenge upon Superman’s birth father regardless.

Lois begins to suspect that mild-mannered Clark Kent isn’t all that he seems…

The film then picks up shortly after the events of the last film to find the Eiffel Tower overtaken by terrorists who are holding a bunch of people hostage and threatening to detonate a hydrogen bomb if their demands aren’t met. Being the feisty, fearless reporter that she is, obviously Lois Lane is right in the middle of the story and her boldness leaves her in danger of being killed; thankfully, Superman is again on hand to save her and disposes of the bomb-filled elevator by tossing it into space and unknowingly releasing the three Kryptonian criminals form their prison. Still playing the part of the lovable, bumbling goofball, Clark stumbles his way through his assignment with Lois in Niagara Falls but, after springing into action to save a young boy from a fatal fall into the waters, Lois’ suspicions are raised to the point where she willingly puts herself in danger in order to prove that the two are one and the same.

Luthor escapes from prisons, learns Superman’s secrets, and forges a fragile alliance with Zod.

Despite being arrested and locked up at the end of the first film, Lex Luthor (Hackman), the self-proclaimed greatest criminal mind of all time, quickly breaks his way out of prison with the help of a holographic projector of his own making and the assistance of Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine), thankfully leaving the bumbling Otis (Ned Beatty) behind. Not only does Luthor now largely sport his traditional bald head, he also has a far better plan than simple real estate; having deduced that Superman has a tendency to travel north, he tracks the Man of Steel and discovers his Fortress of Solitude, boning up on the three Kryptonian criminals and using this knowledge to charm his way into General Zod’s good graces. There’s something disconcerting about seeing Luthor in the Fortress of Solitude and poking around in his private archives and materials; although Luthor doesn’t learn that Clark Kent is Superman from this excursion, he learns more than enough to be able to barter with General Zod and spare him from the Kryptonian’s unending wrath in exchange for being able to rule over Australia after the three Kryptonians consolidate their control over the entire world.

Led by power-hungry Zod, the Kryptonian criminals quickly claim dominion over the world.

Still, even Luthor is fearful of his new tentative allies; Zod, a verbose egomaniac who craves power and acknowledgement, strikes fear into the hearts of those around him with not only his sadistic and cold-hearted demeanour but also his inclination to fly into an intense rage when his power is defied. The alluring and callous Ursa revels in causing destruction and acquiring new badges and trinkets for her uniform, while the imposing brute Non is as childlike as he is silent and literally follows his General’s orders without question. The three quickly discover and reveal in the superhuman powers afforded by the Earth’s yellow sun, which immediately grants them all of Superman’s powers but with none of his moral compass. They start small, toying with a group of astronauts on the Moon and terrorising a small town in the United States before identifying where the true power of the U.S. lies and laying seize on the White House in a harrowing scene where he forces the President of the United States (E.G. Marshall) to transfer all control to their General.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Of course, it’s difficult to talk about Superman II without addressing some of the film’s more ridiculous aspects; Otis might not be around but his status as the comic relief is usurped by Non’s infantile nature. While things quickly take a turn for the dramatic when Zod steps in out of boredom, it’s initially played for laughs when the three are causing trouble in Houston; similarly, when the three are terrorising Metropolis to goad Superman into a conflict, there’s an awful lot of slapstick and tomfoolery for what is meant to be an imposing scene. And let’s not forget the outrageous superpowers introduced in the film; while traditional Kryptonian powers like heat vision, super breath, and freeze breath are all on display to great effect when the three are causing destruction and fighting with Superman, there’s all kinds of crazy stuff added to the film. Zod is somehow able to levitate objects with a point of his finger, the three of them deface Mount Rushmore by simply blasting it, all four Kryptonians are all able to duplicate themselves in the finale (which I can only assume was originally supposed to be some kind of depiction of superspeed that was limited by the technology of the time), and don’t even get me started on Superman’s weird s-shield attack-thing! Yet, as mental as all of this, it’s actually nowhere near as insane as some of the stuff Superman was doing in the comic books at the time!

Superman willing gives up his powers to be with Lois.

While a romantic element was present in the first film (and gave us the God awful cringey scene of Superman and Lois flying together), it’s far more prominent here. Although Clark is able to momentarily quash Lois’s suspicions about him, his dual nature is ultimately revealed after an accidental stumble. Of course, bearing in mind that Clark is clearly besotted with Lois and was tempted to reveal himself to her in the first film, both Clark and Lois suggest that this was anything but an accident and that Clark subconsciously wanted Lois to learn the truth and made sure that it happened. Regardless, the two embark on a romantic tryst that sees Clark focus on her above all other concerns. Busy wooing her with flowers and food from the far corners of the world at his Fortress, Superman ignores the chaos caused by General Zod and his subordinates and makes the ultimate sacrifice when the consciousness/artificial intelligence of is mother, Lara (Susannah York), dictates that to live with a mortal, he must live as a mortal.

Superman immediately has to reclaim his powers to stop the Kryptonian criminals.

This wrinkle, which results in the destruction of the main control console in the Fortress, goes a long way to showing just how serious Clark is about his love for Lois; indeed, he willingly gives up all of his superpowers just to be with her despite the fact he can hear that people are pleading for his intervention. Clark’s adjustment to mortal life is a tough one; almost immediately, he feels the fatigue and pains of us normal folk and runs afoul of mouthy trucker Rocky (Pepper Martin). Humbled and humiliated, Clark is horrified to find that Zod has taken control of the world and immediately journeys back to the Fortress (from what looks like Canada…because I guess there’s a direct road from Canada to the Arctic now?) in a desperate bid to regain his powers. Although the Fortress appears dead and his father Jor-El doesn’t answer his son’s desperate plea, Clark finds the green crystal that birthed the Fortress and this, somehow, restores his powers. Although this whole sequence is a little sloppy, mainly thanks to the way the film was cut up and re-edited from Donner’s original version, I can’t say that I was ever really a fan of it; we’ve seen in the comics, and other adaptations, that Superman is fully capable of being in a relationship with Lois without having to give up his powers and it seems like this aspect was only included to give some humanity to the all-power Man of Steel. One part of it that does work for me was the emphasis on Lara; since Jor-El is entirely absent, Lara’s importance is greatly increased and makes Superman II an interesting companion piece to the first film by placing the focus on his mother rather than his father.

It’s clear the budget was stretched to its limit to depict a brawl between the four superpowered characters.

Armed with Luthor’s knowledge of Superman’s true heritage and affinity for Lois Lane, Zod, who quickly grows bored of having absolute power, relishes the opportunity to exact his revenge upon Jor-El’s progeny. To this end, the three ransack the Daily Planet and then cause destruction in downtown Metropolis in entertaining scenes of devastation that were certainly ambitious and in stark contrast to the first film’s slower, more subdued tone. It’s clear that the budget is being pushed to its limits to show all four characters flying and fighting in the skies and streets of Metropolis and, while the special effects and the quality of the fight does suffer a bit as a result (there’s a lot of awkward standing around, posturing, and slow, easily telegraphed attacks on show), it’s still a commendable effort for the time. Crucially, Superman goes out of his way to draw the fight away from the city and to save lives rather than mindlessly ploughing his opponents through buildings and causing as much damage as the film’s villains, which goes a long way to emphasising Superman’s selfless and heroic nature (something that arguably needed to be reinforced after he seemed to abandon his responsibilities in favour of getting laid).

Superman turns the tide on his foes but is forced to erased Lois’s memory of his dual nature.

Although the three have the numbers advantage, and are clearly better fighters than he, Superman manages to hold his own but, realising that continuing the fight would only endanger further lives (despite the commendable spirit of the Metropolis citizens in their willingness to stand up to the three after Superman appears to be killed), he flees from the city and lures them to his Fortress for a final showdown. The three are led their by Luthor with Lois as their hostage; when Zod declares that Luthor has outlived his usefulness, the criminal mastermind attempts to double-cross Superman in order to regain favour with the General and, in the process, unwittingly plays right into Superman’s plan. Having reversed the molecule chamber so that Krypton’s red sun rays erase the three’s powers, Superman and Lois are easily able to best their foes and send them hurtling to their deaths. However, in the aftermath, Clark and Lois split up since Superman can’t prioritise one life over the lives of the world and, to spare his love further pain from the burden of knowledge, Superman busts out another new power: the ability to erase minds with a kiss. With Luthor back in prison, the Earth saved, and the status quo restored, Superman promises the President that he’ll never abandon his responsibilities again and heads off for his victory lap.

The Summary:
When I was a kid, I absolutely loved this film; it was probably the closest and most accurate depiction of a live-action Superman I had seen and definitely set a high standard for superhero movies in general for its mixture of heart, action, and comedy. Even now, thanks to the ambitious and impressive special effects, the film holds up surprisingly well; once again, it’s the performances that help bolster the film, with Terrence Stamp putting in a scene-stealing turn as General Zod. The inclusion of three evil Kryptonians to match Superman blow-for-blow was a great way to raise the stakes from the first film and Superman II definitely builds upon the themes and standards of the first film. While I still have a lot of affection for Superman II and definitely prefer it to the first movie, it’s difficult for me to rate it much higher as there are a number of aspects of Superman II that don’t sit too well with me. The same can be said of the first film, and the rest in the series, but I’m still a little baffled by the idea of stripping Superman of his powers and then immediately restoring them and the absurd memory erasing kiss that is almost as preposterous as Superman turning back time at the finale of the first film. Still, it’s easily the best film out of the original four for me and, crazy superpowers aside, deserves to be rated as being at least on par with the influential original and is well worth a watch of only for Stamp’s iconic performance and the battle between Superman and his Kryptonian adversaries.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What are your thoughts on Superman II? Did you feel like it measured up to the first film or do you perhaps consider it to be superior, or inferior? What did you think to the introduction of more physically capable villains for Superman to fight and were you a fan of Terrence Stamp’s performance as General Zod? What did you think to Superman sacrificing his powers for Lois and then erasing her mind with a kiss? Do you prefer the theatrical cut of the film or do you think the Donner Cut is the superior version? What is your favourite Superman story, character, or piece of media? How are you planning to celebrate Superman Day today? Whatever you think, feel free to share your opinion and thoughts on Superman in the comments below.

Talking Movies [Superman Month]: Superman


In 2013, DC Comics declared the 12th of June as “Superman Day”, a day for fans of the Man of Steel the world over to celebrate Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, the superpowered virtue of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” who is widely regarded as the first ever costumed superhero. This year, I’ll be spending every Sunday of June celebrating the Man of Steel as I expand Superman Day to “Superman Month“.


Released: 14 December 1978
Director: Richard Donner
Distributor:
Warner Bros. / Columbia–EMI–Warner Distributors
Budget:
$55 million
Stars:
Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, and Marlon Brando

The Plot:
In the dying moments of the planet Krypton, scientist Jor-El (Brando) rockets his son away to Earth. After learning of his alien origins and discovering the limits of the fantastic superhuman powers afforded him by Earth’s yellow sun, the now-adult Clark Kent (Reeve) assumes the costume identity of “Superman” while disguising himself as a mild-mannered reporter. However, he faces his greatest test when genius criminal mastermind Lex Luthor (Hackman) hatches a plot to cause devastating earthquakes west of the San Andreas Fault.

The Background:
In the years since his dramatic debut, Superman quickly became the subject of numerous adaptations and his 1940 radio drama even introduced many aspects that became synonymous with the character. The idea of a feature-length Superman film was first conceived of by producer Ilya Salkind in 1973; entering into a partnership with his father, Alexander, and Pierre Spengler, the filmmakers were able to convince Warner Bros. to produce a two-film adaptation of the character and paid screenwriter Mario Puzo (of Godfather (ibid, 1969/Coppola, 1972) fame) $600,000 to write the screenplay. Steven Spielberg was courted to direct but was unable to commit and, while Guy Hamilton was attached to the project, the producers eventually settled on Richard Donner, who immediately ditched the campy tone of Puzo’s 400-plus-page script. The first actor signed to the film was Marlon Brando (who had some pretty funny ideas about Jor-El’s appearance and characterisation and had a lackadaisical attitude towards the film) and Oscar winner Gene Hackman soon followed, with the two receiving top billing.

Superman’s early adaptations had a profound influence on the character for decades.

Many notable names were considered for the title role before relative-unknown Christopher Reeve was cast after a laborious casting process. Having bulked up for the role, Reeve’s experience as a pilot paid off when performing the film’s complex flying sequences, which were achieved through a combination of green screens, wire work, and other camera tricks while the striking Kryptonian suits were the result of a happy accident with a reflective material. Very quickly, the film’s budget ballooned and filming began to over-run, causing tensions between Donner and the producers; Richard Lester was brought on board as a mediator and work on the sequel halted to concentrate on the first film. After several delays, Superman (also marketed as Superman: The Movie) released to rave reviews and was an incredible financial success, making over $300 million. Although the producers continued production of the sequel immediately, the damage was done and Donner did not return, necessitating a series of expensive reshoots and raising the ire of many of the film’s actors. Still, the first film was an incredible achievement, massively influential on Superman’s comic books, and was eventually preserved in the United States Library of Congress National Film Registry.

The Review:
Superman begins, as most Superman origin stories do, on the far away world of Krypton (or “Krypt’n”, if you’re Marlon Brando), a technologically advanced civilisation that inhabits a largely barren, crystalline world. In a fantastic seed for the sequel, Jor-El sentences three seditious criminals – Non (Jack O’Halloran), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and their leader, General Zod (Terence Stamp) – to the mysterious “Phantom Zone” for their treasonous and destructive efforts to usurp the Kryptonian council and subjugate the world to Zod’s will. Defiant to the last, Zod vows to avenge himself upon Jor-El and his heirs, no matter how long it takes and against all odds, before the three are cast into the strange mirror prison. Following this, Jor-El is unable to convince the council that Krypton is doomed to be destroyed by its red giant sun within thirty days; indeed, despite being a highly respected and rational member of the council, Jor-El’s claims are so adamantly refuted that he is threatened with being labelled a terrorist himself.

Unable to save his planet, Jor-El sends his infant son to Earth, where he gains awesome powers.

Apparently despondent (it’s hard to tell with Brando…), Jor-El resigns himself to ensuring the survival of his young son, Kal-El; his wife, Lara (Susannah York), laments that their son will forever be an outcast amongst the “primitives” of Earth but Jor-El remains confident that the powers bestowed upon Kal-El by Earth’s yellow sun will make him a symbol of hope and afford him physical advantages beyond all known understanding. As Krypton shatters around them, the baby is rocketed away and, guided by his father’s voice, slowly grows into an infant within his escape craft; Jor-El, who encoded all of his knowledge and wisdom into the crystalline form of the ship, stresses that his son is “forbidden” to interfere in Earth’s history and instead let his example inspire others. In time, many thousands of years after Krypton’s destruction, the ship crash lands on Earth and is stumbled upon by kindly, elderly couple Jonathan (Glenn Ford) and Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter) who are awestruck by the child’s super strength and, despite Jonathan’s concerns, take him in as their own.

After losing his adopted father, Clark learns the extent of his powers and reveals himself to the world.

