Tag Archives: Superman

Batman vs. Superman

I’ve said many times that I don’t think there could ever be a good Superman movie, because of the eponymous Superman Problem.  Superman is just so powerful as a character that the only way to make him face a challenge is for him to be so stupid that he forgets his own powers.  That’s just not interesting to watch.

But if you make Superman the villain, then he becomes an incredibly daunting challenge himself.  If that challenge is faced by someone with much weaker superpowers*, that could be interesting.

I’m not convinced that Batman vs. Superman will be good.  I have plenty of reservations about Ben Affleck, and plenty more about Zack Snyder.  Especially after the steaming pile of crap that was Man of Steel.**  But unlike most Superman movies, Batman vs. Superman could be good.  So I’m cautiously hopeful.

* Yes, Batman does have superpowers.  He has the power of infinite money.  And in many incarnations, he also has the powers of magic technobabble, rapid healing, and making everyone around him stupid.

** There are a lot of bad things you could say about Man of Steel and how it betrayed the whole point of Superman.  But I never even got to that point because it violated the only absolutely unbreakable rule of movies/screenwriting, which is never be boring.  It was so dull that I quit watching after an hour, and never even got to the parts that everyone else hates.  (Other than the scene where he stands around with his thumb up his butt and watches his father die for no reason, which gave me a taste of how little I was missing by not continuing to watch.)

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Movies We Still Care About – 1981

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

(This post was edited on April 6 to discuss Raiders of the Lost Ark’s role in the development of the fun action movie sub-genre, and to include Stripes in the Other Notable Movies section.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark

Other Notable Movies

  • Superman II
  • Clash of the Titans
  • The Great Muppet Caper
  • The Evil Dead
  • Stripes

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Chariots of Fire (Winner)
  • Atlantic CIty
  • On Golden Pond
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Reds

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  2. On Golden Pond
  3. Superman II
  4. Arthur
  5. Stripes
  6. The Cannonball Run
  7. Chariots of Fire
  8. For Your Eyes Only
  9. The Four Seasons
  10. Time Bandits

Rotten Tomatoes Top Movies

  1. The Evil Dead (98%)
  2. Das Boot (98%)
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (95%)
  4. Diva (96%)
  5. An American Werewolf in London (91%)
  6. Blow Out (90%)

In the introductory post to this series, I mentioned that various factors can skew the Rotten Tomatoes rankings, and that seems to have happen here.  If you look at that Rotten Tomatoes list, #1 is a microbudget amateur film that would have been forgotten if it didn’t spawn two popular sequels.  #2 is a foreign film beloved by cinephiles but not known to a widespread American audience.  I’ve never even heard of #4 and have barely heard of #6.  And #5 is a cult film that is unknown to modern mainstream audiences.

Movies We Still Care About

Raiders of the Lost Ark

This is the best action spectacle movie of all time.  Like Star Wars, this is at the highest level of mythology for modern film.  Everyone knows Indiana Jones.  The hat, the whip, the ark, fear of snakes, etc.

It’s a spectacle movie because it isn’t structured like a normal film.  There’s no character development – Indy is exactly the same at the end as he is at the beginning.  And rather than the traditional three acts with rising action, it’s an episodic string of distinct action sequences.  In a lesser film, the audience would be bored and confused, even if they didn’t have enough film theory knowledge to explain why they felt that way.  But Raiders is so awesome that nobody cares about its lack of structure or character growth.

In fact, nobody cares that Indiana Jones is entirely superfluous to his own movie, as explained on The Big Bang Theory:

Raiders of the Lost Ark was a deliberate attempt by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to recall the Saturday morning movie serials that they loved as kids.  Those were in turn based on radio serials.  Which were based on pulp/dime novels.  Which were inspired by the late 19th century adventure novels by authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard.  Haggard’s character Allan Quatermain specifically is considered to be the template for Indiana Jones.  This came full circle in 1985 and 1986 with the Richard Chamberlain movies King Solomon’s Mines and Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold.  These movies are blatant rip-offs of Indiana Jones, even though the character of Allan Quartermain predates Indy by a century.

 Raiders is important for the development of cinema as an art-form, as it established the sub-genre of the Fun Action Movie.  You can generally split action movies into those that are intense, and those that are fun.  These easiest way to see which category a film belongs in is to ask yourself if you would want to be the main character.  Would you want to be Indiana Jones, traveling the world having fantastic adventures and punching Nazis?  Of course you would.  Because the most important thing about Indiana Jones as a character is that even when things go wrong, when he’s captured, beaten up, or exhausted by a string of fights, he still absolutely loves being Indiana Jones,

Look at the bringing a gun to a sword fight scene.  He’s fatigued and exasperated, yet every single person watching the movie can live vicariously through him and would delight in being Indy in that situation.

(Side-note: That scene was ad-libbed.  The script called for Indy to get into an elaborate sword fight. But Harrison Ford was sick that day, and didn’t feel like doing it.  So he used his gun instead, Steven Spielberg realized that was much better, and cinema magic was born.)

In the 70s, action movies had taken a gritty turn, as exemplified by films such as The French Connection.  And prior to the 70s, action wasn’t quite so dark, but still was more dramatic than fun.  Films like The African Queen, North by Northwest, and John Wayne westerns.  Some excellent movies, but that sense of playfulness was mostly absent.

There were a few fun action movies before Raiders, such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, James Bond films, and Star Wars.  But  It was really Raiders that brought this feeling of fun into its own, and sparked countless imitators trying to capture that high-spirited adventure.

Raiders expanded the medium, such that from the 80s through today and into the future, we are able to experience both fun action movies and intense action movies, and as fans we are all better off.

