This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Agony Booth review: Jaws: The Revenge vs. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

This article looks at the respective fourth entries in the Jaws and Superman series, which, like their immediate predecessors, were released the same year.

As I noted in a previous article, both Jaws 3-D and Superman III were not only released in the same year but marked, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of the end for the series they were part of.

However, both series ended up being given one more shot to get back into their fans’ good graces. In addition, like their immediate predecessors, the respective fourth entries in the Jaws and Superman franchises were both released in the same year. But while 1987 also gave us classics such as The Princess Bride, RoboCop, and Spaceballs, both Jaws: The Revenge and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace ended up being anything but classic.

So, which is worse? Let’s find out.

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

I once noted that I Still Know What You Did Last Summer has a ridiculous title. This film, on the other hand, has a ridiculous tagline: This time, it’s personal!

After the trip to SeaWorld in Jaws 3-D, this film brings us back to Amity. We see not only the two Brody sons again (who are played by different actors) in different professions now (yes, this film ignores its immediate predecessor, not that I blame it), but also their mom Ellen (Lorraine Gary, reprising her role from the first two Jaws pictures). The Brody paterfamilias Martin has died because the late, great Roy Scheider was smart enough to leave well enough alone when it came to his most famous role.

Michael (now played by The Last Starfighter himself, Lance Guest) is a marine biologist with a wife and daughter. His little brother Sean (Mitchell Anderson) lives with his mom and his fiancĂ©e, making ends meet by following in his old man’s footsteps as the police chief.

As Christmas approaches, contrivance leads to Sean going out to sea to clear a log from a buoy. The shark of this movie then appears and kills him.

It’s at this point that the absurdity of the film’s tagline begins to emerge. Ellen is convinced that the shark deliberately targeted Sean. For the rest of the film, she continuously refers to the beast as if it was some sort of Jason-esque serial killer. Ellen even blames it for inducing the heart attack that apparently killed her husband, even though he was the one who killed the sharks of the first two movies.

Despite the fact that his mom clearly needs therapy, Michael talks her into joining him and his family down in the Bahamas. While there, Ellen becomes smitten with a carefree pilot named Hoagie (Michael Caine). But wouldn’t you know it, that same damn shark has managed to find its way down south and attempts to pick off the rest of the Brody clan.

This leads to Ellen finally taking a boat herself to go mano a mano with the shark along with Michael, Hoagie, and Michael’s coworker Jake (Mario Van Peebles). The stupidity that follows has to be seen to be believed. The famous blooper of Hoagie emerging bone dry from the ocean is only a blip compared to the headache of how the heroes manage to finally destroy this shark before the film ends with Ellen and Hoagie flying off together. Some cuts of this film even have Jake becoming shark food, while others don’t.

In his review of the Star Trek: Voyager episode “The Cloud”, YouTuber SF Debris mentions that the reason the shark targets the Brodys in this movie, according to the book’s novelization, is because of a voodoo curse. He calls this a “voodoo shark”, referring to something stupid that can only be explained away by something just as stupid, comparing it to Voyager being able to use its holodecks because its power is incompatible with the ship’s other systems (hence, giving the regulars an excuse to play on the damn things even though they’re supposed to be struggling to survive).

As stupid as the novelization’s explanation sounds, no explanation for this plot point could have given Jaws: The Revenge a chance to be watchable, let alone good.

This movie also became an example of nepotism, as Lorraine Gary, who was married to Universal’s then-President Sid Sheinberg, becomes the central focus here. In fairness, Gary herself stated that she agreed to play Ellen for a third time because of the money she was offered.

Caine’s appearance here proves that even legends have bills to pay, as we all do. Ironically, he won his first Oscar (for Hannah and Her Sisters) during the production of this movie. Happily, this film wouldn’t keep him from winning a second Oscar over a decade later (for The Cider House Rules) and being knighted not long after that.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Christopher Reeve’s fourth and final outing as the Man of Steel is certainly more political-minded than its predecessors (more on that in a moment).

