Thursday, May 26, 2005

Superman II (1980)

Everybody loves sequels, don't they? If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: unless the movie is a critical and financial failure, it'll probably get some kind of sequel, even if said sequel is essentially a remake with the number two stuck at the end of the name. Sequels are so prevalent, it's not uncommon for a movie's sequel to be shot concurrent with either the original film or another sequel. The closing two chapters of both the Matrix and Back to the Future trilogies were like that, as well as Superman and its first sequel. And if you saw the credits of the original theatrical version of Superman back in 1978, you probably saw the tag "Coming Next Summer: Superman II."

They were also set to be filmed back to back, but thanks to some rather crappy circumstances, production hit a little snag. After the sequel began filming, cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth sadly passed away, and director Richard Donner was fired after butting heads with producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind over the script. Since the show must go on, Warner Brothers hired themselves a new cinematographer in Rob Paynter and a new director in Richard Lester.

The movie missed its Summer 1979 release date thanks to the behind-the-scenes shakeups, instead seeing releases in Europe throughout the winter of 1980 before hitting American theaters on June 19, 1981. Why an American movie wasn't actually released in America until six months after its European release, I'll never know. But in any event, Superman II is one of those rare examples of a sequel that actually rivals its predecessor in terms of quality. Now let's get to that review...

After a quick visual recap of the previous movie, our main story begins at the Daily Planet offices in Metropolis, where Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) has returned to work following a short vacation. The perpetual invisible man, he goes completely unnoticed by his colleagues as he tries to wave hellos to them. Clark stops into the office of Planet editor Perry White (Jackie Cooper) to find out what he needs for a particular article, but discovers that terrorists armed with a hydrogen bomb have taken hostages at the Eiffel Tower and that Mr. White has sent ace reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) to cover the story.

Realizing that Lois is potentially in great danger, Clark darts out of the building, changes into his Superman costume, and flies off to Paris. Meanwhile, in Paris, Lois figures that the best way to get the "inside scoop" is to be right inside the tower with the terrorists, so she weasels her way past a security guard and clings to the undercarriage of an elevator on its way up to collect some freed hostages. But we also learn that Parisian cops doesn't screw around with terrorists. Once the hostages are free, they plan on destroying the elevator with a bomb of their own, but what they don't realize is that doing so will set the sixty-second timer on the H-bomb into motion. The French plastic explosives are detonated, sending the elevator, the H-bomb, and Lois plummeting to the ground. The emergency brakes fail, but luckily, Superman arrives in the nick of time. He stops the elevator, frees Lois from beneath it, then takes off into outer space with the elevator car. He throws it into the distance, thinking it would just explode harmlessly.

It does explode, but ends up doing a lot more harm than help. The shock wave from the explosion spreads, shattering a piece of Kryptonian prison technology called "The Phantom Zone." Inside the crystalline Phantom Zone reside General Zod (Terence Stamp), his companion Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and his mute henchman Non (Jack O'Halloran). If you saw Superman, you'll remember these three, who were banished into the Phantom Zone and cast into deep space at the beginning of the previous movie by Superman's father for attempting an insurrection. Now free, the trio soon land on the moon, where they confront (and dispatch) the crew of NASA's Artemus II geological survey. After hearing the radio transmissions from the Houston Space Center, the three villains head to "Planet Houston" not to visit, but to conquer.

But there's one other villain we have to contend with as well. Super-genius Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) stages a less-than-dramatic jailbreak, leaving his bumbling sidekick Otis (Ned Beatty) behind as he heads due north with his usual lady friend, Miss Tessmacher (Valerie Perrine) in a hot air balloon. Why due north? Thanks to a specialized radar set to follow alpha waves, Luthor has discovered why Superman is always heading north: the one and only Fortress of Solitude. After getting access into the Fortress of Solitude, he comes across Superman's mystical crystals containing all Kryptonian wisdom and discovers the existence of General Zod, Ursa, and Non. And what's better than teaming up with three other criminals? Teaming up with three other criminals that have the exact same powers of Superman!

As Luthor schemes, Clark and Lois pose as newlyweds to expose some kind of "honeymoon racket" in Niagara Falls. The only racket I saw was an über-tacky honeymoon suite that puts Biff Tannen's clock tower penthouse in Back to the Future 2 to shame. This sucker has a motorized bed, a pink polyester bear rug, cheap champagne, and a heart-shaped tub. Despite the oh-so-romantic nature of the room, Lois is more distracted by something. She soon starts growing suspicious of Clark, especially since he disappears every time Superman saves the day. Lois soon decides to test her theory by jumping into the waterfall, but not wanting to reveal himself, Clark stealthily uses his heat vision to drop a tree branch in front of Lois and bring her to safety. At first convinced that her theory was a load of bollocks, she discovers that she may have been right all along when Clark falls into their suite's fireplace and comes up without a burn or even minor skin irritation.

Knowing he's been found out, Clark finally confesses and reveals that he's been living a dual life, and both reveal that they're totally crushing on one another. Aww, it's so sweet, I think it gave me diabetes. He takes her to the Fortress of Solitude and explains to Lois the ins and outs of how he came to be Superman (though it would have been easier to show her the first hour of the first movie instead), and they even have themselves a romantic dinner at the Fortress to boot. They definitely have the warm fuzzies for each other, but when Superman consults his crystals about it, he learns that if he's gonna date human women, he's got to be a human man. And since he loves Lois, he's willing to make that sacrifice. He heads to a special chamber and gives himself a quick Kryptonian tan, and in no time, Superman is Clark Kent for good.

While Clark gets used to his new physical limitations, Zod, Non, and Ursa land in the extremely tiny town of East Houston, Idaho, where they proceed to take over. They stomp the crap out of the Idaho National Guard (and the Army to boot), even heading to Mount Rushmore in their own images before heading to Washington and invading the White House. Knowing what they're up against, the President (E.G. Marshall) and the other major world leaders abdicate control of Earth to Zod. Of all the times for Superman to become Clark Kent permanently, he sure picked a great time to do it. Clark Kent: timing master. After getting beaten bloody at an Alaskan diner, Clark discovers that Zod rules the planet and hikes back to the remains of the Fortress of Solitude for reasons only known to him.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor of all people arrives at the Oval Office with a business proposition for General Zod. Thanks to that little radar of his and the information he acquired from the Fortress of Solitude, Luthor offers to lead Zod's crew to the son of the man who put them in the Phantom Zone to begin with. And in exchange, Luthor gets to run Australia. A criminal running a former penal colony... it's almost poetic. They arrive at the Daily Planet office and start accosting Lois, but the rejuvenated Superman arrives to save the day. This leads to a massive brawl, destroying most of downtown Metropolis in the process and marking the film's most memorable scene. If Krypton had their own professional wrestling promotion, this is what their Wrestlemania main event would look like. After a ten-minute throwdown, Superman departs, an ulterior motive in mind. Luthor takes Zod's cronies (along with Lois as bait) to the Fortress of Solitude, where the son of Jor-El has his final showdown with his home planet's most notorious criminals.

