Superheroes postsSunday April 03, 2016
I Told You, 'He Doesn't Get Superman At All!'
Hate to agree with Hitler, and these have been done to death, but yeah. All of it.
(Except for the “Mad Max” love, of course.)
SLIDESHOW: Batman Movies v. Superman Movies
SLIDESHOW: BATMAN MOVIES V. SUPERMAN MOVIES: We know Superman could totally take Batman in a fight—even with Bats wearing that ridiculous armour. But what about a battle of the movies? Who wins that fight? A tougher call. The two superheroes can't be more equal there. If you count “Superman II” twice (worthy Donner movie v. shitty Lester theatrical release), each has exactly 10 feature-length live-action films and/or movie serials under their utility belts. It's a dead heat. But whose are better? Or worse? That's where we get into the fun. Let's count down their 20 films, from worst to first, and see who really wins the battle of the world's best-known and best-loved superheroes.
20. SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987): Sorry, Supes: You lose the first round. The idea for this film is absurd (kid tells Supes to get rid of nukes, he does, supervillain is born), the cast is old, the special effects chincy. Apparently producers Golan and Globus slashed the budget from $40 to $17 mil after one of their Sylvester Stallone flicks failed. A sad end to the superhero franchise that began it all. Watching, you won't believe you once believed a man could fly.
19. BATMAN & ROBIN (1997): George Clooney plays Batman ironically, Uma Thurman hams it up as Poison Ivy, and Arnold delivers some of his worst puns ever as Mr. Freeze (“What killed da dinosaurs? Da ice age!”). The Adam West Batman series was intentional camp, tweaking both ‘40s sensibilities and our desperate need for heroes. Joel Schumacher's version is unintentional camp. He turns Batman into a joke without being funny at all.
18. BATMAN AND ROBIN (1949): Worst. Costume. Ever. Batman's suit seems made of felt and his cowl keeps slipping, forcing him to tilt his head up just to see. He loses fights, sometimes one-on-one, which makes you wonder why he dresses up as Batman in the first place. Dude, if you can't take a 40-year-old in a fedora, time to hang it up. Everyone here is no-nonsense and marching to the same post-WWII, bureaucratic and martial drumbeat. It's so dull, it almost makes you miss the racism of the first Batman serial.
17. SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN (1951): A small Texas town menaces three midgets in bald wigs, who emerge from the world's biggest oil well, and Superman shows up periodically, stern and humorless, to stop any bloodshed. Best moment? When a lynch mob takes a shot at Lois and Superman responds, “Obviously none of you can be trusted with guns. So I’m going to take them away from you.” And he does. In Texas.
16. SUPERMAN III (1983): First they make Superman play second fiddle to a post-freebase Richard Pryor; then they turn him evil and split him in two. He battles himself in a junkyard. They also took away Lois since Margot Kidder was adamant that Donner was the director for Supes, not Lester. Serves her right for being right. I mean, all the things they could've done here and look what they did. Look at what they did to my boy.
15. BATMAN RETURNS (1992): Batman returns? Really? When? In the first 45 minutes, we get maybe five minutes of him. Too much time, and too much empathy, is given to the supervillains: Penguin (ick) and Catwoman (num), and to the machinations of Chris Walken in white bouffant (whatever). Too many crooks spoil the plot—their schemes keep bumping into and sidetracking one another.
14. ATOM MAN VS. SUPERMAN (1950): You gotta give Lex Luthor credit. In this second Superman serial, he buys a TV station in the beginning of the TV age, builds a flying saucer, and invents the transporter beam 16 years before “Star Trek.” He also wears a glitter jug on his head for half the movie, but, even with that, he's still smarter than every other character in the serial, particularly Perry White, who manages to get everything wrong. As for the above image? That's Supes with a nuke missile between his legs. This looks like a job for Freud.
13. BATMAN FOREVER (1995): Batman gets psychoanalyzed by a sexed-up Nicole Kidman so he can change from a Batman who has to fight crime to one who wants to fight crime. That's the wrong move but the dialogue is even wronger: “You trying to get under my cape, doctor?” “A girl can’t live by psychoses alone.” “The car, right? Chicks love the car.” Then there's the scenery-chewing battle between Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey. Plus Robin's back. It's the beginning of the end of this franchise.
12. SUPERMAN II (1981): A job for Superman? Sadly, this is a Superman who doesn't do his job. He shows up late at The Daily Planet, explodes a second nuke in space despite an explicit warning against doing that, then gives up his superpowers to get laid. He's shocked when he loses a bar fight. Then Zod and company, released by the nuke, show up. Donner's watchword, verisimilitude, went out the window here and Lester's camp began. Lester did what Zod couldn't: He flattened Superman.
