Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Is Warner Brothers Missing the Point Part 2

As you can see, the first half of the 2000s was a great time for Marvel. Some other Marvel films released in those years, Daredevil, The Fantastic Four, The Punisher, Elektra.  Daredevil and the Fantastic Four earned enough to be called blockbusters while The Punisher and Elektra made a little over their production budgets.  As you can also see, Warner Brothers was only making Batman and Superman into big budget movies...again.  While I enjoy Superman and Batman, I’ve always wanted to see The Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman get the big budget “A” picture treatment that seems only to be reserved for Superman and Batman at this point. bad!  There actually was a DC comics character that hit the big screen in the summer of 2004. Yep...Catwoman.  Yes...they made a Catwoman movie instead of a Wonder Woman movie.  Guess what?  This Catwoman movie has no connection whatsoever to the four Batman movies that were made at this point!  What was the point of that?  When the Salkinds made the Supergirl movie, they connected it to the Superman movies.  They even tried to get Christopher Reeve to do a cameo as Superman!  Marc McClure reprized his Jimmy Olsen role.  So instead of making a Wonder Woman movie, they make a Catwoman movie with no connections to what had been done before!  You might think that Warner Brothers would take note of the success of the Marvel movies and branch out with some of the other heroes they had access to. As you can see from the Marvel movies I've mentioned, they were making movies based on lots of different characters and making some decent box office doing it.

Batman Begins ended its theatrical run raking in 374 million dollars worldwide.  Superman Returns ended its run with 391 million dollars worldwide.  Batman is rewarded with a sequel while Superman is sent to limbo for a few more years.  Once again, Warner Brothers doesn’t seem to know what to do. If you compare the worldwide gross of Superman Returns with the grosses of the first four Superman movies, it is the top grossing Superman movie.  The domestic gross of Superman Returns adjusted for inflation puts Superman Returns just behind Superman II putting it in third place.  What gives?  I remember reading that the Warner execs thought Superman Returns should have grossed 500 million dollars worldwide. No Superman movie had grossed that much up to that point!  What were they basing that on?  It couldn’t be the grosses of the previous Superman movies!

Summer 2007 sees the release of the third Spider-Man movie.  It was a huge hit and showed no signs of slowing down.  Other Marvel characters that had big screen adventures that year included Ghost Rider and Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer.  Marvel still looks like they are branching out.

The Summer of 2008 was huge.  This summer saw the release of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and the Batman Begins sequel, The Dark Knight.  Iron Man proved to be a huge hit and almost came out of nowhere to claim box office gold.  The Incredible Hulk was a re-boot of the Hulk film franchise.  2008 also began the promotion of a movie that would not be released until 2012. That’s right...The Avengers.  Following the credits on Iron Man, was a short scene of Nick Fury talking to Tony Stark. We went nuts for it.  We knew what that meant!  A superhero team up movie!  The Incredible Hulk also had a scene following the credits promoting the Avengers movie!  We were ready for the Avengers!  Wait...wait...Marvel wasn’t finished yet. They went on to make a solo Captain America film and a Thor film both released in the summer of 2011. A sequel to Iron Man was released in 2010. At the end of each of these movies was a brief scene promoting the upcoming Avenger film. The Dark Knight was also a huge hit becoming the top grossing movie based on a DC Comics character.

Something else happened of note in 2008.  While Marvel was promoting a superhero team up movie, The Avengers, Warner Brothers was shelving theirs.  That’s right!  Warner Brothers was actually developing a Justice League of America movie. This would bring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and the Green Lantern together into one movie.  Now to be fair about this, one of the reasons Warners decided to shelve the JLA movie was due to the Writers Guild strike that was going on at that time.  Also, the Screen Actors Guild contract was up in June of that year so there was some understandable uncertainty about being able to make that movie at that time.’re not sure that was a valid enough reason?  Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was shot at the time the strike.  We know how that turned out!  What is baffling to me is that once the strike was done and contracts were sorted out, Warners did not decide to move forward with the JLA movie after all!  Remember this is after they see the success of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk promoting the upcoming Avengers movie!