Wow! That really sums up my feelings for my movie. Despite being one of the more controversial entries in the series (thanks to all the shakeups during production), I'm of the opinion that Superman II is the best of them. I mean, can you top Superman dropkicking someone into a giant neon Coca-Cola sign? Outside of Warner Brothers doing Superman vs. Batman: The Movie, I doubt it can be done. Seriously, the list of bad things I can say about Superman II is very short. I think I'll go ahead and get those complaints out of the way, so I can concentrate on the good.

The biggest problem I have, really, is the oddity that is the superpowers. Everyone knows Superman's most famous powers, like flight, super-strength, and heat/x-ray vision. But in Superman II, the four super-powered Kryptonians can also make objects and people levitate, teleport, shoot lasers from their index fingers, and make holographic duplicates of themselves. Superman also has kisses that cause memory loss and can create giant cellophane nets out of the logo on his chest. I'll admit I'm not a regular reader of the comics, but are any of those powers actually taken from the source material? Since when did Kryptonians use the Force? I mentioned in my review of Superman that maybe they should have ripped off some visual effects from Star Wars, but I didn't know they'd rip off the Force of all things. I know Superman has godlike powers, but come on, that's a bit of a stretch.

The crazy powers make for neat action, but considering they weren't even mentioned in the previous movie or the ones that followed, I think the film's writers (Mario Puzo, David Newman, and Leslie Newman) just took a few liberties with the characters. I also wonder what prompted them to use phrases like "irreversible" when referring to Superman losing his powers. If he's stuck as a normal human forever after he loses his powers, why and how does he get them back by the end of the movie? I guess "irreversible" means "reversible" in the Kryptonian language. Kinda like how "flammable" and "inflammable" mean the same thing when you think they'd be total opposites.

In spite of the mid-production directing shuffle, Richard Lester's work here is really good, maybe too good. I honestly couldn't tell where Richard Donner's work ended and Lester's began, it's that seamless. The direction is sound, the camera work and editing are great. The fight on the streets of Metropolis is proof enough of that. Sure, the effects haven't aged all that well, but the fight scene still holds up as some of the most fun I've had watching a movie. And once again, the music score is wonderful. Composer Ken Thorne takes the themes done by John Williams on the previous movie and creates an equally good score, again seeming to tell a story with music alone.

But as with the previous movie, where Superman II excels is the cast. Christopher Reeve once again gives us a character torn between his two lives, only now he's torn between his destiny and the woman he loves. He excellently plays the gawky Clark Kent and heroic Superman again, now with the romantic conflict thing going for him. Also stepping up her A-game is Margot Kidder, who drastically improves on her disappointing work in Superman. Her Lois Lane in Superman II is strong and inquisitive, just like the character should be. It also helps that Kidder and Reeve have a quirky chemistry, which makes the romance between their characters even better. Their scenes at Niagara Falls have a certain whimsy and gentleness to them, and both shine as we want the characters to stay together despite the odds, and its their chemistry that makes the story's conclusion all the more touching.

The prominence of the three villains allows Gene Hackman to take a diminished role as comic relief, a role he plays greatly despite much smaller screen time. But perhaps the cast's true standouts are the three villains. Superman II corrects one of the original movie's biggest flaws, offering us not one, but three capable villains. They're exact equals to Superman, and it's their extreme amorality that makes them dangerous. Terence Stamp is absolutely perfect as General Zod, whose overzealous confidence makes for quite the charismatic villain. While he's overbearing and pompous, his inquisitive nature regarding humanity and its relationship with Superman is quite fun to watch. And how can you not enjoy the guy after hearing his delivery of that classic "kneel before Zod" line near the end of the movie?

Sarah Douglas's portrayal of Ursa is a very well acted performance of a very intriguing character. The discussions between Zod and Ursa are very interesting indeed, as he's surprised Superman doesn't lord himself over the puny-by-comparison Earthlings and she seemingly has no clue what humans are to begin with. Douglas handles the role well, and she makes a entertaining female counterpart to Zod. And last but not least is Jack O'Halloran as the mute, less-intelligent crony Non. He's kinda like Curly from the Three Stooges if he was a tall, muscular guy that never spoke and had powers comparable to Superman. He doesn't have any lines at all (outside of a few grunts), but his facial expressions make him this movie's version of Otis from the first movie. No complaints here.

While I don't find it necessary to see Superman before seeing Superman II, the pair do make quite an entertaining story when viewed back to back. And while the most dedicated of Superman fans will probably want to see or own all four movies in the franchise, one would perhaps be better off stopping here. The Clark/Lois love story is played out here, and the third and fourth parts suffer from a severe drop in quality. Those who enjoy a good superhero story should stick with the first two movies, because the entire story wraps itself up superbly there. Four and a half stars for Superman II.

Final Rating: ****½

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Fantastic Four (1994)

Believe it or not, but there was a time when a movie that carried the Marvel Comics logo in the opening credits was a movie that you should have avoided like your life depended on it. Don't believe me? Then boy, do I have a story to tell. The first half of the '90s saw quite a few comic book movies enter production to capitalize on the success of Tim Burton's Batman in 1989. Turns out that most of them were absolute stinkers that had horrible performances in theaters if they even played theatrically at all, while good movies were few and far between.

Like I've said in other reviews, if you weren't Batman or Superman, five bucks says your movie either got little publicity or it sucked harder than Jenna Jameson on a three-day weekend. I mean, how many of you remember movies like Tank Girl, Steel, or Barb Wire? That's right, none of you do. They were all immense failures, so much so that Tank Girl's disastrous box office run actually led to the comic's publisher shutting down shortly after its release.