11. BATMAN (1943): Not bad for a racist serial. It introduces the “Bat's Cave,” gives us Capt. Arnold rather than Commissioner Gordon, and has Batman sticking bat stickers on the foreheads of crooks like a latter-day Zorro. But at least Batman is still a vigilante here—that's how we like him. As for the racism? The serial talks about how “a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs” into internment camps. I think it was the last time U.S. concentration camps were talked of positively until the GOP did so this year.
10. SUPERMAN (1948): Kirk Allyn gave this Superman a dancer's grace and a neophyte's enthusiasm. We also get the whole origin of Superman: Krypton, rocket ship, Kents, trip from Smallville to Metropolis. “Your unique abilities make you … a kind of super man,” Pa Kent says, as he urges his son to fight for ”truth, tolerance and justice.“ That was our post-WWII, pre-Cold War lesson. Tolerance had a small window.
9. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012): Bloated and needlessly complicated. Batman returns from retirement to get his back broken, thrown down a third-world hole, rise up again, and retire again. Gotham, cleaned up by the Batman, succumbs to fascism and anarchy. Nobody can understand a word Bane says. But the movie is redeemed in part by Oldman's Gordon, Gordon-Levitt's Blake, and particularly Hathaway's Selina Kyle.
8. SUPERMAN II: THE DONNER CUT (1981/2006): The opening scene, where Lois draws glasses and a fedora on a photo of Superman, then teases Clark, trying to get him to reveal his secret identity, is better than anything in Lester's version. Watching it, you wonder what might have been if the Salkinds had left Donner in control rather than going for Lester. You also want to borrow Jimmy Olsen's watch to signal Superman. Cuz we wuz robbed.
7. SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006): We live in a throwaway culture, so you have to admire Bryan Singer's attempt to recycle the 25-year-old Donner Superman movies. It doesn't quite work, though. The leads look and act too young, the ass-kicking of Superman on the kryptonite isle is too disturbing, and then there's the voyeurism. But what poignancy. Superman travels to Krypton to discover he's its last son; then he returns to find out he isn’t. He went searching for Krypton but found it in his own backyard.
6. MAN OF STEEL (2013): Cavill is an underrated Superman, and the main storyline—the idea that the U.S. would freak rather than applaud if an illegal alien with godlike powers showed up one day—is a smart move. Plus Lois is smart in this: She figures out Clark is Superman before there is a Superman. But then it gets dumb fast. I said from day one: Zack Snyder is not the right director for Superman. He's really not the right director for anything.
5. BATMAN (1989): It starts out with gothic seriousness, as two fearful crooks/junkies scare themselves in the shadows with tales of ”The Bat.“ It ends as a kind of joke, as the Joker pulls a superlong gun from his pants and shoots down the Batplane. In between it's not bad. I've said before that Keaton makes the best Bruce Wayne, since he's constantly distracted, not quite there, which he isn't. (He's Batman.) Plus his bat suit is one of the coolest. Plus Jack. Plus Prince. But then: “Tell me if I’m crazy, but that wasn’t just another night for either of us, was it?” Girls.
4. BATMAN BEGINS (2005): If only Bruce Wayne had hated Gotham City for killing his parents. Then Ra's al Ghul's offer to destroy Gotham would've resonated. Bruce would've realized that what he'd always wanted wasn't what he really wanted. Instead, this. The movie also suffers because its main villains are all flunkies: Carmine Falcone just takes orders from Jonathan Crane, Scarecrow, who takes orders from ... Etc. Oh yeah, and Rachel's kind of a bitch. (”Bruce, you don't care about Gotham anymore. Wow, you're Batman? Yeah, well now you're not Bruce anymore. Bye.") But at least we got Christian Bale.
3. BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966): Suggestion: Watch the '49 serial and then this. You'll laugh your ass off. It's not only a great sendup of America's chest-thumping post-WWII sensibilities, it's the best satire ever created on our need for heroes, super or otherwise. Sadly, this need has only grown. To paraphrase Dylan: We were so much older then; we're much more juvenile now.
2. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008): The Joker terrorizes Gotham in order to reveal its ugly soul. And he's right. Again and again, the people and institutions of the city give in to indirect terror. But threatened directly? On the ferry boats? The people there act nobly. How? Why? More, how does Batman know this would happen? Yeah, I know. I should stop thinking so much. Most Batman fans don’t go to the movies looking for anything logical. Most Batman fans just want to watch the world burn.
1. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978): It's epic, witty and gritty, with Reeves just about perfect in the title role. And it was years ahead of its time—Kryptonian in its advancement. It took another 11 years before we got Tim Burton’s “Batman” and another 11 after that to get to Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.” Twenty-two years: an entire generation. Back in the mid-1970s, Hollywood, enamored of disaster movies, didn’t think much of superheroes. But it only lacked the light to show it the way.
FIN: So who wins? What's the final tally? Well, Supes has the No. 1 movie but Batman dominates the top 5. If you do it numerically (20 points for No. 1, 19 for No. 2, etc.), then Batman beats his more powerful friend, 111 to 99. I'll still take Superman. But I'd like a Superman not produced by Golan and Globus. Or directed by Richard Lester. Or Zack Snyder. Or...
