Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent
Margot Kidder as Lois Lane
Terence Stamp as General Zod
Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor
Sarah Douglas as Ursa
Jack O’Halloran as Non
Marc McClure as Jimmy Olson
Jackie Cooper as Perry White
Superman II was mostly done filming at the time its predecessor hit theaters. They really planned ahead, didn’t they? Or not. You see, they ran outta money and focused on the first movie. To put things into perspective, Superman: the Movie cost many times as much as the original Star Wars had a year earlier. That led to squabbling between director Richard Donner and Producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind. Also, they had different visions of these movies. The Salkinds apparently had the old Batman show in their head, for they set out to make a comedy. Donner had a more traditional approach in mind, but despite that approach’s overwhelming success, he was out as director for Superman II. His replacement, Richard Lester, reshot much of the movie with a carefully over-the-top style. Meanwhile, Gene Hackman’s schedule was full by the time it became clear that some shooting was to be delayed. So with apologies, he bowed out of this movie. Obviously, this means that all of Hackman’s scenes were shot by Donner.
This has lead to a bit of controversy. People seem to find it a lot harder to enjoy this movie. I don’t. While it is unfortunate what happened to the series after this movie, I actually like it better than the original. The spirit of Donner’s vision remains more or less intact, the relationship between Clark and Lois is exceptionally well-done, and the high-flying action, although primitive by today’s standards, is a joy to see unfold.
The story is that General Zod, Ursa, and Non are three Kryptonians who once attempted a fascist revolution on Krypton and were launched across the galaxy in crystal trappings but have drifted into our solar system. When Superman stops some terrorists in France and sends the nuke they armed safely into space, it ends up destroying their prison. Ordinarily they’d die from lack of air, but the yellow sun has given them powers just like Superman. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor has escaped from prison and found Superman’s fortress in the Antarctic. He’s found out exactly who the Kryptonians are and will help them kill Superman and take over the world in return for Australia (this incarnation of Luthor is into real estate schemes and not world domination, so that’s a better deal than it sounds like).
We get some fantastic action in Metropolis and Superman’s fortress pitting him against Zod, Ursa, and Non. There is a sense that Superman has the cards stacked against him, not only because it’s three against one, but also because the Kryptonians learn to take advantage of Superman’s consistent decision to choose saving lives over hitting the bad guy. The way Superman finally beats them is very convincing. It’s one of the best endings of rivalries I’ve ever seen in film.
The relationship between Clark and Lois takes center-stage in this movie. Lois figures out that Superman is really Clark Kent and confronts him about it. Clark ends up taking Lois to his fortress and the two have a dinner and night together But the holographic projection of Clark’s mother tells him that biological differences between humans and Kryptonians are too great for this to work unless Clark uses a machine that makes Kryptonians human. Of course, that proves to be a mistake. Clark has to use the equipment in his fortress to get his powers back to fight Zod and his compadres. And with the return of his powers comes celibacy. Thus, the ending is very tragic for a Superman movie.
Terence Stamp plays a conqueror of the Genghis Khan kind. He acts much like such a character would, conveying a sense of majesty, restrained instead of yelling-out anger, and a belief that he is destined for greatness. “Kneel before Zod” is one of the best villainous catchphrases I’ve ever heard. It’s made even better by the delivery.
On DVD is the director’s cut by Richard Donner. It’s basically the movie as he envisioned it. It’s throughly improved but the camera angles are rather weak because he had to use recycled footage. The lousy move-so-fast-you-turn-back-time ending returns in this version. Therefore, the ratings for both versions are the same.
Whichever version you watch, it’s a pretty good movie. I did notice that my ratings for these movies so far are the same as the ratings for the first two Batman movies. Will the pattern hold true for the other two movies? We’ll see.
Overall: 8 out of 10