But before Marvel Comics started scoring cinematic gold with hits with the Blade trilogy, X-Men, and Spider-Man, they were involved in the majority of these schlockfests, earning them a reputation for the crappiest comic-to-movie translations ever. Dolph Lundgren's Punisher was okay, but "okay" doesn't atone for movies like Captain America or Howard the Duck. And as much grief as Howard the Duck got, there's another movie that perhaps could have achieved much more hate and vitriol: The Fantastic Four.

I know you're probably saying, "Wait a second, Matt! The Fantastic Four movie didn't come out until 2005. How could it have come out during the '90s?" See, the thing is that it actually didn't. Produced by B-movie legend Roger Corman, the movie was never released, having only seen the light of day through bootlegged DVDs and Internet file-sharing programs. And there's a perfectly good reason, too: it's bad. Very bad.

We open in a college physics class, where the professor is giving a lecture about "Colossus," a "radioactive comet-like energy source" (whatever that is) that passes Earth every ten years. Sitting in the class are whiz-kids Reed Richards (Alex Hyde White) and Victor Von Doom (Joseph Culp), who decide to harness Colossus's power with an invention they've been working on. But thanks to some bad calculations on Victor's part, the machine explodes and apparently kills him. And with a name like Von Doom, things are bound to go wrong for him.

Flash forward ten years, where Reed has acquired a spaceship that he plans to launch for another experiment with Colossus. He needs a four-person crew, so he hires his old college friend Ben Grimm (Michael Bailey Smith) to pilot, along with siblings Johnny (Jay Underwood) and Sue Storm (Rebecca Staab) for no apparent reason. The children of the woman who ran the boarding house where Reed and Ben lived while in college, the Storms are coming along for the ride for reasons known only to the screenwriters. They're not experienced scientists or astronauts or anything like that, and including them on an experimental space flight is extremely risky. I guess we're just supposed to assume that Dr. Richards has the world's biggest personal liability insurance policy.

Anyway, to keep the spaceship from exploding (a good idea if there ever was one), Reed plans on utilizing a giant diamond to divert heat or some other weird sci-fi techno-babble like that. Said big diamond attracts the attention of The Jeweler (Ian Trigger), who steals the diamond and replaces it with a lookalike. The Jeweler appears to be a very bad rip-off of classic Fantastic Four villain Mole Man, except he looks like a leprechaun decided to become a jewel thief while employing various bums and hobos to serve as his henchmen. Not knowing that the switch has taken place, our four protagonists fire up the spaceship, which explodes as quickly as it takes off.

Although it apparently disintegrates in orbit, all four of the craft's passengers land safely back on Earth. And not only are they not injured, they've got superpowers too! Reed can elongate his arms and legs to insane proportions, Johnny discovers he can turn into a human flamethrower, and Sue can become transparent at will. But unfortunately for poor Ben, his super-strength is offset by his skin becoming craggy orange rock. And that sort of thing can be hazardous to your self-esteem too.

They ultimately realize that they can't do anything about their powers, but they can do something about the maniacal new villain in town: Doctor Doom, the evil alter ego of the still-alive (and severely scarred) Victor Von Doom. How Victor managed to finish collage and get his doctorate while dressed like a cheap knockoff of Darth Vader is beyond me. Giving themselves some catchy superhero nicknames — Mr. Fantastic (Reed), Invisible Girl (Sue), The Human Torch (Johnny), and The Thing (Ben) — and some fancy costumes, the Fantastic Four suit up to confront Doctor Doom and stop his criminal activities once and for all.

I figure I should take the time to explain the movie's troubled history right about now. A German company called Neue Constantin purchased the Fantastic Four movie rights from Marvel in the late '80s, anticipating a wave of comic book movies after the release of Batman. The deal allowed them to make the movie any time over the course of four years, or be subject to another fee to retain the rights. Assuming that they could make a movie for far cheaper than what they actually paid for the rights, Neue Constantin commissioned Roger Corman's New Horizons studio to make a quickie film that would fulfill the contract. What happened next, I really don't know. Depending on who you talk to or what website you visit, the movie was never going to be released anyway.

I don't see how making a movie and not releasing it could fulfill a contract, but then again, I don't see why they'd want to release this 90-minute piece of garbage anyway. Seriously, the movie sucks out loud. The gospel truth about it is that The Fantastic Four is like the Manos: The Hands of Fate of comic book adaptations. Everyone involved in this movie should both be ashamed of themselves and thank whatever deity they believe in that it's only available via bootleggers.

Oley Sassone's direction is laughable, the script by Craig Nevius and Kevin Rock is wretched, the score by David and Eric Wurst is beyond awful, and the acting is mediocre at best (with only Joseph Culp's insane overacting as Doctor Doom being memorable). Of course, I can only really expect mediocre out of a cast of nobodies. The only people who I can recognize are Jay Underwood (the star of Disney's Not Quite Human trilogy of made-for-TV movies from the late '80s) and Mercedes McNab (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) as the young Sue Storm. And unless you've seen Not Quite Human and regularly watch Buffy or Angel, you wouldn't know who either of them are.

I think the movie can take credit for redefining the word "flaw," too. In one scene, Doctor Doom's henchmen kidnap the Thing's girlfriend, Alicia Masters (played by Kat Green), by spraying crazy purple knockout gas in her face. They do the cliché shot where we see things from the point-of-view of the victim, as things go from clear to fuzzy to black. That's pretty standard for low-budget action movies, but there's one problem: Alicia is completely, totally, and in all ways, blind. She has all the eyesight of Stevie Wonder, so how can a blind character have a POV shot? And why does it take six goons and the crazy purple knockout gas to kidnap a blind girl? One guy could just walk up to her and crack her with a blunt object. Or better yet, chuck a crazy purple knockout gas grenade through a window and save some time. I don't know whether to blame the director or the writers for this, but someone should just step up and say, "Yeah, that was stupid, and I'm sorry."

And speaking of stupid, what about those effects? Invisible Girl's transparency is extremely unsophisticated; she could simply record all her dialogue ahead of time, then not bother to show up to the set while the filmmakers add her recorded dialogue in post-production. Simple as that. And the Thing looks like someone took a rejected costume from one of the Ninja Turtles movies and painted it orange. It completely fails to show any of the power that the comic character has. The comic Thing could go head-to-head with the Incredible Hulk, but here, he's just a dude in a rubber suit. And when the Thing says "it's clobberin' time," you won't see any clobberin'. Do you remember the scene transitions on the '60s Batman TV show, where everything starts spinning and the Batman logo zooms at the screen? The geniuses behind this epic decided to save on their minuscule budget (an estimated $1.5 million) by using something akin to that instead of actually showing a fight. And you know that classic stock footage of a nuclear bomb test blowing over a cabin in the desert? That's in the movie too.

