Superman II (1980) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG for violence
Running Time: 127 min.
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Terence Stamp, Gene Hackman, Sarah Douglas, Jackie Cooper, Jack O'Halloran, Susannah York, Valerie Perrine, Ned Beatty
Director: Richard Lester (some scenes directed by Richard Donner)
Screenplay: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman
Review published June 15, 2004
Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night, The Three Musketeers) replaces a disgruntled Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon, Conspiracy Theory) as the director for Superman II after many scenes had been filmed and before production wrapped, and much of the quality story that helped the first film in the series gain some credibility is tossed by the wayside in an attempt to reduce everything to crowd-pleasing confrontations. The main problem here is that the backbone of what made the first film so good, i.e. the storytelling, is mostly stripped away. In its place is filler that the producers perceived as the more crowd-pleasing moments, and the result is a very silly follow-up that only scores points off of the momentum of its predecessor.
Much of the plot of Superman II stems directly from the first film, but if you haven't seen it, don't worry. There is a lengthy recap of the events from Superman during the opening credits.
Three evil villains have been sentenced to an eternity of punishment in the Phantom Zone, and their only form of release can come through a nuclear blast. Wouldn't you know it? Supes just so happens to be flinging a nuclear bomb in their vicinity, hatching the trio, who make their way to Earth to live as ruthless gods over humanity. Only Superman is strong enough to save them, but he is oblivious to the events, as he is cavorting with his main squeeze Lois, but there is a catch that bars their immediate union: for them to be together, Superman must give up all of his powers. For the sake of love, Superman makes the sacrifice, but now only obstacle to world domination has been removed for the villains, and the world cries desperately for him to save the day to no avail.
Although Superman II generally receives positive reviews, there are some people who even think that is is superior to the first entry. I find this to be an incorrect assessment, as much of the action, humor and romance is handled in ham-handed fashion a good deal of the time. If you were ever looking for an example of a movie that is worth seeing just for one key scene alone, Superman II is that movie. Right at the heart of the film is a battle in Metropolis between our hero and General Zod (Stamp, The Haunted Mansion) and his cronies, and this scene alone is a show-stopping, pulse-pounding spectacle that makes every trite joke and wince-inducing line from the hour that precedes it forgotten. The scene is so strong, that the film coasts to the finish line in exciting fashion.
The feeblest element is still here in the sequel -- the god-awful, juvenile humor. The first film kept most of these scenes secluded to the Lex Luthor (Hackman, Crimson Tide) appearances alone, but this film has a campiness that is all-encompassing. Even the cataclysmic Metropolis showdown is full of cornball shtick, such as a man staying on the pay phone he is in despite being blown away by Zod's super-breath, or the city banding together to try to take down the villains themselves, with one man claiming "Yeah, I know judo." The romance between Lois and Clark is so contrived, it is funny on an unintentional level, although the obvious attempts at laughs, such as Clark acting like a total klutz, are the moments that aren't worth one chuckle.
Superman II makes very little sense, no doubt in large part because large chunks of it had already been completed by Donner at the time Lester took over as director. In addition, all of the scenes with Marlon Brando had to be edited out, because he felt he was appearing in two films but only being paid for one, and now key moments are left unexplained, the most notable of which is how Superman ends up getting his powers back.
Superman II is a sloppy, overly campy, and at many times nonsensical entry that is only mildly recommended for some good action and special effects during the one long battle. The death-knell for the series is evident here -- it just tries too damn hard to be a comedy to ever take the drama and action seriously. Worth a glance for fans of the first film, but this is entertainment only made tolerable because enough of Donner's original vision hadn't been gutted altogether.
-- Followed by Superman III. Repackaged for home video years later by Richard Donner as Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.
©2004 Vince Leo