The Avengers opened on May 4, 2012 and went on to gross 1,518,594,910 worldwide at the box office. That put it at number 3 on the all time worldwide charts!  As you may know, The Avengers was written and directed by the creator of Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon.  You may not know that in 2007 the very same Joss Whedon was attached to write and direct a Wonder Woman movie!  

You see!  Something is not right with Warner Brothers!  Wait a minute! I guess I did forget to mention the live action Green Lantern movie that was finally made and released in the summer of 2011.  It looked like Warner was going to follow Marvel’s example with the release of that movie.  After all, the Green Lantern is a member of the Justice League. Well...Green Lantern ended up being a modest hit earning enough to be called a blockbuster and earning it’s budget back with its worldwide gross. While that is a respectable performance at the box office, in this climate of huge box office earnings for superhero movie adaptations, that is not really a good sign.

So now your head is probably spinning with confusion like mine was when I was researching this. What does it mean?  I don’t know.  What’s Warners doing now?  Since The Dark Knight made all that money, they decided to Batman up Superman. Yep...Warner Brothers decided that Christopher Nolan had done such a great job with Batman, that he should also make Superman!  Sound familiar? It should!  It’s the Tim Burton scenario all over again.  I know that there are some differences in the situation. Christopher Nolan did not want to direct Superman so he shepherded the new Superman project forward and hired Zack Snyder to direct the movie.  David Goyer wrote the screenplay and Nolan helped with the story.  At the time of this writing, The Man of Steel has been released theatrically and has made 662 million dollars worldwide at the box office.  What did I think of the movie?  Check out our Man of Steel Show on the Half Hour of Power for those details.  

So now that The Man of Steel has made all that money and Christopher Nolan is finished with his Dark Knight trilogy what’s happening now?  Good question!  I can’t figure it out. Instead of making a sequel to the Man of Steel and making a new solo Batman movie, they are jumping straight to a Batman/Superman team up movie.  Well...the title so far is Batman vs Superman.  How is that a sequel to the Man of Steel?  Batman’s name comes first in the title!  This movie is a Batman movie. Make no mistake about it.  Batman will be why you watch this movie!  Once again Superman gets screwed! Then some casting news trickles out that a Wonder Woman type is being looked at and The Flash will make an appearance somewhere and they are even looking to cast a Nightwing! Wow!  So instead of following Marvels example of a steady build up to the team up movie with some solo movies in between, Warner Brothers decides to cram everything in the so called sequel to the Man of Steel!  Yes...yes...I know they cast Ben Affleck as Batman.  That doesn’t scare me. Michael Keaton and Heath Ledger both got huge backlash when they were cast in
Batman movies.  The Ben Affleck casting is the least of what worries me! The fact that Zack Snyder is directing and David Goyer is writing it, is much more frightening to me!  The only light I see in all this is that Ben Affleck is involved.  Why?  If they can get Ben Affleck to direct the JLA movie, that, I think, would be a good thing.  

So there it is.  Superman: The Movie set the bar for how to adapt a superhero comic book into a serious big screen superhero adventure.  Yet it seems at every turn, even though the box office numbers are there to prove that point, Warner Brothers does not see this. Even after the success of the Marvel movies, Warner Brothers still does not seem to see this!  Marvel has grabbed the torch passed to them by the Salkinds, and taken the superhero movie to new heights.  Good for them. They saw the potential and ran with it.

It may be naive of me to hold out hope that Warner Brothers will learn from what Marvel has done especially after the rundown of movies and box office numbers presented here. But so help me I do. I do hope that whatever the plan is with their superhero movie adaptations, that they wake up and do right by these characters that have survived all these years and thrilled us with their adventures.  If that day ever arrives, then maybe I would change my mind about Warner Brothers.  Until then what they have done with superhero movies is just an anomaly...a happy accident for them.  That is sad. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Is Warner Brothers Missing the Point Part 1

As we were prepping for our Superman show to coincide with the release of the new Superman movie, Man of Steel, a strange thing came to the forefront of my mind. Something isn’t quite right about Warner Brothers.  Let me explain…

Superman: The Movie was released in 1978.  It is widely considered the first big budget comic book superhero movie.  That is, the first movie where a comic book superhero was taken seriously and given “A” picture treatment.  What happens when you treat comic book superheros that way?  They usually fare well at the box office and generally turn out to be good films.  Let’s just look at how the Superman films fared at the box office.

