• Tag Archives Christopher Reeve
  • Reinventing the Horde: Problems in Zombie Fiction

    zombiefightnightdrivethruAuthor’s note: This essay originally aired on this blog prior to the file purge of 2014. It is now being rerun for your reading pleasure. Please note Zomtropolis is no longer available as a free on-line serial and will be released in paperback and eBook in the near future.

    Zombies are monsters. At least, that’s the standard definition. Someone dies, rises, has a taste of human flesh and so hunts down the living and, once the prey is caught, chows down and eats their guts. Oh, and they’re ugly, too, slowly rotting away with each passing day.

    That’s the standard version of the zombie and the one most are familiar with.

    It’s the one I knew of when I first discovered them, but as for their main backstory, I didn’t know what that wasy.

    See, I grew up in a household where horror and monsters where off limits. This was a good thing, in that I didn’t have to view creepy faces, see blood and guts, watch people get killed, or be subject to dark forests like other kids I knew. I was probably saved hundreds of hours of nightmares as a result. This absence of horror made for a happier childhood, in that regard. My dad always said, “If you want to watch horror, watch the news.” And he was right, and still is. We live in a sad world with villains in it that outmatch most of what we create in books or on screen.

    At the same time, being so sheltered was a detriment to a well-rounded upbringing because later on, I was naïve about a lot of things, including the darker side of life, both in terms of what humans were capable of and scary images.

    My first exposure to monsters was seeing a ripped-from-a-magazine picture of Freddy Krueger lying in the playground in elementary. The image of a disfigured man with bubbles on his skin was so foreign to me that I had occasional nightmares from that single image for years. I never saw an actual Freddy movie until I was eighteen and living on my own, but I got to tell you: going to the video store to rent one sent up all sorts of red flags and I was scared to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time.

    But zombies, werewolves or vampires growing up?

    At most I saw the Halloween episode of Highway to Heaven where Michael Landon was a werewolf for part of it. Scared me to death. Same with that other episode with the devil.

    Highway to Heaven. Good show, from what I remember, and it was allowed in the Christian household I grew up in for its message. It was also this growing up in a Christian household and the zero tolerance policy for horror and monsters that shaped my life, not only in terms of what I couldn’t see, but how I reacted when faced with the horrors that pop up in life now and then.

    In fact, I only got into horror because of something painful that happened to me. It was in this place of darkness that I found comfort in other dark things for a long time.

    Later, when I incorporated writing about zombies into my writing career, my view of the undead and fandom of them wasn’t your typical horror fan’s. It wasn’t the blood and guts that excited me or their spooky nature, the whole things-that-go-bump-in-the-night thing.

    Instead, it was rooted in my first love: superheroes.

    And they still are.

    I’ve never viewed zombies as “horror monsters” in terms of how I create and write them. To me, they’ve always been supervillains, and I think it’s this definition of them that is more accurate: they are “super” because they can’t die via conventional means—only by the removal of the head—and are certainly not part of our everyday lives, and they are “villains” because of the evil act of eating others they commit.

    When I set out to write my first zombie book, Blood of the Dead (book one of the Undead World Trilogy,) I didn’t want to write a standard zombie novel about a virus, people dying, people coming back, people surviving. I’ve never been one for formulas in my fiction and have always tried to do something new with each tale. Once the story was done, it immediately birthed unusual plans for the sequel, Possession of the Dead: angels, demons, giant zombies some fifteen stories high, shamblers and sprinters, shape shifting zombies and the consequences of the time travel ending of the first book. The third, Redemption of the Dead, incorporated all these unusual elements, while neatly dealing with the time travel issue and ensuring it was paradox-free, which, as a major time travel fan, was something important to me. But all along, as these books were written, the zombies were supervillains to me, with my main cast—Joe, Billy, August, Des, Tracy—being superheroes in their own right, especially Joe and Tracy. While Joe was an excellent shot with the gun, tough as nails and grim, Tracy was a highly-skilled marksmen and fighter. Likewise, they had the tendency to rescue people versus just letting people die.

    The story certainly would not have been what it was without my love of the superhero genre and my sheltered upbringing. Doing zombie stories this way also enabled me to tackle Zombie Fight Night: Battles of the Dead, with a kind of comic book sensibility, that is, classic characters—ninjas, samurai, robots, Vikings, and more—and pit them up against the undead in Bloodsport-like battles, each fight with a purpose that served the overall story being told between each bout.

