Thursday, July 9, 2015

Project Terrible: Superman: Requiem

Hey, everyone, and welcome back to Project Terrible. This round, I'm doing a whole bunch of superhero movies (what can I say? I watched Avengers: Age of Ultron and got in the mood. Not sure why I wanted to ruin the mood now, but I'm kind of an idiot).

Starting off, from Michele of The Girl Who Loves Horror, I've got a Superman film! No, it's not the famously bad Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, though that would be pretty darn appropriate for Project Terrible. No, this is a fan-made Superman film, Superman: Requiem.

Superman: Requiem is an interesting animal. Made by a group of Superman fans who rather liked the Richard Donner films and wanted to expand on that version of the universe, it concerns Superman after at least Superman and Superman II, but possibly also including the less-beloved third and fourth films...and heck, possibly Superman Returns, given at least one newspaper article shown in the opening credits. Not quite sure there. The plot concerns Alex Luthor, son of Lex, who needs something from Superman--the secret location of deeds to his deceased father's land, willed to him but hidden. Apparently, Superman knows where they are.

His plan to get them is to steal some Kryptonite, have a special mixture made with it, put it in a bomb, blow up the bomb in Superman's face, and wait for Superman to lose his powers but try to fight crime anyway. Then, threaten that he'll kill Lois Lane (more on her later), and kidnap Superman when he tries to save her. Then, interrogation fun-time!

Okay, let's get this out of the way. This is a low budget Superman film, and it's pretty clear that they went with a "Superman loses his powers" plot for precisely that reason. One could question why, in fact, they decided to make a Superman film if they didn't think they could do effects, but...let's leave that be. I'm going to critique this for the film they made, not the film that someone else might have made.

The film they made is...pretty bad.

Let's start with the good. First and foremost, Paul Khanna as Alex Luthor. Honestly, though most of the cast is at least acceptable, this guy stands out as pretty darn good. He's saddled with some awkward dialog at times, but he brings a quiet intensity to the character and does a nice job with some really sudden swings of emotion, making him feel like a really dangerous, unstable man. He was by far the best actor in the movie, and some of his parts held up really, really well even against more professional productions.

It wasn't just him for those parts, though, which leads me to my second compliment: generally, this is shot very well. Lighting and camerawork are both nicely done overall, and are used to very effectively set mood and tone. I can't complain about the film technically, or generally in terms of direction. There are some awkward bits, but...nothing that really stands out as a bad shot or technical flub.

Is it just me, or does he look like Eric Roberts here?

I could also compliment the soundtrack, which is appropriate,'s most notable for including a take on John Williams' famous theme. I will note that from what I understand these guys actually had permission to make this film and use the music and all, so I'm not accusing them of theft. Just noting that I can't really take the soundtrack as something entirely of this composer's own merit. At the same time, musical cues are used effectively here, so the soundtrack is indeed put together well.

Finally, I'm surprised to say this, but what little this movie does with effects is...generally acceptable. I'm kind of surprised they ended up going with a power-loss plot, because the few shots they do have of Superman flying aren't bad. I do have to add "considering their budget," but they're fine, really. I think if they had the time/money to put together a few more effects shots like that, they probably could've done a reasonably acceptable job of more open superheroics. It's not great, but I've seen far worse.

I'm...less pleased with the transitions between Superman standing and him flying, which always seem to have Superman bracing himself just a moment too long, awkwardly, and pretty much highlight that they're a transition to an effects shot and take you out of the movie a bit. But...the shots themselves are fine.

So...let's talk the bad. There's...a lot.

First off, the biggest deal: Kal-El is pretty much a lazy whiner in this movie. The moment he discovers he's lost (most of) his powers, he starts bemoaning his inability to save people. It takes his reporter girlfriend, who I shall call Lois-2 because that's pretty much what she is and...ranting about that later. Okay, anyway, it takes Lois-2 to convince him that he can still do some good.

I have a very big beef with this.