Domestic Gross                                                        Domestic Gross Adjusted for Inflation

Superman: The Movie $134,218,018                                              $461,732,900      
Superman II                 $108,185,706                                              $313,271,600
Superman III                $59,950,623                                                $153,207,100
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace $15,681,020                           $32,284,500

So as you can see from the above, you have three hit Superman films.  Superman III didn’t do as well as the first two, but it was still a hit.  You may also notice that with the decline in the quality of the film itself, came a decline in box office gross.  Is there a lesson to be learned there?

Within this time, 1978-1987, a Supergirl film was also made.  Warner Brothers, who owns DC comics, did not distribute the Supergirl film.  The Supergirl film was produced by the same producers who produced the first three Superman films, the Salkinds.  Warner Brothers was involved with the production of Supergirl all the way to the very end of post production.  Just before the premiere of the film in summer of 1984, Warner Brothers decided not to distribute Supergirl!  Why you ask?  Well because the summer before Superman III didn’t do as well as Superman II...and the critics didn’t like it.  What?! TriStar picked up the distribution duties.  Supergirl went on to gross $14,296,438 domestically.

So you have two hit Superman films.  Superman III ends up being a modest hit but still grosses more than its production budget.  You drop the distribution rights of a spin-off Superman film before it has a chance to perform at the box office. What gives?  Now you are shaking your head and saying, “you better get to the point or I’m gonna stop reading right here!”  My point is this, Superman: The Movie proved that there was money to be made with comic book superheroes that are taken seriously and given “A” picture treatment.  Yet, Warner Brothers does not make another comic book superhero movie until the 1989 Batman!  That’s right!  That is eleven years after Superman: The Movie!  

Now here is something you may not least not consciously...Superman: The Movie its sequels, and the 1989 Batman are projects that did not even originate at Warner Brothers!  The Superman projects were started by Ilya Salkind.  The 1989 Batman was started by Michael Uslan. He wanted to make a Batman movie that took Batman back to his roots, dark and mysterious. Uslan tired to get a Batman movie going as early as 1980. He worked for United Artists at the time!  What gives Warner Brothers?!  

I get the whole Superman: The Movie scenario.  I understand the hesitation there.  What Superman: The Movie did had never been done before.  Upon its release, it proved to be a financial success!  As did the next two Superman movies!  You would think that a Batman movie would be a no brainer!  As I stated before in this piece, Warner Brothers owns DC Comics. They have access to a huge library of characters!

Eventually, Warner Brothers made sure Batman was made with their involvement.  At this time, 1989-1997 Warner Brothers makes four Batman films.  Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin.  All of these were blockbusters. Yes, even Batman and Robin was a blockbuster!  I know, I know.  During this time no Superman films were made. No Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash...I think you get the point.

Superman movies were in limbo after Superman IV.  During the mid to late 90’s there was an effort being made to make another Superman movie.  A summer of 1998 release date was in place and it seemed Superman would fly across the screen once again.  Tim Burton was ultimately chosen to direct the film.  Why Tim Burton?  Desperation?  He did a good job with Batman.  Why wouldn’t he do a good job with Superman?  Tim Burton is one of my favorite filmmakers but it was obvious to me that he shouldn’t be making a Superman movie.  I’m not going to get into all of what Tim Burton was going to do with Superman. The news coming from that project sounded as if they were going to stray sooooooo far from the source material that it was not going to be a Superman movie anyway! Tim Burton should not be blamed for all of that mess.  Jon Peters, the producer, must take some of that responsibility.  Why take an established character such as Superman, and strip away everything that makes Superman recognizable as Superman?  Why?  Why do that when just a few years before Superman: The Movie proved that when you stay true to the source material, that equals good box office and a good movie?  The Tim Burton Superman movie was shelved.  I wept for joy.