About fifteen years later, the boy has grown into well-meaning teenager Clark Kent (Jeff East, with Christopher Reeve dubbing his voice); though Clark is frustrated that he has to hide his physical capabilities from the world, Jonathan stresses that the boy was sent to them (and the world) for a greater reason than to simply score touchdowns or show off to the other kids. As he just wants to make his parents proud, Clark takes his father’s advice to heart but is left utterly heartbroken when Jonathan suffers a fatal heart attack. At his graveside, a devastated Clark laments that his awesome powers were ultimately useless in saving his father and thus learns a valuable lesson about the limits of his superhuman abilities. Drawn to the remains of his ship (which the Kents kept hidden in their barn), Clark discovers a glowing green crystal that leads him far north, all the way to the Arctic, where the crystal births a piece of his home planet on Earth. In this Fortress of Solitude, Clark communes with the spirit of his father, who lives on as a glorified artificial intelligence, and spends a further twelve years absorbing all of Jor-El’s knowledge and teachings of his newfound abilities. After his training is completed, Clark emerges as Christopher Reeve and garbed in a bright Kryptonian costume and ready to share his abilities with the world as Superman.

Clark poses as a mild-mannered reporter, which allows Superman to captivate Lois.

Clark sets himself up as a reporter at the Daily Planet (apparently it’s as easy as being able to type incredibly fast and being overly polite), meeting hot-tempered editor-in-chief Perry White (Jackie Cooper), enthusiastic young photographer Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), and feisty reporter Lois Lane (Kidder). Despite her inability to spell, Lois is a lively and fearless journalist and, consequently, she both despairs of Clark’s overly friendly nature and sees him as a bit of a dorky milksop and finds her curiosity sparked by some of his oddities. In comparison, Lois is immediately captivated by Superman when he not only catches her in mid-air as she’s plummeting to her death but also snags the helicopter she was falling from. Enamoured by his mystery, confidence, and the seemingly limitless superhuman abilities he possesses, her normally controlled and forthright demeanour is shattered and she’s left absolutely awestruck during (and following) her exclusive interview with the Man of Steel (where she names him and he also, curiously, divulges a number of secrets about himself that later come back to bite him in the ass).  

The maniacal Lex Luthor plots to destroy Superman in his quest to profit from real estate.

The villain of the piece, the enthralling Lex Luthor, has set up an impressive hideout beneath the city streets; there, protected by a series of cameras and deadly booby traps, he surrounds himself with the dim-witted Otis (Ned Beatty) and sexy but cynical Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine). Egotistical and arrogant in his intellect, Luthor sees himself as the world’s greatest criminal mind and is busy planning the crime of the century, which involves the acquisition of seemingly worthless land and profiting from it by causing a cataclysmic flood, endangering and ending countless lives in the process. Luthor immediately surmises that Superman is not of this Earth and relishes the opportunity to pit himself against the Man of Steel, and to both prove his intellectual superiority over him and destroy the very virtues that Superman stands for, seeing the Man of Steel as the ultimate challenge for his self-proclaimed criminal genius.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Of course, you can’t really talk about Superman without mentioning John Williams’ bombastic and immediately iconic “Superman” theme that is rendered in full glory over the opening credits. While this theme has become so synonymous with the character that no composer or filmmaker since has come close to crafting a more suitable melody for the Man of Steel, I continue to be baffled by the absolutely cringe-worthy “Can You Read my Mind?” sequence. Like, I get it; it’s supposed to be this big romantic moment between the Lois and Superman and to showcase the film’s wirework, but it stands out like a sore thumb and is all kinds of different flavours of cheese.

While Reeve set the standard for Clark/Superman some of the other performances are a bit hit and miss.

If I’m being brutally honest, the film’s performances are a bit hit and miss; despite being a relative unknown, Reeve provides the quintessential portrayal of Superman and simply exudes confidence and sociability as Superman while masking his true nature as loveable, bumbling fool. Indeed, by simply straightening his posture and slightly altering his voice, Reeve effortlessly depicts the simple differences between his two persona and his performance so explicitly set the standard for the character that it continues to be emulated to this day. Once the story shifts to Metropolis, the film becomes a much more vivid and over-the-top production that emphasises buffoonery and comic book camp; nobody embodies this more than the bumbling Otis, who is mostly here for comic relief, but there’s also the suggestion that Luthor socialises with cretins simply to have someone to lord over. While Beatty and Cooper seem to have stepped out of a pantomime for their roles as the goofy Otis and bombastic Mr. White, respectively, Hackman brings a certain gravitas to the film that perfectly walks a fine line between camp and severe. Hackman seems to be enjoying himself in the role and commands every scene and room that he’s in; though he lacks Luthor’s bald head, he sports a variety of wigs and exudes a sadistic menace in his willingness to kill millions of innocent people in his quest for power, profit, and to have his matchless intelligence recognised by the world.

While some effects don’t hold up well, they’re all very ambitious and impressive for the time.

Obviously, you have to expect that some of the effects aren’t as impressive and haven’t aged as well as others, as ambitious as they are; the Arctic is clearly a set like something out of Star Trek (1966 to 1969) and I can only assume that Krypton is so barren and lifeless because it was cheaper and easier (though it also makes it cold and alien and a stark contrast to our lush world). The young Clark’s running effect and a number of the rear-projection and miniature shots leave a lot to be desired and almost every skyline appears to simply be a gigantic matte painting as the film is heavily reliant upon impressive sets the likes of which are akin to a James Bond film. While Clark’s super fast changes to Superman and his little spin down into Luthor’s lair aren’t that great, easily the weakest effects come in the conclusion as the San Andreas Fault is ruptured and painstakingly crafted models are washed away by water and dirt before Superman circles the globe at superspeed. To be fair, though, the film’s effects are still incredibly impressive; the helicopter sequence is an ambitious and remarkable composite of miniatures, rear-projection, and live-action wire work that makes for a suitable debut for the Man of Steel and, overall, the film has largely stood the test of time thanks to its practical effects and undeniable charm. As you might expect, Superman’s powers and abilities are the highlight of the film; Superman’s invulnerability, super strength, and superspeed are all accounted for and realised well enough and Superman’s first night on duty provides a great showcase of what he is capable of. No job is too big or too small for Superman, who does everything from rescuing a cat from a tree to apprehending jewel thieves as they clamber up the outside of buildings using sucker pads.

Superman comes up with a unique solution to save the day.

Naturally, it’s the flying sequences that are the true spectacle of the film; even now, the rear-projection holds up pretty well in these scenes but what really sells it is Reeve’s dynamic and believably movements. Reeve banks and turns with an elegant grace and really sells the illusion that we’re seeing a man fly and makes even the most ridiculous aspects of the film (from the 100% comic-accurate suit to using his own body to repair a broken train track to repairing the San Andreas Fault by ploughing through questionable-looking magma) seem entirely plausible thanks to his charming smile and undeniable charisma. Of course, when talking about Superman, you have address the ending. Thanks to acquiring a chunk of Kryptonite, Luthor is able to weaken and cause incredible agony to Superman and it is only thanks to Ms. Teschmacher’s change of heart that he’s able to recoup his strength and intercept Luthor’s missiles. However, while he’s able to stop one, he’s unable to keep the other from striking the San Andreas Fault and is so busy repairing the damage it causes that he’s unable to save Lois from being crushed to death by debris. Devastated and overcome with grief, Superman flies into the upper atmosphere and defies his birth father’s warnings of interfering in human history to favour his adopted father’s advice and is able to literally turn back time by reversing the rotation of the planet. This undoes all of the damage caused by Luthor’s missiles and prevents Lois’s death but remains the most ludicrous aspect of the entire movie and just ends up raising all kinds of questions like…wouldn’t there be two Superman? Why doesn’t he just turn back time all the time? Ultimately, it’s just one of those crazy, over-powered feats that we’ve come to expect from older versions of Superman and I guess it works to show that Superman is capable of overcoming even his limits by pushing hard enough (plus, Reeve’s anguished cry does make for an incredibly intense scene).

The Summary:
I honestly went into Superman ready to give it a lower score of two stars; it’s never really been my favourite superhero, or Superman, film as it’s just got a little too much cheese and cringe in it for my tastes. There’s an undeniable level of camp at work in the film that makes it very cartoony and over-the-top in places, to say nothing of long, oddly paced inclusions that seem decidedly at odds with the rest of the film. However, all of these elements are in perfect balance with the film’s more dramatic and spectacular sequences; this is a film that is, primarily, a showcase of ambitious and trend-setting cinematic techniques as much as it is perhaps the most influential interpretation of Superman ever seen outside of the comic books. While not every effect has aged too well, the majority have stood the test of time remarkably well and there’s just the right balance of goofy comedy, heart-warming charm, and exciting spectacle that simply scream “Superman”, a character who is often characterised as being the world’s biggest Boy Scout and embodying timeless (if slightly antiquated) ideals. There’s no denying that Superman is an absolute classic; while I cannot sanction Marlon Brando’s attitude and I may not be a fan of some of Donner’s choices (Luthor being a real estate maniac, the barren depiction of Krypton, and the time travel ending are all cons of the film for me), Superman remains a delightful and enjoyable little slice of camp goodness that is worth it for Reeve’s incredible and career-making turn in the title role if nothing else.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Superman? What did you think to Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of the character and were you a fan of Lex Luthor’s interpretation in the film? How influential was Donner’s film on your perception of Superman and are there any aspects you would prefer to see films and media move away from? What did you think to the film’s campier elements and were you a fan of the ending? What is your favourite Superman story, character, or piece of media? How are you planning to celebrate Superman Day next week? Whatever you think, feel free to share your opinion and thoughts on Superman in the comments below.

Talking Movies [Dinosaur Day]: Jurassic Park


Sixty-five million years ago, dinosaurs ruled the Earth. These massive beasts existed for about 180 million years and came in all shapes and sizes, before finally going extinct following a cataclysmic event that forever changed our world and rendered these creatures mere fossils to be discovered and studied. Fittingly, “Dinosaur Day” is actually celebrated twice a year, giving dino fans the world over ample opportunities to pay homage to this near-mythical titans.


Talking Movies

Released: 11 June 1993
Director: Steven Spielberg
Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Budget: $63 million
Stars:
Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, and Richard Attenborough

The Plot:
Wealthy eccentric John Hammond (Attenborough) invites a group of scientists and experts to his private island, where his team of scientists have created a wildlife park populated by genetically engineered dinosaurs! However, when industrial sabotage leads to a catastrophic shutdown of the park’s power facilities, a desperate bid for survival and escape ensues when the dinosaurs run amok across the island.

The Background:
In many ways, it’s fitting that director Steven Spielberg turned Jurassic Park into one of the most influential movies ever made as it originally began life as a screenplay by noted writer Michael Crichton; given how expensive genetic research is, his original idea to tell a story of a graduate student genetically recreating a dinosaur soon evolved into a cautionary tale about science, DNA tampering, and a theme park thrown into chaos when its star attractions get loose. Although I personally didn’t care for it, Crichton’s 1990 novel became a bestseller and easily his most celebrated work, and soon caught Spielberg’s eye as a thinking-man’s monster movie. Inspired by classic movie monsters like King Kong and Godzilla, Spielberg sought out special effects wizards like Stan Winston, Phil Tippett, and Dennis Muren to craft the complex animatronics, miniatures, and stop-motion effects needed to bring these long-dead titans to life. Although the special effects team produced high-quality results using “go-motion”, Spielberg made the bold decision to switch to computer-generated visual effects for many of his dinosaur shots, effectively creating many of the CGI techniques we still see in Hollywood today.

Inspired by Crichton’s book, Spielberg’s team used cutting-edge special effects to bring the dinosaurs to life.

Of course, the CGI is only half of the story; the effects still hold up so well today because they were worked alongside a series of practical puppets and animatronics, with the most impressive and complex being the mammoth hydraulic Tyrannosaurus rex created for the film; though this animatronic frequently caused trouble on-set, Spielberg recognised the T. rex as the true star of the film and changed the ending accordingly. Numerous changes were made from the source material, including excising other dinosaurs and changing the nature of some of the characters, and filming was also interrupted by the untimely arrival of a hurricane, footage of which can be seen in the film. Universal Pictures took advantage of the film’s lengthy pre-production period to accompany Jurassic Park with a merchandising campaign ironically not too dissimilar to the one seen in the film for the titular, fictional park, and the film went on to become the highest-grossing film released worldwide at the time. It grossed over $1.030 billion at the box office and was swamped with overwhelmingly positive reviews; critics praised it as a milestone picture and it was widely regarded as one of the greatest blockbusters of all time. Of course, Jurassic Park’s legacy speaks for itself: it was followed by two less-than-popular sequels before taking audiences by storm once more in 2015, and forever changed cinema with its innovative special effects and advances in CGI that became the foundation for many other films going forward.

The Review:
So, it’s only fair to preface this review with a couple of points. The first is that Jurassic Park was one of the first films I remember going to see at the cinema; I believe my parents took me and my sister for my eighth birthday, and I remember it not just because Jurassic Park and dinosaurs became the big thing in school and the media following the film’s blockbuster release, but also because we arrived about ten minutes late to the screening (not that it meant I really missed anything massively significant). The second point I need to make is that I’m really not a fan of the book upon which the film is based; I found it a slow, laborious text that was more concerned with the science behind the dinosaurs and the park than it was with the spectacle of dinosaurs being recreated. Many of the characters were very different in the book as well, and I found it a very impenetrable text in a lot of ways, so I was left disappointed that it wasn’t as thrilling as the big-screen adaptation.

Grant and Ellie are brought in to sign off on the park and end up in a fight for survival when things go awry!

Although Jurassic Park is very much an ensemble piece, palaeontologist Doctor Alan Grant (Neill) is the clear focus of much of the character development. Grant is a passionate excavator of dinosaur bones and remains who specialises in the ferocious Velociraptor; believing that dinosaurs eventually evolved into what we commonly know as birds and extremely respectful of the nature and instincts of the extinct titans, Grant is far more concerned with the traditional hands-on approach to his craft and emphasising how intelligent creatures like the ‘raptors were, but his efforts are stunted by a lack of funding and ignorant children. Hammond provides the key to both of these problems; not only is he willing to fund Grant’s research for another three years in return for his expert opinion and sign-off on Jurassic Park, but Grant’s trip causes him to meet Hammond’s grandkids, Lex (Richards) and Tim Murphy (Mazzello), forcing him to overcome his wariness of children by becoming a protector and surrogate father to them both when they’re left stranded in the middle of the dangerous park. As far as I remember, Grant is quite different from how he was portrayed in the book, where I believe he was a lot older and possibly a bit more cynical; one difference I definitely recall is that there was no romantic subplot between Grant and palaeobotanist Doctor Ellie Sattler (Dern) in the book but, in the film they’re very much an item. However, the two are portrayed far more as partners and scientific equals rather than being in a massively loving relationship; it’s clear that they are together, but they’re never shown kissing or really being that affectionate with each other. Grant’s difficulty with children is a point of contention between the two since Ellie is eager to have a child of her own, and she’s pleased to see that, by the end of the film, Grant has become much more comfortable with children. While Grant clearly gets more to do of the two, Ellie pulls her weight in other ways by deducing what’s made a Triceratops sick and quickly sets aside her amazement to admonish Hammond on the moral implications of his work, which has been fraught with assumptions and underestimation regarding nature.

