US Release Date: 06-19-1981
Directed by: Richard Lester
- Christopher Reeve, as
- Superman / Clark Kent
- Margot Kidder, as
- Lois Lane
- Gene Hackman, as
- Lex Luthor
- Ned Beatty, as
- Jackie Cooper, as
- Perry White
- Terence Stamp, as
- General Zod
- Sarah Douglas, as
- Jack O'Halloran, as
- Valerie Perrine, as
- Eve Teschmacher
- Susannah York, as
- Clifton James, as
- E.G. Marshall, as
- The President
- Marc McClure, as
- Jimmy Olsen
- John Ratzenberger, as
- Controller #1
- Richard Griffiths as
- Terrorist #3
Lois Lane and Superman get it on.
I always remember Superman II being a good sequel, but then I watched it again and found my memory has a really thick pair of rose colored glasses. Although it does have many great moments and a good premise, Superman II did not live up to my first viewing of it.
The movie opens with Lois in Paris trying to get a story on some terrorists who have a nuclear bomb at the Eiffel Tower. In true Lois form she over states the obvious by yelling, "That could destroy the whole city!" in a crowd of onlookers and reporters. Being so feisty and clever, she tricks a French guard with a translation book and sneaks unseen up the tower stairs. Of course she finds herself about to be killed and Superman shows up to save her and send the bomb flying into outer space.
The bomb's explosion destroys a giant glass panel (gateway to the phantom zone) that releases three criminals, Zod, Ursa and Non, who were sentenced by Superman's father Jor-El in the first movie. The three now have the same powers as Superman and decide to fly to Earth, with a brief layover on the moon.
Clark Kent and Lois Lane are now on some idiotic assignment in Niagara Falls. This is the best part of the entire film. After Superman saves a boy who falls over a rail, Lois figures out that, the suddenly nowhere to be seen, Clark is really the man of steel. In a very humorous scene, Clark convinces her otherwise only to have the truth come out later in their hotel. "We'd better talk." Clark says to Lois who blurts out the line she has been waiting to say for so long, "I'm in love with you." Which causes Superman to revise his line, "We'd really better talk."
They fly to his fortress of solitude and decide to do the deed. Superman finds out that for some reason he cannot have sex with Lois until he loses his powers. Maybe he is just too super in the sack for any human woman to handle. After all is said and done in a silver hammock, Lois and Clark, some how, travel away from the north pole in a car. Maybe they borrowed it from Santa's work shop. They stop at a diner where Clark gets his ass kicked and they discover while they have been mooning over each other the world has been conquered by three evil Kryptonians. Clark walks back to the north pole to get his powers while Lois returns to Metropolis.
The rest of the film is Superman doing battle with General Zod and his companions. It is a long fight with plenty of destruction and special effects that do not stand the test of time. This movie gives Superman powers he never before had. Suddenly he has a power beam that he shoots from his finger and can levitate people. The worst change is that he also has a memory loss kiss. If you have not seen it, do not ask.
General Zod and company get far too much screen time. Lex Luther and friends show up for no real reason, until a scene near the end when Luther plays a key role in defeating Zod. One of the first scenes is of Luther and Otis trying to escape a prison by air balloon. Yeah it is as stupid as it sounds and could only work in a silent film starring Buster Keaton.
Superman II is too often campy and cartoonish. Luther and friends should have been cut entirely. When the boy falls over the railing he should have died three times over, by the time Superman changes clothes and flies to his rescue.
In truth, the movie has some really good light moments. The one I loved as a kid is when Clark returns to the diner and beats up the same guy. The nerdy Clark pushes back his glasses, awkwardly pumps his arms into the air and says to the shocked observer, "I've been working out." The funniest line I found this time is when Ursa learns that Lois is Superman's girlfriend and says to her, "What an undemanding male this Superman must be."
The best thing about Superman II is the love story of Lois and Kal-El. It comes to a head when they try to get back to normal. Margot Kidder has her best scene where she explains to Clark her frustration of not knowing how to deal with the knowledge of Superman's secret identity. "Have you any idea what it's like... to have you come in here every day, and not be able to talk normally to you, or show how I feel about you, or speak to anybody else about you... Hell, I don't even know what to CALL you!" It is a great emotional dilemma to be explored, but then Clark kisses her and she goes back to her annoying self. Everything but the love story needed a serious trim.
Terence Stamp and Christopher Reeve in Superman II.
Like Eric, my view of this movie was tinted by my childhood memory of it. Watching it now, for the first time in decades, I was amazed by how so much of it is just plain bad. There's an uneven tone with too many moments of slapstick comedy that detract from the action and drama. It's as if the filmmakers took the "comic" portion of comic books too literally.
So sure were they of the success of Superman as a movie, the father-son producing team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind set out to film Superman I and Superman II at the same time. It was a method that had worked for them a few years previously with their Three and Four Musketeers movies. Problems with this decision started when clashes began between them and their choice of director, Richard Donner. Their disagreements escalated until finally Donner was fired from the project before completing the second feature. The Salkinds then recruited Richard Lester, who had directed their Musketeer films, to finish it. Lester didn't just finish the film however, he reshot many scenes so that his contributions would equal at least 51% of finished footage to enable him to receive sole director's credit. The final edit of the film has been estimated to be around 75% Lester/25% Donner.