    The supervillain angle—I like it. I grew up with it, being a huge fan of Super Friends, the Christopher Reeve Superman flicks, the Tim Burton Batman movies, even the Spider-Man TV show. To be honest, I can’t imagine writing monsters any other way other than as supervillains because that’s what they are to me.

    Any monster is, actually, and I explored this idea in the series of anthologies I edit called Metahumans vs. The first two are Metahumans vs the Undead and Metahumans vs Werewolves. For the uninitiated, metahumans are superheroes are the same thing. The idea with this series was not only to showcase independent superheroes, but also put them up against a new kind of supervillain that isn’t used that often in comics or cartoons: monsters.

    Before you accuse me of this article being a giant commercial for my undead work—for free serial zombie fiction, see my on-line novel, Zomtropolis at www.canisterx.com, wink wink, nudge nudge—there’s a point to all these examples, and that is this: not to let stereotypes and archetypes be a guide for your fiction, in this, we’re talking about undead fiction.

    Why do zombies have to monsters via the standard definition? Why can’t there be something more to them?

    I fully realize we live in a very commercialistic society, where most of what’s produced is made because it’ll make the most money. For me, this is a shallow way of approaching storytelling. It’s selfish, it’s limiting, it’s, frankly, wrong. Art—which includes writing—should be about honest expression, about pushing boundaries and trying something new. Will this new thing always be popular? No, but the fact that it is new is important and shows the artist behind it has put thought into it and expressed something from within versus simply a formula of what would sell.

    Let’s look at the typical zombie formula.

    1) a virus sweeps the world, killing people

    2) these people rise from the dead as flesh-eating machines

    3) a group of people were somehow not infected—which may or may not be explained

    4) this group must survive in a half-destroyed world with limited resources—are our armies really that incompetent that the surviving military couldn’t defeat creatures who are stupid and slow?—and battle amongst themselves and against shambling zombies

    Did I miss anything?

    While this is fine for the skeleton of a story, it doesn’t make much for the meat of it. There needs to be more. Reasons for things need to be given. A new spin on these four main ideas needs to be taken otherwise it’s just the same story being told over and over again, the only difference being the people’s names and locales.

    “Well, that’s what the audience expects?” you say. They expect that because that’s what we’ve been giving them.

    Ever read a book or see a movie and go, “Now that’s a new way to do it?” I have. It’s an amazing realization and elevates the work in question to a whole new level upon seeing it.

    Some possible fixes to the aforementioned zombie formula, off the top of my head:

    1) Why is it always a virus? Why not something supernatural? Or something from space? Something from Earth? Something mechanical that gives the illusion of people back from the dead? I edited an anthology called Dead Science, which challenged the authors to create unique science-gone-wrong-based origins for the undead. The stories they came up with were fun and original.

    2) Shamblers and sprinters seem to be the order of the day. Some have ventured into smart zombie territory. What if they had super strength? What if to kill them it wasn’t cutting off their heads but it was their guts—source of hunger—that needed to be removed? What if they were giants? What if part of the cause of them dying also shrank them and you had zombies so small they were like bugs and could get all over you so quickly like ants that you had no hope of survival?

    3) Seldom is it explained why the group of survivors were immune to the zombie virus. An explanation for their survival needs to be included? Was a vicinity thing? Did the cause of the undead only affect people indoors? Outdoors? Is the whole world taken out or just a part of it?

    4) How come the world is always destroyed within a few weeks of the outbreak? Have you noticed this or is it just me? While I realize people act like animals under panic—we’ve all seen riots on the news—all these cities with broken everything, over-turned cars, bodies everywhere, graffiti, everyone suddenly in torn clothes, etc.—I just don’t get it. What about our military? Wouldn’t the countries’ forces combine to eradicate a common threat like a zombie outbreak? How could even a horde of zombies take out a guy with a machine gun unless they’re oh-so-slow moving bodies somehow got in a sneak attack? What about planes and bombs?

    I won’t admit to having read every zombie book or seen every zombie movie, but it seems to me the element of realism has been taken out. It’s always been my view that a book or comic or movie—whatever—needs to be grounded in reality somehow, the whole “what if this happened tomorrow for real” thing. To add such an element to a book—regardless of how out-of-this-world the circumstance is—suddenly brings that fantastic circumstance into our world and puts the reader right in the middle of the tale because he/she can completely understand why things happen a certain way. Life isn’t full of conveniences, tidy plotlines and clichéd ideas. It’s a mess with tons of twists and turns.