Malcolm openly questions Hammond’s morality, and the misguided entrepreneur is forced to acknowledge his mistakes.

Contrasting the more subdued and logical Grant and Ellie is mathematician chaotician Doctor Ian Malcolm (Goldblum), an outspoken and excitable advocate of the morality surrounding Hammond’s park who effortlessly steals every scene he’s in with his whimsical delivery and endlessly quotable lines. Unlike the others, Malcolm specialises in chaos-theory, the idea that small events can have massive consequences, and his theories regarding the return of dinosaurs potentially upsetting the natural balance of the world are routinely waved off by Hammond due to Malcolm’s aggravating personality and irreverent sense of humour. While the others are concerned with the financial implications of the park or the question of whether it was right to bring dinosaurs back, Malcolm is aghast at how recklessly Hammond upset the balance of nature and his inability to recognise that nature is known to adapt (as he puts it, “Life, uh…finds a way”) and is thus the only one to truly get that the park (and the ability to genetically engineer any creature) is potentially dangerous. In contrast to Grant, Malcolm is a confident (crucially, overconfident) womaniser with many ex-wives and children; he’s also much more impulsive, which leads to him putting himself in danger and ending up critically injured for most of the film (in contrast to his book counterpart, who clearly dies despite the awkward retcon in the second book). Industrialist John Hammond is the driving force behind Jurassic Park; contrary to his book counterpart, Hammond is far from a grouchy, gruff, self-serving old man and is much more of a benevolent, if misguided, grandfatherly figure. A wealthy entrepreneur who has long wished to captivate audiences with attractions that will instil a sense of wonder, Hammond is like an excitable child who is far more concerned with putting on a good show regardless of the cost. However, while he’s clearly a visionary, his park and the research conducted to make it a reality are not based in science that he has any real understanding of or claim to; as Malcom so eloquently puts it, Hammond has “stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as he could” in order to, essentially, sell a product without any appreciation for the implications of his actions. Consequently, Hammond is absolutely blinkered to the potential danger of his park and the moral question of bringing dinosaurs back to life; he is absolutely convinced that the park’s teething problems are a mere hiccup and is so sure of his state-of-the-art park and fool proof systems that he even has his grandchildren visit alongside his experts. However, when the park’s safety measures are disrupted by sabotage, Hammond is eventually, begrudgingly, forced to admit that his reach has exceeded his grasp and refocus on atoning for his actions by leading the survivors, and his beloved grandchildren, to safety and left morosely contemplating the consequences of his recklessness.

Grant is forced to become a protector to Lex and Tim when they’re stranded on an island full of dinosaurs.

Hammond’s grandkids, Lex and Tim, are unexpected additions to the weekend tour for Hammond’s guests. Young, enthusiastic children who are clearly besotted with their grandfather, they’re only too happy to visit the island and witness the technological and biological wonders their grandfather has built there over the last five years. For Grant, this poses a bit of a problem as he doesn’t really know how to talk to children, but things are made even more uncomfortable for him when Tim exhibits a hero’s worship of him and his writing (he even models his look on Grant’s) and Lex immediately develops a schoolgirl crush on him, much to Ellie’s amusement. Representing Hammond’s “target demographic”, Lex and Tim are absolutely blown away when they get up close and personal to a sick Triceratops but they (and the others) are left disappointed when the park’s main attractions fail to adhere to Hammond’s expectations and schedule. The two bickering siblings quickly get more than they bargained for when the T. rex bursts free from its paddock and attacks their van, an experience that leaves Lex severely traumatised and in a state of shock after lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) chooses to abandon them to their fate. Thanks to Grant’s knowledge of the T. rex, the kids are momentarily saved from danger, but he ends up stranded in the park with two shellshocked kids to look out for. This proves to be a surprising bonding experience for Grant, who comes to appreciate Tim’s dinosaur knowledge, and he repeatedly goes out of his way to keep the kids safe, teach them about dinosaur behaviours, and to encourage them to keep moving in order to get them to safety. The kids are also a little different from the book, as I recall, as Lex is now a gifted “hacker” and is instrumental in restoring Jurassic Park’s systems and safety protocols in the film’s final act and Tim proves almost as knowledgeable as Grant when it comes to dinosaur identification. While the two tend to descend into aggravating screaming and are often bratty and a hinderance to Grant, they’re surprisingly well-rounded child characters with a lot of personality and likeable qualities; Lex is a bit of a quiet introvert, whereas Tim is much more outspoken and cheeky, but both are left dazed and terrified by their experiences with the T. rex and ‘raptors, as one might expect. Still, while they squabble and bicker like all children and siblings, they work well as a team and look out for each other, which is most evident when they’re pinned down by two ‘raptors in the kitchen and must work together to outsmart and escape from the vicious carnivores.

Thanks to Nedry, many of the other supporting characters become prey to the voracious dinosaurs.

Other notable names include Ray Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson), Jurassic Park’s chief engineer whose frustrations with the bugs and teething problems caused by the park are only exacerbated when industrial sabotage shuts off all the safety measures. Though cynical and crotchety, he works tirelessly to restore power to the park, which ultimately leads to his horrific offscreen death at the claws of the ‘raptors. Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) knows the dangers of the park’s attractions only too well; the resident game warden, he, like Grant, has an incredible respect for the intelligence and ferocity of the dinosaurs, especially the ‘raptors, and takes handling and caring for the creatures very seriously. However, despite all of this (and presumably being an experienced hunter), he also falls prey to the ‘raptors when he underestimates their intelligence. Following the death of a park worker, Donald Gennaro is incredibly concerned about the potential danger that the park poses and, at the behest of Hammond’s investors, he is charged with launching a safety evaluation of Jurassic Park and thus invites industry experts to evaluate the facility to appease both himself and the underwriters. Although initially seen as little more than a cliché, pen-pushing bureaucrat, Gennaro is awestruck by the financial potential of Jurassic Park and keen to reap the rewards of its unique attractions, which quickly override his initial concerns about safety and lawsuits. Pragmatic and officious, he shows his true colours during the T. rex’s escape from her paddock and receives easily the most shocking and brutal death in the entire film simply because he let his fear and panic overwhelm him. Easily the most significant of the film’s side characters is programmer Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), a disgruntled and underappreciated member of Hammond’s staff who feels so underpaid and undervalued that he’s only too happy to sabotage the park and steal samples of the dinosaur DNA for Hammond’s rival, Doctor Lewis Dodgson (Cameron Thor). This, of course, is the catalyst for all of the troubles that befall the park as Nedry shuts down the security protocols and then stumps Arnold and the others with his “hacker crap”. Unfortunately for the selfish and egotistical Nedry, his escape from the park is hindered by a devastating storm and he ends up falling victim to a savage Dilophosaurus, thus meaning his betrayal of his employer was all for naught.

As spectacular as the dinosaurs are, the T. rex and ‘raptors are the stars of the show.

Naturally, the dinosaurs are the star of the show and, truthfully, what we all came to see. The sense of scale and wonder evoked by the creatures is perfectly captured right from the off as Grant, Ellie, Malcolm, and Gennaro are absolutely captivated at the sight of a massive Brachiosaurus and Parasaurolophus herds grazing on the open plains. Of course, we all came to see the true show-stealer, the T. rex; the undisputed king of dinosaurs is an elusive fascination for the first hour or so of the film but makes a dramatic and instantly memorable first appearance when she bursts out of her paddock to attack Hammond’s guests. A titanic, monstrous creature that exudes viciousness, her coming is heralded by the impact of her feet, the iconic rippling of water, and her screeching roar; the way she rips at the tour vehicles and charges relentlessly after her prey makes her a real and terrifying threat, made all the more tangible by the ridiculously impressive animatronic used during her first appearance. The T. rex remains a constant threat for Grant, Lex, and Tim as they make their way back to the visitor’s centre, slaughtering Gallimimus as they flee for their lives, but is rendered in a far more heroic light by the finale thanks to how fierce and calculating the ‘raptors have been in her absence. As massive and undeniably intimidating as the T. rex is, however, the Velociraptors are unquestionably the primary antagonists of the film and their threat is established right from the first scene. Grant also gives an intimidating lecture about how intelligent and dangerous the creatures were back in the day, a sentiment echoed by Muldoon, and it’s through both of them that the film very quickly and clearly establishes that the ‘raptors are highly intelligent and vicious creatures who used co-ordinated attack patterns to hunt down their prey. While the Dilophosaurus easily takes second place as a dangerous creature in the park and makes a lasting impression with its snake-like hiss, neck frills, and blinding venom, the ‘raptors are portrayed as surprisingly smart, incredibly fast and agile, and relentless pack hunters who quickly work out how to open doors by twisting handles, lure in prey using decoys, and claim the highest body count of all of the park’s attractions.

The Nitty-Gritty:
If you can’t suspend your disbelief to accept the science of the film then you’re probably better off reading the book, which devoted entire chapters to detailing the scientific process behind the dinosaur’s resurrection. The film makes things much more audience friendly thanks to an animated sequence in which the park’s mascot, Mr. DNA (Greg Burson), very simply explains how InGen’s scientists extracted dinosaur DNA from fossilised mosquitos, mapped the genetic code, and filled in any gaps in the DNA sequencing with frog DNA to create the park’s dinosaurs. The man behind all this is Doctor Henry Wu (B. D. Wong), who explains that Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs are carefully monitored and engineered to prevent unauthorised breeding by making them all female. Malcolm’s scepticism regarding this later turns out to be true as Grant discovers life has indeed found a way and some of the dinosaurs have spontaneously changed sex in order to breed like “some West African frogs”, but it’s also stated that Hammond’s scientists implemented a “Lysine Contingency” to ensure the dinosaurs can’t survive without regular doses of Lysine. I think it’s only fair to point out that the film never claims that their dinosaurs are 100% scientifically accurate; it’s openly stated that they’ve have been genetically altered, thereby explaining any physical or behavioural differences. What isn’t quite as easily explained is how Grant, the unquestionable expert on Velociraptors, isn’t able to recognise a baby ‘raptor when one is in his hands, but it’s a small issue compared to how entertaining the rest of the film is. So revolutionary is Hammond’s research that it attracts the attention of rival company Biosyn, whose head of research, Dr. Dodgson, pays Nedry an extortionate amount of money to steal viable dinosaur embryos from Hammond’s laboratory. If I remember right, Dodgson had a much larger role in the book (or maybe it was in the follow-up; it’s hard to remember as the books were so dull) but, in the film, Dodgson is simply a mysterious figure who wants to catch up to (and, presumably, overtake) InGen’s genetic engineering research. Although it’s only a small role, Dr. Dodgson can thus be seen as a dark opposite of Hammond since both took shortcuts to get ahead, but neither of them really got what they wanted in the end as Hammond loses faith in his vision for Jurassic Park and Dodgson is denied the embryos after Nedry is killed.

The CGI stands the test of time thanks to the incredible animatronics used to bring the dinosaurs to life.

I think it’s only fair to offer some praise to John Williams’ orchestral score, which is almost as iconic as the film’s much-lauded special effects and perfectly captures the sense of awe, amazement, and spectacle offered by the film. Indeed, “spectacle” is the most appropriate one-word summation of Jurassic Park; even comparatively trivial things like the arrival on Isla Nubar and the massive, King Kong-like gates are treated as a marvel, to say nothing of the sense of grandeur offered to the dinosaurs. It should be no surprise considering Spielberg’s body of work, but Jurassic Park does a wonderful job of building tension and anticipation to the reveal of its dinosaurs; the opening sequence is a pretty horrific snapshot of just how ferocious the ‘raptors are but it takes some time before we properly see the dinosaurs in full. Even after we’ve had a taste of the park’s residents thanks to the dramatic reveal of the Brachiosaurus, the guests (and Hammond) are left disappointed when the dinosaurs fail to appear during their tour, which only increases the anticipation of the dinosaur’s appearances. Of course, as fantastic as the CGI is, it holds up so well even today thanks to the incredible animatronics used to bring the dinosaurs to life; when Grant and the others tend to the sick Triceratops, it’s a fully practical effect that really helps to sell the weight and believability of the creatures. The special effects on show were not only pioneering and game-changing for cinema, but also forever set the standard for how dinosaurs are portrayed in media going forward; even now, the look, sound, and depiction of dinosaurs still takes a lot of its influence from Jurassic Park, despite how scientifically inaccurate a lot of the creatures are. Sure, we know now that Velociraptors were much smaller and had feathers and even the book debunked the belief that the T. rex was a purely visual hunter, but this was unquestionably the closest depiction of dinosaurs ever put to screen and it remains a genre and industry standard thanks to the ground-breaking special effects.

With the power restored, all that’s left is for the T. rex to make a last-minute save so the survivors can escape.

Jurassic Park is very much a mixture of genres; it’s primarily a sci-fi cautionary tale, but Spielberg does a fantastic job of weaving interpersonal dramas and morality tales into the narrative, as well as framing dinosaurs like the T. rex and ‘raptors as creatures ruled by their instincts but filmed in a way that evokes horror and monster movies. This is obviously most explicitly seen in the T. rex’s paddock escape, a harrowing sequence where the human characters are rendered defenceless, powerless bugs compared to the size and might of the T rex. Their only means of survival is standing completely still and quiet, something the kids obviously find near impossible to achieve given how terrifying the situation is, and Grant is constantly having to find ways to distract and get around the T. rex as there’s no question of being able to fight back against the mighty titan. Although the ‘raptors are smaller and the protagonists have weapons that could conceivably be used to kill them, they never get the chance to really fight back; Muldoon, the most experienced person on the island, is killed off before he can fire a single shot and the others are more concerned with survival than trying to fight off their attackers. This goes some way to explaining why Ellie didn’t use the shotgun to shoot the ‘raptors; she’s a palaeobotanist after all, not a game hunter. Ultimately, despite restoring power to the park, the survivors end up pinned down by the voracious ‘raptors but find an unlikely saviour in the T. rex, which shows up for a dramatic last-minute “rescue” of sorts that allows the survivors to slip away to safety and fly away from Isla Nubar forever changed by their harrowing experiences with the reborn dinosaurs.