I've seen a lot of "Superman loses his powers" bits in comics, and a lot of them do this same thing. Superman, without his powers, becomes lost and confused, uncertain how he should live his life. I get it. He goes from being the greatest and most powerful person in the world and possibly the entire universe to a regular, albeit quite fit, guy. Note that this Superman doesn't quite lose all his powers, but we'll get to that.

But here's the thing. Superman isn't a hero just because of his powers. Superman is a hero because of his heart. To say that he'd be uncertain what to do because he lost his powers is to miss the entire nature of Superman's being. This guy doesn't throw himself into situations to save people only because he knows he'll be safe. He faces down kryptonite, General Zod, and all sorts of other things that could kill even him. You know what would happen if Superman lost his powers and saw someone in the way of a speeding car?

He'd dive to save them. No hesitation. Because that's what he does. He's Superman. Powers or not, it won't change the fundamental nature of his being.

Furthermore, Superman in this canon has already lost his powers at least once! He became human as part of Superman II! And hey, guess what? Here's some great evidence for you--the moment he realizes the world needs Superman again, what does he do? He becomes Superman again and saves the world. Going up against three Kryptonians, no less--three people with the same powers as him! This is, by the way, openly admitted as part of Superman: Requiem. So why the heck does it provoke some kind of existential crisis for him this time?

But no, in this film, Superman bemoans that he doesn't have the power to help people anymore, and it takes Lois-2 to 1) suggest that he still try, and 2) suggest that maybe he think about trying to get his powers back. Which he's done once already. But he puts the latter part off, and just fakes being his old self through a combination of reprinted old news photos and his still-active super-hearing and super-speed.


That's right. That's still active. Which means Superman is basically the Flash. Who...I'm pretty sure is still a valid superhero, capable of taking on world-class villains without a problem.

Don't see me whinin'!
What does he spend so much time moping about? I mean, come on! His super-hearing lets him identify threats...he should immediately sprint off at Mach Whatever and save as many as he can! He can move fast enough--and I'm not just theorizing about this, it's actually shown in this film--he can move fast enough that the naked eye can't see him move! Fighting thugs and stopping crimes across at least the entirety of Metropolis is not a problem for someone like that.

Except, you see, that the movie only remembers Superman has these powers still when it needs to. Yeah. That brings me to major problem #2: if your character has powers, they need to be part of his character consistently. There are multiple moments in this film where Superman's Super-Speed or Super-Hearing (or X-Ray vision, also demonstrated to still exist) would easily resolve a problem...but he just kind of doesn't use them, at least not effectively. There's a few really notable instances of this--one will be particularly spoilery, so I'll go into it as part of ending discussion later, but I've already talked about Luthor's plan, so...there's a bit where Superman encounters Luthor's thugs and is taken captive by them...because despite him showing up on the scene via Super-Speed, he can't react fast enough to dodge a single, normal-speed attempt to grab him.'s the thing about Super-Speed. I will accept if you want to say that he can run at Super-Speed, but it takes time to build up to it or something like that. It clearly doesn't, since moves around Lois-2 in the blink of an eye earlier, but let's assume it does. Even if it does, though, Super-Speed by necessity includes Super-Reactions. If you can sprint across a city like the Flash, you have to be able to analyze situations and choose directions in less than a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a second. If you can't actually use the speed part, you might still lose fights against normal guys, sure. It's hard to imagine it, but sure. But you absolutely, positively should not get immediately grabbed as one of the first moves of a fight!

Also, I have to note this too: Superman is, or should be, at least a reasonably capable combatant. In the Superman films, he does face threats of his level--at the very least, Zod and his bunch. I'm not saying he's a master martial artist or Batman or something like that--but he obviously knows how to fight, at the very least with a decent brawling style. Powerless, faced with regular thugs, he should at least put up a decent fight, and that's even before considering all the Super-Reaction stuff I just mentioned. This film? Nah. Superman's a pushover. No powers, no problem taking him down.

It's like the Nintendo Superman game where you turn into Clark Kent if you get hit too many times, here. At least there's no talking Statue of Liberty. That was weird.
Holy heck, I'm going on for a long time about this. Sorry, but it just annoys me! There are fundamental problems with this concept, problems that I just can't get past! I could talk about this sort of thing all day, so I'm just going to mention one other big beef I have with the movie, then talk ending a little bit and call it a review.


