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
Warner Bros. / Columbia-Cannon-Warner-EMI Distributors
$17 million
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.


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
Warner Bros. / Columbia–EMI–Warner Distributors
$39 million
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: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Talking Movies

In 2013, director Zack Snyder released his gritty, modern interpretation of Clark Kent/Superman after a long hiatus and after Superman Returns (Bryan Singer, 2006) almost killed the franchise with ridiculous plotlines and nonsensical decisions. Man of Steel caused quite a deal of controversy for its darker, more grounded approach and the massive amounts of destruction caused by the battles between Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon). Personally, I enjoyed the movie for making Superman awesome again and showcasing the impact of super-powered beings doing battle in highly-populated areas. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice follows-up on Man of Steel’s themes and narrative by introducing the first-ever live-action meeting between the two iconic superheroes. It should be noted that this post is going to be full of spoilers and talk about the film’s narrative, so if you haven’t seen the film then it’s probably best not to read on further. With the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (2004 to 2012), the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman was taken up by Ben Affleck in a casting decision that also caused a stir of controversy, mainly due to Affleck’s previous work on Daredevil (Johnson, 2003). Personally, this decision riled me the wrong way. While I actually enjoyed Daredevil (especially The Director’s Cut), I cannot say that I am much of a Ben Affleck fan; also, I felt that his casting took the role away from other actors who could have shined in that sort of role. Basically, this casting felt like the producers were trying to leech of Affleck’s star power.

The loss of Robin has affected Bruce’s attitude, just as it did in the comics.

However, Affleck’s portrayal of Wayne/Batman is a true gem of a surprise; Affleck plays an older, grizzled, veteran Batman who is constantly haunted by nightmares, fatigue, and inner turmoil. In the film, Wayne has been Batman for about twenty years; Gotham has gone to hell despite his presence (Wayne Manor is dilapidated, for reasons unknown, and the Gotham Police Department is similarly run-down and seemingly abandoned) and his approach towards his vigilantism has become cruel and violent. This is not just due to his age but also to the dramatic shift in Wayne’s entire persona and attitude after the loss of his partner, Robin, at some point in the past. As a result, Batman (refreshingly commonly referred to as “The Bat” on numerous occasions) tortures and brands criminals in his night-by-night activities and, at a number of points in the film, brandishes firearms and racks up quite the body count. If people were pissed that Michael Keaton’s Batman killed people back in the day, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see Affleck’s Batman attract some debate given that he clearly guns down, blows up, and drives through quite a few goons. Personally, again, I have no problem with that because of the movie’s context. Batman is older, admittedly slower; he’s worn down by age, weariness, and his new mission in life: mainly, the destruction of Superman. It transpires that Wayne was present during the events of Man of Steel and witnessed Superman and Zod’s fight devastating Metropolis, causing the deaths of numerous Wayne employees.

Affected by the events of Man of Steel, Batman makes it his mission to end Superman.

As a result, despite the protestations of his ever-loyal butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Batman has decided to view Superman as a potential threat that doesn’t need stopping…he needs killing. It doesn’t help Wayne’s mindset that he is constantly haunted by nightmares of not only the deaths of his parents (as standard) but also visions of a dystopian future where Superman rules as a tyrant. These visions are given further credence not only by a surprise visit by Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) in a scene straight out of Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) where he warns Wayne of this apocalyptic future and urges him to “find us”, but also through the machinations of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).

During the Crisis, the Flash appeared to Batman and warned of the coming events.

Given the controversy caused by Man of Steel, the world is suitably divided by Superman’s presence. A big side plot in the film is the world’s views on Superman; while many view him as a hero, saviour, and messianic figure, others are also fearful of his presence and uncomfortable with his status as an all-powerful alien who answers to no one. While Batman comes to represent the extremes of the latter, Superman’s extended family – the ever-pretty Amy Adams and Lois Lane and his mother, Martha (Diane Lane) – represent the former, urging Clark to be a symbol of hope and/or remove himself from the equation entirely and leave the world to its own issues. Luthor capitalises on the divide that Superman causes and works it to his advantages; through his devious machinations, Luthor gains access to the remains of Zod’s Kryptonian ship, the body of Zod himself, and frames Superman as a destructive force through a series of terrorist actions. This is aided by the general consensus that, because Superman acts as an independent force, his actions have consequences for the rest of the world that led to a number of deaths, a fact that weighs heavily on Superman’s conscience and his belief in himself and what he’s doing.