The Summary:
There’s a reason that Jurassic Park has stood the test of time. It’s actually kind of crazy how well the CGI holds up even to this day and the reason for that is not just the meticulous attention to detail and tireless efforts of the team at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) but also the incredibly realistic and complex animatronics used to bring the dinosaurs to life. The blend between the two is largely seamless and I’ve seen modern-day movies that can only dream of this kind of flawless digital composition. The spectacle on offer here is, quite literally, timeless and Spielberg crafted an instant classic based on the thrilling concept alone. However, it’s not simply a mindless monster movie and there’s more on offer than just the dinosaurs; the characters are all very well realised, with nuances and unique aspects to their personalities that make them all very believable and relatable. Even experts like Grant and Ellie are terrified when the dinosaurs are set loose, and I think it was a smart decision to frame the narrative around survival and the insignificance of man compared to these long-dead and dangerous, near-mythical beasts. There’s a fantastic blend of wonder and horror here, with the dinosaurs being awesome, remarkable creatures but also ferocious and surprisingly intelligent hunters. They’re portrayed as being both extremely gentle and terrifyingly vicious, acting purely on instinct and able to adapt to the then-modern world in ways that make them incredibly dangerous. Alongside this is, of course, the introspective commentary on our place as the dominant species of the planet, the morality of using science to play God and restore long-extinct creatures to life, and the ferocity of nature, with the overriding message being that man should never exceed his grasp lest he underestimate the consequences of his actions. Compared to the book, which was a tedious read from start to finish, Jurassic Park is an absolute thrill all the way through; the spectacle alone explains why it performed so well and remains a modern classic, and even the far less memorable sequels can’t dilute the allure of this original masterpiece of digital and practical effects wizardry.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What are your thoughts and memories of Jurassic Park? If you saw it in the cinema when it first released, what was your reaction at the time and how do you think it holds up today? Are you a fan of the book and, if so, did you still enjoy the film or was there too much changed in the adaptation process? Which of the human characters was your favourite and were you shocked by the amount of blood and death seen in the film? What’s your favourite dinosaur, either in this film or in general? Are you a fan of Jurassic Park’s sequels or do you consider the first one to be the best? How are you celebrating Dinosaur Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Jurassic Park, and dinosaurs in general, sign up to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Talking Movies [HulkaMAYnia]: The Incredible Hulk


Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers, joining teams like the Defenders, and has gone through numerous changes over the years that have added extra depth to the green-skinned behemoth and made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters.


Released: 13 June 2008
Director: Louis Leterrier
Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Budget:
$137.5 to 150 million
Stars:
Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, and William Hurt

The Plot:
In a bid to recreate the super-soldier serum, Doctor Bruce Banner (Norton) exposed himself to gamma radiation and, whenever provoked or enraged, transforms into a green-skinned behemoth known as the “Hulk” (Lou Ferrigno). Desperate for a cure, and to avoid the attention of General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Hurt), Banner reluctantly rekindles his relationship with former flame Doctor Betty Ross (Tyler) and finds himself hounded by Emil Blonsky (Roth), a relentless soldier who exposes himself to the same process to match the Hulk’s physical abilities.

The Background:
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s green-skinned rage monster had a troublesome road to the big screen; although Hulk (Lee, 2003) featured its fair share of impressive visual effects shots and was relatively profitable, its poor critical performance quashed plans for a sequel. However, when Universal Pictures failed to produce a follow-up in time, the rights reverted to Marvel, who were currently riding high after the critical and commercial success of the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Iron Man (Favreau, 2008). Opting to reboot the property, Marvel hired director Louis Leterrier and writer Zak Penn, who both drew significant inspiration from their love of The Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982). Edward Norton was cast as Banner and also provided some work on the script, which caused some tension between him and Marvel when many of his additional scenes were cut and ultimately led to him leaving the role. Like Hulk, The Incredible Hulk brought the Hulk to life through visual effects specifically tweaked to portray him beyond the peak of human physical ability and the film even brought back Joe Harnell’s iconic and tragic “Lonely Man” theme from the TV show. The Incredible Hulk was not quite as profitable as Iron Man; it made a little more than its predecessor with a worldwide gross of nearly $265 million but was again met with mixed reviews. Although development of a solo sequel film stalled after disagreements with Universal Pictures, the character would be recast for subsequent appearances in the MCU, where he received something of a “mini arc” and many of the film’s loose ends were eventually addressed in later MCU productions.

The Review:
I came away from Hulk relatively satisfied; it was longer and far more cerebral than I was expecting but I always thought that it was a pretty impressive and enjoyable big-screen debut for the Jade Giant and I was disheartened to learn that we wouldn’t be getting a direct sequel. Still, hearing that the next film in the MCU would feature another crack at the Hulk was an encouraging sign that Marvel Studios were eager to both do the character justice and make him a prominent feature in their fledgling interconnected universe. Even better was the fact that The Incredible Hulk benefitted from a surge of fantastic casting in superhero films at the time; actors like Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman were really adding a lot of legitimacy and gravitas to the genre and I thought it was quite the coup to see Edward Norton cast in the lead role in The Incredible Hulk. Sadly, Marvel Studios seemed to lose faith in the project before the release day and spoiled Tony Stark’s (Downey Jr.) appearance the pre-credits scene in the last few trailers and, even now, The Incredible Hulk remains one of the lowest-grossing films in the MCU.

Banner is a desperate man on the run trying to cure his unique condition and avoid capture.

Like Hulk, The Incredible Hulk plays its opening titles over a montage that is both a clear homage to the 1970s TV show and a revised origin for the character as Banner exposes himself to gamma radiation in an attempt to recreate the super-soldier serum rather than as an experiment on the limits of the human body. As much as I enjoy Mark Ruffalo in the role, there’s no denying that Edward Norton is a different quality of actor; he makes for a great Banner, showcasing the same empathy, humanity, intelligence, and desperation that made Bill Bixby so great in the role, and is still probably the most accurate onscreen portrayal of the character in my mind. Actively hiding his identity and staying off the radar of both Ross and the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), Banner busies himself with a menial job while communicating with the mysterious “Mr. Blue” in an effort to synthesise a cure for his condition. Banner also wears a heart rate monitor to warn him when he’s getting too stressed and works with an Akido instructor (Rickson Gracie) to control his emotions and anger through breathing and meditation techniques. Having reached the limit of what he can accomplish with his mediocre resources, and after accidentally alerted Ross to his presence with a single drop of blood, Banner has no choice but to abandon his hard but largely peaceful life and return to the United States in an effort to find a cure.

Betty can’t help but be drawn to Bruce and helps him out of pure adoration and love.

This reunites him with Ross’s daughter and Banner’s former love, Betty, a renowned and capable scientist in her own right who, despite being in a relationship with psychiatrist Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell), has never forgotten her feelings for Bruce. Reunited after five years apart, she immediately insists on helping him in any way she can, which involves bringing him clothes after his Hulk-out, helping him gain access to Culver University, going with him on the run, and shielding him from her tyrannical father at every opportunity. Betty is, once again, an empathetic and supportive character who is both clearly besotted with Banner and exhibits a sympathetic protectiveness of his green-skinned counterpart; Tyler and Norton have a very real, tangible chemistry and it’s great seeing their characters interact as equals and attempting to act on their obvious attraction to each other. Crucially, Betty also holds key data that Mr. Blue (who turns out to be Doctor Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson)), needs to properly help synthesise a cure for his condition.

The Hulk is far more aggressive and wild than usual and more like a force of nature.

Though still largely a silent character, the Hulk continues to exhibit a great deal of personality to separate him from Banner. Far more aggressive and angrier than his 2003 counterpart, this is a Hulk who has had to deal with being constantly suppressed within Banner’s subconscious and finds himself relentlessly hounded by Ross, Blonsky, and the military. As he simply wants to be left alone but is quick to fly into a rage and even mumble a few words of protest when provoked, the Hulk appears to be much more feral than usual, though he does retains his child-like demeanour at times while also seeming much more akin to a wild animal. Crucially, the Hulk is fiercely protective of Betty, who’s the only person to show him any kindness, and notably shields her when Ross allows his selfish vendetta against him to threaten her safety, lending further credibility to Betty’s later belief that the Hulk has great potential as a force for good. Since the film doesn’t delve into Bruce’s childhood or emotional trauma, the Hulk is much more of a result of science gone wrong but there’s also the suggestion that he has the potential to be so much more; Banner, however, is more concerned with ridding himself of his ailment than learning to properly accept it as part of himself and his fear of the Hulk is almost as great as Ross’s hated of him.

Just as Ross is desperate to apprehend Banner, Blonsky is obsessed with fighting the Hulk.

Speaking of ol’ Thunderbolt, General Ross continues to be a stubborn and vindictive character; personally directing the missions to detain Banner, his motivations stem just as much from Banner’s first transformation landing Betty in the hospital as it does from his desire to contain the beast lest anyone discover the role Ross and the U.S. military played in his creation. Again a stern and uncompromising authority figure who prioritises his duty and career over his daughter, Ross begins the film estranged from Betty and their relationship is only further strained by the revelation that Ross is seeking to dissect the Hulk from Banner’s body in order to weaponise the creature. Ross’s ceaseless campaign against Banner sees him employ the services of Emil Blonsky, a former Royal Marines Commando who quickly develops an intense rivalry with the Hulk. Eschewing promotions that would take him away from the combat he craves so dearly, Blonsky obediently follows orders to the letter but, having witnessed the Hulk’s destructive power (and feeling the physical strain of a lifetime of combat), candidly requests more information on Banner and the Hulk and is only too eager to receive a version of the super-soldier serum in order to improve his own strength, speed, reflexes, and recuperative powers. However, when even this fails to make him a match for the Hulk, Blonsky seeks more extreme methods to battle the Green Goliath. Sterns is only too willing to further augment Blonsky’s body with mutated samples of Banner’s blood, which causes him to transform into a bestial form of his own to finally battle the Hulk on equal ground for the finale.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I touched on this earlier but, for a time, it wasn’t entirely impossible to view The Incredible Hulk as a follow-up to Hulk; the film opens in Brazil, very similar to where the 2003 film ended, and it’s easy enough to believe that Banner was granted permission to return to the U.S. to help with the super-soldier serum only to be further ostracised by Ross, and you could even explain away to recasting of Talbot from Josh Lucas to Adrian Pasdar and his revival can be explained away by the questionable canonicity of Marvel’s television shows. I always felt like there was just enough connective tissue to link the two without explicitly stating it but, ultimately, The Incredible Hulk also works extremely well as a reintroduction to the character. By evoking the familiar imagery of the TV show and leaning into the accepted tropes associated with the character, the film is much faster and more action-packed since it doesn’t waste time delving into the Hulk’s origin and instead kicks things off with Banner a desperate man on the run, something immediately familiar to fans of the early comics and the aforementioned TV show.

Banner comes to consider that the Hulk could be used as a force for good.

That’s not to say that The Incredible Hulk isn’t without its poignant moments; it may not be a methodical in-depth character study like the last film but there’s a great amount of time devoted to Bruce’s increasing desperation to rid himself of the Hulk. This has left him alone and exiled from his home and love, and constantly on edge and reluctant to trust anyone with too much of his blood or research lest he be discovered or his condition weaponised. Banner is outraged to discover that Sterns has synthetised large quantities of his blood for medicinal purposes and is disheartened to find that Sterns’ efforts have been unable to produce an actual cure. When he returns to the U.S., Banner is initially reluctant to reconnect with Betty but she insists upon offering her assistance out of a genuine affection for him; Betty is also the one who suggests that the Hulk is actually a force for good, something that kept him from dying from a gamma exposure, and plants the first seed in Banner’s head of trying to “aim” the beast and influence the Hulk’s actions rather than simply eradicate the Jade Giant. There’s also an interesting addition whereby Banner’s condition means he cannot allow himself to get sexually aroused since this risks provoking the Hulk’s emergence, replacing the allegory of the Hulk as an expression of his repressed childhood trauma with a metaphor for impotence.

The Hulk is a highly adaptable and aggressive fighter.

Like his 2003 counterpart, the Hulk is a purely digital creation; similar to the last film, the Hulk is initially obscured by darkness and very much painted as a mysterious and fearsome monster. This time, he’s got more of a grey/green hue, is noticeably much more ripped than his predecessor, and there’s loads of really intricate details in his model like bulging veins and muscles that make him a far more impressive digital creation. However, despite this, it can’t be denied that the special effects have aged somewhat. Although the Hulk’s digital model is visually far more impressive than his predecessor, the effects remain somewhat inconsistent in his quality; the Hulk appears very cartoonish when he emerges on the university campus but looks far more believable and fearsome when filmed at night and in the finale. Though he doesn’t continuously increase in mass as he gets madder and stronger, this Hulk is far more aggressive and much more diverse in his attack patterns. He performs his patented thunderclap manoeuvre and his ability to use his surroundings to his advantage, coupled with his ferocious rage, make him a terrifying force of nature. Indeed, the Hulk is smart enough to rip apart military vehicles and turn them into makeshift shields and weapons, very similar to The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (Radical Entertainment, 2005), which he uses to trash Ross’s heavy ordinance and sonic weapons. Although he wishes to be left alone, the Hulk’s threat only increases the more he is provoked and Blonsky certainly drives him to his limits with his persistence and taunts, earning him a near-fatal blow from the Green Goliath, who appears to rack up quite the body count through his many rampages.

Despite being a dark mirror of the Hulk, the Abomination makes for a thrilling final foe.

Thankfully, there are no gamma dogs this time around and the Hulk surprisingly appears in a number of populated areas, adding to the film’s level of destruction over its predecessor. While Blonsky’s enhanced abilities provide a taste of what we would later see from Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), his obsession with besting the Hulk leads to him forcing Sterns into transforming him into a version of the Abomination. This bony, hulking monster is quite the upgrade compared to the finale of the last film but is a noticeable departure from his traditional comic book appearance and does admittedly add to the MCU’s tendency to rely on dark mirrors of their heroes. Still, the brawl between the Hulk and the Abomination makes for a far more visually impressive finale, not least because you can actually see what’s going on this time around. Potentially because of his conviction or having been exposed to a more potent version of the super-soldier serum, Blonsky retains his personality and intellect when transformed but, drunk with the power afforded to him, the Abomination goes on a rampage through Harlem, attacking civilians and Ross’s troops alike to draw the Hulk out and forcing Ross to risk sending Banner into the hot zone to take Blonsky down. I can totally understand the argument that ending the film with two similar-looking CGI characters bashing each other senseless takes away from the human element of the narrative but it’s a Hulk film so what do you expect? The scene is also framed in a way to make the Hulk appear both heroic and monstrous; though he attacks the Abomination, he causes a great deal of damage in the process but his rage is effectively directed in a more productive way. Despite boasting bony protrusions, the Abomination is ultimately bested by the Hulk’s unquenchable rage but is saved from being choked to death by Betty’s intervention. Humbled by having to turn to the Hulk for help, Ross is far from impressed when Stark comes seeking to recruit the Hulk and the film ends with the ambiguous suggestion that Banner has learned to control his transformations.

The Summary:
Honestly, it annoys me that people overlook The Incredible Hulk; it doesn’t help that legal issues between Marvel Studios and Universal Pictures kept the film somewhat suppressed for a great deal of time and meant that all of the dangling plot threads and sequel bait would sadly never be developed or take a long time to be addressed in the wider MCU. The film’s homages to 1970s show and films like An American Werewolf in London (Landis, 1981) are a nice touch and the cast is absolutely fantastic; Norton, Tyler, Hurt, and Roth all bring a real humanity and intensity to their roles in their own ways and the Hulk is realised perfectly onscreen. Despite being much brisker and more action-orientated compared to the 2003 film, The Incredible Hulk still perfectly captures the desperation of the character as seen in the source material and the popular TV show, and even an admittedly lacklustre finale doesn’t spoil what I find to be an extremely enjoyable and under-rated entry in the MCU.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of The Incredible Hulk? Would you agree that it’s an under-rated entry in the MCU? What did you think to the cast and would you have liked to see Edward Norton reprise the role in the MCU? Were you a fan of the Hulk’s appearance and characterisation this time around and how did you interpret the film’s final shot? Would you have liked to see all of its loose ends addressed in a dedicated Hulk sequel or were you happy with how the MCU incorporated these elements later on? What Hulk story from the comics would you liked to see adapted one day? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies [Multiverse Madness]: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness


In September 1961, DC Comics published “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen thanks to the concept of the multiverse, an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to co-exist and interact. Marvel Comics would also adopt this concept and, to celebrate the release of this very film, I’ve been both celebrating the Master of the Mystic Arts and exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) equivalent of the multiverse every Sunday of May.


