DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Superman II

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Superman II

Superman II (1980) dir. Richard Lester/Richard Donner
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp, Ned Beatty


By Alan Bacchus

Yeah, I’m sorry to say, despite my childhood memories of the awesomeness of General Zod and his two other black clad Krypton baddies matching strength with Superman in this film, the film itself doesn’t hold up well. Richard Donner’s superlative Superman: The Movie, as mentioned in my review last week, still resounds as a landmark of the genre, but it’s much maligned sequel is the beginning of the devolution of the series from serious reflection of the superhero genre to candy coded bubblegum entertainment for children.

And yes, I’m talking about the Richard Donner cut, which back in 2005, allowed Donner to, as much as possible, cut the film as he originally intended back in the day, before being fired and replaced by Richard Lester. Unfortunately the fact the second film (and to some degree the first) got bungled up by the meddling of the Salkind producers, who knows how this second film would have turned out if Donner had stayed on through the entire two films.

The changes in the DVD-released 'Richard Donner Cut' are surprisingly extensive, the opening shot brings some of the same feelings of pathos as the previous film. A slow tracking shot across planet Krypton before replaying the scenes of General Zod and his team on trial and being captured in the plate glass prison are powerful.

There’s also the reinstatement of Marlon Brando as Jor-el in the fortress of solitude – first when Lex Luthor arrives to steal Superman’s secrets and at the end when he confesses the mistakes made with Lois. Brando’s presence is invaluable, his droll British accent adds a little more meaning and importance to the film, but not enough to completely save the film.

Admittedly Richard Lester’s ending is actually better. Donner chose to have Superman spin the world back in time again (as in in the first film) in order to erase Lois’s memory of Superman’s identity. But again, this is not Donner's fault. The Salkinds, against Donner's wishes, chose to use the ending of the second film in the first. So on it's own the reversing time segment doesn't work, but in the scope of the fully realized Donner vision it does. Lester’s magical kiss which has Superman simply erasing Lois’ memory with a genuine romantic kiss is a small moment, still Ex Machina, but more emotionally satisfying, connecting the two souls together without the grandiosity to reversing the Earth.

That all said, the internal conflict of Superman as a man and as an alien visitor and saviour of the planet provides a strong character arc for Superman across both films (and even both versions of the sequel). Christopher Reeve is still a marvel, exhibited immense screen presence as the Man of Steel as well as doing a fine Cary Grant slapstick turn as Clark Kent.

The trio of General Zod and the others are much more exciting as a 5 year old back in 1980, than a 36 year old adult today. Spotty effects, maligned by the stingy Salkinds, betray the build up to their eventual confrontation, though Terence Stamp is still imposing in his signature line, ‘kneel before Zod’.

But the absolute best character and actor of both films is Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. He’s not really needed in this film, but Hackman’s magnificent delivery and comic timing elevates his character beyond what most actors could have done with the part.

Superman II both the Richard Lester and Richard Donner versions are available on Blu-Ray in the Superman Anthology 1978-2006 Box Set from Warner Home Entertainment

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