Oh, not her performance. The actress is fine. But the concept. We're okay recasting Clark Kent / Superman...but not Lois? Why? Is this following up on Superman Returns, with Lois having moved on? But...why does she not still work at the Daily Planet? She did in that film, didn't she? It's portrayed here as though Lois broke things off with Superman--not that Superman disappeared for five years and she found a new life in that time.

But the bigger problem with this? Lois-2 is basically just Lois. She's a female reporter at the Daily Planet who works with Clark Kent, is curious about Superman, and when push comes to shove, is supportive of his heroism. That's pretty much her entire character. So...why can't that just be Lois? Why does Lois have to move to England and dump Clark just so new Lois can come in?

There simply isn't a good reason.

What's worse is that Lois is still used in the movie! Alex's plot involves targeting her, over in England, and Superman runs to save her! For some reason she's filmed without us seeing her face. Which is just bizarre. Again, you already recast Clark! Why is it a problem to just recast Lois? Replacing her with Lois-2 does absolutely nothing at all for the plot--it just makes things awkward, because Alex has to attack Lois because he thinks Clark's still in love with her, so Clark has to run across the ocean to save her, so Lois-2 has to follow him, so she can get kidnapped instead of Lois, because we can't film Lois' face because...why? It makes no sense. Just have Lois-2 be Lois instead and a heck of a lot of problems are resolved.

Again, I would at least understand it if Lois-2 were a different sort of character! If she were, say, an actress or a waitress or an executive or a politician, or...something! Then at least they'd be trying something different--but "another reporter" does not justify Lois' absence!

Urgh...I almost forgot one more thing. You know why Superman doesn't want to give Alex the deeds he wants? Because Alex will use them to build nuclear power plants.

Correct me if I'm wrong, because I honestly don't care to remember enough about Superman IV to be sure about this, but...I think that one was about him destroying nuclear weapons, not nuclear power plants. I mean, maybe he doesn't like those either--I'm not going to get into the political or moral discussion for or against seems like kind of an odd thing to be so aggressive about. Superman's standing in the way of the fulfillment of law just to stop Alex from doing something that will take months or even years to complete in the first place. Tell you what, Supes...give him the deeds, and maybe just...enforce reactor building codes? Or maybe tell him to invest in solar? Or heck, give him the deeds, then if you're so worried about it, grab him when his back is turned and cart him off to jail for trying to blow you up with a bomb. That's your legitimate grievance, there! Whatever you choose, you will have literally months at minimum, probably years, to stop him from doing anything bad.

I mean, really, that's how the attempted kidnapping scene should go. Superman shows up, Alex says, "Hey, Supes, I want dad's deeds," Supes says, "Oh, is that what this is about? Sure!" Then Supes gives Alex the info, Alex blinks, and Supes has disappeared with Lois-2. Two weeks later, Alex has started his construction, and Supes shows up with law enforcement, bomb fragments, and witness testimonies and gets him dragged off to jail.

And heck, Alex, did you try just calling him first? I mean, this had to be a crazily expensive plan, attacking NASA just after a shuttle landing and getting a special substance made. Not to mention several instances of murder. I mean...I would've tried a phone call first. You know, try negotiating a bit. "Please, Superman, they're legally mine, and I promise, I'll build to the highest standards." If that doesn't work, then go with the depower-Superman-and-kill-people plan. Right?

Okay, not right, but you get the picture.

All right, spoiler time as I discuss the ending, because believe me I have to because lots of parts of it ticked me off.

As mentioned, Supes and Lois-2 get kidnapped (while Lois, utterly unaware of what's going on like two feet behind her, walks away--there's those reporter instincts!). Alex has his thugs beat up Supes, then threatens to hurt Lois-2 (and everyone else Supes loves, so they can namedrop other Superman characters who also inexplicably don't appear). Supes still doesn't give in, so he's left to be beaten by another thug, Alex gets one of his nicely done crazy moments, and Supes kind of...inexplicably just finds the strength to break free, despite clearly still not being Super-Strong. He easily deals with thugs and Luthor via Super-Speed (mostly via cutaways, then coming back to show that someone is missing), and ties them up.