Released: 6 May 2022
Director: Sam Raimi
Distributor:
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $200 million
Stars:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochitl Gomez, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, and Chiwetel Ejiofor,

The Plot:
Following a number of reality-altered events, Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is unexpectedly thrown into a fight not just for his life, but for the fate of the entire multiverse when a girl with the power to traverse alternate dimensions is threatened by a corrupted force seeking to take her power for her own.

The Background:
Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s bizarre creation, Dr. Strange, has undoubtedly become one of Marvel’s most pivotal figureheads since his unimpressive debut and has had a storied history with adaptation. After an ill-fated lie-action film in the seventies, a number of animated ventures, and a long period of Development Hell, Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts finally made his big-screen debut as part of the MCU to both universal praise and incredible financial success. Development of a sequel began in 2016, with director Scott Derrickson eager to incorporate the villain Nightmare and really delve into Dr. Strange’s weirder aspects. MCU producer and figurehead Kevin Feige saw Dr. Strange as the linchpin on the MCU’s fourth phase, which would expand upon the multiversal aspects of their successful franchise, while Derrickson initially aimed to introduce more horror elements to the sequel. This caused some creative differences between the two parties, and led to Derrickson stepping down and Sam Raimi being brought in as the director and injecting his own blend of horror to the script after delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After attempting to introduce the character in previous MCU projects, Feige finally found an avenue to bring in America Chavez, and the script was rewritten to both play to Raimi’s strengths as a director and to further expand on Wanda Maximoff’s (Olsen) character growth from WandaVision (Shakman, 2021). Seeking to infuse a horror vibe to the MCU and explore the consequences of dabbling in black magic and the multiverse, the film also ended up including a number of cameo appearances from iconic actors and fan casted characters to tease towards even bigger things for the MCU. Despite the film not seeing a release in LGTBQ+-intolerant countries, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has currently amassed a worldwide gross of nearly $510 million and has been met by widely positive reviews; critics praised its harrowing tale of grief and desperation, the unique horror slant, and the visual spectacle on offer, though some found it to be a bit formulaic and bloated at times.

The Review:
Right off the bat I have to say that I’m not actually the biggest fan of comic book movies delving into the multiverse concept. It’s a strange opinion to have given I regularly celebrate the trope and have enjoyed a lot of multiversal stories in comics, but I’m having a lot of difficulty reconciling that audiences aren’t more confused by it all. I’m a lifetime comic book fan and even I struggle with it a bit and, as much as I enjoyed Spider-Man: No Way Home (Webb, 2021) and Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, I can’t help but wonder if bringing that version of that villain back cost us seeing a new actor’s take on the character. I give Marvel a lot of leeway, though; after ten-plus years of building up their cinematic universe, exploring science, the cosmos, time and space, I think they’re in a far better position to start exploring beyond the confines of their singular reality. It’s not like, say, the DC Extended Universe, which jumped into alternate versions, timelines, and multiverse shenanigans just a few years after their first movie, to the point where they’re already having to rejig their timeline to try and make sense of it all. I feel Marvel’s execution so far has been very respectful and very exciting for us die-hard fans of the comics and movies, and also suspect that this phase of bringing back popular actors in their iconic superhero roles may soon pass as we head towards whatever the culmination of Phase Four really is.

With the world still reeling from the Blip, Dr. Strange is thrust into the chaotic multiverse.

Still, if you’re going to explore the multiverse, what better character than the Master of the Mystic Arts himself? When the movie begins, Dr. Strange is still guarding the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York City but, thanks to being dusted during the Blip, is also still no longer the Sorcerer Supreme, with those duties now being fulfilled by Wong (Wong). Their relationship isn’t one of master and servant, but more one of bickering peers; there’s a recurring gag that Dr. Strange refuses to bow to Wong since he’s still a bit annoyed at having lost his lofty position but, despite this, he remains a dedicated and powerful spellcaster since Wong’s duties are more focused on training sorcerers at Kamar-Taj. Dr. Strange is, however, facing a bit of a personal crisis; his dedication to his newfound lifestyle, and having been gone for five years, means that he’s missed out on the girl. Doctor Christine Palmer (McAdams) has not only met someone else, but is getting married to him, and he’s plagued by doubts concerning his decision to surrender the Time Stone to the Mad Titan, Thanos (Josh Brolin), which saved the lives of billions but also disrupted the lives of countless others, including his former colleague, Doctor Nicodemus West (Michael Stuhlbarg), who questions Dr. Strange’s actions. Strange remains justified, however, as he acted out of the greater good, having viewed millions of potential timelines, but these doubts over his character and motivation continue to surface throughout the film when he learns from America Chavez (Gomez) that his alternative selves have been so focused on the big picture that they’ve been driven to unspeakable acts, such as attempting to take America’s power for his own and even being corrupted by the forbidden magical tome, the Darkhold. Since she’s being pursued by forces far beyond her power, and is unable to control her dimension-hopping abilities, America has little choice but to trust Dr. Strange to protect her, but both her and the alternate versions of Christine have reservations about Strange’s character after seeing the lengths his other selves have gone to to keep the vast multiverse safe.

Devastated at losing her kids, Wanda covets America’s power and wages all-out war as the Scarlet Witch.

America is quite the anomaly; in an infinite number of alternate realities, it appears as though there’s only one of her, since she hasn’t encountered a counterpart in all of her random travels throughout the multiverse and she doesn’t dream (the film posits that dreams are a window into the lives of our alternate selves, which is an intriguing concept). Desperate, afraid, and alone, America is carrying a great deal of guilt after her chaotic powers accidentally sucked her mothers to an unknown fate when she was a child. America’s ability to conjure a massive, star-shaped portal to anywhere in the multiverse is triggered by fear and panic, meaning she has little control over her abilities but they offer a wealth of possibilities to more powerful and experienced forces who could absorb her power for their own ends. Dr. Strange first meets America when she’s being pursued by an unspeakable eldritch abomination, which he and Wong recognise to be a creature of witchcraft rather than sorcery, so he seeks out console from Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, hoping to recruit the former Avenger to help protect America. However, Wanda has been so consumed with grief after losing her magically-conjured sons, Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne) from the conclusion of WandaVision that she’s turned to the Darkhold to find ways of being reunited with them in an alternate reality. The Darkhold’s dark magic, coupled with the destructive potential of the Scarlet Witch, have driven Wanda into a maniacal obsession with obtaining America’s powers and, when Dr. Strange refuses to hand the girl over peacefully and condemn her to death at the Scarlet Witch’s hands, Wanda launches a brutal all-out assault against Kamar-Taj and, after they’re stranded in the multiverse, to force Wong to take her to the forbidden land of Mount Wundagore, where the Darkhold was transcribed, to both locate them and find the power to “dream walk” into the body of her alternate self to relentlessly pursue them, slaughtering anyone and everyone who gets in her way.

The alternate Mordo brings Dr. Strange before the Illuminati, but Wanda mercilessly slaughters them all.

Since America can’t control or direct her powers, Dr. Strange immediately out his alternative self for help, only to find that he heroically died saving the universe from Thanos and that his former mentor, Baron Karl Mordo (Ejiofor), has taken his place as the Sorcerer Supreme. For those who were hoping for a resolution to Mordo’s vow to hunt down and eliminate sorcerers at the end of Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016), you’ll be disappointed to learn that “prime” Mordo (i.e. the one from what the MCU calls “Earth-616”) isn’t actually in this film and his counterpart is a far less antagonistic character…or so it seems. Initially, Mordo is welcoming and courteous but, all too soon, Dr. Strange and America find themselves drugged, fitted with power-dampening restraints, and placed in holding cells under the observation of the alternative Christine to determine whether 6161-Strange is as much of a threat as his counterpart. This leads to Mordo bringing Dr. Strange before the judgement of the “Illuminati”, a panel of superpowered beings who stood against Thanos and executed their version of Dr. Strange after he became corrupted by the Darkhold. Comprised of Mordo, Captain Peggy Carter/Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), Captain Maria Rambeau/Captain Marvel (Lashana Lynch), Blackagar Boltagon/Black Bolt (Anson Mount), Professor Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart), and Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic (John Krasinski), the Illuminati underestimate Wanda’s devastating power in favour of focusing on Strange’s potential threat, which ultimately results in all of them being mercilessly slaughtered by the raging Scarlet Witch when she puppets her alternative self right into their chamber. Wanda easily negates Black Bolt’s destructive voice, turning it back on himself so he blows a hole in his head, slices Captain Carter in two with her own shield, crushes Captain Marvel to death, reduces Mr. Fantastic to spaghetti, and snaps Xavier’s neck in a harrowing sequence that’s just one of many allusions to director Sam Raimi’s past as a horror director. Thought assisted by Christine and led towards the Book of Vishanti, which promises the power to oppose Wanda’s black magic, this tome is destroyed, America is captured, and Dr. Strange is forced to turn to another corrupted version of himself, and ultimately the Darkhold, to find the means to keep Wanda from killing America, regardless of the toll such dark magic threatens to extract on his soul.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Loneliness, grief, and desperation are core themes in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness; Dr. Strange maintains that he’s perfectly happy being the Master of the Mystic Arts and with his newfound purpose in life, but it’s clear that he still has feelings for Christine and regrets losing his chance to be with her. All throughout the film, he’s disturbed (but not surprised) to learn that his alternate selves all fumbled their chance at happiness, though the ramifications of this were far more destructive for his counterparts; similar to Strange Supreme from What If…? (Andrews, 2021), Strange’s corrupted doppelgänger was turned towards dark magic after losing Christine and his focus on trying to scour the multiverse for a world where they could be happy directly led to his universe being torn asunder by an “incursion” event, the very thing the Illuminati feared both their Dr. Strange and 616-Strange would cause if he wasn’t put down ahead of time. America’s fear of her powers and of trusting others is directly tied to that traumatic incident in her childhood where she literally swept her parents away in an accidental outburst, and her reluctance to trust Dr. Strange is based entirely on his alternative self turning on her to keep her powers out of Wanda’s hands, so her character arc isn’t just about learning that the ability to control her powers has been within her all along but also about finding a place to belong in the infinite worlds of the multiverse. Finally, Wanda is so desperate to be reunited with her children that she not only allows the Darkhold to corrupt her vast powers but also attacks friend and foe alike, embracing her destiny as the destructive Scarlet Witch and fully prepared to sacrifice America’s life (and the life of her doppelgänger) to be with her children once more.

The multiverse and all its monstrous potential is vividly brought to life in this visual spectacle.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness takes the rules of magic and the snippet of the multiverse we saw in Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: No Way Home and absolutely runs with it; in the years since his debut movie, Dr. Strange’s power and command over magic has vastly increased, meaning he’s able to do far more than just conjure protective shields or glowing whips. Now, he can summon magical buzz saws, demonic hands, animated musical notes and use them as projectiles, and perform all manner of miraculous and visually entertaining feats. Naturally, this makes him an incredibly over-powered character, but the film goes to great lengths to put him in jeopardy by placing even greater, often more monstrous, threats in his path; when Gargantos attacks America, it takes both Dr. Strange and Wong to put it down, which is a feat in and of itself, but even they and their magical cohorts of Kamar-Taj are no match for the full fury of the Scarlet Witch, who leaves an untold number of charred corpses and ashen remains in her wake as she pursues America. When America transports herself and Dr. Strange through the multiverse, the film really starts to come alive; they are blasted through an animated universe, the Quantum realm, the Dark Dimension, a universe where they’re turned into paint, and one where they’re literally pulled apart into tiny pieces. Eventually dumped in the M. C. Escher-esque void between universes and a desolate universe where a devastating incursion has caused reality and physics to fold in on itself, Dr. Strange’s brief and violent tour of the multiverse sees him travelling to strange worlds where society and history are slightly different, characters are noticeably changed, and even possessing the lifeless body of one of his counterparts in order to oppose Wanda. I can certainly see why Wanda’s turn to the dark side probably rattled a few people; I definitely didn’t expect that to happen (or, at least, I thought maybe the reveal that she was behind it all would happen mid-way through or near the end) and I was doubled surprised by just how many references were made to WandaVision since the MCU has notoriously ignored its TV projects in the past. WandaVision was a startling examination of the destructive power of grief, and I think the idea that someone can just get past the sort of trauma Wanda has been through without lasting repercussions is a bit unlikely, and the film definitely paints her as someone in a great deal of pain and corrupted by the Darkhold’s influence. While seeing her match Dr. Strange blow for blow was a great way to showcase her power, having her tear through the Illuminati was an even greater example of her potential threat to the multiverse.

Dr. Strange is forced to use dark magic to keep Wanda from stealing America’s powers and threatening the multiverse.

While it’s clear that many of the Illuminati’s actors weren’t all on set at the same time, it was fun seeing Patrick Stewart back in his iconic role (and accompanied by the nineties cartoon theme, no less) one last time, and to see long-time fan casting John Krasinski portray Mr. fantastic, but it was Anson Mount returning as Black Bolt which really surprised me as I never thought we’d see the Inhumans referenced or included after their disastrous show. Again, you could argue that these characters were “wasted” but I saw them as fun little bits of fan service for long-time fans; I said up top that I get annoyed at other actors not having a crack in these roles, though, so I am still holding out hope that we see a new actor portray Xavier if and when the X-Men are properly introduced to the MCU. Dr. Strange doesn’t come to this decision lightly; all throughout the film, his goal has been to claim the Book of Vishanti to acquire the power to stop the Scarlet Witch but, when it’s destroyed, he’s left with no choice but to turn to the Darkhold possessed by his corrupt alternate self. Transformed into a three-eyed, monstrous version of himself, this alternate Strange has become as consumed by the Darkhold as Wanda and, after his defeat, the lingering question of how the book will affect 616-Strange hangs in the air for the finale. Thankfully, the alternate Christine is on hand to act as his moral compass, encouraging him to utilise the power of the dark spirits seeking to punish him for desecrating his other self’s body, which is enough for him to save Wong from Wanda’s rock monsters and free America before her power (and life) can be consumed. Finally harnessing her incredible powers, America first lashes out at Wanda and then, when she realises she’s no match for the Scarlet Witch, grants the corrupted Avenger her wish and transports her to her boys, who are naturally terrified of this malevolent version of their loving mother. Devastated at seeing them cower in fear of her, Wanda abandons her crusade and, to atone for her heinous actions, willingly brings Mount Wundagore down around her, presumably killing herself in the process (but we never see a body, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t pop up again in some way, shape, or form). in the aftermath, Wong beings repairing Kamar-Taj and training his students (with America among their number, the implications of which could make her one of the MCU’s most powerful characters ever) and Dr. Strange finds a peace with himself after finally admitting to the alternate Christine that he loves her. However, his jovial mood is immediately shattered when he’s crippled by whispering voices and the emergence of a third eye on his forehead like his corrupted counterpart as a result of the Darkhold’s influence, but even this is instantly swept under the rug when, in a mid-credits sequence, a mysterious woman (apparently Clea (Charlize Theron)) demand she help her repair an incursion in the Dark Dimension…