Separated at birth?

For me, the casting of Eisenberg is the exact opposite of Affleck’s: while I generally believed that he could bring something unusual to the role, he is less of a gem and more of a scenery-chewing, ham-fisted version of the character. In his defence, I was glad to see that he wasn’t the corporate, suit-wearing version; Eisenberg brings a manic, hyperactive energy to the role that masks his true, devious intentions; however, while it kind of portrays the character as a quirky, eccentric tycoon, it lends itself more to Jim Carrey’s over-the-top acting from Batman Forever (Schumacher, 1995) people continue to lament to this day. Luthor, implied to be from observing how often Superman saves Lois Lane from danger, pieces together Superman’s secret identity and kidnaps his mother and places Lois in peril in order to bend Superman to his will. He has also been fuelling Wayne’s thirst for blood by manipulating him over time, effectively setting the two against each other in order to publically discredit and shame Superman. However, Luthor’s ultimate plot involves not only the discovery of Kryptonite (which Wayne manages to intercept and use to his own advantage) but also the genetic tampering of Zod’s remains. Accessing forbidden Kryptonian technology, Luthor creates a hulking genetic monstrosity whose sole purpose is to kill Superman: he creates Doomsday.

Doomsday serves as the penultimate threat of the film.

Doomsday, whom many online have criticised as being shoe-horned in to unite the central characters, also surprised me. When I first saw the footage of Doomsday from an earlier trailer, I lamenting his presence as it causes so many issues. People have been asking me over the last few years how Batman and Superman can fight and I have explained, over and over, that the two have not only fought numerous times in the comics but also that Batman has often come out on top more than once. Superman, for all his powers, is fallible and has numerous weaknesses; Doomsday, however, traditionally has no such weaknesses and, in a fight against him, the most useless ally you would want would be Batman. However, the film’s version of Doomsday is markedly different; it’s somewhat weaker, physically, and vulnerable to Kryptonite but remains as immensely powerful as ever, if not more so. Doomsday emits concussive blasts of heat energy, seems to float or straight-up fly a few times, and expels shockwaves of energy every time it evolves to repair from damage and attacks. In Superman’s favour, he learns from Man of Steel and attempts to take Doomsday into space and away from the planet; however, this plan is foiled by the governmental decision to nuke them once their out in orbit, which brings Doomsday back more powerful than ever. Joining Superman and Batman to oppose Doomsday is Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who appears at numerous points in a sub-plot concerning her attempts to retrieve vital data of metahumans from Luthor.

Miller’s influence on Snyder is painfully obvious.

It turns out that Luthor has kept tabs on Barry Allen/the Flash, sightings of Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and the augmentation of Victor Stone into Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and is eager to keep Luthor from eliminating these metahumans. In service of this, she runs into Wayne at numerous points, who discovers that Diana has been around for about a hundred years and is more than she seems. Diana opts to interject herself into the conclusion and assist Batman and Superman, relishing the battle against Doomsday. For the first-ever live-action portrayal of Wonder Woman, Gadot bring both beauty and strength; while her casting also attracted controversy, she was actually portrayed very well and as integral to not only this film but also the formation of the upcoming Justice League. However, the primary title of this movie involves the fight between Batman and Superman. These two clash immediately due to their ideals and approaches and because of Wayne’s vendetta against Superman, but don’t actually come to blows until the third act. For this battle, Snyder draws implicitly from The Dark Knight Returns (Miller, 1986); Batman dons a cybernetic suit exactly as in the comic, blasts Superman with Kryptonite gas as in the comic, and beats him into submission just like in the comic. I guess, in execution, the fight between the two comes across as very similar to the showdown in Freddy vs. Jason (Yu, 2003) in that the entirely film builds the tension towards the confrontation, and builds it some more, and, when the tension finally snaps, it is a very satisfying event.

Superman famously died in battle against Doomsday in 1992.

