Category Archives: Survey

Director | John Carpenter, Part 4: The Mundane Years

In the four phases of John Carpenter’s career, the final one–starting in 1992 and going on eighteen years–contains almost forty percent of his theatrical output. This final period is almost an afterthought’s afterthought. While Sandy King produces most of the films, Gary Kibbe photographs most of them, and Peter Jason has a part in most of them, the films are not defined by Carpenter’s collaborations but by their lack of success, creatively, critically, and commercially. It’s a somewhat cynical way to classify these nine films, but not an inaccurate one. Nothing Carpenter does works, regardless of cast, regardless of budget. He’s no longer creating or recreating genres, he’s firmly–and often disinterestedly–in established ones. His closest thing to a success from the last half of his career is just a return to his early standards, only half as good.

Daryl Hannah consoles a visible Chevy Chase in MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN.
Daryl Hannah consoles a visible Chevy Chase in MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN.

Given 1992’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man kicks things off, I suppose Carpenter’s final phase could be a lot worse because Memoirs–four years after Carpenter’s last film, They Live–threatens an already asleep at the wheel John Carpenter. Memoirs is the first Hollywood “Invisible Man” with CGI, it’s an attempt at (another) revitalization of Chevy Chase’s career, and it’s the return of John Carpenter. It’s also one of the least “John Carpenter” John Carpenter films. He’s doing a studio picture without his regular supporting cast, without his regular crew (though he did previously work with editor Marion Rothman on Starman and Christine); it’s very different John Carpenter film.

Chevy Chase can't been seen in MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, directed by John Carpenter for Warner Bros.
Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2014 review

It’s also an unfortunate John Carpenter film. The script is weak and Carpenter is checked out. It’s like he knows it’s not going well. The CGI’s good, anyway, but it’s fairly clear Carpenter hasn’t got any more a handle on it than he does the rest of the film. There’s a distressing lack of personality when it comes to the production, except maybe in Carpenter’s indifference.

When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.
When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man was a fairly big box office bomb, but it’s not like anyone blamed Carpenter exactly. You don’t blame the directors for bad Chevy Chase movies. They’re not the problem. Even when they’re bad, they’re not the problem. Since its release, Memoirs has not gotten a better reputation or a discovery. There’s nothing to discover; at least it’s available widescreen now, so you can see the Panavision, but you shouldn’t because there’s no reason to see the movie.

Even a hackneyed Charlton Heston is better than Julie Carmen and Sam Niell IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS.
Even a hackneyed Charlton Heston is better than Julie Carmen and Sam Neill IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS.

Carpenter’s next film, In the Mouth of Madness, stars Sam Neill in the lead. Neill was the villain in Memoirs, promoted here to an insurance investigator who has to try to stop a Stephen King wannabe from ending the world. It’s made more difficult because the entire world is going crazy from reading the author’s books. Violence and chaos ensues. It’s New Line–written by studio exec Michael De Luca no less–so some occasional gore. The film does bring back a bit of Carpenter “flavor,” with Peter Jason in a cameo, Sandy King producing (she worked on Starman through They Live), and Gary B. Kibbe on photography.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2014 review
In the Mouth of Madness (1994). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2014 review

Mouth of Madness has a lot of varied fans. I’m not one of them. The Maltin guide, at least at the time, described it as (partially) Carpenter’s “best work as a director” or something to that effect, which is a ludicrously absurd (and patently wrong) claim. The acting is terrible–Neill and leading lady Julie Carmen in particular. It’s got a bad script, the production isn’t good, Kibbe’s photography is bad. Some of the editing does work out. Otherwise, it’s a too short, unfocused slog.

Sam Neill is trapped in a book, the viewer is trapped with Sam Neill.
Sam Neill is trapped in a book, the viewer is trapped with Sam Neill.

Of all Carpenter’s post-They Live films, which is actually almost half his career, In the Mouth of Madness easily gets the most regard. Still, it’s never had much curation on home video; solid home video releases always encourage Carpenter discovery. But I still think it’d be too much of a slog to catch on. Neill’s really lame.