Also laughable are the Human Torch's flame powers and Mr. Fantastic's stretching. When the Torch goes into a full-body "flame on," it's just crudely done animation, with no sense of realism about it. And worst of all, Mr. Fantastic's usual ability to stretch his body into any shape he could think of is reduced to extendable arms and legs. Big freakin' whoop. I can watch Inspector Gadget reruns and see the exact same thing, but done better. Instead of doing anything cool with his powers, Mr. Fantastic just extends his shin and trips a few dozen goons, then knocks out Doctor Doom with a couple of elongated punches. Again, big freakin' whoop.

It's kinda sad when The Incredibles is a better Fantastic Four movie than The Fantastic Four, but that's what happened. I actually wanted to type "Mr. Incredible" instead of "Mr. Fantastic" during the review, no lie. The Fantastic Four is easily one of the worst movies I've ever seen, and it's the only one that I've actually stopped watching halfway through. I'm a fan of bad movies, but even this one makes me want to rethink that position. I simultaneously hate and pity this movie, and neither is good. Though there is one good thing I can say about the movie: it's still better than Superman IV.

Final Rating: *

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Superman (1978)

"I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. They are the real heroes, and so are the families and friends who have stood by them."
― Christopher Reeve (1952-2004)

To his memory, this review is respectfully dedicated.

There are many popular comic book superheroes out there. Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four are all well-known, well-loved characters in the superhero universe. But one stands above all others as the torchbearer for all superheroes. An orphan from a distant planet, his given name was Kal-El, but the world came to know and love him as Superman.

The creation of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, Superman has become the most influential comic book character of all-time (and a bona fide pop culture icon to boot) since his first appearance in the debut issue of DC's Action Comics in June 1938. Quicker than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, the worldwide popularity of the last son of Krypton is rivaled only by a select few.

Soon after his arrival in Action Comics, Superman began making appearances in other media. The 1940s saw Superman adapted into a radio show, theatrical cartoons, and a pair of serials, which later evolved into the 1951 movie Superman and the Mole Men (which essentially served as a pilot for the television show starring George Reeves as the titular superhero) and a 1966 Broadway musical. While he's seen success on the small screen with Lois & Clark, Smallville, and a number of animated shows, arguably the most famous adaptations of Superman have been the series of movies that began fifty years after his debut with Richard Donner's aptly-titled Superman.

Our story opens on the distant planet of Krypton. The planet is no more than thirty days from its own destruction, and only noted scientist Jor-El (Marlon Brando) knows it. He takes the information to Krypton's council of leaders, but they just think he's full of crap. That wacky Jor-El and his crazy apocalyptic hooey. What a maroon. And since a Chicken Little proclamation like that would cause all sorts of panic and chaos amongst Krypton's population, the council threatens to charge him with insurrection and have him kicked right off the planet if he doesn't keep quiet. Man, Krypton is like an intergalactic episode of Survivor. The Krypton Tribal Council is totally gonna vote Jor-El off the island.

Come to think of it, Survivor: Krypton would be awesome if it weren't for that pesky "the world's gonna explode" thing (though wouldn't that make for an interesting twist?). The prize for winning immunity could be a red cape with the Superman logo on it, and the tribes could be called "the Justice League" and "the Superfriends." And when you get voted off the planet, they'd just put you in the Phantom Zone and chuck you out into deep space. Don't tell me you wouldn't watch.

Getting back on track, Krypton's gonna go bye-bye, and nobody wants to listen to the one guy who knows what's going on. The Krypton Tribal Council, disagreeing with Jor-El and fearing he'd cause riots, forbid him to say anything about the impending apocalypse and make him promise that he and his wife Lara (Susannah York) will not leave Krypton. Soon after that little proclamation, Jor-El begins crafting an escape pod for he and Lara's infant son Kal-El in an attempt to take advantage of a loophole in that restriction. After all, they said Jor-El and Lara couldn't leave Krypton, and last I checked, Kal-El isn't Jor-El or Lara.

And where is baby Kal-El headed? Good ol' Earth. Lara questions the decision to send their child to the shallow end of the galaxy's gene pool, but Jor-El insists, saying that the planet's environment and culture will give Kal-El the advantage he needs to survive. Jor-El and Lara say their final farewells and send their son on his way, just as Jor-El's prediction begins to come true. The planet begins to fall apart, and as Kal-El rockets toward its destination, Krypton explodes and takes the entire civilization with it.

Thus begins Kal-El's journey across the cosmos, during which the ethereal voice of Jor-El instructs him on the history of the universe and stresses that he's not to interfere with human history. By the time the spaceship lands in a wheat field in the rural Kansas town of Smallville, three years have passed. As fate would have it, Kal-El (now a toddler) is stumbled upon by a childless elderly couple, Jonathan (Glenn Ford) and Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter).

The Kents naturally think something's strange about their discovery, but things start getting stranger when Kal-El catches the Kents' truck and holds it over his head while Jonathan changes a tire. Since a toddler that can pick up a full-sized truck like it was his favorite toy isn't something you see every day, the Kents decide that the only way they can keep the pint-sized powerhouse from being exploited is to adopt Kal-El as their foster son, whom they name Clark.

Flash forward several years, where young Clark Kent (Jeff East) is finding it rough to keep his superpowers to himself. After a particular lamentation, Clark is pulled aside by Pa Kent, who explains that he has those powers to make a difference, and that he'll understand his place in the world one day. But the kicker is that after their heart-to-heart, Jonathan suffers a heart attack and dies, a loss that deals a significant blow to Clark's self-esteem ("all those powers, and I couldn't even save him").

A few months after the funeral, Clark leaves Smallville to find himself, and ends up at the North Pole. Thanks to a weird green crystal he found in his spaceship shortly before he left Smallville, Clark discovers a building made of crystal and ice that we all know and love as the Fortress of Solitude. Inside, Clark sees a projection of Jor-El, and it's there that Clark hears his true name for the first time. Thanks to some extensive recordings made by Jor-El, Clark begins an education in everything there is to learn, including his origins and Krypton's history, and his intended role as Earth's protector. He emerges from the Fortress of Solitude twelve years later, his erudition finally complete. He better be a rockin' superhero if it takes him over a decade of training, I'll say that much.

