Posts Tagged ‘Superman’

This is the first of a new series I am planning about the movies, comics, toys, etc of the 1980s. In this entry I will briefly cover four genre films of 1980, Mad Max, Empire Strikes Back, Superman II, and Flash Gordon.

American science fiction started off bleak in the new decade with the release of the dystopian film Mad Max. Origionally released in Australia in 1979, Mad Max first played in American theaters on February 15th of the following year.

Written and directed by George Miller, a young Mel Gibson plays “Mad” Max Rockatansky, who drives a supercharged V8 powered Black Pursuit special through a dystopian Australia. He is a highway patrol cop who comes into conflict with a motorcycle gang (played by real bikers) led by a character named Nightrider.

Miller was inspired by his time working as a Dr. in Sydney where he saw many patients from car accidents, as well as witnessing car wrecks as a child. (1) The film was also inspired by the 1973 oil crisis which effected car owners both in Australia and around the world. His film would inspire (to date) three sequels, and made over $100 million world wide.

The dark trend would continue with what would be the highest grossing film of the year, The Empire Strikes Back. Released on May 17th. Empire was the sequel to the 1977 surprise smash hit Star Wars, which launched the first modern multi-media franchise that inspired everything in it’s wake.

Based on a story by Star Wars creator George Lucas, Empire was directed by Irvin Kershner with a screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Set three years after Star Wars, this film has the heroic rebels on the run from the evil Empire. Famous for ending with the villains on top, Han Solo gets captured, and in one of the great twists in film history, Darth Vader reveals that he is Luke Skywalker’s father. (When filming that famous scene, actor David Prowse, who played Vader, read the fake line “Obi-Wan killed your father.”)

As first film, Empire had an extensive action figure line that ran until 1982 (In 1983 the toyline shifted to that year’s Return of the Jedi film.) It is noteworthy that toy company Kenner also tried a new minature die cast toy line in 1982 called the Micro collection, which included vehicles and playsets. While the traditional action figures were succesful, Kenner lost money on the Micro collection.

Initially having mixed reviews, Empire is now considered the best Star Wars film. During it’s initial run it grossed $547 million worldwide.

Another film that was a part II would be released just about a month later in Superman II. Based on the DC comcis character, its predecessor was released in two years prior, but the studio actually filmed both movies back to back. Richard Donner directed the first film, and was fired from II with around 75% of the film completed. Richard Lester would finish it, his work included a new beginning set in Paris and a new ending.

Banished to the Phantom Zone in the beginning of the first film by Superman’s father Jor-El, Superman II has General Zod, Ursa, and Non accidentally freed to wreak havoc on Earth. Unlike the first film, where he fought Lex Luthor, Superman now faces villains his physical equal, all the while wishing to become an ordinary man and settle down with Lois Lane.

Lex Luthor appears in this film as well, assisting the Kryptonian villains in their conquet of the planet, on the condition that Luthor would rule Australia.

Superman II premiered in America on June 19th, though it was previously released overseas. It would make $190 million at the box office.

Also of note is that over 25 years later, in 2006, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on DVD. This version has a new beginning which cuts the Paris scene, a different ending where Superman reverses time again (as he did in the first film) and footage of Marlon Brando returning as Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El.

The last science fiction film of 1980 was an old character that inspired a lot of science fiction, but their own film was not nearly as succesful. Flash Gordon was origionally a character created for newspaper comic strips and debuted on January 7th, 1934. Drawn by Alex Raymond, it was created partly to compete with the already popular Buck Rogers strip. Buck Rogers, coincidentally, was in its second season of his own three year run on American television in 1980.

Flash Gordon features the titular character, a quarterback for the New York Jets, unwittingly sent into outspace along with travel agent Dale Arden and scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov. In space they encounter Ming the Merciless, played by Max Von Sydow, who plans to destroy Earth, apparantly out of bordeom.

Interstingly enough, George Lucas himself attempted to do a Flash Gordon movie in the late 70s, but was unable to acquire the rights. Failing this, Lucas would go on to create Star Wars. Flash is one of the myriad influences Lucas had in making his franchise, specifically regarding Empire, an ice planet and a floating city.

Mike Hodges would go on to direct Flash, which was co-written by Michael Allin and Lorenzo Semple Jr. Semple helped develop the 1966 Batman TV show, which was known for its campy style, a similar style would be used for this movie.

Flash made $27 million in its North American release. While it is now a cult classic and fondly remembered for its soundtrack by Queen, it is the only movie of the four sci-fi movies of 1980 to not get a sequel. Flash would go onto appear in a handful of cartoons and TV shows, but this film would be the last high profile moment of this science fiction icon.

1: Scott Murray and Peter Beilby, “George Miller: Director”, Cinema Papers, May-June 1979 p369-371

 

Batman vs. Superman Dawn of Justice is the second entry in the DC Cinematic Universe following Man of Steel. This movie, more than it’s predecessor, tries to expand the DC Universe, planting seeds for future movies to follow.

