Superman III (1983) Review

Director: Richard Lester

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Romance, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 125 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

I think most people who’ve seen the Superman series would agree that Superman III is a step down from the first two. It’s not bad, but parts of it are a bit of a chore by superhero movie standards. Evil businessman Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn) is obsessed with cornering the market for certain commodities, so he decides to eliminate Superman (Christopher Reeve) with some artificial kryptonite to prevent the Man of Steel from interfering with his plans. There’s an interesting idea or two to be found here, but, overall, it feels routine.

Superman III is a lot more comedic than Superman (1978) or Superman II (1980), not that those films didn’t have plenty of comic relief. Much of the humor is provided by the character Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor), a down-on-his-luck dude who turns out to be a whiz with computers. Speaking of computers, they’re all over the place here, in all their bulky, 1980s-looking glory. The technology is mighty dated, as is the picture’s campy aesthetic, but it serves as a cautionary tale about the powers of new-fangled gadgetry.

On the action front, things are…adequate. There’s a nice punch-up involving Superman in a junkyard that I won’t spoil the details of, but the finale feels fairly lethargic at times for the conclusion of an action-adventure flick. The special effects are actually on the impressive side, but what good are they when the story is undercooked? It’s cool and all seeing Superman constantly saving the day, but he needs a tighter plot to back him up.

Although the musical score is done by Ken Thorne, John Williams’ classic themes make a return. Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) does too, but the main romantic subplot here is between the titular character and his hometown high school sweetheart, Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole). Okay, this one isn’t essential viewing, but it’s not torture. It has a few enjoyable moments, but it sort of takes a while for the actual plot to kick in.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Superman II (1980) Review

Directors: Richard Lester and Richard Donner

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Romance, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 127 minutes (standard version), 116 minutes (Richard Donner Cut)

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

As promised at the end of Superman (1978), the superhero would return in a sequel that would pick off where the first left off. Here, Superman/Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) must prevent the three Kryptonian criminals from the opening of the previous film – Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O’Halloran) – from taking over Earth. It’s a pretty similar experience to the 1978 picture, but some people prefer this one.

Superman II greatly benefits from having more intimidating baddies than the first movie in the franchise. The menace of Zod, Ursa, and Non, while offering a few comedic moments, is mostly played straight. They have the same superhuman abilities as Superman and put up quite a fight against the titular character. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) returns here, but he’s out of the picture for too much of the runtime to make that much of an impression.

The special effects are fine, sometimes looking quite quaint. The action scenes are an improvement over the ones in 1978’s Superman. The White House assault and the big battle in downtown Metropolis between the title character and the three major villains stand out most. The mass destruction caused by the latter sequence is highly impressive considering its release date.

John Williams doesn’t do the music for Superman II (the score is composed by Ken Thorne), but his amazing themes return. Anyway, this one is only marginally less-good than the first in the series. It doesn’t feel as tight as it potentially could’ve been, but the wholesome heroics are back, and this one does manage to top Superman in some regards. If you liked the 1978 flick, you’ll probably have similar feelings about the first sequel.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Superman (1978) Review

Director: Richard Donner

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Romance, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 143 minutes (standard version), 151 minutes (2000 restoration), 188 minutes (Extended Version)

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Before Iron Man (2008), before Batman (1989), there was 1978’s Superman. Yes, this is, more or less, the grandpappy of the modern superhero picture…so, how does it hold up? The story concerns itself with Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve), a human-like being sent from another world to Earth as a child. His extraordinary powers, like super-speed and super-strength, convince him to take up the role of a superhero to protect the people of his adoptive planet. Of course, he also has to fall in love (with fellow reporter Lois Lane [Margot Kidder]) and foil the plot of a mad genius.

Superman has a bit of a reputation for being a boring character, but I think that the 1978 film does a swell job of humanizing him. He may be able to snatch a speeding bullet out of midair, but he has the emotions of any typical human, and the dramatic challenges he confronts (like the decision to leave the farm he was raised on or not) make for some of the more memorable moments of the movie. However, arguably the best aspect of the picture is its titanic John Williams musical score that you’ll probably be humming long after the feature is over.