The Batman film franchise was in a similar sort of limbo after the dismal Batman and Robin.  Warner Brothers didn’t seem to know what to do next.

So that brings us to the year 2000.  The X-Men has a 54 million dollar opening weekend. This was really the first big movie based on characters from DC rival Marvel comics. The movie rights for Spider-Man were finally sorted out around this time.  On May 3, 2002, after years of legal wrangling, Spider-Man finally swung across the big screen.  That first Spider-Man movie snagged over 114 million dollars that opening weekend.  Marvel characters enjoyed a string of hits during this time. Summer of 2003 saw the opening of the X2: X-Men United, and Hulk both of which earned enough money at the box office to be considered blockbusters.  Spider-Man 2 opens in the summer of 2004 and also enjoys huge box office success.  Now Marvel characters were enjoying the box office success that Superman and Batman enjoyed a few years earlier.

The summer of 2005 snuck up on us.  A new Batman movie was finally hitting the big screen again after being absent since 1997.  Batman Begins opens June 15, 2005.  It makes a respectable 48 million dollars on its opening weekend.  I think this movie took a lot of people by surprise.  The marketing campaign seemed a bit more subdued than it had with previous Batman movies.  It seemed Warner Brothers was testing the water to see if interest in a Batman movie was still there.  If that is true, and Warners was cautiously testing things out in this new superhero movie every summer climate, then history was repeating itself.  They thought Batman was done after Batman Returns made less than Batman.  They were a tad surprised when Batman Forever opened with 52 million dollars and went on to make over 336 million dollars worldwide.  
The summer of 2006 saw the release of X-Men: The Last Stand and Superman Returns.  A Superman movie finally made it to the big screen after years of struggle and 65 million dollars spent and not one frame of film shot.  X-Men: The Last Stand opened with 102 million dollars making it the highest opening for any X-Men film.  Superman Returns opened with respectable 52 million dollars. 

That brings us to the end of 2006.  Batman was back on the big screen after an eight year absence.  Superman was also back after a nineteen year absence.  Marvel characters were hitting the big screen and doing well.  What happens next?  We shall see in the next chapter...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Throwback Review: Superman Returns

This year marks the 75th birthday of Superman!  Go here to listen to our Superman Part II episode!

It's funny looking back at this review today.  Especially after having seen what happened with the recent Superman movie Man of Steel.  I appreciate this movie more now today than I did when it came out in 2006.  This appears pretty much the way it did when I first posted it.  I made only a small addition.

Superman Returns is one giant love letter to 1978's Superman: The Movie. When you strip it down to it's bare bones, the plot is exactly the same as Superman: The Movie. That's right! Lex Luther is wanting to kill a LOT of people to get what he wants...Land! It also contains a lot of little references and homages to it. None of that bothered me. What did you ask? Ok...I'll get that out of the way first.


I could have done without these few things...

1. Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. I don't know whom she was playing in this movie. It wasn't Lois Lane! Parker Posey had a supporting role as Kitty, Luther's right hand chick. Yep...she plays the Ms. Tesmacher of this film...except she did not wear a hot red dress! For shame! When Posey was on screen, I thought, "she should be playing Lois Lane." I think Posey is a talented actress. I think she could have pulled it off. Nothing against Kate Bosworth. I just don't think she was right for the part...but what do I know?

2. That kid being Superman's kid. Why! Why did they do that! Let me set this up...Superman returns to Earth from a journey into outer space. Astronomers thought they found where his home world was located. (pop quiz: what's the name of Superman's home planet?) He just had to go see it. This little vacation takes him five years. When he returns, he discovers Lois has moved on. She has a new boyfriend, Ricky White. She even has a kid! Wow! How to handle this? This upsets the man o' steel. I thought, "Here is a chance at some deep drama! What a dilemma this poses for Superman!" Well...not really! It was too good to be true. All through the movie the kid is portrayed as a sickly little guy. So the audience may start to think, “well Superman could not have such a sickly little kid! So maybe it’s not Superman’s kid.” It was not to be. There comes that moment near the end of the movie where the kid reveals that he has some super-powers. Yippy! To me that just takes out all the tension between Superman and Lois. The kid is Superman’s kid so Lois can now leave Ricky White and that’s that. All she’ll do is break Ricky’s heart. So what! I think it would have been much more interesting to have the kid actually be Ricky White’s kid.

