Black Panther: Wakanda Forever 99.1: Make the Movie Anyway

These are uncharted waters. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a mega-franchise that produces hits so dependably that it’s acquired a logic of its own, which does not resemble normal human artistic endeavor.

In 2018, Marvel Studios produced Black Panther, a profoundly successful movie about a character who was not particularly well-known before he started showing up in Marvel movies. The film made a staggering amount of money, with a $700 million domestic box office take. It was the #1 movie of the year in the United States, even beating that year’s Avengers crossover.

They planned to make a sequel, of course, with Chadwick Boseman returning as King T’Challa. Writer-director Ryan Coogler started working on a script, and most of the original cast signed on for the second movie. They were about seven months away from the start of filming on Black Panther 2 when the news broke that Boseman had died of colon cancer, a condition that he’d been struggling with privately since 2016.

At that point, the normal thing for the studio to do would be to announce that the film was cancelled, and that the MCU would regretfully move on without Black Panther. Instead, they decided to make the movie anyway, rewriting the script to have the lead character die offscreen on page 2.

This is a bizarre way for a movie studio to behave. They made a two hour and forty-minute film about how bummed they are that they couldn’t make a sequel to Black Panther, and released it to theaters, and then everybody showed up and loved it anyway.

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Superman III 4.8: The Loss of Lois

She’s only got three minutes, and she lands four solid jokes, which is four more than practically anyone else in the movie. Lois Lane — up until this point, the single most important human being in the world — has been suddenly and mysteriously called away to Bermuda, for a surfside adventure that’s probably way more interesting than anything we’re going to experience in Smallville. She is with us, and then she is gone, like a forgotten promise, and Superman III has to stumble along without her.

Obviously, this is a dreadful mistake. If Warner Bros had asked people in pre-market testing whether they wanted Lois Lane to appear in the next Superman movie, 94% of respondents would have said yes, and the other 6% wouldn’t have understood the question, because it’s such a stupid idea that you’d think they must be asking about something else.

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Superman III 4.6: A Monsignor Moment

“There are some things about commercial film making that are in really bad taste,” Christopher Reeve told the LA Times in June 1983, passive-aggressively promoting his new blockbuster Superman film.

“For a film to be commercial,” he explained, “it must earn money, and that results in strategic planning in certain degrees — the goal being to earn even more money. When it comes to a showdown between quality and integrity and commercial expedience, guess which wins?”

Oh, and go see Superman III, he absolutely did not add.

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Black Adam 98.1: We’re the Justice Society

It’s tough being DC Films these days, for almost every possible reason. They’re standing in the shadow of the pop culture juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is still expanding like crazy, in both movies and TV. There’s a clear vision behind Marvel’s plans, extending further into the future with movies lined up for 2026 and beyond.

In comparison, DC has been falling backwards downstairs for the last ten years, insecure about what they’re making and who should be in charge. Warner Bros started DC Films in 2016 after everyone didn’t like Batman v Superman, putting Geoff Johns and Jon Berg in charge. Then everyone didn’t like Justice League in 2017, so Johns and Berg were ousted, and replaced by Walter Hamada.

After Aquaman was successful in 2018, Hamada announced that DC was going to focus on individual character stories instead of worrying about how they all connect. After a few more movies, they backtracked in 2021 and announced that the films were all interconnected again… and then they released The Batman, a very successful  standalone film, so they have no idea what they’re trying to do.

By this point, DC’s fans are polarized into warring tribes, who are trying to push the company into making decisions based on how a particular hashtag is trending on Twitter on any given day. And now the company’s been bought by Discovery Inc., and their terrible new CEO has ousted Hamada, and is reportedly looking for “a Kevin Feige type” to give the films “a coherent creative and brand strategy”, which is probably not going to work, because how many Kevin Feiges can there be in the world?

Amid this turmoil and uncertainty, it’s only fitting that this weekend they put out a new film that isn’t very good, but is doing very well at the box office, just to complicate things even more.

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Superman III 4.5: Not Waving But Drowning

An unlicensed roller skater slips suddenly out of control, shoving a hot dog stand and interrupting three concurrent telephone conversations. Robot penguins, freshly sentient, see their chance for escape at last, and make a break for the open road. A woman is scattered across the sidewalk, surrounded by dented groceries. There’s mustard on Jimmy Olsen’s lapel.

In other words, downtown Calgary is a mess, and it’s no wonder Superman is a little choosy about which disaster he feels like addressing. I don’t know why we even came to this cursed burg in the first place.

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Superman III 4.4: March of the Penguins

“Given a relatively free hand,” writes Andrew Yule in The Man Who “Framed” the Beatles: A Biography of Richard Lester, “Lester decided to move the emphasis of III towards social realism, setting the first scene in an unemployment office and hiring the most naturalistic actor he could find — Richard Pryor — for a key role, all in an attempt to anchor the subject to a base of reality and reduce the mythic element he felt had already been thoroughly explored.”

Which just goes to show how wrong a person can be in a single sentence. If Yule had bothered to watch more than the first scene of Superman III before he started typing about it, he would have seen that the “social realism” of Richard Pryor in an unemployment office is immediately followed by five minutes of the most tedious fluff ever committed to celluloid.

One thing that occurs to me, as I look at this opening credits sequence, is that between the director, the writers and the executive producer, the number of successful films that they made subsequent to Superman III is zero. That seems to help, somehow.

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Superman III 4.3: Enter Gus

“Next!”

It’s an appropriate word to begin Superman III, history’s first superhero sequel. Superman II doesn’t count, of course, because the original Superman movie was planned as a two-part story. So this moment — the beginning of film #3 — is the first time the filmmakers have to skip over the origin myth, and start a brand new story from scratch.

And it begins, naturally, with a negotiation over how much money we’re going to give to Richard Pryor.

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Superman III 4.2: It Was Ilya’s Other Idea

So, let’s say you’re a Salkind. You’ve been producing movies for your father for ten years now, including some of The Three Musketeers and a couple of Superman movies, but people still think that you’re just a money guy — specifically, your dad’s money guy.

But you’ve been working in the same building as creative people for so long, you’ve started to hallucinate that you’re a creative contributor as well. Since nobody has any idea what to do with Superman III, you sit down at the typewriter and write an eight-page treatment, which you send to the Warner Brothers and ask them for millions of dollars so you can make it.

In the years to come, you’ll tell people that Warner Bros thought it was too “sci-fi”, and too embedded in Superman lore. That is not the reason Warner Bros rejected your treatment. They rejected it because they were grown-ups who read movie treatments for a living, and yours is bugfuck insane.

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Superman III 4.1: The Sweet Smell of Shit

Richard Pryor wrote:

I went off to London, to play the villain in Superman III. And yes, the movie was a piece of shit. But even before I read the script, the producers offered me $4 million, more than any black actor had ever been paid.

“For a piece of shit,” I’d told my agent when I finally read the script, “it smells great.”

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