We now switch gears and head to the urban sprawl of Metropolis circa 1978, where our main narrative finally begins. The adult Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) is a complete and total dork, and has acquired for himself a job as a newspaper reporter for the respected Daily Planet. On his first day on the job, he's introduced to over-enthusiastic photographer Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), grizzled editor Perry White (Jackie Cooper), and ambitious reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), whom Clark is immediately smitten with. Yeah, Clark's got himself a crush on Lois, even though he wouldn't catch her eye on the eye-catchingest day of his life, not even if he had an electric eye-catching machine. She just totally blows him off every chance she gets.

A few days later, Lois prepares for the interview of a lifetime, as she gets an exclusive interview with the President aboard Air Force One at the Metropolis airport. Her helicopter to the airport gets caught on a ground cable and ends up hanging perilously over the edge of the Daily Planet building.

And just her luck, Clark walks out of the building and sees the predicament. He springs into action, and in the moment we've all been waiting for, he tears open his shirt to reveal the Superman logo in all its glory. He leaps up, up, and away to catch Lois and the helicopter just as they fall over the edge, safely depositing them on the roof before flying away. Before the night is out, he captures a cat burglar, saves Air Force One after lightning hits a wing, and rescues a kitten stuck in a tree. He's not just a hero, he's a nice guy too. And so begins one of the most insane love triangles in cinematic history, as Lois falls and falls hard for the caped wonder while turning a blind eye to our favorite mild-mannered reporter.

But the movie isn't all Superman saving kittens and walking old ladies across the street and all this other goody-goody Boy Scout stuff. We've gotta have some yin in this yang, which we find in megalomaniacal super-genius Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman). Aided by his bumbling sidekick Otis (Ned Beatty), and his consort, Miss Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine), Luthor has begun sowing the seeds of a master plan that he calls "the greatest real estate swindle of all time."

He and his motley crew have hijacked two nuclear warheads that the government was intending to test and programmed them to strike the San Andreas Fault, which would cause a massive earthquake and knock most of California to off the map. But what does that have to do with real estate? Y'see, in the meantime, Luthor has bought up hundreds of parcels worth of useless desert wasteland that will skyrocket in value once it becomes oceanfront property. When the government launches the missiles, Superman must race against time to stop them before millions of innocent people are killed.

While I've always believed that Superman II was better, there's no denying the influence that this movie had. The movie really does have the aura of being a live-action comic book, especially during the finale. Richard Donner, who had gained fame two years prior with the seminal "evil little bastard" movie The Omen, does an outstanding job as director. The movie has some exciting camera work and its own fun sense of style, but unfortunately, much of the effects look very dated (and downright fake) in some places. The movie won a "special achievement" Oscar for its visual effects, but in many of the flying scenes, it's painfully obvious that Christopher Reeve is just hanging in front of a green screen. You'd figure that with all the advances in visual effects that George Lucas used in Star Wars the year prior, Superman would mooch a little. But nope, none of that. However, even though the flying effects are lacking, it helps it feel more like a comic book.

would have made the more preposterous elements of the movie stand out, like the silly writing. The script, penned by David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton, and Godfather scribe Mario Puzo, just seems flat. Both Superman and Superman II were written at the same time, and it looks very much like Superman II has more meat on its bones. I mean, the first hour is just sooooooo slooooooow. The movie takes almost an hour to get to the main narrative. That's like if Kevin Smith spent the first hour of Mallrats showing the actual construction of the mall. I don't know how it was in 1978, but in 2005, everybody knows Superman's origins, so they could have just sped the backstory up a teensy weensy little bit.

I mean, I have no problem with them trying to establish the character's mythos, but it just went on and on and on until I just said "screw it" and hit my remote's fast forward button. If they wanted to spend so much time with the destruction of Krypton or Clark Kent's teenage years, they should have made Superboy: The Movie instead. However, once it gets rolling, the movie's quality improves tenfold.

Speaking of quality, what stands out most notably is both the score and the casting. The score by famed movie composer John Williams is absolutely marvelous, so wonderful that it's become the stuff of legend. Williams once again creates a theme that itself has become as popular as the movie. He did it with Star Wars, he did with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and he did it with Superman.

The only bad thing about the music is Margot Kidder's song "Can You Read My Mind?," which accompanies the scene where Superman takes Lois flying over Metropolis. I don't even know if it can be called a song, because Kidder doesn't even sing; she just says the lyrics in her normal speaking voice as if she were reading a poem. Just thinking about "Can You Read My Mind?" makes me want to pound my head against a wall until it goes away. But the horror of "Can You Read My Mind?" is at least a little defused by the wonder of Williams's score, so I guess it isn't all bad.

But back to the good, how about that cast? Everyone else says it, and I will too: Warner Brothers couldn't have cast anyone better in the lead role. A veritable unknown prior to this movie, Christopher Reeve is absolutely phenomenal in the dual role of Superman and Clark Kent. Like Adam West as Batman, the Man of Steel became Reeve's signature role. Of course, it doesn't help than none of his movies outside of the Superman flicks are really all that memorable, but you get the picture. And really, who wouldn't want to get typecast as Superman? Would you argue with being recognized as the world's most famous superhero in both life and death?

The big joke is that the characters within the DC Universe have to be blind or stupid to not realize that Superman and Clark Kent look exactly alike (a joke amusingly depicted when Teri Hatcher hosted Saturday Night Live in 1996), but Reeve makes the dual role entirely plausible. With just different hairstyles, different postures, and different voices, Reeve becomes a completely different person. I mean, the guy looks like he stepped right out of a comic book. Am I wrong?

The only other cast member really worth bragging about is Gene Hackman's turn as Lex Luthor. The movie is two and a half hours long, and it's a crime that Hackman didn't get more screen time. While Luthor is more comical than criminal here (and thus never all that intimidating), Hackman is always charming and fun to watch. Due to the character's lack of menace, he just seems more like an annoyance than an actual threat. But whether it be detailing his master plan, chiding Otis, or simply yelling Miss Tessmacher's name, Hackman is wonderfully amusing.

And while Margot Kidder didn't exactly float my boat on my initial few viewings, she's grown on me through time. While at times she appears if she only talks tough until she needs Superman to step in and save her, Kidder portrays Lois with the attitude and strength that the character needs.