The Summary:
After seeing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I have to commend Marvel for their marketing strategy; while the trailers hinted at Wanda’s turn to the dark side, nothing was made explicit and even the official blurb was little more than a vague statement about the film, so I was very surprised to see her transform into this malevolent, vindictive witch of incredible power. Wanda’s pain and grief are very real and believable, and I was also surprised that the film didn’t shy away from assuming the audience was familiar with WandaVision as a part of her character arc, and seeing her become this malicious force of darkness definitely raises the stakes for the MCU and means that anything can happen to these characters, no matter how heroic they may be. Dr. Strange also had an intriguing arc in the film; torn between his regrets and his duties, he fully commits to protecting America at all costs, no matter the sacrifice and the lingering question over whether he will also succumb to the darkness helps add a fascinating edge to the character as his concerns must be on a far wider scale at all times, necessitating tough choices and questionable actions. The exploration of the multiverse was great; I definitely think the film has established a short-hand for the concept and that future iterations of it will simply be taken for granted going forward, and I did enjoy seeing some new and old faces appear in cameo roles as the Illuminati, which again hints towards some exciting things in the MCU’s future. The film does suffer a little from some pacing and repetitive issues, however; obviously it can’t be all action all the time, but it does slow down to explain its concepts one time too many, and I found the framing of Dr. Strange’s meeting with the Illuminti jarring as it just highlighted that many of the actors weren’t actually there. Leaving Mordo’s vendetta unresolved was also a bit of a disappointment for me, as was the mid- and post-credits sequences, but I’m interested to see these plot threads resolved in a future film and had a blast with the film’s bizarre visuals and bat-shit-crazy moments. Bolstered by some great horror-themed shots and full of fan service and surreal imagery, the film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was an entertaining thrill-ride and absolutely galvanised Dr. Strange as one of the cornerstones of the MCU and, I hope, has opened the door for new versions of some of Marvel’s most popular characters to join this ever-expanding cinematic universe.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness? Are you a fan of the muliverse concept or do you find it a bit too complex? What did you think to Dr. Strange’s character arc and the potential of him turning bad? Were you a fan of America Chavez or do you think she’s a bit too overpowered? What did you think to Wanda’s turn to the dark side and were you disappointed that Mordo was pushed to the side? Which member of the Illuminati surprised you the most and what did you think to their inclusion? Were you a fan of the film’s horror elements? Whatever your thoughts on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, sign up to leave your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media, and thanks for sticking around for Multiverse Madness!

Talking Movies [X-Men Month]: X-Men: Apocalypse


To commemorate, the culmination of their long-running and successful X-Men movies, 20th Century Fox declared May 13th as “X-Men Day”, a day to celebrate all things Mutant and X-Men and celebrate Marvel’s iconic collection of superpowered beings who fight to protect a world that hates and fears them. After exhausting all of their storylines with their original cast, save for Hugh Jackman, 20th Century Fox began producing a series of loose prequels centred on younger X-characters and, to commemorate X-Men Day this year, I’ve been spending the month looking back at the first three entries in this “Beginnings Trilogy” to see if they still hold up today.


Talking Movies

Released: May 2016
Director: Bryan Singer
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $178 million
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Bryne, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Alexandra Shipp, and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

The Plot:
In 1983, the ancient Mutant En Sabah Nur, also known as “Apocalypse” (Isaac), awakens and begins recruiting his “Four Horseman” to bring about an area of Mutant supremacy, forcing Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy) to lead a new team of untested X-Men into battle for the sake of the entire planet.

The Background:
Since debuting in 1963, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s X-Men have seen much success as a live-action franchise, spawning first a trilogy of movies, then two spin-offs focusing on breakout character Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), before Fox created a loose set of prequels that brought in a younger cast to portray the early days of the X-Men. Even before X-Men: Days of Future Past (Singer, 2014) proved a financial success, director Bryan Singer announced the production of a sequel; thanks to a post-credits sequence in that last movie, it was clear (and later confirmed) that the next film would not only focus on long-time X-Men villain Apocalypse but also bring in younger versions of beloved X-Men characters to help populate and expand upon this new, altered timeline for the X-Men franchise. Though it made considerably less at the box office than its predecessor, X-Men: Apocalypse still accumulated a total worldwide gross of over $540 million, more than double the cost of its production. However, unlike the last two movies, reviews were mixed, to say the least; once again falling into the same trap as other X-Men movies of focusing on style and a bloated cast over substance, X-Men: Apocalypse is generally regarded as one of the weaker entries in the franchise, perhaps only eclipsed by its follow-up a few years later.

The Review:
As is the traditional of pretty much all X-Men movies, X-Men: Apocalypse starts off strong enough but, as interesting as its opening sequence (set centauries ago in ancient Egypt) is, I can’t help but feel like it could, maybe, have been skipped and moved to later in the film. It’s one of those things where we get a detailed and visually interesting scene that gives us a glimpse at Apocalypse’s powers and motivations but, later in the film, Moira McTaggart (Byrne) literally sits down with Xavier and Alex Summers/Havoc (Lucas Till) and explains to them what we already know so this opening scene could have been inserted there as a flashback. Still, the film proper takes place ten years after the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past; it’s now 1983 and our main cast hasn’t aged a day. It kind of bugged me how Till didn’t look a day older for his brief cameo in the last film but, here, his character has to be approaching…what? Fifty? Late-forties?…and he still looks no older than twenty-five. The decision to set each of these films in a different decade really shattered any suspension of disbelief the viewer might have had as they could have easily taking place in a ten- or fifteen-year period and it would have been much more convincing.

Despite returning characters pushing forty or fifty, they’re still as young and sexy as the newcomers.

Yet, armed with the knowledge of the future brought to him by, and from the memories of, Logan, Xavier has officially reopened his school and has taken on a few familiar faces: Jean Grey (the delectable Sophie Turner) is now a student of his, Henry “Hank” McCoy/Beast (Hoult) is now a teacher at the school (and inexplicably back to suppressing his blue, furry form despite the last two movies constantly teaching him to embrace his true nature), and Alex brings his younger brother, Scott/Cyclops (Sheridan) to the school when his optic blasts begin to manifest. Although his characterisation has been pretty well defined over the course of the last two movies, Beast still gets a bit of a raw deal in this film; apparently, he’s the one who built all the X-Men’s tech and training facilities (how is never really elaborated on) but his character arc in this film is his disappointment that Xavier has benched the training of new X-Men to defend the world and his growth into a senior member of the new team. We don’t get to learn too much about Jean except that her powers are potentially limitless, to the point where other students fear her, and she is empathetic towards others; her arc culminates in an impressive, if illogical, display of power at the film’s climax that sets her in motion towards her fate in the next movie. Cyclops, though, finally gets a fair deal of focus and development; he starts off as a bit of a bad boy, almost a rebellious, Wolverine-type loner, but quickly warms to his new teammates in the face of the film’s threat.

Xavier has devoted himself to teaching rather than training new X-Men, so of course Mystique becomes their leader…

Xavier, finally wheelchair bound full-time, has also embraced his role as a mentor, teacher, and father-figure to his many young students. Unconcerned with training new soldiers, Xavier believes that the world has changed for the better but quickly learns that his views are blinkered somewhat as his focus is so completely on his own little perfect bubble. When his childhood friend, Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Lawrence), returns into his life to ask him for help in reaching Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Fassbender), Xavier comes to realise that Mutants are still being persecuted and mistreated across the country, and the world, and that the X-Men will be needed to defend those who cannot help themselves. After publicly saving the lives of the President and other high-ranking government officials in the last film, Mystique has become a folk hero for the Mutant community; Ororo Munroe/Storm (Shipp), especially, looks up to her and wants to be just like her. Mystique, however, sees herself as more of a mercenary as she travels the world freeing oppressed Mutants and trying to keep them safe from those who would harm them. Although still closely aligned with Magneto’s cause, she has been forced to forge her own path, one of uncertainty that is filled with doubt about her identity for the first time since X-Men: First Class (Singer, 2011). In an unexpected twist, Mystique ends up coming full circle, learning once again to embrace her true self but also re-joining the X-Men and even ending up as the lead trainer for a new generation of the team. Again, I’m not a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence and the insistence on giving her, and her character, such a big role in the beginnings of the X-Men does irk me, especially as I wanted to see Xavier and Magneto working together in that role in these films.

Once again, Erik starts off having given up his crusade and only turns after suffering another tragedy.

Speaking of Magneto, Erik begins the film poised and ready to strike back against humanity, having assembled and recruited Mutants to his cause. What? Oh, no, that’s right; that’s not what happens. Instead, Erik is now inexplicably a doting husband and father, working as a factory worker in Poland, having retired from his violent life. However, when his powers are revealed to his co-workers, a bunch of townsfolk band together to out and confront him and, with tensions high, accidentally kill his wife and daughter. Angered, he once again reassumes the role of Magneto and quickly falls under Apocalypse’s sway as the ancient Mutant feeds his grief and rage just as he increases his powers tenfold. As I mentioned before, this is pretty much par for the course for Magneto, who begins each of these films in a place of innocence, turns morally grey throughout the film, briefly appears to be the Magneto we all know and love, only to wind up having walked away from his crusade in the next film. Honestly, I find it really contrived and a little insulting that the filmmakers decided to randomly throw in a wife and child for Erik; the guy has already lived through the Second World War, seen his family (and, specifically, his mother) and people slaughtered before his eyes, been tortured and abused, and seen the very worst of humanity so you’d think he had sufficient motivation already but apparently not and he needs to have suffered the loss of his wife, daughter, and idyllic, peaceful, normal life as well. I feel this was only added to the film to pad the runtime, allow new audiences to sympathise with his plight, and to add even more angst and anger to his already complex character. Ironically, Apocalypse later sparks Magneto’s fury further by taking him back to Auschwitz which, for me, would have been enough to get Magneto under Apocalypse’s sway.

Apocalypse certainly looks accurate enough but isn’t as imposing as he should be.

As for Apocalypse…well, there’s definitely a version of him in this film, that’s for sure. Oscar Isaac is a great actor and I always appreciate casting a great actor to elevate a role but I’m not sure if he was really right for this; for one thing, he’s way too short and the filmmakers don’t really make much effort to shoot him in a way that is physically imposing. I applaud them for making him visually interesting and comic accurate rather than just another guy in a suit and tie, and he is clearly the most powerful threat the world has ever seen, but that is also a bit of an issue. Apocalypse’s powers are quite vague; he’s able to transfer his consciousness into the bodies of other Mutants when near death, thus assuming and retaining a variety of abilities, can manipulate the elements, invade the minds of others (but only to a degree), and can vastly enhance the abilities of other Mutants but, while he has a superhuman healing factor, he’s also vulnerable and mortal despite his near-immortality. Thankfully, though, Isaac delivers Apocalypse’s many grandiose speeches with an alluring charisma and he’s definitely bringing a certain quality to the role but I do think an actor of larger build and stature would have been more appropriate and I question whether a character as visually “busy” as Apocalypse really works, but I applaud them for going all-in with his design even if he spends a lot of the film posturing, pandering, and just standing around like a doughnut.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Thanks to Days of Future Past setting the young cast on a divergent timeline, I can now forgive the many, many continuity discrepancies that are present in this film. However, it still bugs me that Logan’s actions in the last film caused Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Hardy) and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee) to be born earlier than they originally were. I assume this decision was made because of the role Angel/Archangel traditionally plays as one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen and the popularity of Nightcrawler (whose abilities and presence has haunted the series since the second film) but, while Nightcrawler gets a fair amount to do and is generally the same kind-hearted character we saw in X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003), Angel is dramatically different. Both characters are introduced as cage fighters, with Angel being a brutal, violent bad-boy; truthfully, he’s a poor substitute for Wolverine despite his similar introduction in the first film and he ends up having less and less of a role as the film goes on, degenerating into just another mindless henchman whose death is hardly even noticed.

What is Apocalypse without his Horsemen? Or an X-Men film without a massive cast?

Speaking of which, as is also tradition for the series, X-Men: Apocalypse features a far bigger cast than its predecessor; there’s something odd when a film about time travel and actors and characters from the original movies meeting those of these new ones juggles its plot and pacing better than a film that focuses only on one set of characters. However, when you do Apocalypse, you obviously have to include his Four Horsemen but, rather than follow their own lead by having him recruit existing characters like Magneto, who have already received a lot of character development, the filmmakers throw in Angel, as mentioned, and have Apocalypse recruit a young Storm and even Betsy Braddok/Psylocke (Olivia Munn). Similar to her appearances in other X-Men films, Storm is criminally under-used in X-Men: Apocalypse; she’s the first Mutant Apocalypse recruits so you’d think she would have a bigger role than just being an angry, lightning-spewing antagonist but she doesn’t really. Her thing is admiring Mystique, which is enough to turn her away from Apocalypse by the film’s end, but that’s still more of an arc than Psylocke who, despite looking fantastic and having some bad-ass moments, could be taken out of the film and you wouldn’t even notice. Unlike Storm, she doesn’t even end up on the new X-Men team by the end and she never appears in the series again, completely wasting an actress like Munn and a character a popular and visually interesting as Psylocke. Also returning is Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Peters) who, despite being in his thirties, still looks and acts like a hyperactive teenager. Now fully aware of his true parentage, he wishes to confront his father, Magneto, but rather than this being the anchor to bring Magneto out of Apocalypse’s control, it is, of course, Mystique who reaches Erik. As a result, Quicksilver is primarily here for another impressive super speed sequence, this time rescuing Xavier’s students when his mansion explodes.

While the visuals and cameos are fun, the film is littered with inconsistencies and wasted potential.

Later, we see just how game-breaking his abilities are as he effortlessly attacks Apocalypse and the writers actually bother to give a decent explanation for why he doesn’t just end the film by himself; Apocalypse breaks his leg, incapacitating him, and necessitating that the rest of the team (but mostly Jean) end Apocalypse’s threat. Jean’s final display of power, while impressive, seems to align with the original trilogy’s narrative that the Phoenix Force is more an extension and manifestation of Jean’s true potential, which means, of course, that the entire next movie completely contradicts what happens here as Jean doesn’t receive her Phoenix powers until the beginning of that film. Still, it’s an impressive moment, one that comes after Xavier finds himself no match for Apocalypse’s vast abilities and must call upon Jean for help. Her role could have been bigger and a bit more of her background explored, however, to help set up for this moment and I almost feel like Nightcrawler could have been dropped from the script to give more screen time to her, but she does get an entire movie dedicated to her in the sequel so I guess that makes up for it. Finally, of course, we see the return of recurring character Colonel William Stryker (Josh Helman); now suddenly shifted back to his original characterisation as a military scientist obsessed with the Mutant threat, Stryker literally drops in out of nowhere and derails the entire plot and pacing of the film for a completely pointless side quest for the new/young X-Men. However, this does also provide us with perhaps the greatest cameo by Wolverine ever; fully garbed in the Weapon X outfit and twisted into a mindless, animalistic killer, Wolverine slaughters Stryker’s men and is only calmed when Jean manages to remind him of a small piece of his past. Still, though, as awesome as this moment was, it really could have been cut or replaced by scenes more relevant to the actual plot.