The special effects here are a mixed bag. Some hold up nicely, but most are pretty dated. The tone is sort of weird, veering from serious to hokey. The threat posed by the villain, madman Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), varies by scene. His nefarious plot arrives a bit too late in the runtime and many of his scenes are marred by silly comedy that undermine his potential menace. The climatic resolution to Superman’s problems may also leave some audience members scratching their collective heads.

Despite being the first major comic book superhero flick, Superman has a couple of touches that could be considered fairly meta for their time (like a brief, humorous bit when Clark Kent decides not to put on his Superman costume in an exposed telephone booth surrounded by people gawking at the disaster he’s trying to dampen the impact of and find a more reclusive spot to don his suit). All in all, this is a good, but not great, entry into the action-adventure genre. It’s got the heart and the music of a wonderful movie, but some elements just weren’t willing to play ball.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Super 8 (2011) Review

Director: J.J. Abrams

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

After watching the television series Stranger Things and going back to the 2011 motion picture Super 8, it’s hard not to notice the similarities between the two. The film mentioned above feels like a condensed two-hour story that would’ve been stretched out to an entire season in Stranger Things. Anyway, Super 8 is about a group of kids in 1979 small-town Ohio who witness a mysterious train crash while filming their own zombie movie. The flick borrows heavily from the works of Steven Spielberg (who produced it), but I think it’s highly watchable, thanks to it having an identity of its own and the Stranger Things connections.

For all the big explosions and whatnot found in this movie, it’s the human element that keeps it grounded. The coming-of-age drama involving the well-drawn characters is delightful to watch, only making the action scenes have more impact when they kick in. Most of the film focuses on child actors, which could’ve been a disaster, but the kids here know what they’re doing. The adults in the feature are just as colorful and the struggles that they face interconnect with the ones facing the children.

If you’ve read anything about this picture before, you probably already have a good grasp of what the twists and turns will deliver, but I’m going to be as spoiler-free as possible and just say that the ending, which may sound unsatisfying on paper, really delivers the goods, both in terms of emotion and thrills. It’s hard not to use words like “nostalgic” and “Spielbergian” when describing Super 8, although those phrases have become almost cliché when being used to articulate how one feels about the flick.

There might be some confusion over Super 8‘s target audience (it follows around a group of kids, yet contains brief strong violence and swearing), but this is still a terrific summer blockbuster. Yes, this review has been fairly vague to avoid revealing certain details of the film, but just trust me on this one. I can’t say that it’s one-hundred-percent original (something that gets held against the movie quite a bit), yet audiences who want to see where Stranger Things may have got some of its ideas should watch Super 8 and some of the other features that inspired the latter.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) Review

Director: James Gunn

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 121 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

When the sci-fi film Guardians of the Galaxy was released and became a hit, it seemed like Marvel could make a movie about any superhero or group of superheroes and it would end up a huge success. Had anybody outside of the comic book world actually heard of the heroes in this flick prior to its production? A talking raccoon? A walking tree? How could Marvel pull this off? Anyway, the plot of this picture is about a group of space criminals who find themselves in possession of an Infinity Stone and pursued by a murderous warlord named Ronan (Lee Pace) who desires the powers given by the rock.

Guardians of the Galaxy could’ve easily been a confusing mess, but it’s executed with skill and enthusiasm. Despite all of the fancy special effects and massive action scenes, it’s easy to see why these sorts of movies really appeal to so many people: the characters. The people inhabiting the galaxy of this feature are easily distinguished from one another and all have colorful and vibrant personalities. One actually cares about the struggles that they face.

Other important aspects of this movie’s appeal are its action, music, and world-building. The action scenes aren’t mind-blowing, but their choreography is clear and there’s a reasonable excitement value. The soundtrack is largely made up of classic pop and rock tunes, and has become one of the standout elements of the flick. The world-building here could’ve potentially been overwhelming, with lots thrown at the audience, but it’s handled gracefully.

Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy does feel a little…Marvel-y at times. The action, dramatic, and comedic beats are carefully placed into the film in a calculated manner to maximize audience engagement. Make of that what you will. Still, this is a charming and funny movie with no slow spots. There have certainly been superhero pictures worse than this.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Doctor Strange (2016) Review

Director: Scott Derrickson

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 115 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Does 2016’s Doctor Strange do enough to set it apart from the rest of its superhero film peers? Well, it’s not the best of its kind, but it has an identity of its own, which makes it feel like more than just another product off the Marvel assembly line. Okay, that was a low blow, but Doctor Strange is certainly more enjoyable than not. After an egotistical and ambitious surgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) is wounded in a car accident, he travels to Nepal for healing, only to learn the mind-bending superpowers of a group of warriors protecting Earth from interdimensional threats.

Of course, the primary reason to watch this flick is for its oft-trippy visuals. The big set-pieces are filled with positively psychedelic special effects that occasionally resemble something out of Inception (2010) or 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) on steroids. It’s a feast for the eyes, even if the action scenes still often boil down to people punching each other repeatedly.

Despite all of the spectacle, Doctor Strange is still a commercial product. It follows the traditional superhero origin story formula fairly closely and, although the main character is a bit of an asshole at first, he’s not that much of an asshole. Moments of comedy and drama (which are admittedly effective) seem to be added to the mix with cold calculation. The stakes of the action sequences are also sometimes a bit on the murky side.

One’s enjoyment of the highly efficient action-adventure film Doctor Strange will come down to what they want to get out of the picture. If you want action scenes driven by great special effects that haven’t been fully seen before on the screen or if you want to see an arrogant man of science get in touch with his spiritual side, you’ll probably like this picture. As a whole, I can’t say that it goes above and beyond the call of duty, but it’s still a fun superhero movie. It’s not as mind-melting or surreal as something along the lines of Un Chien Andalou (1929), but I still have to give some props to a big-budget blockbuster for attempting something similar.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Review

Director: J.J. Abrams

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 141 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The finale of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) will always be my preferred ending to the Star Wars saga. Everything that came after 1983 is basically non-canon in my book. Entertaining, imagination-capturing, and fun to discuss? Definitely…but not canon. The movie concluding the “sequel trilogy” or “Disney trilogy” of the Star Wars franchise is Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, and your opinion of it will probably depend on if you accept it into your “headcanon” or not. Anyway, the plot’s about a certain villain from the series mysteriously returning and orchestrating a plot to turn Rey (Daisy Ridley) to the Dark Side of the Force, while conquering the galaxy in the process. You know the deal.

Doing lots of damage control as a result of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017), this feature crams a ton of content into its nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Fortunately, it’s the characters that come through to save the picture’s neck. Whether they be new or old, cute or badass, the characters mostly nail it. This is The Rise of Skywalker‘s biggest strength, even if the events that take place in the film don’t always make sense. Watching so many fan-favorites or to-be-fan-favorites working together to keep the movie afloat left me feeling ecstatic at times. The action is exciting (if ludicrously over-the-top at times…but I suppose that’s just part of the fun) and John Williams’ musical score is right on the bull’s-eye.

As I mentioned in the above paragraph, not every narrative choice pays off (how exactly does the primary villain of the picture, who we’ve seen before, return to the stage?). Due to this trilogy’s filmmakers not having an overarching plan, the flick sometimes feels rushed or sloppy. The primary reason I don’t accept these new films into my “headcanon” is the undoing of the ending of the aforementioned Return of the Jedi. This is a sore spot for many Star Wars fans, and I can’t blame them for being “salty” over it. Still, if you consider this trilogy to be some sort of alternate timeline or “what-if?” story taking place after the conclusion of the original three movies, it’s quite rousing.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that The Rise of Skywalker is just about as good a finale for the sequel trilogy as was possible after The Last Jedi largely tore apart the “mystery boxes” established in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) (and after the passing of Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia). It also works very well as a standalone sci-fi/action-adventure tale. However, how is it as an ending of the entire Star Wars saga, as was started all the way back in 1977? Let’s just say that Return of the Jedi will always be my official conclusion of the story.

My rating is 8 outta 10.