Unfortunately, there is some bad in the cast. What's up with Marlon Brando? It's bad enough he got a rather large paycheck for only fifteen minutes of work, but Brando does an absolutely piss-poor job too. According to reports, he simply read his lines from cue cards just out of camera range (since he never bothered to actually learn them like everyone else), and it shows. His acting is so wooden, it could feed an army of termites until the end of time. And the fact that he has some of the most pretentiously bad dialogue in the movie just makes matters worse. If the guy isn't gonna bother to learn his lines or put any effort into his work, then he doesn't deserve top billing or that insane paycheck.

I can forgive people for bad acting as long as they try, but it seems like Brando couldn't even do that. It's like he just said, "Screw you guys. I'm Don freakin' Corleone, and I'll do whatever I want." I wonder if there's a term worse than "phoning it in." Maybe "carrier pigeoning it in" or "smoke-signaling it in." "Shouting it in from across the hills" or "Morse-coding it in" could be applied here too. And just because they were the most famous members of the cast doesn't mean that Brando and Hackman should get top billing over the title character. If you thought Arnold Schwarzenegger getting higher billing than Batman and Robin in Batman & Robin was asinine, just check out the credits to Superman. I can understand them giving Brando and Hackman top billing to sell the movie, but wasn't "Superman" a big enough name? Did they not have any faith in the title alone?

By itself, there's no getting around that Superman has its flaws. But despite that, it's still a wonderfully entertaining and one of the better comic book adaptations you'll ever see. And unlike other comic movies, Superman lovingly references its source material. We thrill as Clark outruns a locomotive, "ooh" and "ahh" as he stops a speeding bullet, laugh at his search to find a place to change into his Superman costume (thanks to a telephone booth that has been replaced by a kiosk), and smile when he proclaims his desire to defend truth, justice, and the American way. As Roger Ebert said in his review, the movie is a triumph of imagination over the difficulty to make it. That's what makes Superman such a special character and this such as special movie. Our imaginations are sent into a frenzy, and I can't ask for much better than that.

Final Rating: ****

Friday, May 6, 2005

Batman (1966)

We're all familiar with the Batman movies directed by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. You might even be familiar with the various animated television shows (and occasional animated movie) starring Batman. But before Batman donned a black rubber costume and Gotham City became a dark, gritty metropolis, the Caped Crusader was the star of his own live-action TV show. Since it premiered on the ABC network on January 12, 1966, the show has become an indelible part of pop culture in the forty years since its cancellation in 1968.

In fact, the show's campy, often comical depiction of Batman and Robin is how many people continue to view the Dynamic Duo. Its stars are still recognized as their characters from the show, no matter where their paths in life took them. While the majority of comic fans prefer the Batman depicted in Frank Miller's epic comic miniseries The Dark Knight Returns, there is no getting around the sheer popularity of the old television show. The show was so popular, in fact, that it had its own theatrical spinoff following the conclusion of its first season. But is Batman '66 worth mentioning in the same breath as Burton's beloved Batman '89, or does it make Schumacher's Batman & Robin look like Oscar-caliber filmmaking?

Our film opens in the Gotham City countryside, where millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and his young ward Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) are taking a leisurely afternoon drive. The pair receive an anonymous tip that someone has hijacked a yacht carrying a powerful dehydrator that can reduce people to a pile of dust, and they swing into action as Batman and Robin.

After a tangle with a very fake-looking exploding shark, the yacht simply vanishes into thin air. The confused Dynamic Duo head back to the office of police commissioner Jim Gordon (Neil Hamilton), where they figure out that the tip was a setup all along. Turns out the boat was just a holographic decoy to distract Batman and Robin while the real hijackers stole the dehydrator and kidnapped its inventor, stereotypical sea captain Commodore Schmidlapp (Reginald Denny).

And through an incredibly insane stretch in deductive logic, they realize that the scheme is being executed by the United Underworld: the combined criminal forces of The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), and Catwoman (Lee Meriweither). Armed with the stolen dehydrator, the United Underworld strikes and kidnaps the United World security council (serving as a reasonable facsimile of the United Nations). Batman and Robin must board Penguin's Navy surplus pre-atomic submarine and rescue Commodore Schmidlapp and the powdered security council before the United Underworld can use them as a bargaining tool to conquer the world.

Similar to Jackass: The Movie, Batman '66 is basically an extended episode of the television show it was based on, only with a higher budget. From the cinematography and stunts, to the absurd dialogue and Nelson Riddle's music, the movie echoes the show to a T. In fact, the movie was actually intended to be made as a pilot for the show, but it ended up getting released after the first season had concluded. The higher budget not only allows for four special guest villains instead of one, but it also gives the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder new toys like the Batboat and the Batcopter. Said Batboat and Batcopter only showed up in later episodes of the show when the producers recycled footage of the movie, but if you already have good footage, why spend the money to film new stuff? Makes sense to me.

But seriously, the movie is one giant train wreck of campiness, and could lay claim to the title of the superhero genre's This Is Spinal Tap. Every gadget and weapon features a bizarre "Bat-" prefix, there's the usual silly puns and fight scenes (with the "Pow! Biff! Wham!" title cards), and then there's outrageous, almost insulting jumps in logic. "It was fishy like a penguin! It happened at sea... C for Catwoman! That exploding shark was pulling my leg... it has to be The Joker! And it all adds up to a sinister riddle... of course, The Riddler!" I know that it was a different time back then, but that sort of thing is just absurd nowadays.

Both the jokes and Robin's "holy [insert something here]" exclamations are groan-inducing, as is most of the dialogue in general. Unfortunately, the nature of the show works a lot better within the confines of a half-hour time frame, as the silliness grows thin over the movie's 100 minutes. And there's quite a few parts that make exactly zero sense anyway. For example, there's one scene near the beginning where Catwoman disguises herself as a Russian journalist named Kitka at a press conference and asks Batman and Robin to remove their masks in order to "get a better picture of them." As the movie progresses, Bruce Wayne falls for Kitka and never once suspects her of being a supervillain. If there's one thing I've learned, it's this: If you're a superhero, you don't mess around with a suspicious lady that asks you to reveal your secret identity in front of God and everybody, no matter how attractive she is. That's just not kosher, folks.