Needless to say, our hero is depressed over how the arms race is going (ironically, this film was released the same year Reagan and Gorbachev signed the historic INF treaty, which banned medium-ranged nuclear missiles) and decides to singlehandedly rid the world of all its nukes. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), having just broken out of prison thanks to his nephew Lenny (Jon Cryer) gets wind of this and creates a nuclear powered supervillain called Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow). What follows is basically a rehash of Superman fighting Zod and his minions in Superman II. Naturally, Superman defeats Nuclear Man (by dumping his atomic-powered ass into a power plant reactor, of all things), sends Luthor back to prison, yadda yadda yadda.

After the disappointment of Superman III, Reeve was content with never donning the famous tights and cape again. While he sought other roles, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind sold the rights to the series in 1986 to Cannon Films, which made its name during that decade making mostly action flicks.

Considering that the Salkinds took the series into a direction fans weren’t happy with, the chance of new blood in the franchise might have given people hope that it could be restored to greatness. Alas, Cannon was beginning to reach the end of its lucrative run as the ’80s drew to a close.

In his autobiography Still Me, Reeve states that Cannon didn’t give this project priority because of budget cuts the studio made. But even budget cuts can’t excuse a poor script, and as sad as this sounds, part of the blame for that script must go to Reeve. He was enticed into reprising his most famous role for a fourth time when he was promised he could have a hand in script development (the screenplay itself was written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal). In addition, Cannon promised to finance any non-Superman film of his choice. The good news is that film was Street Smart, which earned Reeve’s co-star Morgan Freeman his first Oscar nomination.

But while Reeve, who was liberal with a capital L, was a wonderful actor, his writing (at least in the case of this movie) proved to be less than stellar. I don’t want to say that politics in a Superman story couldn’t have worked, but it was handled in the wrong way here. Many have made comparisons between Superman and Jesus Christ. I had no issue with such comparisons in the original movie because they weren’t drilled into our heads. Here, however, it’s a much different case in regards to the way Superman decides to disarm the world with absolutely no response but thunderous cheers by all the countries of the world. Having a film lean closer to one side of the political fence is one thing, but this film does it in such a simplistic manner that the final product is just as mindless as many of the other films Cannon put out.

There are also other scenes, such as Nuclear Man capturing newspaper mogul Lacy Warfield (Mariel Hemingway) for no reason and flying her into space, without a space suit! Even dumber is Clark once again revealing he’s Superman to Lois (Margot Kidder) and later kissing her to wipe her memory of it—again!

Put all this nonsense together, and it’s not surprising that Superman IV was even less successful than its immediate predecessor.

Reeve himself continued acting, with perhaps his most memorable role in his post-Superman years being the period piece The Remains of the Day. He then became a real-life superhero following his horse riding accident in 1995, which rendered him paralyzed. Reeve would later use the incident to assist in research to help others with spinal injuries, a crusade he remained dedicated to until his passing in 2004.

Like Caine, Hackman would emerge from this fiasco to win a second Oscar (in Hackman’s case, for Unforgiven).

Which is worse?

Both of these films officially killed their respective series. But, as Reeve wasn’t the first actor to play the Man of Steel, there have been other actors who have donned the cape since then. Movie-wise, we saw the Man of Steel again in Superman Returns (played by Brandon Routh) and later in Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (played by Henry Cavill). But like Superman IV, none of these films have managed to achieve the greatness of the original Superman.

We have yet to see a fifth Jaws movie, but we have seen a number of Jaws-esque movies since 1987, such as Deep Blue Sea, the Shark Attack films, and even a remake of Piranha, which had a sequel of its own. So I guess we can say “close enough” there.

As with the third entries of these series, Jaws: The Revenge must be christened the worse of the two. This is because, like the aforementioned I Still Know…, it’s just one scene of stupidity after another. In addition, while certainly flawed, Superman IV still has heart to it (Kidder even has a bigger part this time around); heart that was sorely lacking in all subsequent Superman movies.

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