Batman, as mentioned before, is violent and aggressive in his fighting style; his combat prowess is ripped straight from the Arkham series of videogames (Rocksteady Studios/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, 2009 to 2015) and there is no question that, once Superman is suitably weakened, Batman is the superior fighter. Superman, in a change of pace, shakes off the effects of Kryptonite over time and it merely weakens him, rather than kills him. However, that’s alright because Batman is more than willing to stab a Kryptonite spear through Superman’s head! Batman bests Superman, beating him into submission, and is poised for the kill before Superman begs him to save his mother after the fact and Lois rushes in to help clear the air. It is at this moment that Batman comes to his senses and realises that Superman is a selfless man trying to do good; however, this revelation comes off quite rushed. Indeed, once the revelation that Wayne and Clark’s mothers share the same first name (a point I had never actually considered or thought of before) is brought up, Wayne does a complete turn around. Not only is he now willing to assist Superman’s causes, he also pledges to unite the other metahumans in honour of Superman’s penultimate sacrifice.

Oh, didn’t I mention that Superman dies?

Well, honestly, I was pleasantly surprised that Snyder saw this through as totally as he did. As I said on numerous occasions before the movie came out, you cannot involve Doomsday and not do The Death of Superman (Jurgens, et al, 1992) from the comics. Doomsday’s entire purpose is to kill Superman; leaving that out would be like using bane and not having him break Batman’s back. In fact, one of the major issues I had with Smallville (2001 to 2011) using a version of Doomsday was that it obviously wouldn’t be killing Clark (Tom Welling) and would be portrayed as another “villain-of-the-season”. Here, Doomsday and Superman kill each other through mutual impalement; this heroic act brings Batman entirely over to Superman’s cause. It also (through the effective use of a military/state funeral, the more emotional funeral in Smallville, and the montage of reaction shots to the news of Superman’s death) turns Superman into a matriarchal symbol of hope and heroism, effectively ending the divisive conflict he caused in life.

Smallville‘s Doomsday was an abomination.

Of course, a two-part Justice League movie is scheduled to begin filming soon and Superman is already confirmed as being part of the line-up. As a result, the film’s final shot is of Superman’s grave trembling slightly, signalling his inevitable return (and without the four bogus clones as in the original story, one would assume). However, the fact that Snyder actually had the balls to do The Death of Superman, in my mind, completely justifies and exonerates the inclusion of Doomsday. It wasn’t just some half-assed inclusion there to be brought down by the trinity of superheroes; it was there to unite them, the Justice League, and the world by killing Superman, so kudos for that. Visually, the film is actually quite magnificent; say what you will about Snyder as a storyteller, the man knows how to be cinematic. Batman shines the most throughout because of this, being shot in pitch black and having his action scenes be energetic and clear to see. Snyder’s visual symbolism extends to Superman as well; while the God and Christ metaphors have been done to death with Superman, here they actually have relevance in the plot so they don’t come off as cheap or superficial. The visual dichotomy of the film is wonderfully done; the contrast between Metropolis and Gotham City is apparent, the costumes all pop out and appear functional, and Batman’s weapons and gadgets are showcased to the fullest.