The acting, as with the show, is absolutely hammy. Adam West's overacting as Batman is the stuff of legend, and he's almost a parody of the current-day William Shatner before the world knew who Shatner was. West plays the silly dialogue as if it were a life-or-death situation, but what makes him so memorable is his comedic timing. His timing is spot-on, especially in the now-famous bomb disposal scene. As Batman attempts to remove a bomb from a pirate bar, he charges around a pier while trying to avoid ducks, boating lovers, nuns, various other innocent bystanders, and a Salvation Army marching band that somehow ends up being around every corner he turns. The scene is a priceless adventure in slapstick, which not only presents us with a chance to see how funny West can be, but also gives us what is arguably the film's most memorable line ("some days, you just can't get rid of a bomb!"). Even his understated "aw, crap" reaction at the end of the movie is hilarious.

Meanwhile, Burt Ward's portrayal of Robin is acceptable and fun, but actually makes me pine for Chris O'Donnell. The true gold in the cast is with both West and the cast of villains. While I'm usually a Joker fan, Frank Gorshin's Riddler was always my favorite villain from the show, and his manic delivery in the movie makes me love him more. Burgess Meredith and Cesar Romero are both fun as Penguin and Joker, and Lee Meriwether (pinch-hitting for TV Catwoman Julie Newmar) is quite intriguing to watch. While I definitely prefer Eartha Kitt and Michelle Pfeiffer when it comes to Catwomen, Meriwether does a respectable job.

There's no denying the energy of the movie. As with Burton's Batman '89, the TV show turned a whole generation into fans. While I'm willing to bet that people who fell in love with the version of Batman we know as the Dark Knight will approach Batman '66 with some trepidation, those who grew up with the '60s TV show will cherish this piece of nostalgia. The movie has its problems, and it begins to wear out its welcome by the finale, but it's good clean fun. It's the kind of Batman movie that parents can watch with their kids, with no serious violence or villains that are killed at the end.

Though the show is often despised by comic fans, one could argue that Batman wouldn't even be around today if it weren't for the success of the show (and by extent, the movie). DC Comics was actually considering canceling Batman before the comics experienced a boom in sales, all thanks to Adam West and Burt Ward as the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder. And frankly, no matter what anyone says of it, I love the show and I love the movie. I'll give Batman '66 three and a half stars. That sounds about right to me.

Final Rating: ***½

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Batman & Robin (1997)

Eastern philosophy teaches of the yin/yang principle. We can have no good without bad, and vice versa. That goes for just about everything, even the motion picture industry. We need a few turkeys every so often so we'll know a good movie when we see it. For every Casablanca, there's a Plan 9 from Outer Space. For every Gone With The Wind, there's a Manos: The Hands of Fate. And for every Superman II, there's a Batman & Robin.

We've all heard the complaints about it, ranging from "too painful to watch" to "the world's longest gay joke." And folks, if we really need bad to go along with our good, I don't know if this yin/yang thing is all that stellar of an idea, because Batman & Robin is absolutely horrible on almost every level. It's a stain on the series that begin with Tim Burton's awesome Batman, and it even makes the old '60s television show look like Shakespeare. But I'll save the complaining for later, because I guess I'd better get the plot out of the way.

We jump right into the action, with Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O'Donnell) heading to a museum robbery orchestrated by Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a new villain in Gotham City that uses ice to his advantage. The dynamic duo have never heard of Mr. Freeze before, but they somehow have ice skates conveniently integrated into their boots, allowing them to play an impromptu game of hockey with Mr. Freeze's goons with an expensive diamond as the puck. Mr. Freeze ends up getting away with the diamond, and we soon learn the deal with his whole ice thing.

Y'see, two years earlier, Mr. Freeze was Victor Fries, a scientist working to cure his cryogenically frozen wife of a fatal disease called MacGregor's Syndrome. His body temperature dropped to subzero levels following a lab accident, and Fries needs diamonds to not only power the suit that keeps him alive in room-temperature environments, but to keep his wife's stasis tube fully operational. And if you're gonna be a villain with a subzero body temperature, why not use ice as a weapon and spout off corny ice-related one-liners?

Meanwhile, in some random South American jungle, we meet botanist Pamela Isely (Uma Thurman), who likes plants a little too much. I don't know if there's a term for people sexually attracted to plants, but it would probably fit her. Dr. Isley is busy developing "Venom," a chemical designed to help plant life. You'd figure that a chemical designed to play nice would have a happier name, but I'm just picking nits. But while Dr. Isley designs Venom for the benefit of nature, colleague Dr. Jason Woodrue (John Glover) would rather use this scientific breakthrough for more nefarious means. With a little dash of steroids and various other performance enhancing products, Dr. Woodrue has developed Venom into a super-soldier serum that he plans to sell to the highest bidder. He demonstrates on a scrawny career criminal, pumping said criminal full of Venom and mutating him into a 400-pound masked monster named Bane (Jeep Swenson).

Dr. Isley discovers Dr. Woodrue's transgressions, so instead of sitting down and having a friendly discussion, he knocks her out and dumps as many chemicals as he can onto her in an attempt to silence her. Things don't go to well for poor Dr. Woodrue, since this doesn't kill her as much as it transforms her. She reawakens as Poison Ivy, the human representation of Mother Nature with raging PMS. Upon noticing that her destroyed lab is funded by Wayne Enterprises, Poison Ivy and her new sidekick Bane head to Gotham City and presents Bruce Wayne with various eco-friendly ideas. He laughs her off, pressing that Wayne Enterprises is already quite supportive of the environment. Unfortunately, Poison Ivy doesn't exactly see things his way, and vows that nature will get its revenge on the uncaring human race. She uses her feminine wiles (and a little pheromone dust for good luck) in an attempt to force a wedge between the dynamic duo, and soon forms a partnership with Mr. Freeze.

While all this is going on, we're introduced to Barbara Wilson (Alicia Silverstone), the niece of Bruce's butler Alfred (Michael Gough). Visiting from an English prep school, she immediately strikes the fancy of young Dick Grayson. But while she seems like a sweet, eager schoolgirl, she soon begins swiping motorcycles from the Wayne Manor garage to participate in underground street races. But when Dick saves Barbara from falling off a bridge after an accident in one of her races, she manages to drop a great big bombshell: it turns out dear ol' Alfred is dying, suffering from the early stages of a rare disease called MacGregor's Syndrome. Growing sicker as time goes by, Alfred soon entrusts Barbara with the secret of Bruce and Dick's secret identities, and a little more too. Naming herself Batgirl, the dynamic duo becomes a trio as Batman, Robin, and their new teammate set out to stop Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze from starting a new ice age and rebooting nature from square one.