Intrepid reporters Sue Charlton and Clark Kent try to figure out what's wrong with the children in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.
Intrepid reporters Sue Charlton and Clark Kent try to figure out what’s wrong with the children in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.

Squinting at Carpenter’s remake of Village of the Damned, one can almost pretend there’s a parallel to The Thing. It’s a Universal release, it’s a remake, it’s… no, it’s just those two elements. It’s Carpenter’s only other remake and has his most “all-star” eighties genre cast, with Superman Christopher Reeve, Star Trek Kirstie Alley, and Star Wars Mark Hamill, along with Michael Paré, Linda Kozlowski, and Meredith Salenger. It’s like the perfect cast for a movie in the HBO Guide from 1987. Unfortunately, it’s from 1995 (the same year Madness got a domestic theatrical release, those two films the only Carpenter pictures from the same year–features at least). Carpenter brings back some familiar players–Peter Jason, of course, and George ‘Buck’ Flower–and crew–producer King, cinematographer Kibbe, editor Edward A. Warschilka. Village of the Damned sort of kicks off a sub-period for Carpenter, one where he’s no longer casting unappreciated character actors and leads, but trying to tap into something retro. Sort of. It might just be a signal of what kind of Carpenter films are to come.

Thomas Dekker, Linda Kozlowski, and Christopher Reeve star in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, directed by John Carpenter for Universal Pictures.
Village of the Damned (1995). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2013 review

And those films, like Village of the Damned, are going to be pretty lame. I even remember when Village of the Damned came out in the theater and I wouldn’t walk six blocks to see it. I just couldn’t subject myself to another lame Carpenter. It’s got a weak script, it’s utterly lacking in terms of Carpenter’s interest. He’s done confined towns successfully before (Halloween), even in Northern California (The Fog), but he doesn’t do anything to make it work in Damned. But Carpenter also hasn’t got any idea what to do with the “monsters” in the film. Why remake Village of the Damned if the damned kids aren’t going to be scary? Again, there’s some gore, but not to any great effect.

The funny looking children of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.
A VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED or an ophthalmologist’s dream?

Village of the Damned had a decent Universal LaserDisc release–which I also couldn’t bring myself to purchase back in the nineties because the movie’s crap–and a late DVD release, but has since had a Blu-Ray release with some kinds of special features. Not enough to make it worth a look (Carpenter doesn’t contribute an audio commentary); it’s another sore thumb in Carpenter’s nineties bevy of sore thumbs. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of anyone liking it.

Snake Plissken doesn't just jump a shark, he surfs over it!
Snake Plissken doesn’t just jump a shark, he surfs over it!

However, while the nineties didn’t bring much in the way of good John Carpenter, the decade did do something to (temporarily) resurrect Kurt Russell’s stardom and he utilized it to get Escape from L.A. made. Released fifteen years after Escape from New York, Russell’s the only returning actor, though the film does finally reteam Carpenter with Debra Hill. She and Russell produce; she, Russell, and Carpenter write. Kibbe’s back on photography, Warschilka on edits. The film also reunites Carpenter with production designer Lawrence G. Paull, who did Memoirs (though one assumes his Blade Runner experience came more in handy than that one). And Peter Jason’s back, of course.

Kurt Russell stars in ESCAPE FROM L.A., directed by John Carpenter for Paramount Pictures.
Escape from L.A. (1996). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2013 review.

It’s a film with a lot of familiar actors–from standards like Cliff Robertson and Stacy Keach to trendier ones like Pam Grier, Bruce Campbell, and Steve Buscemi (as Russell’s sidekick)–and some solid performances, but it doesn’t work out. If his nineties output showcases anything about Carpenter, it’s his inability to work with CGI. Escape from L.A. relies heavily on it to terrible result. And Paull’s production design turns out pretty lame. I was a moderate fan when it came out–as a teenager–but I was hopefully just hopped up on “Starlog” press about it.

The Capitol Records Building is destroyed; you should see what happened to the Hollywood Bowl.
The Capitol Records Building is destroyed; you should see what happened to the Hollywood Bowl.