It really feels as though the film-makers held nothing back (except for the half-hour of cut footage rumoured to be on the home release) and that has, in the eyes of many, caused more controversy. I have heard of critics attacking the film for being “choppy” at the start, shoe-horning in the Justice League elements and Doomsday, and having nonsensical decisions woven into the dialogue, script, and plot. To them, I say, these are valid points in some cases. However, I never experienced any issues with the pacing or the editing; sure, it’s a long film, but films are these days and, when you’re enjoying a movie, that’s not a bad film. I found myself engaged with the plot; I wanted to know more about Wayne Manor, Gotham, and Batman (which is a perfect way to re-introduce this version of the character and will be expanded upon in future DC films), I followed along easily enough with Luthor’s plot and the side-plots involving the Justice League, and never felt that anything else done an injustice or there for the sake of it. The fact is that DC and Warner Bros. are very late to the shared universe party; Marvel Studios have gained the upper hand after building their individual heroes separately and now having them cross over regularly. While DC’s television efforts are popular and are beginning to cross over, their television shows will not be a part of this forthcoming DC film universe and the studio, which has largely been happy to produce mainly Batman and Superman movies after the lacklustre reception of Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011), doesn’t have the time or the release schedule to introduce the Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg or the other Justice Leaguers. Instead, what will set DC movies apart from Marvel’s from now on is their cross-connectivity and their immediate focus of having their films and character converge right off the bat, which could make for some exciting future releases.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Overall, yes, this film has some flaws but nowhere near as many as I was expecting and it certainly doesn’t deserve the critical backlash it is currently facing. It re-introduces Batman, presenting a grizzled, more violent version of the character who seems just as mental as the villains he faces, and brings more humanity and empathy to Superman. The visual presentation is top-notch, more than making up for any narrative deficiencies, and the thematic portrayal of both characters is largely in keeping with their portrayals in several prominent comic books, even the vaunted Dark Knight Returns. Snyder had the balls to do new thins with this movie: he incorporates Robin (no one knows which one but, most likely it was Jason Todd, meaning Nightwing could be active in this universe), a character no one has used in film for nearly ten years (and that’s just criminal); he utilised Doomsday to its fullest extent; he addressed and upped the scale of destruction from Man of Steel; and the apocalyptic future witnessed by Wayne, which is implied to be the result of Superman’s actions (somehow), and Luthor’s manic rant at the end (I half-expected him to announce that “a Crisis is coming”) lend credence to the rumours that the Justice League will come together to battle Darkseid. Make no mistake, the DC movies are a violent one where actions have consequences and the heroes amongst us may cause more trouble than the villains but it is one soon to be united by heroes and villains alike and, for the first true attempt and making headway towards a Justice League movie, I would say that Snyder has delivered on all fronts.

Recommended: Sure, why not? The film is beautifully shot, exciting, and engaging. It’s maybe not the best-paced film and has it’s issues, but it’s Batman…versus Superman!
Best moment: Easily the entire final act of the film from the titular clash between the two heroes, into Batman’s vicious rescue mission, through to the Trinity joining forces against Doomsday.
Worst moment: Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor totally ruins what should have been a far more cerebral, menacing characterisation.

Screen Time: Superheroes on Television

Okay, I’ll admit: I’ve never been a big fan of superhero properties on television. Growing up, I never watched The Incredible Hulk (1977 to 1982) as it was never on television when I was a kid – the closest I got were the three made-for-television movies that came out of it (which, incidentally, I liked as a kid). Similarly, the only exposure I had to the old Amazing Spider-Man television show (1977 to 1979) was from the three “movies” that came out of it. In fact, probably the only superhero television show I was regularly exposed to as a kid was, of course, the 1960’s Batman show and even that was primarily through the movie. No, as a kid, I grew up watching superheroes in animation: Batman: The Animated Series (1992 to 1995), the ‘90’s Spider-Man cartoon, ad basically all of the Marvel properties at the time. That was where it was at; animation was much, much closer to the comic books than anything in live action at the time, even compared to the live action movies that were coming out as I grew up. When Smallville (2001 to 2011) first started airing, I pretty much gave it the pass by. I watched a few of the early episodes, but not much more. This really came out at a time when I was in my mid-teens, I believe, when loads of teen-centric shows were on E4 and the like (One Tree Hill (2003 to 2012), Dawson’s Creek (1998 to 2003), all that stuff) and I didn’t have time for any of it. Smallville easily fit into those categories, which was enough for me to ignore it, but when I did flick on to it over the years I became increasingly turned off by the deviations from the source material and the creative licensing taking place on the show.

Smallville got way more interesting once it included more comic book elements.