Ugh... where to begin? I just hate, hate, hate Batman & Robin. I'd rather let Gallagher hit me in the groin with the Sledge-O-Matic than watch this waste of film, time, and brain cells. Seriously, when the songs playing over the credits are the best part of the movie, you know you have a problem. From silly fight scenes (featuring out-of-place cartoon sound effects) to the poorly-written dialogue and the generally groan-worthy campiness, the movie is a couple of "KAPOW!" and "WAM!" graphics away from being a modernized version of the old TV show. While the TV show went for campiness on purpose, this particular movie is campy for a simple lack of redeemable quality. I have no problem with camp, because it can be fun, but it is put to disappointing use here. And I don't know if anybody's noticed this, but the movie's title is sort of a misnomer. It's technically "Batman, Robin, & Batgirl," but I guess Warner Brothers assumed one of two things:
  1. Batman, Robin, & Batgirl was too long of a title.
  2. Revealing Batgirl was in the movie would ruin the surprise for anyone who hadn't seen any of the commercials, pre-movie coming attractions, cast interviews, action figures, billboards, posters, or any other promotional material. Basically, anybody who had been living under a rock for the six months prior to the movie's release.
They really should have called the movie before this one Batman & Robin and let this one be Batman Forever, but I guess hindsight is 20/20.

Seriously, calling Batman & Robin a disappointment is like saying the invasion of Normandy was a friendly get-together. I don't speak any foreign languages, but I'm certain that somewhere in the world, "Akiva Goldsman" translates to "horrible Batman scripts." This whole thing is just so inane and so ungodly awful, the pages of Goldman's script would make better use as toilet paper. The movie insults your intelligence from the get-go. Take, for example, the scene where Batman and Robin get into a bidding war over Poison Ivy's affection at a charity auction. I normally wouldn't complain about her, but with the ugly hairdo, stupid outfit, and silly leaf things on her eyebrows, any man who would prefer Uma Thurman's company over Elle Macpherson's deserves to be shot. On second thought, maybe that's just the fault of the movie's wardrobe and makeup departments.

Perhaps a better example would be the opening scene. Batman and Robin have to escape from an about-to-explode rocket, and they elect to do so by jumping out of the rocket and riding back down to the ground on the rocket's doors as if they were surfboards! Why would anyone want to see Batman and Robin air-surfing? Why not just use their capes as parachutes? The person that thought air-surfing was a good idea needs to fire their crack dealer, because they got hold of a bad batch. I also don't get the reasoning behind turning a villain as awesome as Bane into a monosyllabic sidekick. This guy nearly killed Batman in an issue of the comics and is generally one of the cooler, yet unsung members of Batman's rogues gallery, and then he's just some guy here. But really, you could lock a group of chimpanzees in a room with a word processor for a week, and by the time you let them out, they'll have written the script for Batman & Robin. You know, now that I think about it, that's probably what the studio did. I know I made a joke about it earlier, but if it turns out that "Akiva Goldsman" is really Hollywood slang for "room full o' monkeys," you heard it here first.

I absolutely hate the look of the movie, too. Joel Schumacher may have directed three very good movies in The Lost Boys, Falling Down, and Phone Booth, but Batman & Robin will always come back to bite him. The movie is just ugly to look at. I swear on everything that's holy, if any more Batman movies have those weird fluorescent neon effects, I'm gonna go to the Warner Brothers headquarters and kick the everloving crap out of everyone involved. I complained about it in Batman Forever, but it bears repeating: Do we really need the unsettling closeups of the Dynamic Duo's posteriors and codpieces while they put on their suits? I'm not waxing homophobic or anything, but it's just creepy. It isn't stylish, it isn't exciting, it simply is what it is. Moving on, Elliot Goldenthal's score is okay, but it just seems so recycled. I doubt Goldenthal did much new music for the movie, because most of the score sounds like leftovers from Batman Forever.

On the acting side, the cast is just kinda bleh. Nobody really stands out except for Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose one-liners are just so silly, the movie is almost worth watching just to hear them. His over-the-top performance is reminiscent of something out of the Adam West series, and the only enjoyment I got out of the movie is watching Arnold. If you don't laugh your head off during the scene where he serves as conductor for his singing henchmen, you don't have a soul. But you know what? When Arnold Schwarzenegger is the best actor in the movie, you have a problem. I like Arnold and all, but I doubt he'll ever have to contemplate offers from Shakespearean acting troupes.

George Clooney appears as the third Dark Knight in the four Burton/Schumacher movies, and he doesn't seem to have the same kind of weight as Michael Keaton or Val Kilmer. I can understand why he was cast, though, because ER was the biggest show on television at the time and Clooney was quickly becoming a huge superstar. On the bright side, he got to be play one of the most recognizable superheroes ever. On the bad side, he got to add one more movie to his already stellar movie résumé, which at the time included legendary Oscar-winning classics like Return of the Killer Tomatoes and Return to Horror High. At least he started making better movies after this one.

And one could go as far as to argue that the movie's failure killed the careers of Alicia Silverstone and Chris O'Donnell. Silverstone had made a name for herself via Clueless and three very popular Aerosmith music videos, and outside of the extremely short-lived NBC sitcom Miss Match and a role in Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, she hasn't really done anything of note since Batman & Robin. And O'Donnell is seemingly a non-factor in Hollywood now. I do think O'Donnell made a good Robin, however. In all honesty, a little part of me inside wishes that Warner Brothers hadn't wiped the franchise's slate clean, because had the series kept going, they could have easily done a spinoff featuring Nightwing. If Catwoman and Steel could get their own movies, so could Dick Grayson.

Batman & Robin provides a blueprint on what a Batman movie shouldn't be. And after this flaming bag of dog poop, I don't blame Warner Brothers for starting all over and making Batman Begins. There wasn't anywhere to go but a complete restart, because the stink of Batman & Robin would have been all over any other future movies in the Burton/Schumacher era. I want to curse the name of Joel Schumacher, but I think I should thank him. If it weren't for Batman & Robin's horrible failure, the Batman movies would just be more of the same. But Batman Begins or not, I can't justify giving Batman & Robin any rating higher than one star. The movie is just so bad, and the only thing that makes it worth watching is so one will see what not to do when making a superhero movie.

Final Rating: *