If anything, Escape from L.A. starts Carpenter’s final phase of his nineties work, where he gets a bit of a pass. Unlike almost every other Carpenter film, Escape has never had anything approaching a special edition. Russell’s star power got a grateful studio–Paramount–to make the film, but after it flopped (and helped knock Russell’s career back down), it’s not like they were going to put anything into special features. The film’s since been released on Blu-Ray (from Warner, through their Paramount catalog deal), but still without special features. Presumably there’s nothing anyone wants to say about it; though people do watch it. There are some Carpenter films from the nineties no one watches (Memoirs of an Invisible Man, for instance).

James Woods looks for VAMPIRES!
James Woods looks for VAMPIRES!

And so, Vampires, Carpenter’s last film of the nineties, gives him a perfect post-Kurt Russell lead in James Woods and a strong supporting cast. Unfortunately, most of that strong supporting cast gets killed off too soon and it’s not like Woods has a good face-off with lead vampire Thomas Ian Griffith. The film’s got a high concept–the Vatican employs a band of vampire hunters, led by Woods, and they get in trouble. That trouble involves combining a road movie with a star-crossed romance (not even for Woods, but Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee). There’s comic relief too, albeit entirely thanks to Woods’s yelling. Carpenter’s nineties crew stable is present–King, Kibbe, and Warschilka; but… the film’s distressingly without a Peter Jason appearance.

A scene from VAMPIRES, directed by John Carpenter for Columbia Pictures.
Vampires (1998). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2011 review.

Before it came out, I was waiting what seemed like forever for Vampires to get picked up for domestic release. Columbia eventually picked it up–Carpenter’s first Columbia Pictures release since Starman in the eighties–and it’s not a terrible film. I mean, it’s boring, dramatically inert, entirely phoned in creatively by Carpenter, but it’s watchable. It’s also maybe the only Gary B. Kibbe photography to impress me. He does a lot better with the New Mexico location shooting than one would think.

Hands out of the desert, decapitated heads flying across the sky
Hands out of the desert, decapitated heads flying across the sky

The film doesn’t have much of a reputation, but it does have enthusiasts. Again, it’s James Woods in a John Carpenter movie called Vampires. You get what you paid for (and not a thing more).

Ice Cube and Natasha Henstridge aren't quite  Darwin Joston and Austin Stoker, but they're enough to take on GHOSTS OF MARS.
Ice Cube and Natasha Henstridge aren’t quite Darwin Joston and Austin Stoker, but they’re enough to take on GHOSTS OF MARS.

After five films playing with different genres (and sub-genres), in 2001, Carpenter went as back to basics as he could, sort of remaking Assault on Precinct 13, only on Mars with zombies–or, more accurately, Ghosts of Mars. Even with a limited budget, it had the biggest mainstream, “name” cast for a Carpenter film in years. Leads Natasha Henstridge and Ice Cube were at (or near) the tops of their careers and showy co-star Jason Statham was about to be on his way up. Pam Grier and Robert Carradine are back from Escape from L.A.. Peter Jason returns. Kibbe and King are back, with Paul C. Warschilka (Edward’s son) handling the edits. Carpenter even co-writes (with Larry Sulkis), which goes a lot better than the L.A. script, even with less budget.

Ghosts of Mars (2001). ★★. 2016 review.
Ghosts of Mars (2001). ★★. 2016 review.

I’ve always had something of a soft spot for the film, which I saw reluctantly in the theater; Carpenter’s not reinventing the wheel with the handling of the special effects, but at least he’s trying. There’s a mix of miniature and CGI, with the CGI nicely blending in the miniatures; Carpenter knows how to make this film. His cast isn’t the best in terms of, you know, acting, but they’re all eager. Unfortunately, a lot of the editing implies shortcuts–whether actual or just perceived–and Warschilka, fils isn’t particularly subtle with his cuts. Still, it works out far better than expected. Carpenter’s got ideas, context, and momentum, something his nineties films otherwise severely lack.

For some reason, no one likes Big Daddy Mars.
For some reason, no one likes Big Daddy Mars.