Ironically, I believe that Smallville actually did improve over time, especially by referencing and including more comic book-related stuff, but when I realised it had hit the ninth series and Clark Kent (Tom Welling) was no longer living in Smallville, was working at the Daily Planet, basically married to Lois Lane (Erica Durance), and saving lives daily in multiple variations of his eventual Superman costume, and yet despite all this he was not Superman, I was irked, to be frank. I never quite understood the logic of making a show that is about a young Clark Kent, that charts his journey from an unsure teen to the eventual saviour of humanity, and yet never actually evolved into a Superman show for the last season even though it practically was given that Clark was battling Davis Bloome/Doomsday (Samuel Witwer), of all people, and chumming around with Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Justin Hartley). The final episode finally capitalised on this and had Clark assume his birthright to defeat Darkseid, but many were disappointed that we never got a decent shot of him as Superman. I guess they were trying to avoid degenerating into Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993 to 1997) but, surprisingly, I enjoyed that show as a kid – it struck a very similar balance between drama and superheroics and didn’t have half of the comic book inclusions as Smallville and, if I’m not mistaken, was pretty popular and successful at the time.

I didn’t start watching Arrow right away.

Anyway, after Smallville ended, I watched a few re-runs and my 50/50 split of the show only increased. Simultaneously, there were persistent rumours that Warner Bros. were trying to fill the gap with a potential Batman prequel show, following a young Bruce Wayne (apparently this was even the initial pitch for Smallville but Batman was toxic at the time due to Joel Schumacher), one that charted a pre-Robin Dick Grayson, an attempt at an Arthur Curry/Aquaman and Bart Allen/The Flash spin-off, and even a Green Arrow series! Ultimately, only one came to fruition but, rather than a spin-off featuring Hartley’s Green Arrow, we got an entirely new, unconnected series depicting the origin and evolution of the Emerald Archer. Again, I don’t recall actually watching much of Arrow when it first aired as it conflicted with work and my life and such, but I did watch the first episode at least, an a few episodes here and there. My resistance to Arrow stems from the fact that Warner Bros. seem to desperately want to make a Batman television show but were unable to due to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films (2005 to 2012), so they used Green Arrow as a substitute. This rubbed me the wrong way, as Green Arrow – or “The Hood”, or “The Arrow”, or “The Archer”, or “Steve” – (Stephen Amell) would frequently clash not with classic Green Arrow villains but with Batman villains – Deathstroke (Manu Bennett) was a prominent villain in the fist season, just as he had been in Smallville and Teen Titans. Now, in the comics, Green Arrow initially did start out as a rip off of Batman – he had an Arrow-Cave, an Arrow-Mobile, a kid sidekick, and even an Arrow-Signal. However, for far longer, Green Arrow has been portrayed as a street-level vigilante who targets the corrupt and those untouchable by law, frequently killing them, and protecting the “little people”. This has existed alongside the more adventurous version that was a member of the Justice League; Green Arrow’s right-wing sensibilities and strong moral beliefs often clashed with other, more conservative superheroes, and his everyday life as Oliver Queen, multi-millionaire, often facilitated his vigilante actions through urban renewals and the like. Arrow follows some of this tangent, with Queen returning to “Starling City” after being marooned on an island (and, later, in Hong Kong) and surviving against nature and a clandestine organisation using the impractical weaponry of a simple bow and arrow. Queen’s mission is to take down the corrupt of the city and avenge his father’s death, which means he kills a great deal of people in the name of the greater good, which I agree with and like – Green Arrow has often been portrayed as a slightly more morally-unhinged version of Batman and, for all their similarities, they have often clashed because of this.

Arrow has become much more of a team-based affair.

As Arrow went on, I largely ignored it because I didn’t agree with the seeming lack of faith Warner Bros. had in the character or the series. Like Smallville before it, the show avoids naming its titular hero even though he was popularly known as Green Arrow in Smallville. I’m sure there’s the case for this, that the show is meant to show Queen’s progression from a simple vigilante to the city’s hero (things like him upgrading his tech, adopting an actual mask, and renouncing killing support this) but why not just call him Green Arrow?  Ironically, I actually dislike the Green Arrow moniker as it’s kind of redundant – he wears green and shoots arrows, no shit!  Much like Green Lantern, I have an aversion to superheroes who preface their name with a colour and much prefer the show’s moniker of “The Hood” as it’s far more fitting. I got more into Arrow as the second season drew to a close due to the inclusion of Roy Harper/Arsenal (Colton Haynes) and the series-changing events initiated by Slade Wilson/Deathstroke (Manu Bennett). With Deathstroke having practically levelled the city and Queen basically poor, the show had raised its stakes for season three. Additionally, Queen had built a tight-knit group of allies, with Roy actually adopting the suit and outfit of Arsenal to become his sidekick! After years of Batman movies dodging, avoiding, criticising, and suppressing Robin, we finally had a depiction of a young teen sidekick that fit and actually made sense. My hope is that Arsenal’s inclusion and increased exposure will relax the embargo surrounding Robin and Nightwing at Warner Bros. and allow for their inclusion in their stupidly-unconnected series of DC films.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still tenuously related to the larger MCU.

