Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review #12

Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review
#12: Superman II

After the release of the 1978 motion picture “Superman: The Movie”, there was a lot of talk about doing a sequel. In truth, producers Alexander and Ilya Salikind shot most of the material for both the movie and the sequel at the same time so that the actors would already be in character. Unfortunately a dispute between the Salikinds and director Richard Donner about the direction of the movie forced them to bring in Richard Lester and re-shoot many of the scenes, as well as make some changes to the storyline so they could completely write out Donner of the credits.

“Superman II” was released in 1980 by Warner Brothers and stars Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terrance Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, and with brief appearances by Valerie Perrine, Ned Beatty, Susanna York, and E.G. Marshall. Marlon Brando, who played the role of Jor-El masterfully in the first movie, was unavailable for re-shooting under Lester’s direction, so his scenes were replaced with those of York. They would later be restored when the “Richard Donner Version” of the movie would be released on DVD in 2006.

The movie starts with a return to Krypton and the re-telling of the scene whereby the three criminals Non (O’Halloran), Ursa (Douglas), and General Zod (Stamp) are captured and put on trial by the Council. Now, instead of sniveling and begging for forgiveness, Zod is pledging eternal vengeance on (the unseen) Jor-El and his heirs as he gets whisked away to the Phantom Zone.

We then watch the credits and recap of the scenes in the first Superman movie, with a high emphasis on the green crystal which originally guided Kal-El’s ship to Earth and created the Fortress of Solitude. It should be noted that Jor-El’s face is never seen in this recap.

After the credits, we see Clark Kent (Reeve) showing up for work at the Daily Planet. Perry White (Cooper) and Jimmy Olson (McClure) inform Clark that terrorists have taken the Eiffel Tower hostage and claim to have a hydrogen bomb ready to level Paris. Perry also says that Lois Lane (Kidder) boarded the first Concord flight overseas once the story broke. This sends Clark back out of the building and into the nearby alley where he can change into Superman in a comic-style blur and fly across the ocean.

In Paris, Lois manages to make her way past the police cordon and climbs under an elevator car, not knowing that this would be the same elevator car used to hold the bomb. She also doesn’t know that the Paris police are about to sabotage the elevator, thinking that the terrorists haven’t had time to “prime” the bomb, which they already did. The elevator cables are cut, the car falls, and the bomb is activated. Superman shows up just in the nick of time to save Lois, and then to fly the car up into space where it can safely explode. The shockwave knocks Superman back to Earth, and it also collides with the Phantom Zone, releasing the three Kryptonian criminals.

Back on Earth, we see Lex Luthor (Hackman) and his henchman Otis (Beatty) talk about the circumstances that led them to be in prison for “life plus twenty”. Otis comments that nobody knows where Superman goes after he saves the day, only that it’s north. Luthor says that whatever is up there, it has the secret to beating Superman.

On the Moon, a joint US-Soviet lunar expedition is picked-off one-by-one by Zod, Ursa, and Non. The three discover that as they get closer to Earth, which they think is called “Houston”, they develop more abilities. (Never mind, of course, that they can carry on conversations without any air.)

Back on Houston… I mean Earth… Lois and Clark are sent to Niagara Falls to investigate a newlywed scam. Clark thinks it’s romantic, but Lois couldn’t care less. After a boy falls into the waters and is saved by Superman, Lois begins to speculate that Clark and Superman are one and the same. She tries to put herself in danger, forcing Clark to prove she’s right, but Clark uses his heat vision to break off a tree limb and talk Lois into rescuing herself, much to her embarrassment.

Luthor escapes from prison, thanks to Miss Teschmacher (Perrine) coming in with a hot-air balloon, and he eagerly leaves Otis behind since his excess weight was bringing down the balloon. Using his “little device”, Luthor steers the balloon north.

As the three Kryptonians arrive in Midwestern America and start causing trouble with the locals, Luthor and Taschmacher arrive in the Fortress of Solitude. Luthor thinks it is the greatest technological find in history and it has everything that he could ever need. Miss Teschmacher says it’s missing one thing… a bathroom. After figuring out how to use the control panel, Luthor discovers a message from Kal-El’s mother Lara (York) who warns of the three Kryptonian prisoners and how the Phantom Zone MIGHT be cracked by detonating a hydrogen bomb in space. (Well it’s a good thing that nobody was that stupid to… oh, wait, never mind.) As Luthor ponders the possibilities of having three evil versions of Superman, Miss Teschmacher announces that she has found (what she hopes is) the bathroom.

Back at Niagara Falls, Lois tries to console herself about her embarrassing debacle. At that point, Clark trips over a bearskin rug and his glasses fall into the fire. Lois sees him reach into the fire to retrieve them and thinks that Clark has seriously burned himself. When she coaxes his hands out of his vest and notices that they’re not even warm, Clark confesses that he is in fact Superman.

As Superman and Lois fly up to the Fortress, the US Military shows up to confront the three Kryptonians. Zod allows Non and Ursa to have fun with the soldiers and their weapons and devices. Then he interrogates the general in charge and asks in front of the local media if anyone would dare challenge him.