Ghosts of Mars, despite being somewhat well-received and having a number of casual fans, has never garnered much more attention. It doesn’t really deserve much more, but it does deserve some. It’s workman, but gloriously so. I should note some Carpenter fans really can’t stand it–I spent years trying to get it on the “Alan Smithee Podcast” schedule but my co-host steadfastly refused.

After nine years away, Carpenter can't do anything to get a performance out of Amber Heard in THE WARD; Mamie Gummer's good, however.
After nine years away, Carpenter can’t do anything to get a performance out of Amber Heard in THE WARD; Mamie Gummer’s good, however.

Following Ghosts of Mars, it was another nine years until Carpenter’s next feature. The Ward is Carpenter’s only ghost story–and his only period piece (the film’s set in the mid-sixties)–and his only eighty-five percent female cast. It takes place in a women’s mental hospital, features no Carpenter regulars in the cast or on the crew. It’s just him (and some of his regular effects crew).

Amber Heard stars in THE WARD, directed by John Carpenter for Warner Bros.
The Ward (2010). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ. 2011 review.

It’s a disappointing film, no doubt, but not an entirely worthless one. There’s some bad acting and some okay acting. The script’s weak. The lead (Amber Heard) is one of the bad performances, which never helps. But there are twists and turns, even if Carpenter’s not really good at this kind of film. He just doesn’t care enough.

The Ward has become an footnote in Carpenter’s filmography; maybe it never was anything more than a footnote in it. I’m fairly certain I’ve never talked to anyone else who’s even seen it. The Ward’s biggest impact is–since its release–there hasn’t been much clamoring for Carpenter to return to the director’s seat.

No amount of group can make THE WARD any better.
No amount of group can make THE WARD any better.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve wanted John Carpenter to stage a great comeback. The strange thing about these seven films is any of them could have been a critical comeback for Carpenter. He could’ve created a special effects driven comedy genre, he could’ve done super-literate gore, he could’ve done moderately budgeted, moderately successful genre remakes, he could’ve made an Escape from L.A. so awesome Escape from Earth got greenlit before the first Sunday box office was in, he could’ve started a series of awesome collaborations with James Woods, he could’ve done sci-fi Westerns on a budget, he could’ve done great twenty-first century low budget, CG-enhanced horror. But he didn’t do any of those things. It just didn’t work out. It sucks. But it didn’t work out.

What has worked out is the preservation and presentation of Carpenter’s films on Blu-Ray, usually thanks to Shout! Factory. And it’s not like Carpenter isn’t finally interested in doing something; it’s just music, not movies. At least not directing them. Maybe it’ll be a good thing.

It can’t get much worse than Memoirs of an Invisible Man, after all.

Director | John Carpenter, Part 3: The Alive Duet

Following Big Trouble in Little China’s disappointing box office returns, director John Carpenter returned to low budget filmmaking. For Alive Films–and distributed through Universal, back in the Carpenter business following the failures of The Thing and Halloween III–Carpenter wrote and directed Prince of Darkness and They Live. His last two films of the eighties, the Alive Duet turn out the lights on the first half of Carpenter’s career while foreshadowing the second half.

Victor Wong and Donald Pleasence try to battle the PRINCE OF DARKNESS with knowledge.
Victor Wong and Donald Pleasence try to battle the PRINCE OF DARKNESS with knowledge.

Prince of Darkness is particularly notable as it brings back Donald Pleasance, who last worked with Carpenter on Halloween II (which Carpenter wrote and produced, but did not direct) six years before. Pleasance’s presence gives the film a very familiar feeling–he even has the same name as his Halloween character. So Prince of Darkness is visibly Carpenter, not studio Carpenter and not seventies Carpenter, but a somewhat pulpy one. Gary B. Kibbe’s photography on Prince of Darkness is muted, mundane. There’s no glamour to Prince of Darkness, so Carpenter’s able to get away with that lower budget. He’s still thinking about how to best connect with the viewer. What’s too much–and Prince of Darkness gets wackier than any other Carpenter script–and what’s acceptable. The film also returns Carpenter to his closed locations and limited cast members–they’re being held hostage by Satan slime. Dennis Dun and Victor Wong are the only other returning Carpenter players–they’re back from Big Trouble–but Peter Jason does start his run for most often cast in a John Carpenter film award. He’s got five, all theatrical, unlike Charles Cyphers who has four theatrical and two television movies.