3. Perry White’s line, “Does he still stand for truth, justice, all that stuff?” What’s that about?! When I saw that in the trailer, I didn’t think much of it. I figured the classic line, “ I stand for truth, justice, and the American way,” would be in there somewhere. Nope. Ok. Maybe that was an oversight by the screenwriters. Nope. Turns out, they deliberately left that line out! They said something to the effect that Superman is a hero for the world. Whatever guys! So here ya have this movie, Superman Returns, which is a love letter to Superman: The Movie, and it sort of thumbs its nose at the original! Or maybe it just indirectly flips it the bird. It just bothered me that they deliberately left that line out.  (I realized much later that the very same line is included in the introduction to the television show of the 1950's The Adventures of Superman.  Keeping that line in there would have been a nod to Superman: The Movie and to Adventures of Superman.  It should have been in there.)

4. It’s too long. Like the recent King Kong re-make, the film ultimately suffers from being too long. Nuff said on that I think.

Brandon Routh did a fine job as Superman. He looks the part. I think he did a good job with it. He really had some big shoes to fill here. I hope to see him take on the roll again and really come into his own.

Frank Langella was good as Perry White.

Sam Huntington was ok as Jimmy Olsen.

Cyclops did a good job with what he was given.

Kevin Spacey was excellent as Lex Luther. The only real problem with Luther is it’s time for some other villains to be in a Superman movie.

I read a review of Superman Returns where the reviewer was a little creeped out by Superman spying on Lois at her residence. Well…it has already been established that Superman cannot read minds. He, like any guy with a crush on some chick, wanted to know if she still thought of him. He gets his answer and flies away upset to hear that she doesn’t think much of him anymore. Lois is understandably mad at him for leaving the Earth without saying goodbye to her. She even went so far as to write an article about how the world doesn’t need Superman. She won a Pulitzer for that one. Ya right! What does that say about who decides whom wins a Pulitzer and who doesn’t? Maybe that says more about the screenwriters.

Finally the moment comes in the movie where Lois and Superman meet again. He meets her on the roof of the Daily Planet. He asks her why she wrote the Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman article. Her answer is, “The world doesn’t need a savior and neither do I.” Superman then takes her flying and tells her to look down at the Earth, “Everyday I hear people crying out for one.” She forgot that Sups has super hearing. I think she just wrote that article because she was mad at Superman. It was just her way of venting.

Much of the movie is beautiful to look at. There is one scene where Superman is floating in space. Why’s he doing that you ask? Because he can! Anyway…he’s just floating there listening to sounds on Earth. Suddenly, he hears a crime happening and Superman springs into action. This shot was modeled after an Alex Ross painting. Don’t know who that is? Look him up. His work is quite impressive. The shot is quite good. There is also a shot modeled after a ‘30’s Superman cover. You know, the one where he is smashing a car. I enjoyed these little touches.