The Summary:
X-Men: Apocalypse is a decent enough effort but there’s something about its execution that is lacking compared to the last two movies. X-Men: First Class suffered from a bloated cast, similar to its predecessors, but managed to get by through its unique premise and the potential of exploring the early years of these familiar characters but X-Men: Apocalypse is just unnecessarily staked and convoluted. It’s a shame because expectations were quite high after X-Men: Days of Future Past and from the inclusion of familiar X-Men characters and the potential of a villain like Apocalypse. Yet, while Apocalypse is impressive to behold in many ways, the film squanders him, and Oscar Isaac, and bogs down its plot with too many redundant plot lines (particularly those involving Magneto) and under-developed characters. Like X-Men: First Class, the film is far more concerned with rushing through its narrative to establish a more familiar team of X-Men and a future sequel and suffers as a result, descending into mindless, bombastic action that fails to live up to the standards of other X-Men films.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

How did you find X-Men: Apocalypse? Do you agree that it was a step back for the franchise or did you enjoy the film for what it was? What did you think to Apocalypse’s characterisation and the inclusion of more familiar X-Men? Which Apocalypse-centred storyline from the comics or other media is your favourite? Would you like to see the character revisited in a different film? Whatever your thoughts on X-Men: Apocalypse, and X-Men in general, feel free to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies [HulkaMAYnia]: Hulk


Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers, joining teams like the Defenders, and has gone through numerous changes over the years that have added extra depth to the green-skinned behemoth and made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters.


Released: 20 June 2003
Director: Ang Lee
Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Budget:
$137 million
Stars:
Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, and Nick Nolte

The Plot:
After being bombarded with gamma radiation in a lab accident, Doctor Bruce Krenzler (Bana) finds himself transforming into a giant green-skinned creature known as the “Hulk” (Ang Lee) whenever stressed or emotionally provoked. Relentlessly pursued by General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Elliot), he is forced to face his traumatic childhood when his biological father, Doctor David Banner (Nolte), reveals Krenzler’s true identity as Bruce Banner and attempts to harvest his alter ego’s gamma-induced super healing.

The Background:
Created by Marvel Comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby after being inspired by the story of a hysterical mother exhibiting superhuman strength and classic movie monsters, the Hulk initially struggled a bit to find an audience with Marvel readers. After a series of backup features helped him regain a solo title, the Hulk shot to fame thanks to his popular television show. Although The Incredible Hulk was followed up by three made-for-TV movies, development of an all-new Hulk feature film can be traced back to the early nineties, when producers Avi Arad and Gale Anne Herd commissioned a script from writer Michael France for production with Universal Pictures. Jonathan Hensleigh was initially attached to the project, which entered pre-production in 1997 and would see the Hulk battle man/insect hybrids. David Hayter was then brought onboard to rewrite the script and include a number of Hulk’s more recognisable enemies before director Ang Lee joined the project and chose to focus more on Banner’s psychological issues. Unlike the TV show, the Hulk was a digital creation of Industrial Light & Magic, with Lee himself providing motion capture for the creature, something that Bana felt reduced his screen time. Although Hulk’s worldwide box office gross of just over $245 million was relatively profitable, it was met with mixed reviews; the less-than-stellar critical response quashed plans for a sequel and, when the rights reverted to Marvel, Marvel Studios instead opted to produce a complete reboot.

The Review:
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Hulk; I grew up watching The Incredible Hulk’s TV movies, the 1982 and 1996 cartoons and reading stories published in the seventies, and I remember being pretty excited to see his big-screen debut thanks to how heavily Universal Pictures promoted the film. Billboards, trailers, TV spots, and merchandise was everywhere for Hulk, which sold itself as this big, action-packed blockbuster in the making but was actually a far more cerebral and poignant story about nature, nurture, the sins of the father and the dangers of science.

David’s efforts to improve his physical limits alter his son’s DNA and get him locked up for thirty years.

Right off the bat, Hulk makes a few alterations to the Jade Giant’s origins; in this film, he owes a great deal of his existence to the research of Dr. David Banner. Much of this is recounted in the film’s opening credits, which play over a montage showing that David has spent most of his scientific career trying to improve the human body’s ability to regenerate. Although close to a breakthrough, he is denied clearance from a young Ross (Todd Tesen) and, like any good mad scientist, tests his formula on himself. Although he exhibits no noticeable effects, the same can’t be said for his son, Bruce (Michael and David Kronenberg). David’s excitement over this development soon turns to horror, however, and Ross’s continued aggression drives him to take desperate measures to try and find a way to reverse Bruce’s condition.

Having repressed his childhood trauma, Bruce is a boiling pot of conflicting emotions.

When we catch up with the now-adult Bruce, he has no idea of his true parentage or nature thanks to having witnessed his father kill his loving birth mother, Edith (Cara Buono), and spending his entire life repressing this memory. A genius scientist in his own right, Bruce finds himself unknowing working in the exact same field as his father, only Bruce favours gamma radiation in his experiments with “nanomads”. Bruce has recently broken up with his co-worker, Doctor Betty Ross (Connelly), after his tendency to be emotionally distant and closed off pushed her away (though they maintain a generally friendly relationship despite this) and, like his father, he has a tumultuous relationship with the military, especially Glenn Talbot (Lucas). Talbot sees the potential for Bruce’s work to be weaponised, which brings him into conflict with Bruce’s more pacifist motivations.

Transformed, freed, by the gamma radiation, the Hulk personifies Bruce’s repressed emotions.

Clearly a complex and tormented individual, Bruce nevertheless willingly sacrifices himself to shield their lab assistant, Harper (Kevin Rankin), from a burst of gamma radiation; initially attributing the improvements in his physical condition to the nanomads, Bruce is pushed to the edge following pressure from Ross and a visit from his birth father. When his emotions get the better of him, his rage literally explodes out of him, transforming him into a mindless, green-skinned beast of pure unbridled fury. The Hulk is characterised as being the unapologetic, mutated physical expression of Bruce’s repressed trauma and memories; although Bruce barely remembers his time as the Hulk, he is terrified by the appeal of the Hulk’s uninhibited anger and power, but the Hulk just seems grateful to be out in the world and free from the trappings of his puny human self. Despite being a largely silent character, the Hulk is given a great deal of characterisation through his facial expressions and body language; he has a child-like quality to him and is quick to fly into a rage when provoked or upon seeing Betty in danger.

Betty cannot help but be drawn to the emotionally unstable Bruce and cares deeply for his welfare.

Betty finds herself irrevocably drawn to Bruce; she feels an empathy and attraction to his intelligence, emotional instability, and his mysterious past that he adamantly refuses to discuss at every opportunity. While they both share a love for science, they also share a bond in their unresolved issues with their fathers; Ross has successfully managed to ostracise his daughter with his officious and militaristic demeanour and Betty is enraged when he pursues Bruce with a stubborn vendetta. Seeking to protect Bruce and standing by him through her father’s persecution, Betty is nevertheless both captivated and terrified by Bruce’s transformation into the Hulk; this compels her to turn to Ross for help but, when she sees how insane David is, she does everything she can to try and help Bruce piece together his fragmented memories and come to terms with his violent childhood.

David Banner makes for an absolutely reprehensible and deeply personal villain.

Initially appearing to be a devoted scientist and loving husband and father, thirty years in confinement have driven David to near insanity. The film goes to great lengths to explore the depravity of David’s motivations; the cold-hearted disdain he shows towards Bruce makes him positively reprehensible. David’s obsession with improving himself, gaining power, and avenging himself against Ross and the world makes him a hermit-like, bat-shit crazy mad scientist who cares nothing for his son and wants only to harvest his gamma cells. David’s mockery of Bruce in the finale, followed by his enraged outburst, are a perfect example of just how disgusting, twisted, and very personal he is as a villain since he purposely withholds information from Bruce regarding his birth mother. Having lived half of his life blaming his violent actions on others (specifically Ross), David is willing to manipulate, torment, and attack anyone with his gamma minions to attain his goals, to say nothing of exposing himself to Bruce’s blood and research in order to augment his physical form.

A stubborn military man, Ross launches a vindictive crusade to lock Bruce up.

General Ross is probably one of the most stubborn, pig-headed, and aggravating characters ever put to screen. A loyal patriot, Ross has spent his entire career putting his work before his family; hiding behind his uniform, Ross justifies his actions out of his genuine desire to protect Betty from Banner’s dangerous nature. To that end, he pursues Bruce without any evidence that he’s actually guilty of anything and is fully prepared to lock him up just for being his father’s son. When Ross witnesses Banner’s transformation, he sees the culmination of David’s obsession brought to startling life and throws everything he has at the Hulk to try and subdue him. Still, it’s obvious that he deeply cares for Betty but his method of protecting her is mainly to purposely and officiously keep key information from her and to rage at Bruce for doing nothing more than existing. Ultimately, Betty is able to convince Ross just enough to arrange for a face-to-face between the two Banners but, even then, Ross is fully prepared to electrocute them both to death if they show signs of being a threat.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Ang Lee’s decision to incorporate split screens, dissolves, and multiple camera angles into the same scene is definitely a unique one. While many of these make for some unique and entertaining shots, and they do make the film visually interesting compared to others, it can’t be denied that they are used way too often and become quite distracting at times. One thing that Hulk definitely has going for it, though, is the quality of the actors; Sam Elliot is a notable standout and makes for quite the vindictive interpretation of General Ross by exuding authority and bringing a gravitas to the film in every scene he’s in. However, while far from the longest film I’ve ever seen. Hulk does seem to drag a bit in places; Hulk’s more methodical pace means that it’s not really the sort of film I throw on casually or can just have running in the background.

Hulk is a surprisingly cerebral film and takes a deep dive into the character’s psychology.

This is because, unlike the vast majority of superhero films, especially at the time, Hulk is a much more cerebral film; rather than make a mere monster movie or an action-packed extravaganza, Ang Lee explores Bruce’s emotional and psychological trauma, both of which are portrayed as just as important to his becoming the Hulk as his anger and gamma exposure, which is also true of the character in recent Marvel Comics storylines. A slower, methodical film than many were expecting thanks to the trailers and the general understanding of the character, Hulk in many ways seems to be the exact opposite of what makes the character appealing and yet tackles the route of Banner’s complex psychological profile head-on. To me, this makes for a very interesting character study; even I, a big Hulk fan, never really thought about how complicated Banner’s emotional stability was until this film and Lee does a wonderful job of making the Hulk’s appearances a big deal in the film. When Bruce gives in to his anger (masterfully portrayed by Bana’s intense facial expressions), it is presented as a veritable explosion of repressed emotion rather than merely being an action scene for the sake of having one and the film does a surprisingly good job of delving into the traumatic psychology behind Banner and the Hulk to make the character more than just a mindless monster.

Despite some dodgy CGI shots (…and dogs), the Hulk generally looks pretty impressive.

For the most part, the Hulk is quite an impressive digital character; it’s difficult to bring a character like the Hulk to life and not make him appear cartoonish because of his green colouration and immense size but Hulk set a pretty decent standard. Obviously, some shots and sequences are better than others; thanks to poor lighting and deliberate framing, Bruce’s initial transformation is quite impressive…until the Hulk walks into frame and we see him unimpeded. Lee has the Hulk increase in size and stature as his anger grows, just like in the comics but, at times, the Hulk’s green is a little too bright, his skin a little too smooth and unnatural as well, with the scene of him being encased in expanding foam probably being one of the worst shots of the film. Of course, even the worst shot of the Hulk can’t really compare to David’s gamma dogs; no amount of darkness can hide how terrible these slobbering, cartoonish beasts appear and I can’t help but feel it would’ve been better to save some money and give David just the one dog and focus a bit more on the Hulk’s battles against Ross and his military forces.

Sadly, the finale is a confusing mess of wonky CGI and blurry shots.

When out in the desert battling with tanks and helicopters, the Hulk looks amazing and exudes menace and character with the way he toys with the vehicles attacking him. Similarly, his rampage through San Francisco and the way he “melts” down into Banner are equally impressive, especially as this entire sequence is shot in full daylight. It’s disappointing, then, that the finale takes place under murky darkness; having gained the ability to absorb and take on the properties of things he touches, David transforms himself into a creature of pure, ever-transforming energy in a bid to absorb the Hulk’s great strength. Sadly, this robs us of the power and allure of Nolte’s performance since he transforms into a gigantic electrical beast, a rock monster, and a big…bubble…thing. Unfortunately, this final confrontation is absolutely ruined by being too dark and blurry and confusing, which makes it all but impossible to figure out what’s going on. While it probably would’ve been equally disappointing for David to transform into a grey-skinned version of the Hulk, at least that fight might have been a bit easier to follow; instead, it’s a bit of a bewildering and anti-climatic ending as Bruce manages to overload his father with his rage and is then assumed dead in the aftermath, only to wind up treating the sick in South America.

The Summary:
It’s not easy to defend Hulk, to be honest. Many of the character’s best aspects are set aside in favour of a methodical, psychological thriller rather than focusing on action or excitement, and I can totally understand why the film’s slower, more cerebral approach to this of all superheroes would put some people off. However, for whatever reason, I often find myself enjoying this film. The actors all put in great performances, bringing a legitimacy to the source material in a way others might not, and the Hulk himself looks, for the most part, very impressive. Some shots don’t work, some of the CGI hasn’t aged well, and some of the stylistic decisions might be a bit questionable but there’s no denying that Hulk is a visually impressive film, and quite a unique take on the source material and the genre. More of an introspective character study rather than a bombastic action film, Hulk definitely suffered from poor marketing and I feel is well worth revisiting, especially now when superhero films are bigger and more popular than ever. As much as I enjoy Marvel Studios’ interpretation of the character, which basically erased this movie from continuity, I would have been happy to see a direct sequel to Hulk back in the day and still like to set aside a couple of hours and really get to grips with the film’s character study of the Jade Giant.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Hulk? Did you enjoy the film’s slower, more cerebral take on the character or were you put off by the psychological aspects of the film? What did you think to the CGI and the film’s portrayal of the Hulk? Would you have liked to see a sequel to this film or do you prefer the Marvel Studios interpretation? What is your favourite Hulk story, character, or piece of media? How are you celebrating the Hulk’s debut today? Whatever your thoughts on the Hulk, go ahead and leave a comment below and check in next Wednesday for my Hulk content.

Talking Movies [X-Men Month]: X-Men: Days of Future Past: The Rogue Cut


To commemorate, the culmination of their long-running and successful X-Men movies, 20th Century Fox declared May 13th as “X-Men Day”, a day to celebrate all things Mutant and X-Men and celebrate Marvel’s iconic collection of superpowered beings who fight to protect a world that hates and fears them. After exhausting all of their storylines with their original cast, save for Hugh Jackman, 20th Century Fox began producing a series of loose prequels centred on younger X-characters and, to commemorate X-Men Day this year, I’m spending the next few weeks looking back at the first three entries in this “Beginnings Trilogy” to see if they still hold up today.


Talking Movies

Released: July 2015
Originally Released: May 2014
Director: Bryan Singer
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $200 to 220 million
Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Anna Paquin

The Plot:
By 2023, Mutants and their allies have been hunted to near extinction by the mechanical Sentinels. Desperate to avert this dystopian future, Professor Charles Xavier (Stewart) has joined forces with his long-time adversary, Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (McKellen) and opt to use Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat’s (Ellen Page) time-bending abilities to send the consciousness of Logan/Wolverine (Jackman) back to 1973 to team up with their younger selves (McAvoy and Fassbender, respectively) and keep Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Lawrence) from causing the eradication of Mutantkind.