Donald Pleasence stars in PRINCE OF DARKNESS, directed by John Carpenter for Universal Pictures.
Prince of Darkness (1987). ★½. 2008 review

Oddly enough, Prince of Darkness would have been one of my first John Carpenter movies growing up. It was on cable a lot; on one of the movie channels. We didn’t have cable yet, but I did see it around. I’ve got a lot more respect for it today than I ever did as a kid. The pan and scan wouldn’t have helped, but you also need a certain intellectual detachment with Prince of Darkness and I wouldn’t have had it as a kid.

Carpenter did not follow PRINCE OF DARKNESS with Vatical promotional videos.
Carpenter did not follow PRINCE OF DARKNESS with Vatical promotional videos.

Prince of Darkness got a relatively early DVD release–2000–back when Image was releasing Universal’s catalog. And people finally got to see it widescreen. Universal had pan and scanned the LaserDisc in 1988. The film’s ridden a tide of casual affection–there’s a nice blu-ray special edition and everything. It’s actually rather surprisingly because I distinctly remember it being bandied about as an example of the new depths of Donald Pleasance’s career at the time. Of course I was a kid, but I feel like I paid attention to it enough. People didn’t like back to low budgets Carpenter, not on Prince of Darkness. Maybe because Jesus is a space alien too; just saying.

Roddy Piper and Keith David hug it out violently in THEY LIVE.
Roddy Piper and Keith David hug it out violently in THEY LIVE.

So while Prince of Darkness didn’t inspire a new generation of Carpenter fan, the next one did. People loved They Live, kids, adults, whatever. Guys. Let’s be clear. Always guys, but the strangest and widest variety of them. Something about Rowdy Roddy Piper in what otherwise would’ve been a Kurt Russell role, finding out the world’s being taken over by space aliens, running out of bubble gum. It’s a lot. And Meg Foster’s in it. Meg Foster was in a certain type of movie in the eighties–genre crap, basically; at the time, They Live fit into an existing genre, something Carpenter was never comfortable doing before. The more he tried, the more he failed. Except with They Live, because he didn’t take it seriously.

They Live (1988). ★½. 2005 review
They Live (1988). ★½. 2005 review

He brings back Peter Jason from Prince of Darkness, Keith David from The Thing, and George ‘Buck’ Flower from–wait, George ‘Buck’ Flower is in five theatricals. Sorry Peter Jason, you lose. Anyway, some of They Live feels like it’d pair well with another Carpenter movie or pretty much anything else. It’s accessible and iconic, but it’s also occasionally lazy and not imaginatively done enough from Carpenter. His direction is perfunctory, maybe because he doesn’t have an actor to connect with. Piper’s not good enough, Foster (in the Laurie Zimmer part) is underwritten and underperformed; maybe Keith David? But the writing isn’t there.

They Live also didn’t get a letterbox release until DVD. It too was an Image Entertainment release when they had the Universal license; it came out the same day as Prince of Darkness actually. Since then it’s had rereleases and special features and a blu-ray or two. It’s become a film people have seen, which wasn’t always the case. It’s easily Carpenter’s most referenced film in pop culture; I mean, the video game Duke Nukem just ripped off all Piper’s lines but no one really realized it for a few years because the Internet was smaller back then.

It's all going to be okay. THEY LIVE (1988).
It’s all going to be okay. THEY LIVE (1988).

After They Live in 1988, it’d be another four years before Carpenter made another film and another thirteen before he’d make one better than They Live. They’re the last of many things in Carpenter’s filmography. The last Alan Howarth collaboration, the last time Larry J. Franco is producing; they’d both been around since Escape from New York. It was the end of the archetypes Carpenter had been working with since he started–no more Laurie Zimmers, no more Snake Plisskens (not even when Snake Plissken would come back). It’d be a heck of a lot less depressing if They Live didn’t have a weak final third, because in context, the Alive Duet feel more like defeat than anything else. Carpenter tried, it didn’t work. And when he returned after four years, there’d never be any real expectation again when you saw the preview for John Carpenter’s Memoirs in the Mouth of Damned Mars Vampires.