    Shouldn’t our stories reflect life?

    The argument is people want to escape. For me, that’s just an excuse to get out of a life that isn’t the one you wanted. How about turning that on its head and reading stories about lives like yours, that aren’t the way the characters wanted, and you draw strength and encouragement from that? There’s lots to be said about relatability and seeing people in the same boat as you, whether they’re real or not, whether the world they inhabit is yours or not.

    But I realize that trying new things and going against the grain is countercultural, especially in the West. I realize that to propose writing zombie fiction as something other than zombie fiction flies in the face of decades of tradition.

    It just seems, though, that these standard ideas have become so ingrained in us that we’re afraid to move or operate outside them. Afraid to grow. Afraid to step off the beaten path and blaze a new trail.

    Seems we all just go with the flow.

    Just like a pack of zombies.


  • Canister X TV Review #3: Smallville, Season 3 (2003 – 2004)

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    Smallville, Season 3 (2003 – 2004)
    5 out of 5

    This season is most definitely the darkest of the series. I related to Clark quite a lot during his time on the road: the struggle, the pain, the loss—definitely made me relive some memories I wasn’t too keen on reliving ever again.

    This season also showed how evil Lionel Luthor really was and how he stopped at nothing—utterly nothing—to create his empire and, eventually, receive power that most definitely, in this case, fell into the wrong hands.

    Clark got a new superpower, this time his super hearing, which was done way cool and not just some fire-drill-like noise ringing in his ears.

    I loved this season despite how bleak it was and was thrilled to death when Christopher Reeve reprised his role as Dr. Virgil Swann. The mythology episodes in this season made me grin ear-to-ear, making my inner fanboy squeal like a girl.

    This season was great and had a cliffhanger that made me want to kick in my TV. What a long summer that one was.

    Year Three was awesome. Go see it.


  • Canister X TV Review #2: Smallville, Season 2 (2002 – 2003)

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    Smallville, Season 2 (2002 – 2003)
    5 out of 5

    More powers emerge as Clark gets ever closer to his destiny as the Man of Steel.

    This season made you know the show was here to stay and showed a slight, more mature change in the writing style (if memory serves), despite the show still being kind of like The Twilight Zone meets Superman.

    Regardless, throwing into the mix someone outside the Kent family permanently knowing Clark’s secret—well, things got a little more complicated for our favorite farmboy as he’s now got the concern of “what if so-and-so spills the beans?”

    What really made this season, of course, was the guest appearance by Christopher Reeve, who everyone in my generation knows as THE Superman, bar none. His role as Dr. Swann, who shows Clark his Kryptonian heritage, really brought a passing-of-the-torch moment to the show, cementing in Superman fans’ heads that Tom Welling was indeed our new boy and—if anyone else out there is like me—makes you itch for Welling to one day put on the tights in a feature film (or seven).

    I love the mythology episodes in this series and Season Two had enough to remind you that, yes, you were watching Superman and not just a show about a young man with developing superpowers.

    Go watch this, then check out Season Three right after it. You know what? Go watch ’em all then follow Season Nine week-to-week like the rest of us. You won’t be sorry.


  • Canister X Movie Review #84: Superman Returns (2006)

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    Superman Returns (2006)
    Written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris
    Directed by Bryan Singer
    Runtime 154 min.
    3 out of 5

    The Man of Steel had vanished for five long years.

    The world moved on.

    So did the one person everyone thought never would: Lois Lane. She even wrote about it in a Pulitzer Prize-winning article entitled, “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.”

    But that’s not all that changed. Lex Luthor had swindled his way out of a double life-sentence with a new plan: create his own continent and wipe out all the others.

    He just wasn’t prepared for one thing—Superman returns.

     

    It’d been almost twenty years between Superman movies when this one came out, the last being Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Expectations were high, the hype was through the roof, a star director (Bryan Singer) was attached to it, huge names played some of the key roles . . .

    The payoff: an embarrassing movie.

    I remember feeling ashamed of my hero when I walked out of the theatre. Being a lifelong Superman fan, I thought Superman Returns would nail it and kick a certain red-and-blue wallcrawler off the box office charts.