Then Luthor cuts himself free with a knife and stabs Lois-2.

Okay, pause.

Again...Superman has: 1) Super-Speed, 2) Super-Hearing, and 3) X-Ray Vision. These are all established earlier in the film. Now, which of those should easily stop this situation?

That's right, any of them.

There is no way in heck that this should happen. Even one of those powers makes it narratively darn near impossible. The combination of all three? First off, Superman should easily find the knife when tying Luthor up. He's a Luthor. You're asking me to believe Superman didn't give Luthor and his thugs an x-ray vision once-over to make sure they weren't carrying anything dangerous? He's not stupid! Second, cutting through ropes? That makes noise. Superman can hear whispers for miles. He's also dealt with hostage situations. I'm betting he's even actually pretty familiar with the sound of ropes being cut. So, yeah, he should immediately realize that Luthor's up to something. And third? Super-Speed includes Super-Reactions, once again.

All these combine to make this scene impossible.

Worse, Luthor then portrays stopping him or saving Lois-2 as a binary choice. Superman can do either of them, but not both.

Super-Speed. Again.

Blur, punch Luthor, blur, hospital. Or if she can't be moved, then phone call to hospital, blur, punch Luthor, blur, cradle Lois-2 and worry until ambulance arrives. Either way? Easy to accomplish both. I bet Superman could kick the crap out of Luthor and dial the phone at the same time!

Okay, so Superman lets Luthor go, even though he clearly doesn't need to, to save Lois-2. They then have a discussion that truly reveals that complete and total misunderstanding of what Superman even is that I spoke of above, as Superman tells Lois-2 that she is the first life he's truly saved, because all the previous times it wasn't him, it was his powers. It was easy, but this was hard.

Yeah, Supes, I'm sure it was easy that time you couldn't get to Lois in time so she died and you had to turn back time itself to save her. Or that time that you fought three people roughly equivalent in power to you. Or, not sure if this is canon, but if it is, that time when you got radiation poisioning from fighting Nuclear Man. Or the numerous times you've suffered from encountering Kryptonite. Yeah. Easy. So easy that it can't be regarded as heroism. That's this movie's argument. Superman has saved millions upon millions of people, but it wasn't heroic because he wasn't in any danger (except he was, but let's leave that aside).

Look, there are people who risk their lives for others every day. Cops, firefighters, EMTs, soldiers, and more...they go into awful, dangerous situations because they are willing to risk themselves for others, or for a cause. And believe me, I admire them. If you are willing to put your life on the line to do good in this world, you are an amazing person and absolutely a hero. But there are also people who save lives in other ways. The doctors who work in hospitals to save patients. The researchers who find cures for diseases. The people who donate their time and/or money for charity work or to build houses. A lot of them aren't exposed to the same kind of risk that a firefighter might face on a daily basis...but they are doing good work. Valuable work. The kind of work that improves the world, saves lives, and gives people a better life.

This movie would ask you to believe that it isn't "real," because they aren't staring death in the face. Superman and Lois-2 as good as say that. Superman hasn't really ever saved anyone before, because he was so powerful it wasn't dangerous to him. I think the millions of people he'd saved in the past would absolutely disagree with that statement. You know what? If I'm falling from a building and a guy catches me, I don't care if he's a regular guy in a safety harness or a godlike being from another planet, I'm thanking him profusely because I am alive because he was there.

It's an absolutely ridiculous argument, and more than that, it's one Superman wouldn't make. Because he's the sort of guy that would value every single life he's ever saved. And he knows all about sacrifices, and danger, and fear, and pushing on despite everything in you saying you can't do it. Look, I consider the "loop back time" scene from Superman pretty ridiculous, but you know what it does very nicely? It demonstrates that Superman, when faced with the worst result he could imagine, doesn't give up. He looks for a way through. He faces the loss of everything he loves and he keeps fighting to claw it back. There is no way--no way--that Superman would consider that somehow not enough to be a "real" saving of a life.

