Director: Richard Lester
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Terrence Stamp, Margot Kidder, Sarah Douglas, Jackie Cooper, Jack O’Halloran
So this is planet Houston.
Before we get started- I WILL indeed be covering the Richard Donner cut of Superman II. It won’t be discussed until later, as I’m doing everything in release order. Today, we are solely focusing on the Richard Lester interpretation and officially released and official cannon Superman II.
Of course Superman was a massive success. So of course there would be a sequel. But wait, there already is, and it’s about 75% done. But wait, there’s a pending lawsuit over payment with a director from a previous Salkind project. How can we further avoid it? Oh, let’s dump Richard Donner and have him (Richard Lester) finish the film instead of payment. But, wait! We need to go back and reshoot a big percentage of the film in order to give Lester sole credit. Here we go folks, Superman II!
Within just a few minutes of rejoining the world of Metropolis in Superman II, there’s a definitely a slight difference. The world is the same, but something is just a half step off. And it’s quite obvious. Richard Lester infuses some very British humor into the already established world of Donner’s film. If you watch a lot of James Bond films from the late 70s to early 80s, its quite noticeable. Most of it is pretty welcome, but some you can’t help but groan. While Lester lightens the mood, the film manages to raise the stakes.
After a terrorist fubar in Paris, Superman tosses a bomb into space, release our cameo’d Kryptonian prisoners last seen at the beginning of Superman. The trio, led by General Zod, boasts Superman’s powers and outnumbers him as well. Zod is carefree in his terror strike is bound to conquer Earth for himself no matter what is in the way. Stamp gives an all-time great performance in a superhero villain role, due to his complete devotion to commit to the character. If anything, this guy made a huge name for himself that he’s still living off of to this day.
Meanwhile, we get the genesis of the “I want to quit being the superhero, only to need my powers back immediately” stories we tend to get in the sequel to a comic book superhero story (Hello, Spiderman 2). In a smart turn of events, Lois is convinced Clark Kent is Superman and throws everything including her life in the mix to prove her point. Due to some clumsiness, Lois discovers her intuition to be true. So we don’t have to spend another movie wondering if she’ll find out or he’ll fess up and tell her. Superman finds being with her more important than holding up his Earth’s protector duties and has the Fortress of Solitude remove his powers. About 5 minutes later, he sees the Kryptonians on the news and needs them back. To undo all this with Lois, we get another stretch of imagination that Superman has the power to kiss someone and have them forget everything. Spin around the world to transport through time or kiss and forget. Which do you prefer?
Due to money issues with Brando, he was not brought back. Instead, he was removed from the retcon flashback and his presence in Superman’s choice to lose his powers void. Margot Kidder wasn’t happy about coming back which would influence Lois’ involvement in the next film. She also looks too skinny, has some bad teeth and is terrible in the newly filmed sequences compared to herself from the already filmed material that plays back and forth. The funniest however is not bringing Hackman back to finish the film. While Sam Raimi grew up having phone finding Fake Shemps in Three Stooges shorts, I find it quite funny to find Fake Lex Luthors in Superman II. Having this knowledge, check it out. Its quite humorous the obvious stand ins and ADR’d imitation voice they use to make due. It’s not harmful to the film, but being in the know it gives a little chuckle.
Can I go without mentioning Superman pulling off the cellophane “S” on his costume? Absolutely not! It’s always pretty dumb when they add powers like this AND kissing in the same movie. It really serves less of a purpose than a punch or Fortress of Solitude booby trap. It’s the ultimate head scratcher and WTF moment when you see it for the first time. It makes for a great joke, but completely dumb in this movie.
Superman II is always a candidate for a sequel being better than the original. I’m not sure I can quite go all the way with that just yet. It compliments the first one greatly and really feels like the 2nd half of that movie. There are things this movie does much better. The stakes are higher and we get a full fledged movie with no long origin story. The villain brings more menace. The action scenes are much bigger and more spectacular. The fight in the streets of Metropolis is still quite impressive today. Narratively, some things just come a bit rush or awkward and I think the first one nabs a better tone and gets the fun and goofy a little better. As a movie I could pop in, sit back and watch more often, I’ll give it to Superman II. The first is crafted a bit better and has the overall “epic film” feeling though. It’s a hard choice to make. And I’ll have to ultimately make it when I rank them at the end. So, stay tuned!
Next: SUPERMAN III