Now, a big part of the reason I avoided Arrow was also because of the growing Marvel Cinematic Universe, which eventually spread into television with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to 2020). After the events of The Avengers/Avengers Assemble (Whedon, 2012) Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is revealed to be alive and builds a team of agents to investigate supernatural, paranormal, extraterrestrial, and superhuman incidents across the globe. The main thrust of the first series was the team coming together, leaning to trust each other, and the quest for answers regarding Coulson’s resurrection. However, this soon overlapped with the emergence of Hydra agents within the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.LD.), which crossed over with the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Russo and Russo, 2014), which saw the destruction of S.H.I.E.LD. Many supporting characters, and main character Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), were revealed to have been Hydra agents, and the unlimited resources available to Coulson were stripped away by the end of season one. Simultaneously, it is revealed that Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) used an experimental serum and procedure, derived from an as-yet-unnamed alien source (it was recently revealed to be of Kree origin), to facilitate Coulson’s resurrection – this same serum drove HYDRA double agent Dan Garrett (Bill Paxton) mad and gave him superhuman abilities. Season one also included a side plot detailing the origin of a version of Mike Peterson/Deathlok (J. August Richards), a cyborg created to assist Garrett who eventually overcame his programming. Season two features a smaller team, with new characters, who are attempting to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. and uncover further truths behind their pasts, and future, as Coulson continually suffers from episodes induced by the alien serum that lead him, like Garrett, to scrawl strange alien symbols.

The Flash became my favourite of the DC TV projects.

Truthfully, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is far from perfect, or great. The best things about the show are the dialogue, which is witty and clever and full of Whedon-isms, the references and inclusion of lesser-known comic books characters (again, Deathlok…Deathlok, of all people!), and the fact that it ties directly in to the largely Marvel Cinematic Universe. Events from the films are often referenced directly in the show, supporting characters often appear, and it really feels as though the show is helping to build and expand upon the Marvel Cinematic Universe even though it is highly unlikely that any of the characters featured on the show will appear in the films. As a result, the show doesn’t feel “pointless”, unlike Warner Bros.’ efforts. After guest starring in Arrow, Grant Gustin returned as Barry Allen in his own spin-off, The Flash, which I initially decided to watch over Arrow as I was pretty sure there was no way they could shoe-horn in unfitting Batman elements into the show. The Flash is, in many ways, a carbon copy of Arrow; very quickly (hah!), like Queen’s base at Verdant, Barry based his team in Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs) nd has a team of specialists and supporting characters helping him that are analogous to Team Arrow and Oliver’s associates. The principal difference is The Flash’s inclusion and portrayal of metahumans. Barry gained superhuman speed after being struck by lightning during an explosion at S.T.A.R. Labs, which resulted in a wave of radiation emanating out from Dr. Harrison Wells’ (Tom Cavanagh) particle accelerator. The wave affected many members of Central City, bestowing them with superhuman abilities, and it is up to Barry and his team to subdue or assist all of them. This is in contrast to Arrow, which largely avoids metahumans for corrupt officials, ninjas, and grounded, street-level threats. Exceptions are usually the case of serums and scientific experiments, or clandestine organisations like the League of Assassins (another Batman-orientated organisation!). The Flash aired alongside Arrow’s third season, and the two frequently overlap and interact – characters often appear on both shows, which has increased my stake in both and, alongside the fact that they both air on days I can watch them, means I can now follow both.