    I was wrong.

    The story of Superman Returns is okay. It’s nothing new, pretty much a rehash of Superman: The Movie, just updated with a different spin.

    There are also several terrible and nonsensical moments in the film: Superman’s son, Superman in the hospital, Superman lifting a massive island made of kryptonite and flying it into space even though just before that scene being around kryptonite made him virtually mortal.

    It was tempting to give this movie two stars, but Brandon Routh’s portrayal of the Man of Steel saved the day. He did a stellar job as both Clark and Superman. Aside from Christopher Reeve, he’s my favorite boy in blue.

    Kevin Spacey did an all right job as Lex Luthor—evil, funny, selfish, manipulative, king of understatement. But he wasn’t evil-evil, unlike Michael Rosenbaum in Smallville. Though I realize they’re different continuities/series, you’d think a grown-up Lex would be darker than his younger counterpart.

    Warner Brothers et al. erred with this film because they didn’t remember the secret to Superman: people don’t want to relate to him. He’s an icon, an ideal. He’s not Spider-Man. We want to be amazed, put in a state of awe. People only want to relate to Clark Kent, not his cape-wearing alter ego. They blurred the line between the two when it should have been crisp and clear, and that is where this movie failed.

    Hopefully the sequel will not be a drama, but a serious yet fun superhero movie, one filled with wonder, eye-popping action and a story worthy of the Man of Steel. I just hope they don’t use kryptonite as a weapon against Superman. If they do, they’re going to have to use a whole planet’s worth to make a dent seeing as how a kryptonite island didn’t stop him.


  • Canister X Movie Review #79: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

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    Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
    Written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal
    Directed by Sidney J. Furie
    Runtime 134 min.
    3 out of 5

    The world is on the brink and Superman takes it upon himself to rid the planet of all nuclear weapons. Of course, war is big business and Lex Luthor sees an opportunity to use the Man of Steel’s quest for peace as a way to make big bucks. By promising various war moguls that he’ll destroy Superman for a cut of the profits, he puts a genetic stew made from Superman’s own DNA aboard one of the rockets he knows Superman is going to throw into the sun. After the Man of Steel does, Nuclear Man is born, a being bent on the destruction of Superman and to do Lex Luthor’s bidding.

    Will Superman stand against this solar villain or will he fail and let the world fall along with him?

     

    This was the last box office outing for the Man of Steel for almost twenty years. I remember my parents taking me to the theatre to see it when I was just six and a half. At the time, sure, I loved it. It was Superman, it was at the movies, and I had no clue what the story was about. Just Superman fighting bad guys and that was all that mattered.

    Nowadays . . .

    As a general premise, it’s a basic idea: save the world, your main villain doesn’t want you to and thus creates something powerful to defeat you.

    But something gets lost in translation and there are so many laughable moments in the movie that it’s the worst of the Superman movies when it could have been the flick to redeem the franchise after the misfire that was Superman III.

    The special effects are terrible. I don’t understand how the SFX from the movies nine years earlier were better. Most of the flying scenes were like a cut-out of Superman against a still back drop. Even in one of them, when he’s flying along the river, you can see the wake of the boat from the camera crew.

    The fight choreography was overly-dramatic and something you’d see in a school play.

    It seemed they either tried too hard with this movie and it all fell apart, or they just didn’t try at all.

    As always, Christopher Reeve was amazing as Superman. That’s who he was.

    Margot Kidder was back as Lois Lane in this one and you can see glimpses of the connection she and Superman had in Superman I and II, but nothing comes to fruition in this. Granted, this movie didn’t have any romantic elements other than one scene where the two fly together, which was just repeated footage cut over a multitude of backgrounds. (They fly around the whole world in that sequence in record time, too.)

    There is a lot wrong with this movie with plenty of story and continuity inconsistencies, never mind the introduction of new superpowers that are not in the comics or other films (i.e. Superman rebuilding the Great Wall of China just by looking it).

    There were, however, some things right with the movie. One of my favorite parts is when Clark and Superman are invited up to Lacy Warfield’s (Mariel Hemingway’s) penthouse. Clark has to keep coming up with ways to disappear and become Superman and vice versa without tipping Lois and Lacy off that the two are one and the same. This was well done and the ways he does it are very creative.

    Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor—yes, he is the greatest criminal mind of our time and for good reason. He does the part just as well as he did back in Superman I and II. Who else would come up with a way to destroy Superman that would also make him stinking rich in the meantime?

    This is one of those movies that if you go in and see it for what it is, you’ll be fine with it. Won’t change your life, but you’ll be fine with it. If you go in expecting a stellar superhero movie, especially one that could stand toe-to-toe with the super flicks of today, then you’ll want to look elsewhere.


  • Canister X Movie Review #78: Superman III (1983)

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    Superman III (1983)
    Written by David Newman and Leslie Newman
    Directed by Richard Lester
    Runtime 125 min.
    3.5 out of 5

    Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) can’t get a break, so he decides to go back to school and become a computer programmer. Finding out he has a genius-like knack for telling computers what to do, he quickly tries to make himself rich by doing so. After getting caught, the business tycoon he tried to rip off hires Gus to use computers to make him rich, namely by building a machine that can control the weather and cause different natural disasters which would in turn benefit the company. The plans are foiled when Superman (Christopher Reeve) steps in and saves the day. Now with the Man of Steel in their sights, Webster uses Gus’s computer know-how to take down the Last Son of Krypton once and for all by synthesizing the one thing that can hurt him: Kryptonite.

    Except, because of a slight alteration to the formula, Gus and Webster get something else: a changed Superman, one bent on evil instead of good.

    Can the Man of Steel be restored before Webster has taken over the globe?

     

    What can I say about this movie? It’s a hard movie to judge because it was such a drastic shift in tone from the previous Superman flicks that on the one hand, you look at it as a continuation of the others—and it fails miserably—but on the other, you see it for what it is and it’s pretty good.

    Let me explain.

    As strictly a superhero movie, it’s silly. It was written as a comedy—probably to make Richard Pryor shine, who was a massive comedic star in the ’80s—and that’s where its downfall was. While Christopher Reeve played Superman straight like he always does, it didn’t really mesh with the rest of the movie and as a result it’s hard to take it seriously.

    However, Mr. Reeve is stacked as Superman in this flick. Physique-wise, he totally peaked with Superman III and was even more powerful-looking than in the other films. I wish this presentation of Superman muscle-wise was in all of them. The super feats are great, you cheer him on, and your inner fanboy squeals with glee every time.

    Storywise, some might call it silly. I call it: okay for the time. In general, the idea of a computer genius trying to take out the Man of Steel is a fine idea. Put him up against some tech-based problems and you could have a good movie. But this was the early 1980s and movie special effects were nowhere near what they are today and the budget wasn’t there to put Superman up against some really strong computer-or-robot-based foe, so we settled for manufactured weather disasters and a super computer and woman-turned-robot at the end. Bummer. (But as a kid, the robo version of Vera (Annie Ross) scared me big time.)

    From looking at it as a comedy, it’s great. Pure gold. Richard Pryor wasn’t called a comedic genius for nothing. Everything from his mannerisms to facial expressions to punch line delivery shines in this flick. The jokes are smart, sometimes slapstick and sometimes incredibly subtle, but always funny.

    This movie would never go over well with audiences today and at a superficial glance, I can see why, but if you take the time to really look at it and appreciate it for what it is, it is a good movie.


  • Canister X Movie Review #77: Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)

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    Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)
    Written by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman
    Directed by Richard Donner
    Runtime 115 min.
    5 out of 5

    Superman is back, and when he inadvertently releases three inmates from the Phantom Zone, he has to go up against three supervillains every bit as powerful as he is. Complicating matters, Lois Lane is getting wise to the possibility that Clark Kent might not be who he claims to be and that, just maybe, beneath those glasses is the Man of Steel she so desperately loves.

    As the two become close and spend time together, the three Kryptonian villains arrive on Earth and wreak havoc and destruction. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor seizes the opportunity to cash in on the aliens’ arrival and tries to exploit their powers for his own gain.

    With the fate of the world hanging in the balance and Superman nowhere to be found, will the Earth fall to General Zod forever?

     

    This version of Superman II, the Richard Donner cut, was made possible by the outcry of fans. Eventually, the studio and Richard Donner—the director of Superman I and the original director of Superman II—responded and thus this version of the beloved super movie was born. Tracking down loads of old footage—most of which was shot when Superman I and II were filmed simultaneously, but then later discarded since with a change of director came a change in vision—fans finally got Superman II as intended.