Ranking The Hollywood Reporter's Ranking of Every Marvel Comics Movie
“Oh no! Even though THR forgot how bad I was, EL is darkening my bad name again!”
The Hollywood Reporter put together a ranking of every Marvel movie ever made. I mean ever. Roger Corman is included. So is “Man-Thing,” a 2005 film I didn't even know existed.
All in all, it's not a bad list. It was put together by John DeFore, Leslie Felperin, and Jordan Mintzer, and my main beefs, off the top of my head, would be:
- “Guardians of the Galaxy” should be higher
- “Spider-Man 3” should be much, much lower
Aw, fuck it. Here's their ranking, and mine, sorted by the difference between us. (I've eliminated the seven or so Marvel movies I haven't seen: the “Blade” movies and the like.) Links go to my reviews.
The movies at the top are the ones THR ranked higher; at the bottom, the ones I ranked higher. Your results will vary.
|9||Avengers: Age of Ultron||18||9|
|26||X-Men: The Last Stand||34||8|
|13||The Amazing Spider-Man||20||7|
|30||Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vegeance||33||3|
|29||Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer||31||2|
|4||Captain America: The Winter Soldier||5||1|
|10||Captain America: The First Avenger||11||1|
|14||X-Men: Days of Future Past||15||1|
|21||Iron Man 3||22||1|
|22||The Amazing Spider-Man 2||23||1|
|16||The Wolverine (2013)||16||0|
|15||Iron Man 2||14||-1|
|25||X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)||24||-1|
|31||Fantastic Four (2005)||28||-3|
|23||Thor: The Dark World||19||-4|
|11||Guardians of the Galaxy||6||-5|
|32||Fantastic Four (1994)||26||-6|
|35||Captain America (1990)||27||-8|
|18||The Incredible Hulk||9||-9|
|19||X-Men: First Class||10||-9|
|34||Fantastic Four (2015)||21||-13|
Yeah, that's right. I'll go out on a limb that FF2015 wasn't great but it's not nearly as bad as everyone's making it out to be. I think it's the best of the FFs. Low bar, I know.
Mostly, though, I agree with THR.
Captain America vs. Donald Trump
Researching this post, I found myself reading the last issue of the 1950s Captain America series. At that time, superhero comics were on the outs and Timely/Marvel was down to Cap, who was in his “commie smasher” persona; but his run finally ended with issue #78 in Sept. 1954.
In the last story of that last issue, he battles Chuck Blayne, the idol of American boys everywhere, who counsels them to keep clean minds, strong bodies and “play to win.” Cap is suspicious.
As he should be, since Blayne is really a Soviet spy. To be honest, Blayne's plot is lame. He tries to turn American boys against the U.N. by showing how weak it is, and, in this regard, plants a bomb and laughs that no one can do anything about it. It's a little over-the-top. Surely someone could've come up with a less maniacal plan.
After Cap wins the day, he talks up who Blayne initially reminded him of. These are the last panels of Captain America until he was resurrected by Stan and Jack in Avengers #4 in March 1963:
Two things in particular struck me about this story:
- The U.N. is seen as a positive force, something our enemies are trying to undermine. I guess it would be a while before the whole “black helicopters” meme took a stronger hold in the right-wing mind.
- Play to win vs. Good sportsmanship. Cf., any Donald Trump speech.
Comic Book Spinner Rack, May 1956
I don't remember where I got this photo, but it reminds me how much I miss the comic book spinner racks that used to be in every drug store, and quite a few supermarkets, when I was growing up in the 1970s. When did they disappear? Late '70s? I think specialty comic stores began to get better deals from the manufacturer/distributor, comic book geeks flocked there, boom. Another example of our social fragmentation.
The photo must be from around May 1956 since the Superman comic in the kid's hands is this one, which is May 1956. Other clues: The Action Comics on the rack is most likely this April 1956 one, while the real key is “Matt Slade, Gunfighter,” which only ran for four issues, all of them in, of course, 1956. The one on the rack appears to be Matt Slade #1. Collector's item!
For all the nostalgia of the photo, it was a bad time for comic books. The post-war comic bonfires of the late '40s were followed by Dr. Frederic Wertham's denunciations of how comics warped young minds (made us violent and/or gay); this was followed by U.S. Senate hearings. As a result we got the Comics Code Authority and a lot of westerns and kids comics (Little Lulu, Casper, Woody Woodpecker) as well as celebrity comics, such as “The Adventures of Bob Hope,” which ran from 1950 to 1968, believe it or not. What superheroes remained became toothless. Marvel/Timely was in fact out of the superhero biz: Its remaining hero, Capt. America, ended his run in Sept. 1954.
Kid seems happy enough, though.