Also, if you ever get the chance to see the shot-for-shot remake of Raiders made by twelve-year-olds, do it.  It’s amazing.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find it online.  (I saw it 15 years ago on a VHS tape owned by someone who knew one of the guys who made it.)  The best I could find is the first 10 minutes with no audio.  (If any of you can locate the full version online, please link to it in comments.)

The official website for the Raiders remake is here, though unfortunately it doesn’t have the full movie.

Other Notable Films

Superman II

“Kneel before Zod.”  That’s all that needs to be said for this.  And all that really should be said.  Because aside from a great villain, this film is an incoherent mess that is much better in your memory than in reality.

Clash of the Titans

“Release the Kraken!”  This is a special-effects spectacle movie whose effects were amazing in 1981, but really don’t hold up today.  And without that to carry it, there’s not much point to watching this.

The Great Muppet Caper

I talked about this in my write-up of The Muppet Movie in the 1979 entry.

The Evil Dead

I love Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.  But the original Evil Dead isn’t in the same league.  It’s notable to see the clever techniques that Sam Raimi used to stretch his limited budget while still having a unique feel.  But the story’s generic, and the humor from the later films is lacking here.  Plus the entire events of Evil Dead are re-done with much better acting, humor, and production value in the first 10 minutes of Evil Dead 2.  So you can just watch the sequel and skip the original.

Stripes

Stripes continues the Laid-Back Comedy tradition developed by Caddyshack, featuring Bill Murray, John Candy, and Harold Ramis being Bill Murray, John Candy, and Harold Ramis.  While it doesn’t still enjoy widespread appeal after 33 years, it does have a small but devoted following of some who consider it among the all-time great comedies.  It’s certainly worth checking out or revisiting if you’re a fan of Murray/Candy/Ramis.

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Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.

Movies We Still Care About – 1978

(For an explanation of this, read the Introduction.  Other posts in this series can be found here.)

Movies We Still Care About

  • Superman
  • Grease
  • National Lampoon’s Animal House
  • Halloween

Best Picture Nominees:

  • The Deer Hunter (Winner)
  • Coming Home
  • Heaven Can Wait
  • Midnight Express
  • An Unmarried Woman

Top Grossing Films (US)

  1. Grease
  2. Superman
  3. National Lampoon’s Animal House
  4. Every Which Way but Loose
  5. Heaven Can Wait
  6. Hooper
  7. Jaws 2
  8. Halloween
  9. Dawn of the Dead
  10. The Deer Hunter

This is a year in which the box office numbers were a much better predictor of long-term quality than the Oscars.  The top 3 (and 8th) box office movies have stood the test of time, while most people are at best dimly aware of the existence of the Academy Award Nominees.  The Russian Roulette scene in Deer Hunter is memorable, but beyond that, I think only a tiny minority of people could picture a single scene from any of the nominated movies.

Movies We Still Care About

Superman

On an objective level, Superman is not a very good movie.  It’s a lot better in our memories than if you actually watch it.  It has poor pacing, and an incoherent plot.  (The best summary I can come up with is “Superman does some stuff, and Lex Luthor has a ridiculous scheme involving missiles.”)  Plus it has the single worst ending from a writing perspective that I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture.

It also is the eponymous example of what I call “The Superman Problem.”  That’s when a hero is so incredibly powerful that the only way he can possibly be challenged is for him to be so incredibly stupid that he forgets his own abilities.  Since on a fundamental level, a movie is about the hero overcoming difficult challenges, it’s very difficult to make a movie work when the hero can’t be challenged.  Which is why this “How it Should Have Ended” cartoon for Superman makes a lot more sense than the actual movie.

So why is it on this list?  Two reasons: The first is that nobody was trying to make the movie work well as a story.  Superman is what I call a Spectacle Movie.  This is a movie that gives such a compelling spectacle that the viewers don’t really care about the story or characters.  The spectacle can come in the form of jokes, song-and-dance numbers, fight scenes, action scenes, or in the case of Superman, special effects.  Note that the tagline for Superman had nothing to do with any sort of story.  It was simply “You will believe a man can fly.”

The other reason it’s on this list is that Superman created the comic book tentpole movie.  That’s a genre that really came into its own in the 2000s, but it can be traced back to this.  Before 1978, comics were considered to be kids stuff, relegated to Saturday morning cartoons.  Superman demonstrated that, done right, comic book movies could be big business that would play to a general audience.

Grease

Does this appeal to everyone?  No.  But if you like musicals, you’ve seen Grease.  When I mention the songs “Summer Lovin,” “Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee,” “You’re the One That I Want,” and “We Go Together,” you probably heard those songs in your head, and possibly started humming them.  In general, this is just an all-around fun movie to watch.

Halloween

Halloween is generally seen as creating the modern slasher genre.  The idea of a soulless killer slaughtering promiscuous teenagers dates back to this movie.  If you’re a fan of the horror genre, you almost certainly have a fondness in your heart for this.  And even if you don’t care for horror, you probably still know who Michael Myers is.  He may not be quite at the level of mythology as Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, or Norman Bates, but I can’t think of any other horror movies characters that are better known.

National Lampoon’s Animal House

This is the trailblazer of both the gross-out comedy and college comedy genres.  Like Superman, it is more of a spectacle movie, working due to jokes rather than story.  The characters are mostly a bunch of obnoxious jerks who could easily be the villain in another movie, but are funny enough that you end up caring about them.

Plus in my personal opinion, John Belushi’s guitar smash is one of the all-time funniest moments in film.

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Do you disagree with any of these choices, or think that I missed something?  Leave a comment below.