The differences between Lester's and Donner's style are quite noticeable. Donner took the subject matter much more seriously, while Lester, encouraged by the Salkinds, played up the comedy to near disastrous effect. As with the Musketeer films and his films with the Beatles in the 1960s, Lester used an excessive amount of physical humor, some of which is quite jarring. During the final battle between Superman and the three renegade Kryptonians, for instance, there's suddenly a scene played entirely for laughs where the villains use their super breath to blow an angry mob away from them, including one man in a phone booth who stays on the phone talking even as he's blown over and down the street. Not that Donner wasn't guilty of employing some silly humor as well. The scenes with Luthor were all his, as Hackman walked when Donner was released and a body double was used in the scenes that were still required of him. Also removed by Lester are scenes featuring Marlon Brando, who wanted too much money just to have scenes he'd already filmed included in the second film, which explains why this time around it is Superman's mother doing the talking in the Fortress of solitude.
Another major difference in the released version of the film is that Superman apparently kills all three of the villains. They are last seen falling into seemingly bottomless pits in the Fortress and then heard of no more. When Superman killed Zod in the 2013 reboot, Man of Steel, this caused an uproar since Superman never kills, but the deaths in Superman II are rarely mentioned. In later director's cuts, it's shown that in fact they didn't die, but were arrested, but in the original theatrical version, there's no indication as to how they survived.
Eric enjoyed the love story and it has possibilities, but it too has problems. The title of this movie could be, Superman II: The Quest for Sex, since essentially he seems ready to give up his powers just to get laid. There's nothing to stop him from loving Lois with his powers intact, but he is unable to make love to her with them. Science Fiction writer Larry Niven once wrote a humorous and well thought out essay about how sex between Superman and an Earth woman would indeed kill the woman, which explains why Superman has to give up his powers before sleeping with Lois. However, what Supes and the script never discuss is that clearly Lois is in love with Superman, not Clark. He makes this monumental decision to give up his powers without discussing it with her and without considering what effect it would have on their relationship, which for my money is doomed once he hangs up the cape. Eric also mentioned the final dramatic moment before Superman kisses Lois causing her to forget, and it is a good scene, but it also contributes to the uneven feel of the story, being a long way away from the slapstick of earlier scenes.
There's definitely a solid premise at the heart of this story. Superman having to fight three villains with powers that match his own certainly promises excitement. And I didn't even mind the special effects used to show that battle. Sure, by today's standards they are weak, but they still manage to convey the action. The problems with the effects certainly pale in comparison to the problems with the script.
The best thing about Superman II in my opinion is Christopher Reeves. He does his best with what he's given and he delivers an earnest performance that shows real range. Superman's disguise as Clark Kent is incredibly flimsy, but Reeves almost makes it believable by the way he carries himself as Clark. When he takes off the glasses, there's a transformation that makes you believe those around him don't see the resemblance. It's a performance that deserved better material, but alas, this series peaked with the first film.
Christopher Reeve in Superman II.
Sure Superman II is uneven in tone, and some of the slapstick is quite stupid, but my brothers were both a bit harsh on this movie. I hadn't watched it in years but I quite enjoyed it. The lowbrow humor and many plot holes didn't bother me. As a movie about super beings from another planet it's inherently ridiculous anyway. And it's not like Superman: The Movie didn't have some juvenile humor. I say check your mind at the door and just go with it. Superman II is campy fun and features a great central performance by Christopher Reeve. Has there ever been a more perfect marriage between actor and role?
The one plot hole neither of my brothers mentioned was how Superman gets his powers back. He is shown picking up the Green Kryptonian Crystal that Lois dropped in an earlier scene at the Fortress of Solitude. The next time we see him Supes has his powers back with no other details or explanation given. And this is after his mother gave him that big dramatic warning about how the process would be irrevocable. I guess she forgot about those crystals.
I agree that the super-kiss Clark used to make Lois forget his true identity is silly but it's a power that Superman actually did have -briefly- in the comic books, and wasn't invented just for this movie. Richard Lester has said that comic books weren't allowed in his house when he was a kid and that he had no prior knowledge of the character Superman. This may be true, but he pays homage to comic books in the way he sets up shots. Often cramming several characters and/or objects into a frame and filming the action from one angle to recreate the flatness of a comic book page.
I disagree with Eric. I think the climactic battle holds up fairly well. In fact, it's a nice example of pre-CGI special effects. Real objects have a heaviness to them that computer images cannot duplicate. It remains an impressive bit of movie magic as Superman and the three super-villains wage their incredibly destructive urban battle while the helpless human populace scatter like insects.
Technically every flaw my brothers mentioned is true. But despite its sometimes overly silly tone, Superman II is still fun entertainment. Just sit back, channel your inner twelve year old, and enjoy.
Photos © Copyright Warner Bros. Pictures (1981)