Series | Superman: The Movies

The first Superman franchise started alongside, for the most part, the culturally redefining Star Wars and–sort of–Indiana Jones. But it had little in common with those franchises. It had a big studio feel to it. Superman is the culmination of the American epic. It just happened to coincide with the rise of Spielberg, who never makes the American epic, but managed to replace them.

Superman (1978). ★★★★ D: Richard Donner
Superman (1978). ★★★★ D: Richard Donner

The first Superman captures the mythology of the movies. It’s kind of like The Sting version of Superman. There’s an innocent gee whiz attitude, but also a starker, cynical one. It asks for a lot of magic, usually with Christopher Reeve’s grin and Margot Kidder’s innocent smile. Donner plays with the iconography of the characters, not so much in their “super” roles, but their human ones. It’s a very interesting way to develop a property too, because it had very little to do with the comic book and everything to do with the brand.

Superman II (1980). ★★★ D: Richard Lester
Superman II (1980). ★★★ D: Richard Lester

Superman II had a much more British feel; it feels like a Bond movie of the era or even the second Muppet movie. It feels British. It’s also pretty darn good; sure, there are a lot of big plot problems but it’s just good enough to forgive them. Lester goes for a lot of big action in the film; it has a very different understanding of special effects than the first film. The gee whiz is now itself cynical. Still, it’s got wonderful work from Reeve and Kidder.

Superman III (1983). ★ D: Richard Lester
Superman III (1983). ★ D: Richard Lester

And then there’s Superman III, which is Lester unbound from any Donner material. It’s a bad amalgamation of a Richard Pryor movie–not a good one–with a Superman sequel. No one gets enough to do, definitely not Pryor, not Reeve, not Kidder. Reeve actually gets the most to do because Kidder’s gone for most of the picture; Annette O’Toole’s the love interest. She’s great. It stinks she wasn’t back for IV because she and Kidder would’ve had great rapport.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ D: Sidney J. Furie
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). ⓏⒺⓇⓄ D: Sidney J. Furie

Superman IV, of course, is a worse film than III and an embarrassment, technically speaking, to the franchise itself. And I feel like I’m more forgiving of it than most people. It’s just a crappy Cannon movie, often incompetent. However, there’s good acting from Reeve and Kidder, against the odds, and Gene Hackman’s awesome.

Hackman, Reeve, Kidder. Everyone else from the first two movies. The casting is perfect not because they’re perfect personifications of the comic book characters, but because they’re perfect characters. You want to spend time with Ned Beatty. You’re happy when he gets a scene again. It’s a studio picture, no question about it.

Superman (1978); director's cut. ★★★★ D: Richard Donner
Superman (1978); director’s cut. ★★★★ D: Richard Donner
Superman II (1980); restored international cut. ★ D: Richard Lester
Superman II (1980); restored international cut. ★ D: Richard Lester
Superman II (1980); Richard Donner cut. ★ D: Richard Donner
Superman II (1980); Richard Donner cut. ★ D: Richard Donner

There have been a number of alternate cuts–starting with the infamous Superman: The Movie TV cut, which you could buy at a con for thirty bucks on crappy VHS. Donner’s done a director’s cut. He doesn’t break it, but he doesn’t improve it. Donner doesn’t do well with director’s cuts. Superman II, of course, had an infamous history. Supposedly there was more Donner footage and Warner wasn’t letting us see it–there’s the Geoffrey Unsworth memoriam on the first film, yet he’s the cinematographer on the second–what wasn’t Warner letting us see! And then the Internet happened and fans put together the Restored International Cut back when fan restorations were a thing. It’s interesting; not good, but interesting. Warner got around to bringing Donner in to cut together his own director’s cut, which is worse than the Restored International Cut because of Donner’s ego. The frustrating thing about Superman II is no one doing a cut is doing it to make the film better, just to make it longer or their own. It’s a shame. They should’ve let Tom Mankiewicz do a cut in addition to Donner.