    This version is way better, in my opinion. Better paced, better story—well, it’s the same story but the “new” scenes are better and more well-written than the 1980 Superman II ones—and lots of heart and Superman fun.

    For performance reviews, see my 1980 Superman II review as the actors did just as well in the alternate scenes shown in this flick.

    While, yes, you can watch this movie after Superman I, you’ll notice some overlap but don’t let that distract you. When there was a change of director behind-the-scenes, it affected even the cut of Superman I that made it into theatres.

    While attending a panel with Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) back in 2007, I asked her how this version of Superman II came about. Aside from giving a detailed backstory—however, I can’t remember the specifics, it was so long ago—I do remember her saying that had it not been for the screen test footage that was used in the Lois-finds-out-Clark-is-Superman scene in the Niagara Falls hotel room, the one where she shoots him with a blank, the Richard Donner cut would’ve been released in theatres. I don’t know if this is fact or wishful thinking on her part, but I know I would’ve paid to see this on the big screen. Easy. Obviously, the official Lois-finds-out-Clark-is-Superman scene in the Niagara Falls hotel room was never shot due to the change of directors and with Mr. Reeve’s passing, it couldn’t have been reshot anyway. I’m sure with Hollywood magic the reshoot could’ve been pulled off, had he been alive.

    The big battle between Superman (Christopher Reeve) and General Zod (Terrance Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran) is more exciting in this version, and likewise we find out what happened to the bad guys in this flick as opposed to them just dropping into a foggy chasm in the Fortress in the 1980 film.

    The Lois and Clark relationship is better portrayed in this one, too, and that new scene with Lois trying to make Clark reveal himself as Superman when she jumps out of the Daily Planet window is more exciting than the “I’m going to drown myself in a river” bit that was in the 1980 flick.

    There is also plenty of Jor-El (Marlon Brando) and Superman/Clark interaction, stuff that wasn’t in the 1980 movie. It totally adds to the mythology and the overall sense of awe and wonder that is Superman.

    For the Superman completist, this movie is a must-watch and a must-own. I know, for me, when I go to watch the Superman movies, I watch Superman I then Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. I feel I’m getting the original story this way as the original script was so massive it had to become two movies.

    Watch this movie. It’s awesome.


  • Canister X Movie Review #76: Superman II (1980)

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    Superman II (1980)
    Written by Mario Puzo, David Newman and Leslie Newman
    Directed by Richard Lester
    Runtime 127 min.
    4.5 out of 5

    Superman is back, and when he inadvertently releases three inmates from the Phantom Zone, he has to go up against three supervillains every bit as powerful as he is. Complicating matters, Lois Lane is getting wise to the possibility that Clark Kent might not be who he claims to be and that, just maybe, beneath those glasses is the Man of Steel she so desperately loves.

    As the two become close and spend time together, the three Kryptonian villains arrive on Earth and wreak havoc and destruction. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor seizes the opportunity to cash in on the aliens’ arrival and tries to exploit their powers for his own gain.

    With the fate of the world hanging in the balance and Superman nowhere to be found, will the Earth fall to General Zod forever?

     

    This is a great follow up to Superman I, and is basically a direct continuation of that story, with seeds for this one planted in the first movie. This is also true behind-the-scenes as Superman I and II were shot simultaneously but due to various complications, the version that came out in 1980 wasn’t completely what was intended, and thus the birth of Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, which is the subject of another review.

    Regardless, this version is fantastic, beginning with a recap of the Superman origin and mythology during the opening credits, and jumping right into Superman action pretty much from the start. The ante is upped by putting Superman against not only someone who is his equal power-wise, but three people who are, never mind Lex Luthor as well, who is a big challenge to Superman in the struggle of brains vs brawn.

    This movie at its center carries a lot of heart as it goes into the relationship between Lois and Clark and Lois and Superman, making for a love story that is every bit as good as some romance movies without transforming this whole film into a romance flick. The ending is heart-wrenching as you understand the cost of being Superman and even the cost of being someone close to him.

    Like its predecessor, Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder know their roles and fulfill them to a T. Same with Gene Hackman. Obviously, a great deal of this has to do with them filming Superman I and II simultaneously, but in the interest of watching them from one movie to the next, that seamless transition adds to the believability of the whole thing.