I wasn’t a fan of Gotham

Alongside The Flash, Warner Bros. finally got their Batman-prequel series underway with Gotham, which follows a young James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) in a pre-Batman Gotham City. This series is completely unrelated to The Flash and Arrow, however, and the three do not occupy the same continuity. Like The Flash, however, Gotham (2014 to 2019) had numerous problems with pace, particularly in the first episode. Both debut episodes threw so much at the viewer, introduced so many characters, plot lines, and comic book references that even I, an avid comic book fan, felt overwhelmed and actually a little insulted. Arrow took its time establishing Queen, his city, and his crusade – despite how much it annoys me that he isn’t known by the right name and constantly feels like a Batman substitute, I can’t fault Arrow for pace. Like Smallville before it, the show has been around a while now and has established a tone, pace, and atmosphere and can now afford to become more “comic book” and introduce more comic book elements – Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) debuted in season three, hinting at the possibility of The Atom appearing at some point. The Flash, however, opened by throwing everything at us all at once: Barry’s mother was killed by a mysterious man-in-lightning when he was a boy, his father (John Wesley Shipp, from the old Flash TV series!) was arrested for it, Barry was raised by Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) alongside his daughter, Iris (Candice Patton), whom Barry has been in love with for years. Barry grew up to become a forensic scientist, he was struck by the lightning, went into a coma, and when he woke up, Iris was dating Joe’s partner, Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), and Barry secretly began working with Dr. Wells and his team to subdue metahumans…oh and, also, there’s all the mystery surrounding Wells’ true motivations.

Gotham‘s Penguin doesn’t really do it for me.

Think that’s a lot to take in in one episode? Try Gotham, which debuted with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s (David Mazouz) parents, Gordon’s initial partnership with the corrupt detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), the tension between Gordon and his girlfriend regarding both his police work and her past as a lesbian, the suspicious of the Major Crimes Unit about Gordon, the length and breadth of Gotham’s corruption, the introduction of Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) as a cat-like street urchin, Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) as a riddle-spouting forensic scientist, Oswald Cobblepott (Robin Lord Taylor) as a limping “Penguin” who angers his mob bosses, and Wayne’s stern-yet-protective butler Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee). Gordon, moved by Bruce’s plight, pledges to find his killer and is set up to kill a patsy, the father of a girl who greatly resembles Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy, by the mob. The mob consists of Carmine Falcone (John Doman) and Salvatore Maroni (David Zayas), who have both the police department and the mayor on the payroll, but is principally represented by “Penguin’s” boss, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), who is scheming to usurp Falcone’s power. “Penguin” learns of this and Gordon is forced to kill him to prove his loyalty. Gordon fakes the act, leaving “Penguin” to embark on a revenge plot and casting doubt on Gordon’s stature as a police officer. Meanwhile, young Bruce has decided to turn detective and investigate his parent’s killing, believing it to be a conspiracy, and also begin to train himself not to feel fear.

Damn, that is a lot to take in in one episode!

Thankfully, The Flash calmed it down after an episode or two and established a comfortable routine: Barry acts awkward with Iris and has come kind of self-doubt, a metahuman emerges, fight, Wells acts suspicious, the end. This “monster-of-the-week” formula dominates the show even to this day, but the show mixes it up with side-plots concerning the mysterious death of Barry’s mother, Iris’s obsession with “The Streak” (the show took quite a while to brand Barry as the Flash yet…despite all of his metahuman villains have carried their names) and their later romance, Wells’ suspicious nature, the presence of mysterious evil speedsters, exploring the multiverse, etc. Gotham, on the other hand, was far more violent and apparently attempting to channel police-procedural shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000 to 2015), only with multiple references to Batman and Batman villains thrown at us in the most unsubtle way possible every episode. My continuation with the show was based on Sean Pertwee, whose presence as Alfred made the show somewhat bearable but I can’t say that I was too upset when it was finally concluded.

Man, screw this show!