At the Fortress, Superman gives Lois a quick history of “the green crystal” and then the two enjoy a dinner that he cooked from things he hastily collected from around the world. As Lois announces that she’s going to “put on something more comfortable”, Superman visits the hologram of Lara. Lara’s spirit tells him that he cannot love a human without first being human, so she asks Superman to give up his powers. He does, and Clark and Lois go to bed as the three Kryptonians spread a path of devastation (including defacing Mount Rushmore) on their way to Washington DC.

As Lois and Clark drive back down (how they managed to get a car nobody knows) to civilization, they stop at a rest area, where Clark is soundly beaten by an obnoxious trucker. They watch as the President of the United States (Marshall) announces that he has turned control of the planet over to General Zod and begs Superman to help. Clark realizes that he made a mistake in giving up his powers and vows to go back to the Fortress.

Meanwhile, Luthor arrives in the White House and offers Zod a chance for revenge against the son of his jailer. In exchange, he wants Australia.

As Clark returns to the now-darkened Fortress and begs his dead parents for help, Luthor leads the Kryptonians to the Daily Planet building, telling Zod that taking Lois hostage will bring Kal-El to them. As Zod reneges on his deal with Luthor, a sharp wind blows through Metropolis…

Sadly this film did not match up to the quality of the first one. While the action was intense, especially when Superman finally takes on the three Kryptonians, we have to first go through even more cheese than the first film.

Let’s see… amongst the cheese samples… we have the Phantom Zone being destroyed and ONLY three prisoners are freed. We have Paris police supposedly “watching” the terrorists but not realizing that they’re arming a hydrogen bomb as they prepare to sabotage the elevator car CONTAINING said bomb. We have the three Kryptonians talking on the Moon without air. They later develop a unique ability where they can project their powers through their fingers in a beam of white light. This is a power that Superman doesn’t have, but he can project illusions and use his S-shield as some kind of temporary net. He also possesses another power that I can’t reveal without spoiling the ending. Oh, and let’s not forget the three Kryptonians can also change the faces on Mount Rushmore with but a glance. We also don’t know what happened to Miss Teschmacher prior to Superman and Lois arriving at the Fortress. Was that REALLY the bathroom that she found? And how did Lois and a non-powered Clark manage to make it back to civilization?

I should point out that the “Donner” version of this movie had a few significant changes. First, no Paris. The Phantom Zone is destroyed by the nuclear missile from the FIRST movie. (If you didn’t see the first one, it was covered in the recap during the credits.) That actually makes sense. Second, the scene where Lois discovers that Clark is Superman is still in the hotel, but it doesn’t have to do with a fireplace and a bearskin rug. (The scene is actually the original screen test between Kidder and Reeve. Donner liked it so much he put it into the story.) Third, Jor-El is in all of the Fortress scenes, including one where he physically interacts with Kal-El. And fourth, the resolution at the end of the second movie (which I won’t give)… is the same as the FIRST one!

Gene Hackman’s Luthor is once again the narcissistic sociopath with a hunger for real estate and has no qualms leaving his lone henchman to rot in prison or getting rid of his eye-candy so he can go suck-up with General Zod. If anything he sees himself as being better than Zod, which makes the back-stabbing and the groveling that much more comical… and cheesier.

Speaking of Zod, apparently the Kryptonians not only speak English, but they speak with a British accent. That’s a charming little piece of non-sequetor that nobody ever thought about. But then again you have French citizens speaking in English with French accents when they’re amongst themselves and then switching to French when an American like Lois Lane shows up, so, go figure.

Terrance Stamp plays the role of Zod quite pompously, although he seems almost one-dimensional at times, especially when Zod supposedly has everything. Likewise for the role of Ursa, as played by Sarah Douglas. Ursa is supposed to be a venomous man-hater, but she doesn’t really demonstrate it. She comes off as a trinket-stealing lackey with a fixation on badges and insignias. Jack O’Halloran’s Non is about the only one who fits the role well. Non pretty much is the Otis of the bunch, and he doesn’t even say anything to come off as comical.

Margot Kidder’s Lois takes an even weirder turn in this movie. At some point in Niagara she develops a southern drawl when she feels snubbed by Superman. Thankfully it disappears, but the rest of the time she comes off as frazzled. Maybe it has to do with those “freshly-squeezed” fruit juices.

Finally there is Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman. As with the first movie, Reeve plays Superman pretty much dead-on, which is not hard to do since most of the movie was done along with the first one. Unfortunately he pretty much plays second fiddle to Lois, Zod, and Luthor.

Sadly the Superman series doesn’t get any better from here. In terms of a hero movie, this is the best you can get with this series. Fortunately, at that time there weren’t too many superheroes on the big screen for it to be pitted against.

Capes: Iconic good guys and bad guys. Even with the higher cheese factor, it still gets all 5 capes.
Cheese: Extra Sharp Cheddar (4) thanks to extra “powers” of the three Kryptonians and the comic relief by Luthor and his vanishing cohorts.
Books: The cheese factor really affected the storyline here, so I can only give three books out of five and I’m being generous.

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