Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Superman II

Directed by Richard Lester and Richard Donner.
1980. Rated PG, 127 minutes.
Christopher Reeve
Margot Kidder
Jackie Cooper
Sarah Douglas
Jack O’Halloran
Valerie Perrine
Marc McClure
E. G. Marshall

Finally, Lois Lane (Kidder) figures out that Clark Kent is indeed Superman (Reeve). With this little secret now out in the open, at least between the two of them, they declare their love for one another and live happily ever after. Well, not quite. Clark finds out that to be with Lois, he has to give up his powers and live as one of us mere mortals. Apparently, why isn't important because he never asks. He just plops his in-love ass in the chamber that zaps him into being a regular dude then promptly hops into bed with his favorite intrepid reporter. There is only one little problem with all this bliss. Our hero soon discovers what we already know: General Zod (Stamp) and his two minions have arrived on Earth with designs on running the joint. In case you’re not familiar with this bit of Superman lore and don’t remember him from his cameo in the first Supes movie, Gen. Zod is an evil SOB that was banished from the planet Krypton for basically the same thing. Here on Earth, of course, he and his subordinates, Ursa (Douglas) and Non (O’Halloran), have the same powers Superman had before he zapped himself. Realizing this normal guy crap literally doesn't fly, Clark figures out how to get super again and takes on the terrible trio.

In true sequel fashion, the focus is more on action this time around. It is spread throughout as opposed to being back-logged to the film’s latter stages like in its predecessor. It makes this a fun movie. Of course, with all that action comes more reliance on special fx. The problem with this is those fx have aged very poorly. In the first movie, the biggest problem is that Superman doesn't always look like he’s really flying. Most other things still look decent. Here, flying is still an issue, but multiplied with four characters having the ability of flight. Additionally, Zod and friends wreak lots of havoc, but much of it is too clearly fake. It gives the movie a cheesy look.

Still, archaic technology is not this movie’s biggest problem. I can chalk that up to it being made in 1980, with much of it actually shot in 1977 and 1978 while the first movie was filming. The story takes shortcuts and often throws logic to the wind in favor of hurrying to the next action sequence, or dropping in some comic relief. For instance, Lex (Hackman) and Miss Teschmacher (Perrine) make it to the North Pole from Metropolis in a couple days traveling first by hot air balloon, then on foot. Largely, this is to set up later events, but also so we can get a hearty laugh out of seeing Miss Teschmacher pull a dog sled while Lex yells “Mush!”. I haven’t even mentioned that none of us human folk seem particularly cold when they get there, by the way. These sorts of things go on quite regularly. Unfortunately, Otis (Beatty) only makes a cameo appearance this time around so the laughs don’t go over so well. Even worse, we only get to many of these scenes because someone, usually Lex, intuits something he shouldn't. I don’t care if he is “the greatest criminal mind of our time.”

Lots of this film’s problems stem from the fact that the director of the first film, Richard Donner was fired before he could finish filming this one. As stated, he had actually shot much of it simultaneously with the first movie. It is generally estimated he completed three quarters of the movie before being dismissed. Reasons for his firing vary depending on who you ask, but one thing that’s often mentioned is the tone of the movie itself. It seems the powers that be wanted to make it a more fun, possibly campy, affair while Donner wanted to take a more serious approach to the material. They brought in Lester who filmed the remainder of the movie, most of it with that lighter approach, slapped the two parts together, and voila! Superman II.

Despite all this, this is still an entertaining watch. The fact that it turned out as well as it did is remarkable. Along the way, we get a number of now iconic scenes. There’s the sequence at Niagara Falls with our hero performing two rescues, one as Superman and one as Clark. There is also the moment Lois realizes for certain that the two men are one and the same. Later, there are Clark’s two fights against a trucker in a diner. The first, a now powerless Clark taking a brutal beating, makes us really feel the extent of his sacrifice for Lois. His first battle with Zod and crew is still epic, aged fx and all, as is the climactic scene with all of the principals at Superman’s home. Finally, there’s the memory wiping “super kiss.” These all work wonderfully and can make us forget, or gloss over, the movie’s weaker points. Okay, the “super kiss” is silly, but you get the idea. Of course, we have another stellar turn by Christopher Reeve in the titular role. And with three of the most memorable words ever spoken by a movie villain, “Kneel before Zod,” Terence Stamp makes himself a legend in Superman annals.

Hmm, the rose colored glasses through which we glimpse the past. I was reminded of this while watching Superman II. I may as well come clean before continuing. When I watched this as a youngster, I thought it surpassed its predecessor in every way imaginable. Its heavier focus on action clearly had a hold of me. I’d seen both movies at least half a dozen times each by the time I was thirteen, plus another half dozen times or so over the next fifteen years. Until this past week, I hadn't seen either in its entirety in over a decade. And no, I've never seen “The Donner Cut” of the film. Nonetheless, I proudly championed this as the best superhero flick of all time until Tim Burton’s Batman came out. Even after all these years, I still felt it was one of the top ten the genre has ever seen. I still enjoy it, but let the truth be told. It just doesn't hold up as well as its predecessor.


  1. Now that you point them out, I realize the film has more issues that I thought. I agree on the flying, it was quite painful to watch, and Terence Stamp doesn't play Zod, he is Zod. Simply amazing. I liked this one more than the first probably because of the action; the first was just too slow and perhaps my expectations were too high.

    1. This is the more fun of the first two. I won't deny it. Just a lot of things going on that I thought could have been done better.