In this week’s very special Second Look, we take a look at the two different versions of Superman II. First up, we have Phyll Perrins’ take on the original film…
Superman II (released in 1980) was made at the same time as Superman: The Movie. This film is famous for being directed by two different directors. The first, Richard Donner, who directed the first Superman movie and is said to have directed more than half of Superman II, but because of problems he had with the films producers he was booted off the project and replaced by Richard Lester. Perhaps one day I will get round to reviewing the Richard Donner cut of the film but today I’m going to review only the theatrical cut of Superman II.
The film commences with General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and the giant Non (Jack O’Halloran) getting captured and sentenced on Krypton. The funny thing about this scene is Zod’s sentencing is created with voice overs and Marlon Brando isn’t shown once in the film. This probably had something to do with the fact that Brando’s fee for Superman was so high that the producers wanted to cut costs and not pay him more for any screen time. Zod, Ursa and Non get sent away into the Phantom Zone as we cut away to the credits which acts as a reminder to what went down in the first Superman movie.
After the credit sequence we cut to Clark Kent (effortlessly played by Christopher Reeve) wandering around the Daily Planet looking for Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Clark learns that Lois is in Paris covering a terrorist plot to detonate a nuclear bomb, so quickly ‘changes’ to Superman and flies over Paris to stop the bombers. Saving Lois yet again after she got herself into another stupid situation, becoming trapped under the elevator with the bomb and terrorists in it. (I’m starting to see now why my girlfriend hates Miss Lane). As he saves the day again, Superman throws the nuke into space, unknowingly destroying the phantom zone containing General Zod. When watching this, my fanboy self geeks out at the fact that the powerful Zod will soon be making his entrance (being a big fan of General Zod and especially Terrance Stamp’s portrayal of the character).
Within the first twenty minutes, a lot happens. We see Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) breaking out of prison, leaving his comic sidekick Otis (Ned Beaty) behind and heading off to find Superman’s fortress of solitude. Meanwhile, General Zod and gang discover their powers as they land on what they think is Planet Houston but later find out is actually Earth. Lois finally, I repeat, FINALLY realises that Clark and Superman are one and the same. Can you hear everyone cheering at their tv screen?
The whole first act flows really nicely but relies a lot on you knowing what happens in the first film. It was about time Lois realised Clark was Superman and all it took was for her to see Clark without his glasses. As Clark gives in to his secret he flies her off to his Fortress to reveal all. With the couple being cut off from the rest of the world, General Zod takes over.
Despite this being a Superman film, Superman himself is very much in the background in the first two acts of the film. However, I feel that is ok because Stamp is glorious as General Zod and a much needed physical and mental threat to Superman. The chemistry between Zod, Ursa and Non is fantastic, producing a titanic trio. Ursa just oozes sex appeal, whilst Non takes the strong man mantel but because he is dim witted adds a little comedic value to the role as well. Whilst Zod just chews up scenery, you can tell Stamp loved playing the character (ironically enough he went on to play Jor-El in Smallville). The twinkle in his eye when he demands that you ‘Kneel before Zod’ still to this day makes the inner child in me shiver with delight.
Superman II possibly wrote the rules in that the sequels to superhero films have to have the hero quitting halfway through the movie and, more often than not, it’s to be with the woman he loves. Kal-El decides to stop being Superman and gives up his powers, instantaneously regretting the decision about five minutes later after he sees on the television that Zod has taken over the White House and knows he must make a triumphant return in order to defeat the motley crew of Krpytonians.
The fight scene in Metropolis is still amazing to see. Yes, the special effects are dated but the scale and spectacle is very impressive. Watching Superman actually battle super villains is fantastic for any fan boy, either battling physically with Non underground, or having a superpower battle with General Zod. Yet being overcome by the three to one ratio and not wanting to risk anymore lives, he flies off, luring them to his fortress and tricking them, which results in them losing their own powers as Superman then easily defeats them. Again, saving the day.
Great as this movie is (and it is), there are a lot of very silly moments that you can’t get your head round. Watching idiotic parents letting their children do stupid things such as climb the railings over Niagra Falls, as well as the stupid woman standing under falling debris AND the ridiculous S shield Superman throws at Non that does… absolutely nothing! Even Non looks confused as to what is happening. It does seem to be a recurring theme in the theatrical cut of Superman II as many of the actors look lost within the plot, it’s very obvious Richard Lester wanted to bring a more comedic campy value to the film which he would later exploit whilst directing Superman III. It just doesn’t mesh well at times with the footage that Richard Donner had already shot as the tone of the film switches from scene to scene. The way Superman kisses Lois Lane to wipe her memory from knowing he is Clark Kent is very silly and very campy, but then again so was flying around the world backwards and reversing time.
In this scene, it does work because Lois mentally can’t handle the fact that she knows Clark’s secret and cannot bear to share the man she loves with the rest of the world. It is a very touching scene and is acted superbly well between Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve. He wipes her memory out of mercy for her and makes the ultimate sacrifice to choose duty over love. Seeing this sacrifice and the emotion portrayed between the characters makes it my favourite scene in the movie.
Overall I enjoyed the movie despite some of the negatives I brought up. Stamp steals the shows as General Zod; this is his movie and boy does he shine! Hackman is greatly underused in this film but there is so much going on that playing second fiddle to Stamp is the only place he really fits in. Reeve, like I mentioned before, slips so easily into place as both Clark and Superman, which is almost sad since this is the last good Superman movie he would go on to make. In my opinion Superman II still soars to this day another great fun movie that has everything that the first had and more.
What do you think about Superman II? Would you kneel before it or send it back to the Phantom Zone?