    Terrance Stamp stole the show as General Zod, easily holding up against Christopher Reeve and oftentimes overshadowing him. He carried with him a powerful presence, and gave off a rage that only one who had been—in his eyes—unrightfully imprisoned in the Phantom Zone could give. Sarah Douglas as Ursa and Jack O’Halloran as Non did just fine in their roles, but their main score was their reverence and allegiance to Zod, which then added to Stamp’s performance.

    The super battle at the end was great and awesome for its time. Most of the effects were practical effects—the best kind, in my opinion—and so while nowadays these guys wouldn’t look so tough fighting it out on screen, back then I remember being in awe at how mean and powerful the bad guys were and how Superman really had a run for his money.

    Superman II carries the same awe and wonder that Superman I did, even more so depending on what angle you want to tackle it from (i.e. Superman II showcases all of Superman’s powers whereas the first one didn’t).

    Whether as a kid or an adult, I love this movie.

    Recommended.


  • Canister X Movie Review #75: Superman (1978)

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    Superman (1978)
    Written by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton
    Directed by Richard Donner
    Runtime 143 min.
    5 out of 5

    Before the doomed planet Krypton explodes, Jor-El and wife Lara send their infant son, Kal-El, to Earth to save his life. Discovered in a field and raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent, Kal-El—renamed Clark—grows up to discover he has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. After leaving the farm after high school, Clark heads north and meets a holographic projection of Jor-El and learns who he really is and what he is meant to do. Twelve years later, Clark re-enters the world and becomes Superman, a symbol of hope in a world that desperately needs it.

    Upon observing Superman’s debut, the greatest criminal mind of our time, Lex Luthor, hatches a clever real estate scheme to destroy the Man of Steel while also making himself filthy rich.

    With millions of lives in the balance as well as his own, can Superman stop Lex and put an end to the madman’s plan?

     

    Like most kids, I watched this flick a thousand times. Okay, maybe not a thousand, but as often as I could considering my parents taped it for me and I knew how to work the VCR. At one point, I think we even had a VHS tape that had all four Superman movies on it from when they aired on TV. Anyway, I’ll freely admit this review is totally biased as we’re talking about a movie—especially a Superman movie—from my childhood, and it’s impossible for me to watch the movie now without memories of being a kid, holding my Superman action figure and watching Superman catch Lois Lane falling from a helicopter that’s stuck on the side of a building.

    That said, this movie is still aces for loads of reasons. One, it was taken seriously. I read somewhere that Christopher Reeve—who plays Superman/Clark Kent—put forth that he wanted to do it straight-laced. Up until then, you had the Batman TV series for men in tights (unless you counted the Green Hornet TV series, which was semi-serious), and then the cartoons. There was the George Reeves Adventures of Superman series in the ’50s and the Kirk Allen series before that, but in terms of immediate “superheroes in people” memory, you had ’60s Batman and that was it.

    By taking the source material seriously, by playing Superman as if it’s really happening, this was the first time audiences were treated to superheroes in real life and the filmmakers weren’t kidding when they said, “You’ll believe a man can fly.” I know I did, both now and when I was a kid. Superman was larger than life on the screen, whether he was using his powers or not. He inspired hope, and the film didn’t shy away from showcasing a Superman that fought for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”

    We got to see Superman enjoy being Superman, especially during his first night out saving a cat stuck in a tree, stopping Air Force One from falling to the ground, apprehending a jewel thief and putting an end to a criminal/police car chase.

    Christopher Reeve as Superman has been the benchmark every other Superman actor has tried to reach. His Superman is bold, idealistic, hopeful and kind. As Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for the Daily Planet, he did a fine job of really making you believe he was two different people when all he really had to use was a change of clothes, a new hairstyle and a pair of glasses. The guy changed his voice, his mannerisms, his speech—everything. I bought it. Go ahead. Put a picture of the two side-by-side and it’s like two different guys, so I don’t believe it when people nowadays say a pair of glasses is a stupid idea to conceal your identity. Ever have someone you know really well not recognize you after a haircut? It’s happened to me and that’s just a haircut not something covering part of my face like glasses. Anyway . . .

    Margot Kidder was a solid Lois Lane: brash, driven and totally obsessed with Superman while being dismissive of Clark Kent. Her way of treating the two totally made the bizarre love triangle that is Superman/Lois/Clark work. Aside from some bad decisions that maybe we wouldn’t expect a smart-as-a-whip reporter to make, she still sold it.

    Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. His version was good. I don’t know much about the comics of the time, so I can’t say how faithful he was. But in terms of being a good villain, for sure. And he was a bad guy here, an actual criminal and not the revered-but-shady businessman he would later become in the comics world.

    The overall story: hey, it’s simple, but so were most movies back then. At the same time, the superhero movies of today—as good as they are—could learn a lot from Superman and sometimes keeping things simple instead of just non-stop explosions and action is the better way to go. So much more room for character development and interaction.

    This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning John Williams’s iconic score. The “Theme from Superman” is right up there with Beethoven’s Sixth. You play the tune anywhere and people recognize it. It’s iconic, inspiring, heroic and like one of the folks who worked on the movie said—I think it was Richard Donner himself—you can actually hear the song say the word, “Superman.”

    Watch this movie. Just watch it.

    You’ll believe a man can fly.

    Highly recommended.


  • Canister X Movie Review #73: Supergirl (1984)

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    Supergirl (1984)
    Written by David Odell
    Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
    Runtime 125 min.
    3.5 out of 5

    After accidentally losing the Omegahedron, Argo City’s power source, Kara Zor-El (Helen Slater) embarks on a journey to go recover it before Argo City perishes. Upon arriving on Earth, she discovers she has superpowers and adopts the identity of Supergirl, which she uses to help others while on her quest to recover the Omegahedron.

    Elsewhere, the Omegahedron has fallen into the hands of Selena (Faye Dunaway), a flunky witch who quickly becomes powerful because of it and who sets her sights on Supergirl, ready to eliminate the Girl of Steel the first chance she can get.

    Can Supergirl recover the Omegahedron before Argo City goes dark and Selena is victorious?

    It’s superheroine versus supervillainness in this ’80s classic of Good vs Evil.

     

    This flick is every bit a part of my childhood as the Superman movies were. At the time, of course, I was too young to understand the story, but now older, it’s not too bad. Sure, it has some flaws and continuity issues, but at its heart it’s the story about someone trying to right a grievous mistake, something that most of us can relate to.

    The visuals and hints of Kryptonian mythology put forth quickly link it to the Superman movies—Supergirl identifies herself as Superman’s cousin while in costume, and also as Clark Kent’s cousin when she’s in disguise as Linda Lee; her supersuit is basically the Christopher Reeve costume from the waist up—and it has a cinematic score that carries a similar heroic tone to that of its male counterpart. Likewise, Marc McClure reprises his role as Jimmy Olsen from the Superman movies and appears as Lucy Lane’s boyfriend (Lucy is Lois Lane’s younger sister).

    They seem to want to jump right into Kara being Supergirl so don’t give an explanation as to why she leaves Argo City in that bubble ship in one outfit then transforms inside the ship and flies out of the water in her supersuit, but whatever. They do a good job of showing her discovering her powers, the joy of having them, and also the satisfaction of using them for good.

    As hopeful and cheery as this flick is at times, it’s also equally dark thanks to Selena being a witch. There is a ton of occult imagery and when you’re watching this stuff as a kid, it creeps you right out. And that funhouse that Supergirl’s “man in distress” has to find his way out of? Shivers, man. But who isn’t afraid of creepy funhouses, right?

    The pacing was pretty decent and each obstacle Supergirl must overcome as the movie rolls along keeps getting bigger and bigger until the end when it seems all hope is lost and even the Girl of Steel is helpless.

    What was especially cool is during the time of Supergirl’s tenure on Earth, Superman was elsewhere in the galaxy doing his thing, so when the story wraps up, Supergirl asks those who knew of her presence to forget she was there and flies off triumphant back to Argo City. This, of course, kept the two super franchises separate while still linking them. I heard Christopher Reeve was supposed to have a cameo in Supergirl but it didn’t work out, with Reeve citing personal reasons (whatever those might’ve been). Would’ve been amazing had the two teamed up for it. Maybe we’ll finally get to see Supergirl and Superman together in Man of Steel 2 . . .

    In the end, Supergirl is an overall enjoyable flick that is from a time before superhero movies got all dark and gritty, the hero was filled with angst and turmoil, and it enjoys itself for what it is: a movie about a girl who can fly.