The Superman Anthology - Blu-ray Review (Part 2 of 2)

The Superman Anthology is available to buy in the UK on Blu-ray from 13th June 2011

No matter how bad you currently think Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace are, returning to them will only make them even worse. It's one of cinemas greatest mysteries. How exactly did returning Director Richard Lester go from making the rather good Superman II to making the awful Superman III and then, following that, who the hell let Sidney J. Furie make Superman IV, arguably the worst superhero film of all time?

To be fair to Superman III part of its failings are down to expectation. No-one entering a cinema in 1983 can have been expecting to see a comedy. But with Lester's second credited effort, that's exactly what you get, Richard Pryor and all. Tonally, this makes his film all over the place. The best two scenes (Superman literally fighting himself during a violently schizophrenic period and a denouement which includes one character being turned into a rather scary robot) don't fit in a comedy. Pryor getting town ex-jock Brad (Gavan O'Herlihy) drunk in order to steal his computer access key, only to realise he needs two people to insert two keys at the same time, doesn't fit in to a straight-up superhero film.

Worse than choosing to turn Superman into a running joke is the fact that David and Leslie Newman's script just isn't that funny. A scene where Pryor impersonates an army General is cringe-worthy. Other scenes rely too heavily on Pryor's shtick rather than any notion of well-scripted humour.

Superman III also looks incredibly dated, as do most films from the seventies and eighties which cast computers and something rather threatening called 'technology' as the villain. Ditto Superman IV which, in 1987, espoused the hippie message of getting rid of all nuclear power roughly twenty years too late.

Almost without redemption Furie's film is an unmitigated, un-watchable, disaster. Like the previous film he throws in a love interest whom we care little for (in III it was Annette O'Toole's Lana Lang, here it is Mariel Hemingway's Lacy) and then proceeds to spend too much time developing her and not enough time developing the threat to the world which Superman must overcome.

It doesn't help that that threat to the world is once again Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) nor that the adversary he backs to beat Superman is Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow), quite possibly the least threatening villain of any film. Ever. You can defeat him by putting him in a darkened room for heaven's sake. The script, based on a story by Christopher Reeve himself, is atrocious, the story itself perfunctory and mal-developed, the acting by turns wooden and unconvincing. The line where Nuclear Man threatens Superman by saying 'if you don't tell me where she is, I will hurt people' signals the low point, although many will have given up well before then. If it wasn't for Reeve, battling through manfully, the most dynamic performance would be credited to Hemingway's eyebrows.

All of this leaves Superman Returns as the only hope for saving the latter half of The Superman Anthology. It pulls through. Just. New Superman Brandon Routh turns in a performance that is one half Reeve-dedicated and one half Routh-unique. Kevin Spacey has a ball as Lex Luthor. Kate Bosworth is fine as Lois Lane.

Director Bryan Singer gets some things spot on (the plane sequence shown in tandem with Luthor's disaster-in-miniature on the gigantic train set is fantastic) but the film has the faint whiff of being a missed opportunity. The complicated soap opera of Lois' new love interest (James Marsden) feels out of place and the return to several wells that have been mined before (Luthor himself, Superman's home-away-from-home, the rather pointless and small Kent family interlude) damages what could have and should have been a film with a unique story in its own right.

Singer's film gets unfairly criticised for not being Batman Begins, which isn't its main problem by some distance although comparisons between the two (reboots of superhero franchises released merely twelve months apart) are inevitable. Where Nolan re-invented his charge, Singer is far too reverent to the history of Superman films. His film looks great, has two or three standout sequences and is performed well but - especially here, presented at the end of an anthology - it comes off feeling more like a remake than a reboot. It has little new to bring to the table and fails to distinguish itself from the canon although it does deserve long and passionate applause for restoring some respect to a franchise which suffered the ignominy of Superman III and IV.

Superman III

Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

Superman Returns (Blu-ray not available for press, DVD version)

The Superman Anthology is out in the UK on Blu-ray on 13th June 2011.

Look further...

'we’re asked to treat Superman as one of the greatest and most iconic and perfect heroes ever created, but we’re also asked to accept him as perhaps the universe’s greatest deadbeat dad, a party to potential adultery... and a super-powered voyeur. In short, our paragon of virtue is even more morally compromised than Christian Bale’s Caped Crusader' - The M0vie Blog


  1. I really enjoyed Superman Returns, probably because it had a nostalgic feel for me and a late friend of my parents loved this film so much. It was probably the last film that he enjoyed until his death last year.

    Yeah, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace totally sucked ass. Plus, it was a film that really made me want to become an anti-liberal who wants chaos and despair. Nuclear Man was a terrible villain. Hey, remember the scene where Nuclear Man kidnaps Mariel Hemingway and took her to outer space?

    I sat there thinking, "Wait a minute, if she was in outer space and not wearing some space suit? Wouldn't she be dead? Wouldn't she be burned up to a crisp by the Earth's atmosphere and on her way back?" The script screams stupidity.

  2. I enjoyed it a lot the first time I saw it but I definitely think it suffers on repeat watches and from being watched at the tail end of the rest of the franchise.

    Yes stupid scene. Doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Like a lot of the film actually.