Batman appears in the title first as he does in the narrative as well. We start with the climax of Man of Steel where Metropolis is getting destroyed while Superman fights Zod. Bruce Wayne rushes into the wreckage to save his employees that work in one of the demolished buildings.

In this universe, Wayne has been Batman for a long time, and it has taken a toll on him mentally. He doesn’t believe in the inherent goodness of Superman, and sees him as a threat. Hence he starts training to take him down.

Meanwhile Clark Kent is wanting to cover the Bat story in Gotham, against the wishes of his editor Perry White. Clark disapprove’s of Batman’s methods, saying they violate people’s civil liberties. I wasn’t as clear to why he would object to Batman so much, as both Batman and Superman are vigilantes.

There’s some great training scenes with Bruce, and we get to the final showdown that does have a definitive winner. However while the first half of the movie is pretty solid, things fall apart toward the end. There’s a plot point relating to the reason that they’re fighting that should bring a lot of tension, but doesn’t at all. Said plot point almost makes the fight seem silly anyway. Plus certain characters seem figure out certain things out of the blue.

Meanwhile Lex Luthor is lurking in the background and uses the corpse of Zod to create Doomsday. Doomsday at first looks across between the Incredible Hulk and Cloverfield, and is pretty much attacks the heroes because the plot tells him too.

Part of the problem with this film as a sequel is that you pretty much needed to see Man of Steel to understand this. Especially the opening scene, you’ll have no idea what’s going on without having seen Man of Steel. Also, in this film Lois and Clark are very much in love, which is nice, but I don’t see that progressing from the last movie. The emotional weight of their relationship does not rest in the previous movie, but the fact that the audience is probably familiar with their relationship from 70+ years of pop culture.

All the characters are played well. Affleck makes a great Batman. Eisenberg’s Luthor is basically Zuckerberg from Social Network just more mentally unhinged. Wonder Woman is great, but her absence would not have affected the plot at all.

Some big chances were taken with this movie. Batman in particular already has a long established history in this world that hasn’t been touched on yet. Evidently some big changes have already happened to certain things we take for granted about Batman. I also liked that the first time you see Batman on screen the horror aspect of his character is played up.

One of the potential problems I see down the road with the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they’re introducing all their big heroes at once. I like DC taking a different approach, having solo films spin out of the upcoming Justice League film, having their TV shows be their own thing. In this movie world the upcoming Wonder Woman movie takes place in the past. I would hope the next Batman movie would as well.

Batman vs Superman is not a terrible movie, but it falls apart at the end when it needed to be great. It does make me want to see a Wonder Woman movie and a Batman movie set in this world.

 Batman Darkness was the first in a series of crossovers between DC Comics and Top Cow. The Darkness is a comic about Jackie Estacado, a NYC mobster who has supernatural power to summon gremlin like demons. This crossover features him and his adopted father Franki Franchetti attempting expand their territory into Gotham City. Along the way Frankie has many humorous encounters with Two Face, Catwoman, and Killer Croc. Much to Frankie’s annoyance, he gets no respect in Gotham. Meanwhile Jackie’s love interest, Jenny Romano is in Gotham doing a charity event in crime alley, leading to friction between him and Bruce Wayne and Jackie wanting to get the goods on his potential romantic rival. The theme of the story is how both Jackie and Bruce Wayne are orphans, and both embraced Darkness in some way. The difference between the two is that Bruce Wayne still had someone who believed in him, that someone being Alfred. Some Easter Eggs include a nod to the Superman “You’ve got me, who’s got you?” line. The demons at one point say “nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah” referencing the old Batman song, and there’s a mention of FBI agent Carla Denton who is from the Darkness comics.

Darkness Superman works around the conceit that Superman is always off fighting monsters and aliens (the story mentions he just stopped an alien threat) and doesn’t have as much time to catch smaller scale criminals. Hence the mafia is able to operate in Metropolis under Superman’s radar. This leads to a situation where Lois is kidnapped, and The Darkness attempts to make Superman an offer he can’t refuse. There’s a reference to the previous Batman story.

JLA Cyberforce has the two teams fight each other than an unexpected threat. Batman and Cyblade have the hots for each other, and Martian Manhunter comes into a situation where he finds great piece of mind. That was an interesting touch.

JLA Witchblade has Kenneth Irons and Lex Luthor manipulating things from behind the scenes, but in a nice touch never encountering the titular teams. Sarah Pezzini, the current Witchblade holder, is friends with Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Their dads met at a cop seminar in NYC). Sara is seriously injured and Barbara takes her to JLA headquarters. The Witchblade ends up infecting Oracle and Huntress, while Aquaman discovers via his Atlantean library that the Witchblade goes back to the Age of Arion (Which has to do with the ancient Atlantis of the DC universe). The Witchblade ultimate possesses Wonder Woman who goes beserk and takes on the JLA.

All four crossovers were entertaining and made a point of playing off both the similarities and differences of the characters. The four stories being presumably linked was a good touch that future crossovers could take note of.