There are also plenty of scenes where Superman is flying around rescuing people in danger. Most notably toward the end. Lex’s land scheme causes Metropolis to flood. Why’s that you ask? Ok…I’ll tell ya. Lex has stolen Superman’s crystals from the Fortress of Solitude. He figures out he can create more land with them. Only, he’d have to kill billions of people to do it. Doesn’t bother him one bit. The twist I found interesting was, Lex encased the crystal in Kryptonite. That way when the land mass forms, it also is made up of Kryptonite and you know what that means! So while Metropolis is flooding, Superman flies around saving various people in danger and tries to lessen the flood damage. Sound familiar? It should. That is what he was doing in the end of Superman: The Movie…except it was an earthquake…not a flood. Superman eventually gets out on the new land mass and confronts Luther. Since the land mass has a ton of Kryptonite in it, Superman is weakened and is no match for Luther’s thugs. They beat the snot out of him. Luther stabs Superman in the side with a stick of Kryptonite and breaks part of it off in him. Sups is then thrown off the landmass to die. Of course he doesn’t die Lois and Ricky aid him. Superman regains his strength and flies out to bask in the sunlight to recharge himself. Superman then dives into the ocean, picks up the landmass, and throws it into space saving the day. Yes Luther and Kitty got off of the landmass. I say all that to say this…I’ve heard some criticism of Superman being able to pick up a giant hunk of Kryptonite and hurl it into space. I think the only way he was able to do that was that he recharged himself in the sun then immediately threw the big rock of Kryptonite into space. Being around all that Kryptonite did send him into some kind of coma. The rest of the movie is the faux death of Superman. This drug on too long.

Ok…that brings us to the ending. Superman goes and sees Lois one more time. But first he sneaks into the kid’s room and repeats some of Marlon Brando’s lines. I really could of done without that. Superman says bye to Lois and flies away. Cue end credits. Ooops…almost forgot. They did put in the flying above the Earth and smiling at the camera bit at the very end. I thought that was cool.

There were cameos by the Jack Larson and Noel Neill, the Jimmy Olson and Lois Lane from the 50's TV show. You know the one with George Reeves as Superman. I didn't see any cameos from Margot Kidder or Marc McClure, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson from the 80's movies. Don't know why they didn't.

The original theme music composed by John Williams was also used. Good thing. It was very cool to be sitting in the theatre and hear the Superman theme blare over the speakers. I must say that choked me up a bit. For a moment, I was a kid again. You hear the theme beginning. The Superman logo flies across the screen. Here comes the title and there is the music in all its glory! The opening credits were done just like the ones from the 1978 movie. I thought that was a nice touch.

Bryan Singer did a pretty decent job here. Although, I know he can do a better job. Superman Returns ends up being a mediocre movie that should have been awesome. Singer’s Superman did turn out to be a better movie than X-Men III, which was released a month earlier. As you nerds know, Singer made X-Men I and II. I think X-Men II was better than X-Men I. Hopefully Singer will make another Superman movie and it will kick ass. To bad Superman Returns did not do for Superman what Batman Begins did for Batman. What’s that you ask? Watch the movies and see for yourself!

I would be committing a grave foul if I did not recommend a re-watching of at least Superman: The Movie and Superman II. Both films still hold up today. Christopher Reeve did a phenomenal job portraying Superman. Richard Donner, the director of Superman: The Movie, and the Salkinds, the film's producers also deserve kudos for having the vision and foresight to try something no one really tried before. If it wasn’t for Superman: The Movie, there probably would not be the great superhero movies that are being made today. Word on the street is that The Richard Donner cut of Superman II is going to be released on DVD the same day as Superman Returns. That is very cool. Get a hold of that cut and check it out. Don't know what that is you say? Check out the Superman Hompage to find details on why there is a Richard Donner cut of Superman II...or watch the documentaries on the Special Edition Superman: The Movie DVD. Also, the Superman Ultimate Collector's Edtion DVDs come out the same day as Superman Returns. What day? November 28th.

I remember watching the Christopher Reeve Superman movies growing up. All four of them were great when I was a kid. Now, only two of them are great. As I enter my 30’s, I can’t help but look back on my childhood. It’s easy to forget the sense of wonder you once had as a child. Logic can supersede wonder and awe and suspension of disbelief. Sometimes movies can remind us of those things. It’s a piece of me I try not to forget about and lose. It can be easy to do that these days, “Gotta get to work. Gotta pay these bills.” I can get pretty sentimental sometimes. So I recomend Superman Returns for those reasons. It reminded me of being a kid again. Don’t forget what it was like for you as a child. Don’t forget all those wonderful things…kool-aid, playdoe, silly putty; mud pies…whatever it was…don’t lose it. Don’t forget it. And me…I will always believe that a man can fly.