The Background:
Having been an integral part of Marvel Comics since their 1963 debut, the X-Men went on to have success in numerous videogames, cartoons, and a financially successful franchise under the banner of 20th Century Fox. After three blockbuster movies and two successful spin-offs focusing on breakout star Hugh Jackman, Fox opted to bring in a younger cast and shine a spotlight on the early days of the X-Men. With X-Men: First Class (Vaughn, 2011) planned as the start of a new trilogy, development began on a sequel that same year; however, rather than develop Vaughn’s ideas for a more grounded and fitting sequel, series producer Lauren Donner and returning director Bryan Singer set writer Simon Kinberg to work penning an adaptation of the classic “Days of Future Past” (Claremont, et al, 1981) storyline that would see the older original X-Men actors sharing the spotlight with their younger selves thanks to its time travel plot. X-Men: Days of Future Past is, for me, one of the better X-Men sequels and I actually rank it quite high despite my dislike for the dodgy timeline these prequels created, a belief shared by many as the film was met with a generally positive critical response that was matched by its box office gross as the film made over $740 million worldwide, the highest of out any X-Men movie to date (apart from the Deadpool (Various, 2016 to present) spin-offs). A year or so after the film’s release, Fox released The Rogue Cut, an extended version of the film that includes an entire excised subplot concerning Marie D’Ancanto/Rogue (Paquin); as I consider this the definitive version of the film, this will be the cut I am reviewing here.

The Review:
In best Terminator (Cameron, 1984) fashion, Days of Future Past opens to show a dystopian future, a war-torn wasteland where Mutants, Mutant sympathiser, and those who may one day produce Mutants, are relentlessly hunted and killed by massive, fearsome Sentinels. Those that survive are either constantly hounded, unable to defeat this terrifying foe, or experimented on by the very worst of humanity. It’s a bleak and depressing future, one that is decidedly at odds with both Xavier’s dream for human/Mutant cohabitation and Magneto’s dream of Mutant superiority. It is into this hellscape that we are reintroduced to a whole new team of X-Men, many of whom are comprised of old and new faces alike. The purpose of many of these characters is simply to die in horrific ways as the Sentinels carve through stone and metal, incinerating them, ripping them to pieces, skewing them, and constantly adapting to their abilities.

Kitty uses her newfound abilities to help allies and former foes escape from the unstoppable Mutant hunters.

Luckily, though, Kitty has…somehow, it’s never actually explained exactly how in the film…developed her powers of intangibility to the point where she can project a person’s consciousness into their younger self. This power, alongside the heightened senses of James Proudstar/Warpath (Booboo Stewart) and the portal-hopping powers of Blink (Fan Bingbing), has allowed the X-Men to stay just barely one step ahead of the Sentinels. However, when they finally reunite with Xavier, Magneto, Logan, and Ororo Munroe/Storm (Halle Berry), they learn of the true origins of the Sentinels; they were created back in the seventies by a scientist named Boliver Trask (Dinklage) and put into mass production after Mystique executed him on public television. Believing that keeping Mystique from killing Trask would erase their future from history, Logan volunteers to make the trip back into his younger body (as only he can survive such an extended trip) and bring the younger Xavier and Magneto together to steer Mystique away from her dark fate. The concept of Days of Future Past is past meets future; however, fans of the newer, First Class cast should be happy to find that the returning cast members from the original X-Men films don’t overshadow their younger counterparts. The older actors bookend the film, and are peppered throughout, but the majority of the film’s runtime is devoted to the new, younger cast and Logan’s interactions with them to prevent a nightmarish future. As a result, most of the older cast exist solely to deliver exposition or to shock us with their gruesome death scenes; once again, Peter Rasputin/Colossus (Daniel Cudmore) is dealt a shitty hand compared to returning characters like Storm and Bobby Drake/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), who at least have a few lines and play a semi-important role in defending the X-Men from the Sentinels. The new characters follow the same blueprint we’ve seen from nearly every X-Men movie in that they look cool and have cool powers but we no nothing about them and they exist simply to be slaughtered by the Sentinels.

Though Xavier and Magneto are finally united in the future, the young Xavier is a disillusioned addict.

The focus is thus placed on Xavier, who drives the desperate dive into the past, Magneto, who has completely set aside his grudge against Xavier and is now despondent at all the years they wasted pointlessly fighting each other, and Kitty, whose powers anchor Logan in the past. They really sell the desperation and futility of their situation and seeing them all right at the end of their tether is an affecting moment that really helps to motivate Logan in ways we haven’t seen before. Awakening in the past with his bone claws, Logan inexplicably finds himself in America rather than causing waves over in Vietnam; travelling to Xavier’s mansion, he finds the young professor walking but at his wits end. Having fallen into a deep depression after the events of First Class and the outbreak of the aforementioned war, Xavier has become addicted to Henry “Hank” McCoy/Beast’s (Hoult) magic serum, which suppresses his powers and allows him to walk and sleep but has transformed him into a broken shell of his former, and future, self. This positions Wolverine in what is, for him, an uncomfortable position; with the clock ticking against him and frantic to prevent the future he has seen, Logan is forced to guide Xavier back towards his true self. Generally, this take the form of Logan’s trademark tough love but, when he begins to see just how far Xavier has fallen, he allows the younger professor to connect to his mind and converse with his future self in a fantastically poignant scene. Jackman gels really well with the First Class cast, portraying Logan as a blunt, war-weary soldier who has also matured and grown into a role of responsibility and duty. The knowledge that he is the only one who will remember the bad future is haunting as he is fully aware that he will remember seeing all the death and destruction even if their mission succeeds, basically sacrificing his own inner peace for the sake of the world.

While Xavier’s forced to confront his demons, Magneto seems ready to accept his destiny…until the next film…

McAvoy continues to show new sides to Xavier; he ended First Class taking his first steps towards becoming the mentor and father-figure he is destined to be but begins this film as little ore than a disillusioned junkie. Logan’s mission forces him to overcome those demons and also to do something even more difficult: reach out to his childhood friend and true to pursued her to veer from her path and join forces with his former friend, Erik Lehnsherr. At this point, Xavier feels nothing but hatred and resentment for Erik for not only inadvertently crippling him and turning him into the man he has become but also for taking Raven away from him. This is, of course, completely irrational as Xavier told Mystique to go with Erik at the end of First Class but this is actually the point; Xavier’s emotions, anger, and despair have clouded his mind and motivations, blinding him to his own failings. Erik, however, is more than happy to remind Xavier of these failings; once again, Fassbender is a magnetic (no pun intended) presence, dominating every scene he’s in thanks to his cold, calculating countenance and his ominous charisma. In an emotional outburst, Erik chastises Xavier for hiding and cowering in his mansion when their brothers, sisters, and teammates were captured, tortured, and slaughtered by Trask’s experiments, which really sells the idea that Erik is all about protecting and defending all Mutantkind, even those who would oppose him. As I mentioned before, however, Magneto’s story arc is almost exactly as it was in First Class; he begins the film as an ally, turns on his friends, and ends the film as a fully-garbed Magneto ready to enact his will on the world…only for the very next film to find him a doting family man who has retired from his war. It’s a shame, really, and I feel like the script could have been tweaked so that Erik is the one who is destined to kill Trask that solidifies his position as an all-out villain; it’s not that I don’t like Erik’s moral ambiguity and the conflict Fassbender brings to the role, it’s just frustrating to see him end up looking so much like Magneto with such promise for the next movie only to have to go through it all over again.

The battle for Mystique’s soul is as much a part of the plot as Trask and his Sentinels.

After First Class, Jennifer Lawrence shot to superstardom and thus plays a pivotal role in this film; having been working alone to free Mutant prisoners and campaign for Mutant superiority, Mystique uncovers Trask’s experiments and plans for the Sentinels and believes the only logical course of action is to execute the man responsible for so many Mutant deaths (including those of her friends from First Class). Now much closer to her bad-ass, emotionally closed off future self, Mystique rejects both Xavier an Erik when they attempt to stop her and the crux of the movie really becomes a battle for her soul as much as the future as all parties try to keep her from taking her first life and dooming them all. I’m still not a fan of Lawrence, and quite how her power to assume the form of others leads to Sentinels that can adapt to any form of attack is beyond me (Armando Muñoz/Darwin’s (Edi Gathegi) powers would have been more fitting), but her story arc here is quite engaging and she sells the character’s conflicted nature really well. Fulfilling the resident, Mutant-hating human antagonist role is Bolivar Trask, a scientist who views Mutants as a threat to all humanity that can unite the warring nations in a way never seen before. Dinklage is great in this role, portraying Trask as a man of conviction who both admires and fears the potential of Mutants and their threat to humanity. Like every good villain, he is completely convinced that he is in the right and is motivated by a sense of duty and patriotism but there is a sadistic side to him as he has been relentlessly experimenting on and killing Mutants. He is juxtaposed by, who else, but Major William Stryker (Josh Helman); rather than being a military scientist who wants to round up and experiment on Mutants (or being played by Danny Huston as he should have been considering where the character was at this point), Stryker is more like Trask’s muscle. In many ways, it feels like Trask has usurped Stryker’s usual role, which makes Stryker’s inclusion pretty pointless save for causing Wolverine to freak out. Of course, the film’s big selling point is the inclusion of the Sentinels; these massive Mutant hunting machines were hinted at (as was this entire storyline) in X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner, 2006) but it still blows my mind that we got to a point where an X-Men movie would not only use time travel and the “Days of Future Past” storyline but the Sentinels as well. They appear in two forms here, the sleek, super-adaptive, semi-mimetic poly-alloy, relentless killers of the future and the large, bulky, more comic-accurate machines of the past. Personally, I prefer the latter and feel like an army of those would have been just as pressing a threat and would have negated to need to focus so hard on Mystique’s unique X-Gene, but the threat of the Sentinels is a very palpable one as we see how unstoppable they become in the future. Of course, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that the government would either not put them into mass production for some fifty years or that they would not reactivate the program when Magneto emerged as a real threat but the comic book nerd in me finds their presence very exciting nonetheless.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Well, while McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, and Hoult all get a good innings and time to shine, other characters from First Class aren’t so lucky; with the exception of Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till), who returns in a brief cameo, all of the Mutants from the previous film have died between movies, victims of Trask’s experiments. This is quite a kick in the teeth as we could have seen these characters actually develop and progress but, instead, they are unceremoniously killed off to fuel Mystique’s lust for vengeance and Magneto’s desire for Mutant supremacy. On the other hand, though, it does mean that the film does a far better job of juggling its cast of characters, putting the focus on Xavier, Erik, and Mystique with Logan along for the ride to remind us of the stakes.

Quicksilver is a breath of fresh air for the franchise who needed a far bigger role.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an X-Men movie without the gratuitous introduction of a brand new Mutant and, in this case, we get one of the best and yet more disappointing inclusions yet: Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters). A superfast kleptomaniac, Quicksilver is an energetic ball of fun in a film that is generally quite serious due to its stakes. His powers also allow for a fantastic scene in which he travels so fast that the rest of the room appears to be stationary, a sequence that, perhaps, rivals the opening of X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003). Unfortunately, though, so great are Quicksilver’s powers in this film that the movie would be over too quickly if he were to play a larger role so, after helping break Erik out of his special prison, the film promptly ditches Quicksilver with the weakest of explanations. Like, I get it but he’s such a cool, fun, and interesting character that I would have much preferred the writers find a way to incorporate him rather than just taking the easy, lazy route out.

Rogue takes over after Kitty is injured, reuniting with Logan in the process.

Still, at least Quicksilver made it into the film; Rogue was reduced to a mere cameo in the theatrical cut but, here in The Rogue Cut, plays a pivotal role when Logan’s violent thrashing critically wounds Kitty, forcing Iceman and Magneto to go off on a side mission to rescue Rogue and have her take Kitty’s place. It’s nice to see the footage cut back into the film and helps to remind us of the stakes in the bad future but I can kind of see why it was cut as it is kind of unnecessary. They could have simply replaced one of the new future X-Men, like Sunspot (Adan Canto) with Rogue and had the best of both worlds but at least it leads to a tender reunion between Rogue and Logan.

Logan awakens in a good future that is, sadly, destined to also end in ruin…

Probably the biggest missed opportunity of Days of Future Past, however, is that the filmmakers don’t use the time travel plot more to their advantage to explain the discrepancies in the time line. They try to but only in relation to the future events rather than those of established canon, and Logan’s journey to the past clearly creates at least two new timelines (one for the younger cast and one for the older cast that, despite appearing idyllic, eventually turns just as bleak and dour as the Sentinel-ruled future), but they could easily have used this as an excuse to correct the existing continuity as well. Instead, we find Logan not in the middle of fighting alongside Team X or Xavier and Erik not working together at the school; in fact, the film’s ending goes out of its way to basically erase X-Men: The Last Stand and The Wolverine (Mangold, 2013) from continuity, which is actually quite lazy as The Wolverine proved there was still a lot of mileage to be made in dealing with The Last Stand’s ending, and although it refers to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hood, 2009), it pretty much pretends like that film didn’t happen and right when it ends with the ominous implication that seventies-Logan ends up in Stryker’s custody it’s revealed it’s actually Mystique posing as Stryker…despite the fact that Wolverine does end up Stryker’s prisoner in the next film.

The Summary:
X-Men: Days of Future Past successfully brings the two X-Men casts together in one era-spanning action/adventure; the stakes have never been higher and the calibre of acting never more affecting as two generations of X-Men seek to prevent a nightmarish future. It doesn’t do much to correct the existing canon; in fact, it actually screws up way more than it fixes with the new timeline it creates and repeats quite a few of the things I disliked about X-Men: First Class as well as making a few new ones (such as killing characters off-screen and dramatically expanding on Mystique’s importance). Yet, like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there’s just something about this film that I really enjoy. It’s bombastic and action-packed at times but there’s more a sense of ominous foreboding, that the future is an inevitable tide the characters cannot fight against, that lends a lot of weight and urgency to the plot. Jackman’s interactions with the younger X-cast are fantastic, placing his character in an uncomfortable position where he finds himself having to inspire his future mentor and fighting against an enemy that he can’t just slice to ribbons with his claws. Is it a perfect movie? No, of course not; it’s an X-Men film and those rarely manage to be perfect because of one reason or another. Do I think it was too early to do this storyline and mash these casts together? Absolutely. And yet, this is easily in my top five (maybe even top three) X-Men movies purely for the thrill of seeing the past and the future collide, the presence of the Sentinels, and the fact that it ties up one storyline while setting up an entirely new timeline of events.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think of the Rogue Cut of Days of Future Past? Do you think it is superior to the theatrical cut or do you, perhaps, not care for its additional plot points? What did you think of integrating the old and new X-Men casts together? Were you also a bit confused about Kitty’s sudden ability to time travel? What are your thoughts on the “Days of Future Past” storyline from the comics? Which X-Men storyline would you like to see adapted to film one day? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below, and pop back next week for one last X-Men review.