There are mild alternate cuts of Superman III and Superman IV circulating unofficially, but none promise major changes. The also infamous Superman IV–all of the films have infamous alternate cuts except the third one–anyway, the longer Quest for Peace cut is apparently gone. Bummer.

Superman Returns (2006). ★★½ D: Bryan Singer
Superman Returns (2006). ★★½ D: Bryan Singer

So, fast forward a number of years and Warner is putting together another studio Superman picture. The resulting Superman Returns strictly followed the continuity of the original series. But only the first two movies and with questionable memory. Returns was special effects spectacular in a way most movies don’t have the patience to be anymore. But it can’t overcome the script problems or the acting ones. Bryan Singer doesn’t have any patience and it shows. Enthusiasm, ambition, but no patience.

Superman Returns didn’t make enough money for the studio and so Warner went ahead with a new one after a seven year break. Since the release of the Superman: The Movie DVD in the late nineties, the film’s enjoyed a bit of renewed appreciation. On one hand, should it be enjoying this particular kind of renewed appreciation, fueled by fan enthusiasm and then happening to spill over thanks to interest in the DVD and subsequent blu-ray formats? Wouldn’t it be purer if Christopher Reeve finally got his due? Or Gene Hackman? On the other hand, Superman: The Movie was unappreciated for almost twenty years, so why not.

When Superman returned again, it was without any of the Salkind “flavoring.” Instead, Warner went to Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, and Zach Snyder to bring out a Superman capable of competing with the Marvel Comics movies. Things did not go as planned, but Warner seemed to be understanding how much critical opinion–even of movie bloggers–didn’t matter anymore and kicked off an entire “DC Comics Extended Universe” off Man of Steel, which retained the Superman Returns sequel title but none of its story elements.

Henry Cavill stars in MAN OF STEEL, directed by Zach Snyder for Warner Bros.
Man of Steel (2013). ★★★½ D: Zach Snyder

I’m a big fan of Man of Steel, though I can understand why it has problems catching on with people. It requires you to buy into the theatrical aspect of the story in a different way. The film itself is standout work from people I otherwise can’t stand–David S. Goyer, Snyder, Hans Zimmer. If they ever make a good sequel, it’ll make aughts film worth it to me.

But there hasn’t been a good sequel to Man of Steel, instead there’s been Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which Warner unleashed on the world after it had been in the can a year. During that year, there was lots of bad press, concerning rumors, occasional hopefulness (remember the “Doomsday can’t be the only villain” crowd?). But then it came out. And people felt dumb for having any hope.

Turns out the “S” doesn’t translate.

Henry Cavill and Amy Adams star in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, directed by Zack Snyder for Warner Bros.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). ★★ D: Zach Snyder
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016); ultimate edition. ★½. D: Zach Snyder
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016); ultimate edition. ★½. D: Zach Snyder

Dawn of Justice is a problematic, often well-made, blissfully unaware of itself, prodding TV mini-series of a thing. It’s like marathoning the least dramatic television show; part of the problem with superhero movies, especially the team-up ones, is getting everyone into the room. Marvel threw down a gauntlet. Warner made The Thornbirds out of it.

Still, there are some good performances and effective moments. If nothing else, it shows the importance of casting in these franchises. The theatrical version shreds Henry Cavill and Amy Adams’s performances, yet they’re still extremely strong and the most comfortable in Snyder’s confusion. The charm helps. Unfortunately, when you get their full performances (or fuller performances) in the R-rated Ultimate Edition, it’s a worse film. Turns out there was a somewhat decent Man of Steel 2 in Dawn of Justice but they ruined it.

Strange thing about Dawn of Justice though. It made a lot of money and moviegoers don’t seem to care about the things people said about it. Let’s not forget Warner Bros. was the studio of Steven Seagal. They know their true demographic.

Will Superman survive arrogant populism? Will Lois Lane ever get a scene to herself not in the sole function of the A plot? Do the glasses really confuse Perry White or does he just like yelling at Superman? Will we ever get to just watch a couple new Superman movies for fun? Because what Snyder doesn’t care about and Singer didn’t get (or was scared to attempt) is you want Superman to hang out with you.