And again, the movie's whole argument there is pretty much dead in the water anyway because Superman has been endangered before, so the whole "I've never risked anything to save people" thing is crap to begin with.

He also drones on at one point about how the choice to save her or stop Luthor would be easy if he had been a superhero at the time, but was hard because he was just a man. I'm not really sure what that means. Does he mean he wouldn't have had to make a choice because it'd be easy to do both? Or does it mean he'd choose one more certainly? In fact, both of them comment throughout the scene as though he'd saved her without any powers. It pains me to keep saying this, but we've clearly established he has at least three major powers. So if the film was trying to sell this as "Superman saves people like a regular person", he didn't. He saved people like the Flash, actively using Super-Speed. That. Is. Still. A. Superpower.

From there, we get a little more--Clark goes back to normal life, Lois-2 reminds him he meant to get his powers back, he gives her the amnesia kiss (no, really, they used that), he gets his powers back (in a scene that references the way he got them back in Superman II and also features a much nicer statement from Clark of what being a hero means to him), and he catches a few random criminals and then Alex Luthor. Movie over.

Spoilers over.

A few other random comments before I go to the closing: 

It isn't just Superman this film insults--it's all of humanity. Hilariously, Superman is gone for all of a few days and the world evidently devolves into mindless violence and crime sprees (barely any of which we actually see). Lois-2 seriously insults police, saying that they became lazy since Superman was around. Good to see the film's faith in the human race on display. 

It's kind of funny listening to the film in the early going, as it's very obvious that "NASA" is staffed--and attacked--entirely by Brits. Later in the film people do a better (though definitely not perfect) job of hiding their accents if they're supposed to be American--which most of the cast is supposed to be, by the way--but in the early going, no. Not at all. Hugh Laurie these folks are not.

There is some painfully awkward dialog in this film at points--some scenes, most notably a couple bits with Superman and Lois-2 debating him needing to get his powers back and a bit with Alex Luthor explaining his plan to his thugs, seem to loop, with characters restating points they already made perfectly well earlier in the scene. It feels like they had two takes of some lines and just said, "well, I like them both, so we'll keep both of them!"

Superman's little curl at the front of his hair looks awful. I get that they're trying to mimic the way he's drawn, but...the guy just does not have the hair for it. It looks much better when his hair's a bit messier or more natural later in the film. Somehow it looks good on Christopher Reeve, but very bad on this guy.

Seriously. I makes me want to grab it and tug. Hard. last thing. Luthor's entire plan is "I'm going to blow up a bomb on a timer when Superman is nearby." There are so many ways that could go wrong...especially when you notify him via a note that's actually hidden amongst other papers. What if Superman had to go save a falling plane and didn't get your note? I mean, you've actually killed the guy who made this stuff for you, so you only have one shot at this! Furthermore, Supes gets there with a good 15-20 seconds to spare. I have no idea why he lets the thing blow up inside the power plant. Seriously, plow through the roof with it and chuck it into the sun! Isn't that Superman 101?

Oh. And note to anyone who wants to make a film: CG blood generally looks awful. It's better to just not use blood than use it, most times. Especially for gunshots.

So...this is a mixed bag. In terms of production quality, considering this is a fan film, it's actually surprisingly good. Technically the film is fair to good, depending on whether we're talking about camerawork, lighting, sound, costumes, or effects. Everything works somewhere between "all right" and "nice," so I can't complain there. The acting, too, is pretty decent, with the film's Alex Luthor being notably good. But the plot...holy heck. Take a pretty slim idea to begin with, saddle it with some drastic misportrayals, make Superman spend most of the movie whining, take away Lois Lane for no reason whatsoever, constantly forget that Superman has easy ways of resolving situations, ignore his powers, and force moral choices where no choices have to be's amazing. So...I do have to express admiration for what was accomplished here in some ways...but it's still very much a terrible film. It just...doesn't seem to get Superman, and when you're making a Superman film, that's far too big of a flaw to overcome.

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