Comic book writers love their heroes, and are less likely to give love and attention to their villains. That’s human nature, I suppose, but boy does it hurt modern superhero movies. “Justice League” (2017), now available for home viewing, is the latest film to suffer from a bland, predictable villain, and it keeps a fun blockbuster from becoming something substantial. Steppenwolf – no, not that Steppenwolf – wants to destroy the world because, as a Geico commercial would say, “If you’re a supervillain, it’s what you do.”
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe entered Phase Three it seemed to take on a unique challenge, reinventing itself with each new film. “Thor: Ragnarok” was basically the MCU’s answer to Monty Python. “Ant Man” was an “Ocean’s” movie with a dude who could shrink. Even “Guardians 2” changed things up by being incredibly personal and intimate where the first was loud and brash.
After 19 years away from the big screen, ole Supes comes back in a weird way in “Superman Returns” (2006). Directed by “X-Men’s” Bryan Singer, a longtime fan of Richard Donner’s “Superman” (1978), this is a spiritual sequel to the original quadrilogy, but not a strict sequel. And that makes for a confusing viewing experience.
In 1985’s “Rocky IV,” Rocky ends the Cold War with an impassioned speech. Two years later, “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” (1987) offers a more sobering examination of the issue: By the movie’s end, the creation of nuclear bombs goes on, even though Superman (Christopher Reeve) has flung the existing arsenal into the sun. The latter is more grounded, but it’s not nearly as inspiring, which is why “Rocky IV” is a cult classic and “Superman IV” rates a 3.7 on IMDB.
Having gotten the heavy backstory out of the way, franchise screenwriters David and Leslie Newman and director Richard Lester (who helmed the theatrical version of “Superman II”) cut loose with the character in “Superman III” (1983). While the film rates only a 4.9 on IMBD – suggesting that a lot of moviegoers would’ve rather missed this one, like the Bermuda-bound Lois — it has a lot to recommend it.
“Man of Steel” (2013) ends with Superman ravaging Metropolis in order to defeat General Zod, and that destruction becomes a central issue of “Batman v Superman” (2016). The filmmakers had time in between the films to learn that viewers were bothered by the collateral damage of Supes’ fight, and either added that theme to the sequel or knew they were justified in doing so. Things were different in the original “Superman” film saga.
“Superman” (1978) is a product of its time, something that’s more evident today when contrasted with the muscular and modern “Man of Steel” (2013). Still, if a viewer puts themselves in the mindset of a 1978 movie-goer, it’s clear why this movie is beloved. Indeed, it even rates a 7.3 on IMDB on compared to 7.1 for “MoS.”
Now a franchise of five films with the addition of “Justice League” this week, the DC Extended Universe launched in 2013 with “Man of Steel.” Written by the Dark Knight Trilogy’s David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan and directed by “Watchmen’s” Zack Snyder, “Man of Steel” attempts to balance everything we love about Superman with a fresh examination of his character and place in the world. Every subsequent DCEU film – despite having a variety of writers and directors — has followed that formula, to varying degrees of success. Here are three things that have become trademarks of the saga, for better or worse:
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2106) is the epitome of a movie where the end result is less than the sum of its parts. The three-hour Ultimate Edition, when watched at home in about six sittings, is better than the theatrical edition, but it still has problems at its core. It also has some cool stuff – when separated from the movie’s overall context. In advance of this weekend’s “Justice League,” here are six cool things and six dumb things about last year’s DC Extended Universe blockbuster:
For the sake of getting up to date on the DC Extended Universe, I watched “Suicide Squad”(2016), which is now available on HBO. It’s the most maligned of the four DCEU movies, rating a 6.2 on IMDB, compared to 6.6 for “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” 7.1 for “Man of Steel” and 7.6 for “Wonder Woman.” It has some major problems, but I actually connected with the characters faster than I did with Supes or Bats in their DCEU debuts, and I wouldn’t mind following this bunch into sequels so I can get to know them better.