Warner Bros. also produced Supergirl (2015 to 2021) and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (2016 to present). Easily the weakest offerings of their television line-up, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is a direct spin-off of Arrow and The Flash, featuring characters introduced shows. However, the show is largely loud, overly complex, and suffers from even more pacing issues. Not only was the first episode a convoluted mess that rushed through its character introductions to set up the on-going narrative, every episode is a rush of plot conveniences, hammy dialogue, and poor scripting. In the first season, for instance, the team travel through various points of time and space in an effort to save the future from Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) but…if they have a time machine, why bother wasting time going back to various points to prevent him accumulating his power when they could travel back to just before his takeover and kill him then? Indeed, in the case of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, the only stand-out characters for me were Leonard Snart/Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) and Mick Rory/Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell), whose gruff, anti-hero ways and pre-existing partnership set them apart from the rest of the stilted, awkward group. Both actors chewed the scenery and stole the show at every opportunity, and Mick gained a decent character arc where the heroic sacrifice of his partner made him more accepting of his otherwise more naturally heroic partners.

Supergirl was fun but a little too annoying for me.

Supergirl, however, is a horrific mess. I have times where I can be pretty pro-feminist but this show really grinds my gears. It seems as though Supergirl is incapable of conveying strong, independent female characters without making them soft, overly effeminate, or lesbians. Seriously, this show is rife with explicit lesbianism; even heterosexual female characters carry a lesbian vibe from them. This boggles my mind; Arrow, a show largely aimed more at the male demographic, doesn’t feature a load of gay males or in-your-face sexual tension between the males so why does a female-driven show feel the need to do so? Also, throughout the first season, Kara Zor-El (the titular Supergirl, portrayed by the sweet, cute, and incredibly likeable Melissa Benoist) is constantly playing second fiddle to her more famous cousin (later portrayed by Tyler Hoechlin); Supergirl is constantly having to prove herself and to live up to Superman’s legacy and constantly compared to him, and judged by how much more impressive he is. I find this quite disturbing, to be honest. Today’s society is much more female-dominated and driven than ever before; woman are in positions of power and have far more equality than ever before, yet Supergirl prefers to send the message to young girls that they will constantly be held down by those around them until they prove that they are just as good, if not better, than males. Plus…she constantly keeps fiddling with her glasses! Even when she is around people who are aware of her duel identity!

One big happy family.

Additionally, although set on an alternative Earth, Supergirl has crossed over with The Flash (and, by extension, its other shows) by utilising the multiverse aspects introduced in season two of The Flash , unlike Marvel, whose shows all take place within the larger cinematic universe, none of Warner’s DC properties tie in, or relate in any way, to their own cinematic universe that tentatively began with Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013) and continued with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (ibid, 2016). In fact, Warner Bros. included the Flash in their upcoming cinematic line-up and, as they often have concerning Green Arrow’s inclusion, have consistently gone on record as stating that the character’s will be entirely separate from those on television. Similarly, Gotham does not serve as a prequel to Ben Affleck’s Batman; as a result, we have a situation similar to when Superman Returns (Singer, 2006) came out whilst Smallville was still on the air in that conflicting versions of the same character will co-exist at the same time onscreen. For us comic book fans, this is not a problem: comic book aficionados are well versed in handling multiple, conflicting portrayals of the same characters, but the general audience…not so much. Indeed, Warner Bros. often reference the DC multiverse when justifying this decision, which is crazy beyond belief as the DC multiverse is a concept so confusing that they’ve had to destroy and rebuild it about three times in the last five years! Surely Arrow’s popularity alone, which arguably has helped to facilitate a DC Cinematic Universe, justifies its place in the oncoming cinematic canon?

A bit more continuity between TV and film would be nice.

This ties back in to my early remark about Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. not feeling “pointless”. Sure, the show has flaws. Sure, the characters may not reintegrate with the Marvel Cinematic Universe for some time, if at all. But events matter. What happens in a Marvel Studios movie will impact another character, and those events may often be referenced in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. When the Arrowverse collides in their crossovers, it has little impact on the big-screen offerings, which also never really factor into their television counterparts in a meaningful way. This is what separates my enjoyment of current superhero television shows: continuity. It’s important for consistency, it’s important to maintain audience (especially the generally, non-comic book audience), and it’s important for integrity. It’s why I can forgive Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flaws, because the show is expanding upon and a direct part of Marvel’s larger cinematic universe, and it’s why I can forgive Arrow constantly portraying “The Arrow” as a bastardised version of Batman, because it’s integrating with The Flash is the closest thing we have to continuity between DC properties at the moment. Whether or not the films will offer an equal alternative remains to be seen.